America the Violent
America the Violent
By Ed Nizalowski
I had been completely out of touch with the news the second full week of January. This may be a healthy respite from someone like myself who is a political news junkie. Maybe I'm keep trying to live up to an award I received in 8th grade for showing an interest and passion for current events. As I collected by bearings at a bus station before heading back to my home, I caught some references on their TV monitors about some horrific act in Arizona. As I caught up with my newspapers and email, the scope of this latest mass shooting started to materialize. A lone gunman with long-standing psychiatric problems had gone to a Safeway in Tuscon on January 8th where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding her 1st Congress On Your Corner meeting. The accused gunman, Jared Loughner, reportedly took out a Glock 19 pistol shooting Ms. Giffords in the head. In the next 15 seconds he empties a clip of 31 bullets killing six and wounding 13 others. The dead included a Federal judge, a great-grandmother and a 9-year-old child.
Analysis of the event and proscriptions for lessening the possibilities of further such violent catastrophes are ongoing. Are we entering a new era of political violence? Has the rhetoric of right-wing pundits and officials pushed this individual over the brink of sanity? Should there be a tightening of gun control laws? How do we heal the families, the State of Arizona and the nation when such events take place? Many of these questions follow the groove of an old record. President Obama made a special trip to be part of the memorial service and reconciliation effort and gave a very finely worded and measured speech as a way of “healing the nation”. It was meant as a tome to help us face each day without letting the baggage of tragedy stifle our efforts to make the world a better place. The miracle in this mass killing spree is that Rep. Giffords somehow survived in spite of a massive head wound. Her progress has brought a note of cheer in an otherwise gloomy and depressing drama.
The questions in the preceding paragraph loom large in my efforts to make sense of the world when such events occur, but many commentators and analysts both on the political, cultural and social level place this in the larger context of the role of violence in America. I can't stop the overwhelming message and conclusion that we live in a violent country. The violence is historical, its pervasive, its endemic; we become immune to the less horrific forms and erase much of it from our collective memory. I have started thinking that there needs to be a new self-help group: Violent Countries Anonymous. Someone needs to represent us and declare openly at the first meeting and any continued meetings: “I am the United States of America. I am a violent country”. America is not alone, of course. There is no shortage of violent countries in the world either in the present or the past, but American violence needs to be analyzed, studied and contemplated in a way that will give us some understanding and tools for diminishing its frequency and the savageness of is occurrence.
Our violence started soon after we started our first settlements. We began a long protracted war with our native peoples that continues to the present day in many respects. Even when reconciliation was pursued in earnest, the differences in western culture meshing with the philosophies of aboriginal peoples would eventually lead to further hostilities and further loss of land and identity for our original inhabitants. Our country advanced economically on the backs of Africans ripped from their home continent and thrust into a new and terrifying world. Slavery would exist in all thirteen colonies and even when the North abolished outright ownership of humans, the states north of the Mason-Dixon line still benefited from human beings kept in bondage in the South. It would take a Civil War that resulted in the greatest loss of life of any of America's wars to finally end the institution of slavery.
With industrialization came the concurrent rise of exploitation of the working classes. Thousands died, were maimed or had their health destroyed for the sake of the profit motive. Not until unions had greater legal standing and the stability that came along in the 1930's did working men and women have a legitimate chance of enjoying the fruits of their labors and some assurance that old age would give respite and enjoyment from life's toils. Fully half of our population, our women, have experienced violence and abuse far beyond what we like to acknowledge. The power structure and civil authorities subjected the suffragists to abuse both physical and psychological right up to the passage of the 19th amendment. Misogynist values still dominate certain types of media, advertising, popular music and aspects of the pornography industry.
We have been in constant war with our environment. It was viewed as something to be used, destroyed and modified to suit the ends of individual advancement and aggrandizement. Our wetlands, our grasslands, our mineral resources, our forests and all the flora and fauna were viewed as impediments to progress or tools to be utilized for the advancement of American civilization. Fortunately the environmental ethos from the turn of the 20th century helped save huge areas of our western natural areas.
