By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
It is axiomatic that young people must rebel. That is nothing new. It has been going on since the time of the Stone Age I suspect, and certainly during recorded history. Whether it is attire, hairstyles, music, dance or other assorted personal activities, savory or not, kids need to act out, and will. We all did it whether we wish to recall or not. But in the last number of years there has been a disturbing difference… random violence.
To be sure there are no circumstances in which vandalism and even the violent attacks against other innocent people or businesses can be condoned or rationalized. But we see that over and over these days. Protesting against social ills or injustices is part of the fabric of youth. It is in their DNA, and that is a good thing. As people age they tend to become more conservative and complacent and more easily accepting of things the way they are. Young people possess the zeal of idealism and a sense of indignation against the status quo especially when the status quo results in societal unfairness or discrimination. But what we are witnessing of late goes well beyond the pale and the norm.
The demonstrations in response to police shootings in Ferguson, New York City and now Baltimore and elsewhere have turned ugly with indiscriminate acts of destruction. Gone are the days of civil disobedience and peaceful protests. They have been displaced largely with rock and bottle throwing, setting fires and the spewing of vile insults designed to provoke an equally ugly response. To some extent it is not hard to understand how a protest with passions and emotions running high can escalate into aggression after what may be an unjust death at the hands of the local police. But how does that situation become an opportunity to loot local merchants, largely in minority communities, or commit indiscriminate vandalism? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be apoplectic at the sight of such uncontrolled and mindless fury.
But it gets worse. How does the celebration of a baseball World Series victory, or a basketball championship become cause for street violence with the overturning of cars and other acts of random destruction? We have been spectators to that scene all too often. What is going on in America’s inner cities that provokes such aberrant and volatile behavior?
As this nation still struggles to come to grips with race relations and police brutality, frequently manifest against minority persons, we must also ask the other uncomfortable questions about what is it that is motivating some people towards indiscriminate rage and attacks? When did the utter lack of respect for other people and property become so prevalent? These are question for sociologists and even psychologists. But we had all better think about it too because our own seemingly peaceful streets could erupt without notice one day.
These issues can no longer be avoided or kicked down the road for another time. The symptoms of chaos and anarchy are all around us. Better that we confront the underlying causes before it is too late. Toya Graham did, by (now famously) pulling her son from the Baltimore turmoil. At least that one young man will not get swept up or be swept away by the hysteria.