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Where Does the Violence Begin?

By Joe Barkovich
Tribune Staff

A gang beating in Victoria, British Columbia in October has rattled the
community. This is the same place where a group of teenaged girls and boys
beat and murdered Reena Virk,14, in 1997.

The latest victim, a 19-year-old Chinese male, was beaten in an unprovoked
attacked sparked by the red jacket he was wearing, according to police
reports. Weeks after the beating, the victim was still in hospital, in
critical condition in a coma. The incident has led to formation of a
police task force to investigate youth crime in the Victoria area,
especially incidents of violence.

In late summer I witnessed a troubling incident which could have escalated
into a violent confrontation. It occurred in the parking lot of a Tim
Hortons on Lincoln Street when a group of about 15 teens, most of them
males, tried encircling an elderly couple as they stepped out of their car.
When they realized what was happening, the man and woman beat a retreat to
the vehicle and drove off.

Are teens today involved in more violent acts than counterparts in previous
generations? Serge LeClerc, head of counselling at the Robert Land Academy
in Wellandport, believes they are.

“Do we have every kid going out committing acts of violence? Of course not.
But what we do have is more violent action, more gratuitous violence,” says

The incidents above are examples of gratuitous violence or potentially
gratuitous violence. LeClerc places much of the blame for what appears to
be a growing trend of violence by young people on cultural influences.

Violent imagery is everywhere, he suggests. Some of it is subtle but much
of it is in-your-face. For young people it is tough to reject because so
doing would be counter-cultural. Even choices in clothing can project
violent imagery:

“Let me paint you a picture,” says LeClerc. “You have a kid who wears his
jeans down to here (gestures to several inches below the waist) Calvin
Kelin underwear up to here so everyone can see the label, he’s got a black
t-shirt on, a black Raiders jacket, a hat on backwards and he’s wallking
around doing gang symbols. Understand that – that’s a violent image. Where
does that violent image come from? From the inner city, L.A. style. That’s
what black kids and Puerto Rican kids wear in the inner city, kids who
probably are going to die before they’re18 from drive-by shootings or a
needle in their arms.”

Images such as these are everywhere, popularized by cultural icons in rap,
hip-hop and rock music videos, in movies about teenage gangs and in some
televison series, says LeClerc. The impact they have on young viewers can
range from erosion of civility in basic relationships to copycat
behavioural patterns that sometime end up in acts of violence.

The picture becomes more grim when suicides are added says LeClerc, who
includes suicide as an act of violence.

The suicide rate has dropped down to 10-year-olds, he says, and for the
10-14-year-old demographic, the suicide rate has tripled in the last 20

“We have 10-years-olds in this country who are hanging themselves in their
clothes closets rather than facing what is supposed to be the most innocent
time of their lives, yet it’s the most stressful time. They’re going to be
judged by their clothes, they’re going to be judged by their music, they’re
going to be judged by their hairstyle, who they hang around with and how
tough they are. That’s because we’re teaching a generation of young people
the culture of violence, we’re making violent people.”

How have things changed? Well, LeClerc points to statistics that say 11 per
cent of young people commit about 90 per cent of violent actions compared
to three per cent committing those actions a generation ago.

“We’re looking at greater numbers of violence, we’re looking at the
introduction of weapons, at the introduction of gang action,” he says.

The mentality behind violent acts has changed in a way that should be
alarming, LeClerc says.

“If you and I got into a schoolyard fight it was to establish a pecking
order. I’d pin you, put my knees on your arms, have you say ‘uncle’ and
give up, acknowledging that I’m above you in the pecking order. End of
story. But for this generation, it’s not a question of pecking order. It’s
gratuitous. It’s a question of me going to bring two guys to intimidate you
and then I’m going to hurt you. I’m not going to make you give up, I’m
going to hurt you, I’m going to beat you up with two or three guys, I’m
going to pick any reason in the world because I don’t like you. This is
gratuitous violence.”

He says there is a link between violent kids and media influences like
television. By the time a child graduates from high school he or she will
spend 11,000 hours in a classroom envrironment, but between 15,000 and
22,000 hours in front of a TV.

“The average seven-year-old in Canada, in Ontario, in Welland spends about
5,000 hours by the time they turn seven in front of the TV. That’s almost
one half of the entire educational process. We have a whole generation of
kids who are being brought up by a little black box in the corner of their
living room. “

What’s wrong with this scenario? Well, to LeClerc’s way of thinking,
watching television has replaced family interaction, parenting and other
things that form the social milieu of children.

“We’ve taken them and we’ve turned childrens minds over to advertisers,” he
says. “We have teen girls starving themselves to death in our country to
live up to a media image that’s impossible to live up to, to try to find
the value of who they are from the outside of them, as opposed to the
inside. And this is the first generation that is being taught that because
every generation preceding them has been taught the goodness of who you are
is what’s important, the beauty of who you are comes from the inside not
the outside.”

There’s a sadness to what is happening to some young peoples’ lives and to
relationships they should be having with the positive influences in their

LeClerc says it comes down to a generation of children influenced more by
media than they are by parents, the education system and churches put

“You bombard any human being with that much violent imagery and it has to
de-sensitize them,” he said.