Gun violence is such a pervasive part of our lives that only attacks on public officials or attacks that result in multiple deaths appear in news headlines. The January 24, 2011, issue of Time magazine gave the following statistics. In one year 31, 224 people die from gun violence and 12,632 people are murdered. The number who kill themselves reaches the figure of 17,352 with 683 of those being children and teens. Each day 86 people die from gun violence, 35 of them murdered.
Four of our presidents have been assassinated with two other serious attempts. The 1960's saw the assassination of not just John F. Kennedy, but also of his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Going back to 2008 the spike in political acts of violence has taken a severe climb. In July of that year a gunman walked into a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killing two and wounding four others. In October in the same state two Neo-Nazis were arrested in a plot to kill dozens of African-Americans with the culminating act the assassination of Obama. In December authorities in Belfast, Maine, uncovered the makings of a “dirty nuclear bomb” in the basement of a white supremacist.
The April 2009 three police officers were killed in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist named Richard Poplawski. They had been called to his home for a domestic violence call. Poplawski was convinced that Obama was taking the guns away from white citizens like himself. A similar incident took place in the same month in Okaloosa County, Florida. This month also saw a Vietnamese immigrant, Jiverly Wong, walk into the American Civic Association in Binghamton killing 13 before taking his own life. He sprayed the room with 98 rounds in just over a minute. In May came the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, followed in the next month by a security guard being killed at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. In November Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 and wounded 32 at Fort Hood.
In February 2010 Joseph Ray Stark leaft a suicide note that read in part: "Well Mr. Big Brother IRS Man ... take my pound of flesh and sleep well", and flew into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. In March seven members of the Hutaree Militia were arrested for an assassination plot against police officers in the hope of starting a race war. In September a paranoid schizophrenic named Casey Brezik had plans to assassinate the Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon. Nixon came to Brezik's community college for a speaking engagement. Brezik knifed a college dean by accident; fortunately, the dean survived.
As macabre footnote to all this, in 2008 an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot himself with Uzi submachine gun at a gun fair in Massachusetts. Although the boy's father had signed a waiver protecting the gun fair organizers against a persona injury lawsuit, the boy was being supervised by an unlicensed and uncertified teenager. The gun fair was being run by a former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury who had been charged with involuntary manslaughter and other charges. In mid-January of this year a jury found Fleury innocent. On March 17th of this year Utah became the first state to have an official firearm. The designated gun is the Browning M1911 named in honor of John Browning, a Utah native who invented the gun in 1911. Just two days before a Republican State Legislator in Kansas made the following statement comparing feral hogs and illegal immigrants: “It looks like to me that if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem,” Regarding the protesters in Wisconsin, Jeff Cox, the Indiana Deputy Attorney General, suggested that “live ammunition” be used on them. Cox was fired, but coming from someone in his capacity makes one think that these kind of thoughts are very widespread.
Without demonizing the military or lessening the contributions of the millions of selfless men and women who have served, our armed forces, unfortunately, have much too often been used to violently expand our borders and impose our will on the rest of the world. Our war with Native Americans has already been mentioned. Our war with Mexico helped serve the vision of Manifest Destiny and add one more slave state. The Spanish-American War added Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. Hawaii was added as kind of a footnote in this same period. The Philippines did not come under our complete control until an insurrection was brutally suppressed. Officially the war lasted three years, but certain guerrilla elements kept fighting until 1913. There were few countries south of our border that did not see some kind of US military intervention especially in the period of 1890 to 1930. The Panama Canal came into existence along with the nation of Panama when US warships blocked Columbian troops from suppressing a revolt.
It was during the period of time that the military career of Smedley Butler evolved. Butler became a Major General in the Marine Corps and in his 34-year career earned 16 medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. But instead of basking in the glory of these heroic accomplishments, his experience in the military and with US foreign policy left him completely disillusioned by the time he retired in 1931. His expose War Is A Racket is widely circulated among peace activists and others alarmed at the influence of the military-industrial complex.
This passage from the socialist magazine Common Sense gives a synopsis of his anti-militaristic philosophy:
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
Currently our defense budget is using more in constant dollars than at any time since the Cold War. Our budget is equal to the the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. There are 737 military bases in the US alone and if Iraq and Afghanistan are counted, over 1,000 overseas.
