"It hurts me so bad, these young men killing each other," Gail Gainer, concerned and vigilant citizen of northwest Baltimore, said in this space a couple of weeks ago, after her son narrowly escaped a late-night street shooting. "What in the world is wrong with these guys? Why do they want to keep killing each other?"
Those were expressions of frustration, to be sure, because Ms. Gainer knows the answers to Baltimore's toughest and most enduring questions. She knows why it keeps happening because she's lived within earshot of the violence for years, and she's seen many young men come and go, caught in the cycle of drugs and trouble. She's familiar with their stories.
Still, many Sun readers responded to Ms. Gainer's questions. One of them was a middle school teacher named Cornell Dews.
But, unlike the rest, Mr. Dews, wasn't eager to share his own views. Instead, he wanted to know what his students would say.
Mr. Dews' students attend classes at the Children's Guild, an organization that has been in the good fight for more than half a century, caring for and trying to educate emotionally disturbed children. I'm always struck by the contrast between people who rattle off cynical and callous opinions about the city's social problems and those who actually do something about them. The men and women at the Children's Guild are probably too busy, usually, trying to help kids overcome disabilities, family dysfunction and poverty to write or call me.
But I'm glad Mr. Dews did.
Here's how some of his students answered their city's toughest questions: Why do young men keep killing each other? How do we get them to stop? (Mr. Dews provided only first names to protect the children's identities, two students asked that their first names not be used at all.)
Imani said: "It's because they have nobody to trust and wasn't given the love that they need. They weren't taught how to control their temper and more than likely have something going on in their family or with their friends, and they thinks it's OK to kill."
Daquan: "They think that a gun or another weapon solves every problem. They think it's cool to take people's life away from them and just be mad that they don't have what other people have. They are trying to destroy us smart kids' spirit. They are trying to take us down, not to succeed. They do not want to see us successful, that's why they try to take our lives from us."
Keith: "They want to express themselves to people and it seems like they aren't getting the attention they need. ... We can open our school to them and maybe we can convince them to learn, and that will give them a reason not to kill each other."
Johnny: "The kids need to be given something to do positive, something that will make them feel better about themselves. They call young men like me at-risk, but we can change. We all have hope. Just believe in yourself. Just be like Dr. King and have a dream and accomplish it, for the better of mankind. ... And one thing that will keep them from killing is to show them that you care."
A 13-year-old boy said, "When they were growing up, all they saw was killings, shootings, crimes, and they also thought, 'If I don't do this, I will probably end up dead.' They have no way of expressing their feelings. This is because probably when they were young they had no shoulder to cry on."
A girl, also 13, added, "Maybe they get so upset and they don't know how to talk to somebody about what's going on with them and they just take it out on the world. Some people been through a lot, so they feel down in life and they feel like giving up on themselves. ... Some think killing is the answer, but that's not how you solve a problem. Some people are in gangs and some of them think it's cool to be in a gang, but it's not. ... Help them not to kill each other and talk to them about what can happen to them if they do kill someone, like going to jail for life. We want them to stop killing each other. We are all family in God's way."
Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.