Over ribs, chicken, homemade salads and pies, beer and pop, our Memorial Day cookout turned from a local Steelers controversy to politics. Debate arose over a recent shooting and grappling with why pulling a gun has replaced raising fists to resolve disputes among young adults.
A friend’s 20-something son, who has more job applications out than stars in the sky, offered up, “Mom, there are no rules out here. Just like Bush, you just do or take what you want. Like the shooting — this kid wanted the other kid’s watch, so he decided to take it. When the other kid resisted, he pulled out his gun and shot him. That’s all. It doesn’t matter that both kids were 17 or whatnot. It is just how it is.”
Everyone survived this shooting, an arrest was made, but hanging there, to his mother’s stunned disbelief, was this proposition of no societal rules, no right or wrong — only “anything goes,” with apparent acceptance.
Debate roared on over the availability of guns in the streets; how there had been a recent robbery of a gun shop and handguns were selling out of car trunks for $50; the impact of crack on families; adolescent angst; anti-human pop culture; chronic unemployment among young people, especially African Americans; how the steel corporations, coal operators and Westinghouse should be held accountable for this brave new world they created; the crisis in public education and how college is just a glancing dream for millions.
Still, the young man’s observation stood up. He was 18 and did vote when Bush stole the 2000 election, and 22 when Bush did it again in 2004 — a fact not lost in his analysis of gun violence and rules. In those two election years, the young man arrested for the shooting was 9 and 13, respectively.
In both men’s relatively short lives, they have little or no memory of a time when simple fists settled street disputes and diplomacy was the first thought toward mediating international arguments. They have no experience with a kinder, gentler neighborhood, just the brutal, empty rhetoric of a self-proclaimed kinder, gentler politician who got away with theft, lies and violence. For young people, though, there are consequences of jail, disability or death.
Since Bush got away with it, that sends a profound signal: if one is big enough, rich enough, connected enough, bad enough — rules do not exist.
It is a stretch to think that a 17-year-old who would shoot someone over a watch did so because the president of the United States steals elections, invades countries, bombs innocent families and lies to achieve his agenda. But the fact remains that a culture of no rules, no consequences, no justice and “that’s just the way it is” does permeate our streets from the top down, from the White House to the crack house. The outlaws, the criminals have been running the show too long.
“No rules” culture is not static, inevitable or a product of human nature. Rejecting its permanence is a first step toward removing it. It doesn’t have to be this way. Moving to organized, collective action where we all make it to a stable, safe and decent life can replace no-rules violence. There is no running away from it. Shaping that neighborhood is under way, and energy, creativity, courage and sober, honest realism, putting humanity before profits, form the winning equation.
Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @aol.com) is a member of the Wilkinsburg, Pa., Borough Council, and a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board.