When military force is not feasible, warranted or too risky, we have sent in CIA agents to work a variety of covert operations. Some of the most notable involved the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 which brought Shah Pahlavi to power. His secret police force, the SAVAK, brutally stifled dissent. In 1954 the democratically elected Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala was overthrown. A series of brutal military dictators follow resulting in the death of over 100,000 Guatemalans over the next 40 years. The CIA stayed especially busy in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs invasion and operations in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and the Congo. The CIA was behind Operation PHEONIX which helped Vietnamese identify and assassinate Vietcong leaders during the Vietnam War.
The CIA assisted in the capture of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1971. The operatives involved in the Watergate break-in of 1972 had extensive CIA backgrounds. In 1973 Chile's first socialist democratic leader, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and assassinated. He was replaced by a military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. At the time of his death in 2006, Pinochet had 300 criminal charges pending against him for human rights violations, tax evasion and embezzlement. Agents of Pinochet's secret police were responsible for the death of Dr. Orlando Letelier along with his American assistant Ronni Moffitt in a car bomb attack in 1976. Letelier had been appointed ambassador to the United States by Allende and was a fierce opponent of Pinochet.
In 1980 the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romeo, pleaded with President Carter to stop aid to the military government. This request is refused. Soon after the right-wing leader of El Salvador, Roberto D'Aubuisson, has Romeo shot while he is saying mass. In the ensuing civil war, the CIA and US military forces sided with D'Aubuisson. Some 63,000 Salvadorans were killed by 1992 including such atrocities as the massacre at El Mazote which resulted in the death of between 700 and 1,000 men, women and children. The Iran/Contra scandal of 1986 brought to light the covert funding for the Contras who were attempting to overthrow the elected-leftist government in Nicaragua.
One of the few Congressmen who is willing to opening criticize the CIA is Libertarian Representative Ron Paul of Texas. In a speech made on Jan. 21, 2010, he called for the dissolution of the agency accusing it of “thousands of illegal and immoral acts around the world, including almost unfathomable mass murder and countless acts of terrorism and torture.” According to John Stockwell, a former CIA agent:
“The CIA and the big corporations were, in my experience, in step with each other.... The CIA had been running thousands of operations over the years… there have been about 3,000 major covert operations and over 10,000 minor operations… all designed to disrupt, destabilize, or modify the activities of other countries… But they are all illegal and they all disrupt the normal functioning, often the democratic functioning, of other societies.”
The CIA's involvement with drugs which in turn finances many of their operations simply makes your head twist a few times before it lands on the floor.
This information can be verified and expanded upon through the following resources: Timeline of US Military Operations (Wikipedia); Timeline of CIA Atrocities by Steve Kangas http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/CIAtimeline.html ; Keeping Track of the Empire's Crimes: Assassinations and Coups by William Blum.
The death of 9-year-old Christina Green in Tucson adds this immense layer of pathos and despair to an already catastrophic tragedy. She was born on the day of the attack on the Twin Towers: September 11, 2001. Her family was living in West Grove, Pennsylvania, at the time and she was one of the “50 Faces of Hope”, one of 50 children born on that day from the 50 states. She was a child who loved animals and volunteered at t children's charity. According to her mother “From the very beginning, she was an amazing child .... She was very bright, very mature, off the charts. She was the brightest thing that happened that day.”
Since she was on the student council at her elementary school, a neighbor of Giffords', Suzi Hileman, a social worker, thought that Christina would enjoy seeing politics in action and brought her to the Safeway parking lot. Hileman, who was injured in the rampage herself, had told Christina: “That could be you. There is no reason on God's green earth that you can't grow up to be that, if that's what you want to be.” There was one piece of positive news to emerge: her organs became part of a donor bank and have already saved the life of child in Boston.
In Obama's speech he made an eloquent reference to this young girl:
“And in Christina...in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.”
Christina's death brought my mind back to that of another “child” who was born in very different and extremely difficult circumstances on the other side of the world. Using the term “child” seems completely inadequate, but our language doesn't have other terms to describe what this individual accomplished in his tragically short life. I'm speaking of Iqbal Masih, whose name should be as well known as Christina's, as well known as anyone who rose from dire circumstances and made the ultimate sacrifice for those less fortunate. Iqbal was born in 1983 although his exact birth date is not known. He was born into a Catholic Pakistani family in a small village outside of Lahore. When Iqbal was born his father, Saif Masih, abandoned the family. The mother whose only income was housecleaning found it impossible to maintain her household.
