Today’s Opinion: There is always tomorrow

POSTED: 03/17/11 2:13 PM

Yesterday’s court session was taken up completely by charges against four defendants who had been involved in armed robbery, car theft ill-treatment, and attempted manslaughter. Three defendants had something in common: their youth. Two of them are twenty; the third one is a year younger.
Two of these three had something else in common too: a long history of crime and wrongdoings. The first defendant enjoyed his first contacts with the police at the tender age of fourteen; the second one appeared on the justice system’s radar when he was fifteen.
Five to six years down the road, the same youngsters were sitting in court – again. Stealing cars, and robbing people at gun point are not the career choices of most people, but these youngsters seem to have a talent for getting into trouble from a very young age.
Two of the defendants are cousins, so it also seems that crime, or breaking the law, if something of a family affair.
When these youngsters, heard the prosecutor’s demands yesterday, they must have been shaking in their shoes. The cousins are facing 10 and 9 years respectively and the third youngster is looking at 9 years and 6 months.
Here is another common factor: these defendants are unemployed. They are also, in spite of their youth, already the fathers of several children.
So that sad picture that emerges here is one of a torn social fabric. Or maybe this is just another example of disinterested youngsters who think life is one big free lunch and that if they want something, all they have to do is rob someone, burgle a place, or shoot at people who do not jump at their command.
It is scary how easy people of their age revert to armed violence to get their way. They think nothing of firing a gun, though of course once they are sitting in front of a judge they are the first to claim that they did not aim at anybody, that they never intended to fire the gun and that they certainly did not have the intention to do their victim any kind of harm.
These are all pretty transparent lies, or stories fed to these young defendants by their attorneys. The truth of the matter is that many youngsters – and the three defendants that were in court are just one example among many others – live in a world of instant gratification.
They want something and they want it now. Never mind that they did not pay attention in school; never mind that they did not acquire any skills to be successful in the job market. There is always some murky friend around who knows another murky friend, who knows somebody who has a gun.
This is how loosely organized groups of so-called friends come into existence. The prosecution likes to label them as criminal organizations, but in reality they are youngsters screaming for help.
In criminal court these considerations do not count for much. Suspects have to answer for their crimes – and we are the last one to have a problem with that. But the social conditions that pushed many of these youngsters towards a life of violence and criminality are created by the government.
As long as there is no true youth policy, as long as there are no facilities for after-school activities, and as long as there is no meaningful perspective for our young people, they will do what they think they have to do to get what they want.
This should be a code red for politicians. But as usual, politicians are nowhere to be seen. After a big crime, or, say, a serious fight on a school bus, they are always prepared to produce a couple of easy sound bites for the media. But they seldom take decisive action in a way that will lead the young people of this young country in the right direction.
But, as the song goes, there is always tomorrow.

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