End of Innocence
By MATTHEW J. MILLER
My grandfather was a high school principal. He shocked me with stories of
student misbehavior. His worst story involved a student who repeatedly snuck
a squirt gun into school. I wonder what he would have thought about the
fifteen dead in Littleton, Colorado.
The crime wave of the eighties and early nineties has finally given way
to a steady decline to end the millenium. Yet even as the violent crime
rate has shrunk, juvenile gun violence has continued to rise. Why? We ask
as though the mystery were profound. It is not the problem we fail to appreciate
but its amplification.
Juvenile delinquency is not a new phenomenon. In 970 A.D., Socrates complained
children had no manners, and no respect for adults. In the 1600s children
giggled and acted in ways to suggest witches possessed them. Mark Twain
gave us Huck Finn as a prototype of the mostly harmless delinquent of the
turn of the century. In the 1950s and '60s, switch blades and clubs armed
the delinquents later celebrated in West Side Story. Children found
drugs in the 1970s and '80s and delinquency took its first serious turn.
Today, youth have armed themselves with guns and violence has grown beyond
Juvenile delinquency is a problem we can no longer ignore. Since 1997, a
school shooting has occurred every thirteen months. A student still has
only one in a million chance of being gunned down in school but even these
odds seem too high. From Paducah, Kentucky, to Jonesboro, Arkansas, and
Littleton, Colorado, the shootings have a common theme. They all involve
marginalized children who are outcasts and yearn for a place in the spotlight.
In Pennsylvania just a few weeks ago, three students came forward to tell
a teacher they were concerned about a fellow student. In the bushes outside,
teachers found a shotgun and thwarted the wayward student's plan. A similar
tragedy was prevented in Burlington, Wisconsin. Disaster was avoided because
someone was listening to students. Someone paid attention to marginalized
students and prevented a horrific outcome. If only we can find ways to pay
attention to these students before the stakes get so high.
It has been too easy for teachers and parents to ignore grim-faced students
sitting in the back of the classroom not causing any "real" problems.
Teachers are too busy dealing with gifted students or those loudly misbehaving.
Now, sadly, we realize the Eric Harrises and Dylan Klebolds of the world
cannot be ignored. Those picked on by the best and the brightest have told
us the in a very ugly way that they refuse to be ignored any longer.
Their cries shouldn't have to be so loud. They shouldn't have to rise above
bringing a squirt gun to school. But they have and, sadly, we are left with
patrolmen in our halls and metal detectors at our doors. It is more than
metal we need to detect. It is the sound of despairing marginalized youth.
A detector cannot do that. Only teachers and parents can.
Matthew Miller is a federal law enforcement officer based in Sioux Falls,
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