Unfortunately, violence in New Orleans is once again a national conversation du jour. But where does violence come from?
The birth of violence seems to have two very distinctive pathways. The first is cognitive violence, violence that is premeditated with a distinctive plan. For example, you have a bike. I don’t have a bike. I have a gun; you don’t have a gun. I want a bike so I will use my gun to get your bike.
The other pathway to violence through the emotions. Emotionally driven violence is borne out of fear, anger, depression, anxiety or perhaps untreated mental illness or substance abuse. Emotions, especially anger, seem to be all-too-often the root of the never-ending violence we see on the streets of New Orleans. Case in point: the most recent shooting on Bourbon Street reportedly occurred because one man looked at another man in a way that was perceived to be threatening.
These are senseless crimes committed by folks who understand only violence as a way of solving a threat or gaining a possession they view as rightfully their own. Growing up in New Orleans, I had three bikes stolen from me. I vividly remember the chase and the ensuing act of someone taking something that was mine. I noted no remorse from those who took my bike — simply a jeer that they had now received a possession they somehow felt was as much theirs as mine.
Both cognitive and emotional violence are taught to individuals at a very young age, often in the homes and neighborhoods where they are raised. Violence for many is seen as a normal pattern of behavior, one that is sometimes revered as opposed to disciplined. Young children are brought often to horrific scenes of violence. I found it amazing to see the number of small children that would arrive on the ramp of University Hospital after a shooting occurred: The adults wailing, blaming others, threatening to take revenge on whoever shot their loved one, while their children played beneath their skirts, cries and threats.
Once while I was working the streets as a crisis technician with the NOPD, I responded to a call about an 8-year-old boy who was completely out of control. He had been suspended from school for violent behavior and had done a pretty good job of destroying his home upon arrival of our unit. His mother and I spent well over an hour discussing her son and the behavior that he was exhibiting. It was not until the end of our time together that the mother said to me, “I have one more thing to share. His brother had been shot and killed a week before.” Astonished that this earth-shattering information could come after an hour-long interview, the experience confirmed to me that the level of violence that we are seeing is simply becoming a norm, a way of life for many.
The sad reality is that really no amount of policing is going to change what is happening in the homes of our youngest individuals, those who are becoming earlier in life the perpetrators of horrific, violent acts. In some cases it is reported that the perpetrator is a career criminal and only 19 years of age! How did one become a career criminal at 19? It happened in his home, a home in which no one was watching or perhaps a home that condoned such behavior. It happened within a juvenile justice system that simply offered no other direction for one to go in even after being caught in the act.
The birth of violence is here and will continue to perpetuate itself until values, education, attention and additional resources that teach our children alternatives to violence are mandated at the first signs of violent, aggressive behavior. This is a huge task to undertake, but one we can no longer sweep under a rug, as we now pay the price for our years of blissful ignorance.
Cecile Tebo, a licensed clinical social worker, spent the last 10 years with the New Orleans Police Department crisis unit, and resigned in October to pursue a dream of finding new ways to improve services for the chronically mentally ill in New Orleans. Her thoughts on mental-health issues and resources in New Orleans appear Tuesdays in UptownMessenger.com.