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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Society must deal with young killers

Monday, September 10, 2001

The victim was a 4-year-old boy. His killer was 8. The accomplice was 9.

In New York this week, an 8 year-old, described as a bully by neighbors, apparently used a pen to stab to death a 4-year-old neighbor. The killer's 9-year-old brother apparently helped in the murder in the hallway of a Bronx apartment.

Obviously it's useless to seek any level of understanding in this tragic episode. None exists. And yet all of society must somehow learn a lesson from this tragedy and find common solutions to assure that similar incidents are not repeated. That task may be impossible.

Is there a problem within our society that somehow leads to these tragedies? Is it as complex as a total breakdown in the family unit? Or are the usual suspects - violence on television and in the motion picture industry - to blame? The answer is not a simple one.

Do any among you know of an 8 year-old sufficiently violent to kill another child? What within us leads to this unspeakable crime?

It's far too simple to take the approach that this happens only in New York or some other urban center. The killer and victim were low-income residents of an overcrowded subsidized Bronx apartment complex. No mention in news reports is made of a father for either the killer or victim. But though these two factors - fractured family units and poverty - are commonplace, they alone cannot answer the questions.

Perhaps we over-simplify. Maybe this young killer was simply a "bad seed," a youth with no redeeming factors who was destined for violence at some age. By taking this attitude, we feel more comfortable. It happened there but it won't happen here. But I'm not so sure.

In the past two years, news reports have splashed the headlines with kid killers. Two 10 year-olds push another youngster from an apartment balcony in Chicago. A Michigan first-grader kills a classmate. A group of pre-teens kills a homeless man. And there are more.

Our social safety net is not working. It will take more than dollars from Washington to change an attitude that life is expendable. It will require a change in our culture that removes the prevalence of violence in all forms. It will require greater emphasis on two-parent households. But these are only the beginnings.

In the end, it will require a power higher than we possess. A good starting point would be the return of that power to our school systems. It may not be the total answer but it may be our only choice.

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