by Sandra Parshall
It’s nothing new, kids killing kids over trendy jackets, shoes, and other apparel. Look back through news archives and you’ll find stories about such killings twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Each time it happens, though, it hits many of us with fresh shock and horror because we can’t understand this kind of violence.
Sometimes the thief plans to sell what he steals. We recognize that money causes a type of temporary insanity, and we’re used to humans killing each other for a relatively small amount, but we still have trouble understanding such a waste of life. When the thief simply wants to own the victim’s clothing rather than profit from it, and is willing to commit murder for it, we cross into crazy-in-the-head territory. We can only observe the aftermath and shake our heads.
I always wonder how the victim’s parents feel, knowing their fourteen-year-old child was murdered for a jacket or a pair of athletic shoes. I wonder how the killer’s parents feel, knowing their son has thrown away his own life and freedom in this senseless way. I always imagine a fifty-year-old man waking up in his prison cell decades from now, staring at the cracks in the ceiling, asking himself why he thought that jacket was worth killing for.
The victims and perpetrators of the most serious crimes are almost always male, although girls have their own rivalries over trendy clothes. The thieves/killers are often, but not always, from poor or lower middle-class families, and they usually get caught.
The social aspect of these crimes is easy enough to understand. Most teenagers are herd animals. They can’t bear to be left out, to stand ignored on the sidelines while everyone else runs with the herd. Trends and fads spread quickly – more quickly now, through social media, than ever before. Many teens don’t understand or don’t care about family finances. They want what other kids have, so they’ll be part of the cool group. As painful as it may be for parents to admit, peer group approval is often far more important to teens than their parents’ opinions.
When I was a teenager, Madras shirts and Bass Weejuns were all the rage. I don’t recall anybody being killed for them, but I do recall some thefts. And I remember the angst of teens whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t provide them with the latest hot item of apparel.
Remember the madness over the first Air Jordans from Nike? That sticks in our minds because the shoes have remained popular (at a less dangerous level). Many other fads have faded, and our memories of the brand names with them.
|Helly Hansen jacket|
Recently an 18-year-old man was stabbed at a Metro station by a thief who took his Helly Hansen jacket, and two other young men have been robbed at gunpoint. The mother of one victim said, “It’s every kid’s dream to have a Helly Hansen. But if I had known there was so much danger that comes with the coat, I never would have gotten him one.”
What does it take to end this incredibly stupid type of violence? In 1996, President Clinton was concerned enough to recommend that all public schools require students to wear uniforms so nobody will strut the halls showing off his status symbol and putting his life in jeopardy. Some public school systems do require uniforms, but many parents as well as students oppose what they see as an infringement on personal liberty.
Would education about the consequences stop potential thieves? Could they be scared straight before they end up killing somebody? Maybe they don’t understand that if they kill somebody they probably won’t go to a juvenile correction facility for a short stay. They will be sent to adult prison, and they’ll be there for many years. Maybe a tour of a state prison would make them think twice about committing a crime. Maybe they need to hear a graphic description of what can happen to a young man when he enters a prison filled with hardened criminals who have been locked up for a long time. Maybe someone needs to ask them how they’ll feel when they’re fifty years old, lying in their cells and staring at the ceiling, wondering why they took a life and threw away their own freedom for a trendy jacket.
I might be naive for thinking it’s even possible to get through to these kids who literally put shoes and jackets ahead of life and liberty.
What’s the alternative?
Do you have any ideas that might work?