Consequently at age four, Iqbal became a “child slave” to a local carpet maker for the equivalent of 12 US dollars. As a result of working fourteen hours a day with inadequate food and care, Iqbal was undersized: as a twelve-year old he looked more like someone half his age. Failure to “obey” would result in whippings, cuttings or beatings. Iqbal managed to escape one day and contacted the local constable regarding the horrible working conditions under which he and other children were subjected. The constable sided with the carpet maker and told his “employer” to put Iqbal in chains.
At age 10 he was able to escape once again and joined the BLLF (Bonded Labor Liberation Front). In this capacity he helped 3,000 other Pakistani children escape servitude and spoke on the issue of child labor all over the world. This included an address to the UN. His work resulted in receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1994, but this would be one of the few awards Iqbal would experience in his lifetime. On April 16, 1995, Easter Sunday, as Iqbal was returning from church, he was shot to death in the back with a twelve gage shotgun in his home village of Muridke. His murderer or the people who may have sponsored the killing have never been brought to justice. It is assumed that this was the work of the “carpet mafia” and was brought about because of Iqbal's activities on behalf of child labor. Officially the killing was ruled an accident.
One of the places that Iqbal visited was the Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts. When the 7th graders that he spoke to learned of his death, they began an effort to build a school in his honor in Pakistan. In the year 2000, he was posthumously awarded The World's Children Prize for the Rights of the Child. In January of 2009 the US Congress established the annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. His life and work inspired a twelve-year-old Canadian boy, Craig Kielburger, to devote his life to Iqbal's cause and create Free the Children.
Two children: one whose life ended at nine and the other at age twelve. The nine year old had what appears to be a wonderful home life with loving supportive parents in a nurturing environment. The future should have been a continuation of this pattern, but was cut short by an inexplicable and insane act of violence. For the twelve-year-old a good portion of the first nine years were a living hell, but not only was this timid soul lifted out of these horrible circumstances, this “child” became an advocate for all those other children whose fate was similar. This life also ended in an act of violence, but it was an act of violence that was calculated, planned and purposeful. It was meant not to snuff just one life, but to destroy the spirit embodied in his existence and as a warning to any who should venture down the same path.
America's Children: Slipping Further and Further From Our Ideals
Whether we look at our nine-year-olds or that immense group that we label children, the failings and short-comings of our culture and society weigh heavily upon them. According to figures compiled by the Children's Defense Fund in its “State of America's Children” report released in May 2010, the number of children living in poverty is over 14 million with almost half of that number living in extreme poverty. This is an almost 18% increase over the past decade. Over 8 million lack health coverage. The report goes on the say:
“According to the CDF report, children in America lag behind almost all industrialized nations on key child indicators. The United States has the unwanted distinction of being the worst among industrialized nations in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, in teen birth rates, and in child gun violence.”
In ranking the United State with other industrialized countries, the following statistics are both numbing and sobering:
- 1st in gross domestic product
- 1st in number of billionaires
- 1st in number of persons incarcerated
- 1st in health expenditures
- 1st in military technology
- 1st in defense expenditures
- 1st in military weapons exports
- 21st in 15-year-olds’ science scores
- 21st in low birthweight rates
- 25th in 15-year-olds’ math scores
- 28th in infant mortality rates
- Last in relative child poverty
- Last in the gap between the rich and the poor
- Last in adolescent birth rates (ages 15 to 19)
- Last in protecting our children against gun violence
- The United States and Somalia (which has no legally constituted government) are the only two
- United Nations members that have failed to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When specific minorities are examined, referring to parts of America as third-world entities becomes all too apparent. This observation was also included in the report: Black women in the United States are more likely to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth than women in Uzbekistan.
Here was another way of looking at the data:
- Every minute a baby is born to a teen mother.
- Every minute a baby is born at low birthweight.
- Every 4 minutes a child is arrested for a drug offense.
- Every 7 minutes a child is arrested for a violent crime.
- Every 18 minutes a baby dies before his or her first birthday.
