In the perfect storm, sometimes violence errupts.
I broke up a significant fight on the street. One street youth bashed another’s head into a wall. It was fairly one sided. What happened?
Just an hour before, I had counseled the first youth as he sat atop a newspaper vending machine. The sub-text of our conversation is that he is needing to adapt to the fact that things are going as planned. Unspoken was that he has lost many things recently: a significant girlfriend, a stable place to live, access to some help specifically for younger people because he has now turned 24. Even deeper and less obvious: recent deaths of friends. The obvious is that he is anxious and aggravated.
The other participant I had visited with just moments before the fight. He was slightly drunk… probably about four beers worth. He was harassing young college women as they walked by. I discussed why he was objectifying them. It was all about them not seeing him as sexy and attractive. Underneath that was the loss of his home town–smaller, where he was attractive and well known and liked. And below that was how he feels alone and unwanted.
It was a perfect storm. One of them is accused of breaking the street code. You can do almost anything on the street to survive, but there are some things you cannot do and that’s “the code.” They have honor. And when someone breaks that code, justice is dished out–sometimes eagerly and harshly.
I appreciate self-regulation and positive peer pressure. However, I do not favor violence–even when it seems to be the only language someone understands. So I am constantly talking to the street youth about the need to regulate without violence.
You might think that someone who’s lost much and has little would be more understanding. And I think they want to be. However, so much has been done to them that they can’t wait to unload it. They need a healthy outlet to let go of all the hurt that has been done to them in the past and even in the present. (Perhaps this is why so many will involve themselves in thrill seeking activities.) But often they only have a unhealthy mechanism. I believe that enforcing rules on others through bullying, drama, violence and even gang-like activity is one of those unhealthy coping mechanisms.
It’s similar to hazing in legacy organizations. People in those organizations are prone to think, “Hazing was done to me as a freshman, and by golly it’s my time now! I’m a senior and I’m going to dish it out to the newbies for all the hurt, humiliation and pain I went through.” It can be much the same mentality on the street. Good people just get swept along in all the emotion and drama.
It takes courage to stop passing on this behavior. I pray for courage. I pray for better ways of processing hurt. I pray for more “golden rule” behavior. And I even dare to pray for God’s Kingdom to come to the street so that people treat one another with love and respect, even in times of conflict.
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