A Moment of Silence, Make that Two

SF Chronicle, today,

”A 15-year-old boy has been charged in the Dec. 20 fatal shooting and robbery of a 17-year-old Torian Hughes in West Oakland.

The suspect, whose name was not released because of his age, is also charged with robbing a 16-year-old boy who was with Hughes.”

Please take a minute to breathe and reflect.  A child has been shot down on the streets of Oakland and another child did the shooting.  Both are tragedies, and I can bet you both are victims.  Unfortunately this happens so much that is hardly news…But it should be.

I know a little bit about this, not this case, but the kids who become shooters.  One of my close family is that kid, grew up in the Lower Bottoms, got substandard schooling, had a lot of issues and trauma.  And he found himself out on the street at 18.

We did get him into community college, and he started, but he had money woes, and family problems, and was kicked out of his house.  And when he left there, the streets were there to claim him.  He knew the streets and the gangs, they were where he grew up and who he hung with, many of them were literally his family.

I was out of the country then, but when I would come back he would talk about being shot at, and some of the dangers.  He was using drugs then, serious drugs, and he was doing bad things.  And the reality of it was that when you don’t have a home or rent, you pay for that roof and sleeping couch somehow, and that somehow was doing dirt, with and for the people he stayed with.

On drugs, and out of control, he shot someone in a robbery, no good reason to do it.  If you ask him now why he did it, he couldn’t give a good reason.  And I know that some folks had a hard time hearing it, but he really was/is a good kid/man.

And going to his sentencing, and reading everything that happened to him—really a life shuttling between abuse and neglect, and I read about abuse I didn’t even know about.  He was a traumatized and hopeless kid.  When you don’t have hope you don’t care about anyone else really.   If your life is not valued by society, how can you see its value or the value of others’.

When he was probably around 12 I asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up—he said, “alive”.

When we celebrated his 18th birthday, he said he never thought he would make it to 18, and we celebrated that he did.

I was in the courtroom for sentencing, originally facing 18 years to life, he admitted his role, while deliberately not implicating anyone else (you know that whole no snitching thing).  He got 8 years, and was led away in shackles, no hugs, can’t even raise your hand to wave goodbye.  Its an experience that still makes me shudder.

He’s out now, older wiser, struggling, but holding down a job, relationship, being a dad, going to school to get a better job.

And I love this kid, I would trust my life, family and home with him.  He’s a good young man, really just struggling to make it.

I think back around what if his life was different, if he wasn’t in foster care, if his parents were there to care for him and protect him, if these experiences that would break most kids didn’t happen.

He wasn’t a born shooter, we made him, and I think that age, love, and experience have unmade him from that.

There is no easy answer to the plague of violence in Oakland, or the seeming unending line of kids who are raised on the streets, who don’t feel valued by anyone and therefore don’t value others.   But we need to start somewhere in showing every child in Oakland that they are loved and cared for, if not by their family, by the broader community, in schools, supplementary programs or mentoring.

Abuse, neglect, and alienation are the parents of a shooter, while love, caring community, and acceptance are the antidotes.  Oakland, we need to do better in embracing our often challenging and disaffected youth, if not for their sake. For ours.

What do you think?

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