- Every 45 minutes a child or teen dies from an accident.
- Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.
- Every 5 hours a child or teen commits suicide.
- Every 6 hours a child is killed by abuse or neglect
The American Humane Association, which covers the welfare of both animals and children in its mission, has these figures:
Child Abuse and Neglect Are Everywhere
- In federal fiscal year 2005, an estimated 3.3 million children were allegedly abused or neglected and underwent investigations or assessments by state and local child protective services agencies. Approximately 940,500 children were determined to be victims of child maltreatment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007).
- In 2005, an estimated 1,460 children died due to child abuse or neglect. More than 75 percent of children who were killed were younger than 4 years old. More than 40 percent of child fatalities were attributed to neglect. Physical abuse was also a major contributor to child fatalities (USDHHS, 2007).
- Every day in America, approximately 2,463 children are determined to be victims of abuse or neglect (USDHHS, 2007).
- As of September 30, 2004, there were 517,000 children in foster care in the United States (USDHHS, AFCARS*, 2006).
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that there are 1.5 million children who have parents incarcerated in state or federal prisons or in jails (Children’s Defense Fund, 2005).
Violent Crime Is a Reality for Many of Our Children
- An estimated 3.3 to 10 million children a year are at risk of witnessing domestic violence, which can produce a range of emotional, psychological or behavioral problems for children. Children who are exposed to domestic violence are at a greater risk of being abused or neglected themselves (CDF, 2005).
- In just one year (2003), 2,827 children and teens died from gun violence, which is more than the number of fighting American men and women killed in hostile action in Iraq in the three years from 2003 to April 2006 (CDF, 2006).
- From 1979 to 2003, approximately 100,000 children and teens were killed by firearms. Children are twice as likely as adults to be victims of violence and more likely to be killed by adults than by other children (CDF, 2005).
- Each day in America, 181 children are arrested for violent crimes (CDF, 2006).
- There are at least 2,225 child offenders in the United States sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison (Human Rights Watch, 2006).
Figures for abuse that is of a sexual nature were given specific attention:
According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), an estimated 9.3 percent of confirmed or substantiated child abuse and neglect cases in 2005 involved sexual abuse (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007). This figure translates into over 83,800 victims in 2005 alone (USDHHS, 2007). Other studies suggest that even more children suffer abuse and neglect than is ever reported to child protective services agencies. Statistics indicate that girls are more frequently the victims of sexual abuse, but the number of boys is also significant.
The World's Children Have Even Greater Sufferings
These figures come from the organization Save the Children. In 2009, the world broke a record that no one wanted to break: The number of people suffering from hunger around the globe hit the 1 billion mark, including more than 400 million children.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 12 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. In better times, rural communities used to care for children who had lost their parents, but the sheer number of orphans from AIDS has overwhelmed their capacity.
With 52 percent of rural American children obese or overweight, a healthy lifestyle for children has become another Save the Children priority. In 2009, Save the Children and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation joined forces to fight the childhood obesity epidemic through the new Campaign for Healthy Kids.
From UNICEF, the world’s premier children’s organization, part of the United Nations:
- 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation
- 1 billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development
- 148 million under 5 in developing regions are underweight for their age
- 101 million children are not attending primary school, with more girls than boys missing out
- 22 million infants are not protected from diseases by routine immunization
- 8 million children worldwide died before their 5th birthday in 2009
- 4 million newborns worldwide are dying in the first month of life
- 2 million children under 15 are living with HIV
- 500,000 women die each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth
“The continuation of this suffering and loss of life contravenes the natural human instinct to help in times of disaster. Imagine the horror of the world if a major earthquake were to occur and people stood by and watched without assisting the survivors! Yet every day, the equivalent of a major earthquake killing over 30,000 young children occurs to a disturbingly muted response. They die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
from “A Spotty Scorecard” UNICEF, Progress of Nations 2000
In spite of these depressing statistics, child mortality has decreased in the last 10 years. The reasons for this seeming anomaly were due to more accurate statistical accounting, malaria prevention and use of drugs for the newborns of AIDS-infected mothers.
