Vail Daily column: Our problem to solve |

Vail Daily column: Our problem to solve

Pat Mitchell
Valley Voices

I recently volunteered my past soccer experience into a rescue effort for 15 Latinos and one Latina, all teenagers here in Avon. It was created by a local attorney, Rob Sperberg, and subsidized via well-wishers and the Youth Foundation, covering church outings and soccer teams with $25 annual cost attached. It was a great way to feel connected to the community, and it helped my Spanish, too.

The media of late speaks of ideology, both domestic and international and the obvious repercussions.

Reports from Denmark, Paris and other cities reporting ISIS recruiting efforts, targeting these poor, disaffected youths in gangs. I wrote about this a month ago before the Hebdo incident, and felt recent hatemongering here and in Europe to be relevant grist for the mill.

The world need not look further than their own minority neighborhoods for evidence of the trauma gang mentality inflicts upon our world, within a pre-ISIS context.

In the 1970s I was a beat constable in Wellington, New Zealand, keeping the peace. Part of my responsibilities in my eight-hour shift included at least half the time walking the busy town shopping areas, unarmed, with a baton, handcuffs and a flawed radio device.

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Often our city gang participants, Maoris and Samoan (Hawaiian-looking) teens, would gather on street corners in groups, disheveled, tattooed and furtive. I remember thinking as I approached, uniformed, that I should prepare myself muscularly, defensively, in the event they would try causing trouble:

Does my sixth-sense-self-preservation-intuition-based-on-experience-warning-signal make me a racist? Or maybe they could sense this reaction and make themselves conflict-readier than earlier? (I’ll let a professional answer that.)

Shoppers altered their sidewalk routes, looking my way assured they would be safe. After all, they paid for that privilege.

I have a mate in Sydney, Australia, who was also a policeman, and we would often share stories of the good old days, those stories ignited by today’s headlines. His gang encounters were most often Aborigine kids, (African origin), neglected way too often by Dad, the centerpiece of my finger-pointing today.

My friend and I personally knew attorneys and bench judges in Capetown, South Africa, who often dealt with this unfortunate “youth detritus.” All had some Dad-absentia fabric in their lives, and sure, the origins of poverty and crime always fall along historical fault lines, but all seem to have one thing in common: Kids are being raised in maternal homes, where young boys don’t receive Dad-like rebuke and correction when needed. These cultures also contain inherent hall-passes for men/boys/dad to be troubadours with other women, and male diffidence toward their sons. Disrespect can be infectious.

When children need attention, they will do almost anything. When all else fails, deploying unsocial behavior will guarantee attention, first from the parent, someday from a policeman. Thus the observational critique of such behavior almost always contain reference to comments about questionable maturity levels.

Many police districts, when confronted within by racially insensitive, disproportionately violent behavior, dispense “culture sensitivity” training as a doctor would a prescription. I always wondered what the white cops learn in these sessions.

A year ago, I attended a video series at the Vail Church in Avon called “Male Passivity.” It spoke to men with proactivity and constructive assertion-deficit disorder to shape up and be men. Just the jolt in the ego I needed. I am guilty as charged, Your Honor.

By way of constructive criticism, I should at a minimum speak to solutions. Isaiah Thomas, a veteran from the Detroit Pistons, has taken this issue on with gusto. He convinced some of his sponsors, Nike included, to donate basketballs, uniforms and space to prod youth into leagues and team sports. Rahm Emanuel is helping this effort in Chicago to fix a broken neighborhood culture. Good for them.

We can no longer act like this is someone else’s job to fix; these kids deserve it.

Pat Mitchell lives in Avon.

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