Pro­files in cow­ardice

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Dana D. Kel­ley Dana D. Kel­ley is a free­lance writer from Jones­boro.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama proved once again that he is a good speech­maker. His farewell ad­dress was mov­ing and touch­ing at mo­ments.

Hav­ing said that, he also proved him­self a poor speech con­tent man­ager.

On Tues­day night, the na­tion was still reel­ing from a sick­en­ing Face­book Live feed of a teenager bound, beaten and tor­tured by four other young adults who were charged last Thurs­day, and a deadly shoot­ing ram­page at Fort Laud­erdale In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Satur­day.

A cor­ner­stone of Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign was a pledge to make Amer­i­can in­ner cities and streets safer, which res­onated with vot­ers and vic­tims in ar­eas pre­vi­ously taken for granted by Democrats. Chicago just posted the high­est mur­der rate in two decades, and set a record for shoot­ings in 2016. Another 28 peo­ple were shot on New Year’s Day.

And yet in a fi­nal speech of more than 4,200 words, the word “crime” is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent. The omis­sion is a punc­tu­a­tion point to the pres­i­dent’s and his party’s deaf ear about an is­sue that af­fects mil­lions of vic­tims.

The com­mon thread link­ing the Fort Laud­erdale shoot­ing and the Chicago tor­ture crimes is de­spi­ca­ble cow­ardice.

The two males in Chicago posed for their mug shots with chin-up de­fi­ance. Real tough guys, us­ing a tied-up kid for a punch­ing bag. And the Fort Laud­erdale shoot­ing sus­pect al­legedly knocked his girl­friend around prior to en­gag­ing in a gun­fight with un­armed el­derly trav­el­ers.

Both in­ci­dents were also par­tially cap­tured on video. They are dis­turb­ing to watch.

To see a ter­ri­fied hu­man be­ing bound and gagged is in­nately revolting. But the girl film­ing it was con­stantly laugh­ing, as were her code­viant co­horts. And when they weren’t guf­faw­ing in whoops and hollers they were drop­ping f-bombs and other foul-mouthed and maimed-gram­mar ex­pres­sions like stereo­typ­i­cal car­i­ca­tures.

These are pre­cisely the kind of “knuck­le­heads” Bill Cosby was talk­ing about in his speech com­mem­o­rat­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of Brown v. Board

of Ed­u­ca­tion: “They can’t speak Eng­lish. I can’t even talk the way these peo­ple talk.”

Col­lec­tively, as­sum­ing all four stayed in school, they rep­re­sent an in­vest­ment by Chicago pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion of nearly $750,000. And they can’t string a sub­ject and verb to­gether with­out adding f-words.

If it wasn’t nau­se­at­ing to re­mem­ber, when the girl turns the cam­era back to her­self, that there’s a scared and bru­tal­ized vic­tim cow­er­ing in the cor­ner just a few feet away, the sound­track would be com­i­cal. No co­me­dian, not even Cosby, could par­ody the re­al­ity of their butch­ery of the lan­guage with more hi­lar­ity.

But noth­ing about the episode is funny. It’s hor­rific, not only be­cause we got an un­var­nished glimpse of bar­barous teenage tor­ture in an era of un­par­al­leled civ­i­lized so­phis­ti­ca­tion, but also be­cause this glimpse is but the tip of the ice­berg.

The thugs re­port­edly held their vic­tim cap­tive for two or three days; only about an hour and a half got recorded on video. It’s har­row­ing to imag­ine the other un­told and un­seen hor­rors.

Pre­sum­ably, these vot­ers on the video are among those who stayed home in­stead of turn­ing out for Hil­lary Clin­ton. It’s al­most as stom­ach-turn­ing to imag­ine their truly de­plorable vote count­ing the same as re­spon­si­ble adults’, and to con­tem­plate that the fu­ture of the repub­lic is in an)y way con­nected with their wildly re­miss moral, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal com­passes.

“F*** Don­ald Trump” they shouted, in be­tween phys­i­cal slaps and ver­bal be­rat­ing of their hostage (their ran­som de­mands re­flected their am­bi­tions: a whop­ping $300).

This rare, un­cen­sored peek into poor in­ner-city teenage life­style should be a wake-up call on sev­eral fronts, not the least of which is its dis­con­nect from all sem­blances of nor­mal de­cency.

The curs­ing, the vul­gar­ity, the il­lit­er­ate lan­guage, the idle­ness, the cal­lous­ness, the law­less­ness (even if non­vi­o­lent)—much of what is seen on the video is ev­ery­day rou­tine for far too many young adults in ur­ban de­cay ar­eas.

On the streets, what hap­pened to their kid­nap vic­tim wouldn’t be con­sid­ered all that se­ri­ous. He sur­vived, with no gun­shot wounds, no bro­ken bones. In a lot of high crime-rid­den neigh­bor­hoods, worse fates be­fall teenagers all the time.

Down south across the con­ti­nent, the sus­pected air­port shooter left a litany of red flags be­fore fi­nally grad­u­at­ing into cold-blooded mass mur­der.

Re­ported do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence in­ci­dents, child pornog­ra­phy in­ves­ti­ga­tions, re­strain­ing-or­der vi­o­la­tions, il­le­gal weapons, com­plaints to the FBI of mind-con­trol about join­ing ISIS. It’s hard to con­coct a clearer com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors all point­ing in a dan­ger­ous di­rec­tion, and yet our labyrinth of laws some­how con­tain loop­holes large enough for homi­ci­dal ma­ni­acs to slip through.

Pun­dits com­plain that we have too many peo­ple in pri­son, but that’s a mis­placed anal­y­sis. We have too many vi­o­lent crim­i­nals still run­ning free. All prisons can do is sep­a­rate harm­ful crim­i­nals from so­ci­ety, which is enough.

But prisons won’t fix any­thing. That will take ma­jor changes in at­ti­tudes about par­ent­ing and school­ing in ar­eas where money is scarce and so­cial mal­adies are ram­pant. Maybe a new pres­i­dent can help, maybe not. But at least he’s will­ing to talk about it as an im­por­tant pri­or­ity.

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