According to OneWorld.Net located in Britain, these are statistics regarding child labor in the world:
In 2008 there were 215 million children working illegally in the eyes of international law, almost 14% of all the world’s children under 18. This includes 115 million children under that age engaged in "hazardous work" which could threaten their safety or health such as handling chemicals, heavy loads or enduring long hours.
The darkest category of child labour relates to those children caught up in criminal activities such as prostitution, military enrollment, slavery (such as bonded labour), or trafficking (which involves the removal of a child from its home, often involving deception and payment, for a wide range of exploitative purposes).
These activities are beyond the reach of statistical surveys but the numbers are likely to be over 10 million. Together with hazardous work, they are described as the "worst forms of child labour."
Despite the ending of various civil wars and release of tens of thousands of child soldiers in the period since 2004, the UN still names as many as 16 armies and groups where recruitment continues. An estimated total of up to 300,000 children are in military service, including a significant proportion of girls.
Child Sexual Slavery
The number of children victimized by sexual slavery and prostitution worldwide is difficult to estimate, but it probably runs into the hundreds of thousands. There are some estimates from various countries that help put this particular issue into perspective:
- In Cambodia, it has been estimated that about a third of all prostitutes are under 18.
- The exact number of child-prostitutes in Thailand is not known, but Thailand’s Health System Research Institute reports that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand.
- In India, the federal police say that around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution. A CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) statement said that studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimated that about 40% of all India's prostitutes are children.
- Although females make up the majority of these “sex slaves”, boys are victimized as well.
The United States is also part of this horrible phenomenon:
In 2001, Dr. Richard Estes and Dr. Neil Alan Weiner estimated that in the U.S., 162,000 U.S. homeless youth are child prostitutes (CVE or Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) and that 57,800 children in homes (including public housing) are estimated to be victims of CVE. They also estimated that 30% of shelter youth and 70% of homeless youth are victims of CVE in the United States. One third of street-level prostitutes in the U.S. are under 18 years old while fifty percent of off-street prostitutes are less than 18 years old. Off-street prostitution includes massage parlors, strip clubs, and escort services. According to Estes and Weiner, 12 to 14 is the average age of entry into prostitution for girls under 17 years old in the United States while the average age of entry into prostitution is between 11 and 13.
Somehow there is a link that connects all this. Some common thread that unites the violence we have inflicted on others, the violence we have inflicted on ourselves and the mistreatment, abuse and neglect that pervades the lives of so many of our children. Perhaps a darkness in our soul that clouds our humanity and sense of justice; a darkness that we hide for the sake of material gain and helps us hide the reality of those victims, young and old, who have voices that are mute or quickly silenced. It is not as if the information cannot be accessed, investigated and discussed, but even when occasional incidents are given priority over sports' scores or business reports, most of us will push these reports to the side. They will become “unfortunate episodes”, “isolated incidents”, “a tragic occurrence”.
What can we do to place the nine-year-old Christina and the twelve-year-old Iqbal into some measure of equal acknowledgment, equal importance and equal status? How do we start to fill that chasm that separates the lives of these two children and the millions of others who they represent, a chasm that seems to grow ever wider and with millions more being placed into circumstances that blunt the hope of reaching some kind of fulfillment in life?
First we should acknowledge and never forget about the nine and twelve-year-olds and all the other children who died at places like Wounded Knee, Sand Creek and Ludlow. We should never forget about the children whose lives were cut short as chimney sweeps, as breaker boys in the coal mines or as doffers in the bobbin mills. There were children killed at My Lai, children who died from our embargo and invasion of Iraq and children currently being killed in Afghanistan. This will help us in our understanding and desire to alleviate and eliminate the scourges of child labor, child prostitution, child abuse and child soldiers. Then we can move toward adequate food, shelter, clothing, education and health care for not just the children of our own country, but for the children of the world. Certainly a visionary ideal and one that has had millions of individuals and groups who have made every sacrifice necessary to fulfill what should not just be a distant dream, but a common reality.
If we don't develop these attitudes and move our economic, social and political priorities more in these directions, the violence of Tuscon will be an act not of isolation, but as a scene in a protracted and seemingly endless tragedy. Let us hope that Obama's message of “I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations” will truly be an inspiration for a new beginning, and not a phrase that will be pulled out again at the next tragedy involving children.
*AFCARS: Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System