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Gang violence hits city’s youth with stress syndrome

Tributes to Jaewon Martin were left at his locker in the Timilty Middle School in June. The 14-year-old student was fatally shot in May on a Jamaica Plain basketball court. Tributes to Jaewon Martin were left at his locker in the Timilty Middle School in June. The 14-year-old student was fatally shot in May on a Jamaica Plain basketball court. (Michele Mcdonald for The Boston Globe/File)
August 20, 2010

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I TAUGHT Steven Odom the day of his murder and Jaewon Martin two days before his. Their killings caused many of their classmates to relive those of other friends and family members, and wonder whether the random victim might just as well have been one of them. “What does it matter if I always do the right thing? I may be next.’’ This sentiment crops up in their conversation, journals, and attitudes.

Most of them say their peers join gangs for security from the threat of other gangs, because of dysfunctional families, and for money that is often used to help these families. These causes are occasionally mentioned in news articles, but seldom explored in conjunction to reach the obvious conclusion that poverty is at the root of gangs and gang violence. In the article “Celebrated gang truce disintegrates’’ (Page A1, Aug. 16), Maria Cramer, to her credit, cites the need for jobs and job training which, when met, may motivate gang members to give up the life altogether. More ominous is her mention of police ridicule of such endeavors as “hug-a-thug.’’

Meanwhile, less than a mile from my quiet street on Sunday afternoon, more shots rang out (“Five shot in attack police link to gangs,’’ Metro, Aug. 16). Our failure both to acknowledge the legacy of racism and discrimination and to implement transformative public policy only perpetuates the war zones in which my students live as well as their current-traumatic stress syndrome, with its gnawing question: “What does it matter what I do?’’

Jonathan K. Cooper-Wiele
Jamaica Plain
The writer teaches social studies at the James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury .

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