· Alive and Free ·
If your doctor informed you that your chance of having a heart attack was extremely high, you’d probably ask what you could do to prevent the impending event. Suddenly, despite your busy lifestyle, you’d make time to eat smarter and exercise regularly.
If you were told that a lengthy prison sentence or a violent death was in your future, what could you do to prevent it? Would you know the risk factors to be addressed in order to decrease violence?
Years ago I learned steps for preventing violence from Joseph Marshall, Jr., co-founder and director of the Omega Boys Club, author of Street Soldier: One Man’s Struggle to Save a Generation One Life at a Time (1996), and moderator of the weekly call-in radio program “Street Soldiers.”
Marshall’s medical model on reducing violence resonated with me. Just as stopping smoking or lowering your stress would make for a healthier heart, steps can be taken when a person is concerned about a diagnosis of becoming a victim of violence. You can reduce your risk factors; eliminate them and you are much less likely to catch the virus of violence.
These risk factors are also referred to as “No-No’s” which I list below using the odd abbreviation FANGMADDD.
“Fearship” vs. Friendship – Young people tend to believe that a friend is someone who would do anything for them. Actually, a true friend would never lead another person to danger. When your fear of someone causes you to go along with what they want, even if it’s destructive, that’s not a healthy relationship. Gangs are almost entirely built on “fearship”. Sometimes your “friend” is your worst enemy.
Alcohol – Abusing alcohol effects a person’s judgement; besides serious accidents, this can also lead to false bravado (or liquid courage) and disastrous results.
Negative View of Women – When women are viewed as objects, not human beings, then they become easier targets of violence by men. In addition, women can also hold a negative view of their gender which can lead to self-harm and an increase in victimization by others.
Guns – When people believe they are safer with a gun, rather than in greater danger, then that can lead to increased aggressiveness and unintended consequences. A young person in a poor urban area who feels the need to carry a gun is more likely to overreact to the slightest perceived threat. The days of fist-fights have been replaced with fire-fights. (Also, every year in the US suicides by firearm are double that of homicides.)
Material Value Over Family – When money is more important than people, then drug dealing and aggravated robbery are considered reasonable choices; people become secondary to money.
Attitude – An “I don’t care” attitude is a result of giving up any hope for change. When a person lives in a bleak world with an empty future, then they may ask: why bother? When youth see themselves incarcerated or dead at an early age—a fatalistic future—then being cautious seems fruitless.
Drugs – Illegal drug use, especially dealing drugs, is a dangerous lifestyle. Dealers get paranoid about being ripped off by their customers and competitors and arrested by the police. (Of course they carry concealed because they need their Glock to protect their money and stash.)
Destructive Language – When certain curse words are used in a disagreement, especially when they feel personal, the situation can quickly become deadly because the words raise people’s anxiety level, causing them to lose control. Every pumped-up verbal altercation increases the likelihood of an armed physical encounter. (When the confrontational language is eliminated, then the chance of violence is reduced.)
Destructive Family/Environment – When parents are choosing drugs and violence to try and cope, then their children are at greater risk of immediate harm and psychological damage. (A child put in this position is advised to focus on reducing the other risk factors they can control—not the one they can’t.)
Violence is an insidious disease. This means that it develops so slowly that a person doesn’t realize how controlling it is until it’s too late.
A person can believe they’re doing something that will keep them safer, but the action is actually increasing the chance that they will be injured, killed, or incarcerated.
Here is an example of how risk factors can easily lead to violence. If I have an “I don’t care” attitude, and I’m carry a gun for my protection, then I’m more dangerous due to the combination of factors. If I’m also using drugs or alcohol, then my chances of getting in to trouble escalates further. Hanging out with so-called friends who I feel I need to impress, using poor judgment while carrying a weapon, and overreacting to the slightest perceived insult or threat, is a recipe for disaster.
A person can be infected unconsciously with the germs of violence through a social disease. This disease is spread by The Four B’s:
- “You’ll be safer if you carry a gun.”
- “You’ll be safer if you join our gang.”
- “You need to teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.”
- “School’s not important.”
- Watching someone you admire choose a life of crime, taking illegal shortcuts.
- Friends and family as gang members.
- Having friends &/or family members use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to numb their pain.
- “Don’t worry, the gun’s not loaded.”
- “Don’t worry, we won’t get caught.”
- “Don’t worry, you won’t get pregnant.”
- Movies that show retaliation as a way of solving problems.
- Video games that encourage indiscriminate killing in order to accumulate points and become a winner.
- A criminal who has a lot of money, a nice car, and is well-dressed, can appear to have an easy life.
- Family members &/or friends who accept a life of incarceration as inevitable.
Imagine being broke and drunk when your so-called friend says: “You chicken-shit, let’s hit the convenience store for cigarettes and beer; it’ll be easy. You can scare them with your Glock. They’ll do what you want. No one will get hurt.”
- Risk factors: alcohol, destructive language, fearship, gun
- The Four B’s: bad advice, bad information, bad influence
Joseph Marshall, Jr. and his Street Soldiers are committed to eliminating violence from their lives and community; reducing the Risk Factors; dealing with their anger, fear, and pain; and adopting the Rules of Living.
The Rules of Living include:
- There is nothing more valuable than an individual’s life.
- Respect comes from within.
- Change begins with the individual.
- A friend will never lead you to danger.
For decades the Omega Boys Club has helped save lives using the Rules of Living as underlying principles in the healthy development of people who are vaccinated or immunized against the virus of violence.
Learn more at www.stayaliveandfree.org or on their Facebook page. At this website you also gain archival access to past “Street Soldiers” radio broadcasts that provide valuable personal insights for ending violence and changing lives.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!