Cecile Tebo: The birth of violence

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Cecile Tebo

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.

19 thoughts on “Cecile Tebo: The birth of violence

  1. Ceil,
    You are my hero. Your insights are so accurate and compassionate. These issues are complex, and need to be realized and action taken. It is sad to see the indifference and jaded acceptance of violance in this city. Keep writing, and keep doing what you do….it does make a difference. Thank you.

  2. Cecile, you have such an eloquent way of putting things in perspective. We’ve known for a long time that these are the issues. Now it’s time for change! Let me know if there’s any way I can help you.


  3. Glad to see you are staying with issues that you are passionate about and those which will have a lasting and positive impact on our community. Thank you!

  4. Glad to see you are keeping up the good fight! I’m still reeling over the NOPD losing you, but hopefully you can get more done being outside the department than in the department. Serpas was a fool to let you get away.

    We all appreciate everything you do. Remember, you have lots of friends and supporter in this community!

  5. Thank for for this article. I promote restorative practices in schools and neighborhoods that address the cognitive and emotional violence. There are answers and we must act now to become a restorative city when dealing with youth.

  6. I’m by no means an expert but I have given a lot of thought to the epidemic of violence that has plagued this city for way too long. So here’s my two cents’ worth…
    I think there are many different factors contributing to what IMO is correctly called a culture of violence. Lack of parenting, lack of a stable family life, lack of positive role models, lack of social skills, especially skills like conflict resolution and anger management…are all a big part of the problem.

    But there are larger forces to blame as well IMO. First of all there is the ‘gangsta’ culture, that makes it ‘cool’ for kids to own guns and commit horrible violent crimes, including murder. The people who make, promote and sell this ‘gangsta’ culture carry a heavy responsibility. Simply to claim that ‘gangsta rap is just a reflection of life in the ghetto’ does not cut it IMO. These artists, labels, etc know perfectly well that too many African-American males grow up without hardly any positive role models at all. Many of those kids look up to rap artists and try to emulate them. The responsibility lies on the shoulders of the rap industry to offer kids a positive message. Would it not make a difference if they taught kids that it’s cool to be involved in your community, promote understanding, and generally strive to live a good life and be a good person?

    Finally there is the elephant in the room; ECONOMIC factors. It’s an uncomfortable truth that New Orleans has a huge problem with deep poverty passed down from generation to generation. If you grow up feeling like you’re cut off from mainstream America and have very little opportunity in life, it inevitably creates a culture of despair and hopelessness. Lack of access to decent housing, education, or good jobs are unfortunately the harsh reality for too many in this country and especially in New Orleans. The stickers should read ‘New Orleans-Third world and ashamed of it’! I believe those of who are more fortunate have a responsibility to try and do our share to make our city a fairer and more humane place to live for ALL its citizens.

  7. Cecile-
    You are my HERO. Thank you for your time, attention to this very delicate issue.
    We did a TV appearance together many years ago- since then I have purchased a house in Central City and see first hand everything that you dealt with on your job.
    I was very sad to hear that you had left the department- you will be impossible to “replace”.
    Thank You!
    Tami Hills

  8. The jungle is all around us and it will swallow us. Maybe not today nor tomorrow, but it will eventually swallow us. What we must do we will not do. The jungle needs to be cut down and cleared.


  9. How do you explain the high level of police violence seen across the country and what is the effect of police violence as a driver for community violence? When the mayor decried our culture of violence, my first thought was the culture of violence among police.

    • Unfortunately the misdeeds are the issues highlighted where we should be focusing on the amazing, brave and talented work of the majority of those who serve the public in the capacity of law enforcement. Highlighting their achievements would bring great respect from our community and youth as opposed to simply sharing the negative experiences that some have brought to the table within the venue of where they work.

  10. I think your article is very interested. I’m struggle with my 10 year old with violent behavior. I took her to the doctor for help, given her consequences but to no avail, she continue to demonstrate this behavior. It all started after Katrina, Katrina took a lot from my child and now she seems to want to take from others.

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