Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's More Popular? Violence or nonviolence?

Try this interesting exercise to see for yourself:
  1. Visit your favorite search engine
  2. Enter the term "violence" and make note of the number of articles returned
  3. Next, enter the term "nonviolence" and note the number of hits

I tried this on Google, searching the period over the past month, and came up with 140,000 hits for violence and only 400 hits for nonviolence. A ratio of 350:1! Granted, this includes the past several days where the domestic violence accounts of Chris Brown and Rihanna were the top stories, so the results may be a bit skewed this week. But still, what does this say about our culture?

Is this evidence that our culture values violence 350 times more than nonviolence? Is it just that violence, like sex, sells? Would people not pay for (and advertisers not support) newspapers that write stories mostly about nonviolence? Or is it just easier and more familiar to express our observations in terms of the negative - violence - than trying to reframe in terms of nonviolence?

One of the stories that showed up in my "violence" search was about a charity bash in L.A. to raise awareness about (and money for) "violence against women". It strikes me that we are already well aware there's an issue of violence against women, and that what we really need is awareness of what can be done to address violence against women.

IMHO, we need to change the conversation to "respect for women" or "nonviolent alternatives for expressing your anger", or raising "awareness of domestic tranquility". If this sounds somewhat cheesy, it could be a reflection on my writing skills - I'm a geek, not a novelist. However, it could also be because we're just not used to talking this way!

The Department of Peace being proposed in Congress (H.R. 808) would be a big step in moving us toward a culture that values nonviolence more than violence. For example, the legislation includes provision for teaching nonviolent conflict resolution skills to school children. How many generations will it take until the ratio shifts to 350 stories about nonviolence for ever one story about violence? Who knows? But it will happen a lot sooner if we put the Department of Peace to work for us now than if we keep doing things the way we've been doing them and expect things to magically get better.

Help support the shift! Contact your Representative now and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 808!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

H.R. 1022 Addresses the Root Causes of Gang Violence

With very little fanfare, a new bill was introduced in Congress earlier this month to address the issue of gang violence. The "Gang Prevention, Intervention and Suppression Act (GPISA)" (H.R. 1022) was introduced in the House by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and cosponsored by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA). The bipartisan bill has three major sections:
  1. Violent Crime Reforms to Reduce Gang Violence

  2. Increase Federal Resources to Deter and Prevent Seriously At-Risk Youth from Joining Illegal Street Gangs

  3. Resources to Strengthen Employment and Education Opportunities for Former Offenders
The first section is the kind of thing that usually shows up in relation to gang violence - tighten up the laws to make gang participation less attractive. On the whole, this approach hasn't done much to reduce gang membership. Many gang members welcome the opportunity for incarceration. It's a badge of honor, and you can pick up some useful skills in prison. (Gangs like ex-cons with useful skills.) But this is the sort of "Get Tough" legislation that a bill like this needs in order to garner bipartisan support.

IMHO, it's the second and third sections that offer the most promise for making a real impact. Effective programs to provide alternatives to gang membership are available in many communities, but the best programs have trouble achieving maximum impact because of inadequate funding. A couple of my favorites are the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and Operation Safe Streets in Boston, Baltimore and other major cities. H.R. 1022 has provisions to get necessary funding (approx. $200 million/yr for 5 years) into the communities that need it most in addressing the root causes of gang violence.

GPISA also has provisions for funding of programs that reduce prison recidivism for gang members, focusing on education and employment (approx $40 million/yr for 5 yrs). This is another positive approach that helps offenders learn from their mistakes and works to reintergrate them into society as productive members.

Personally, I would like to see H.R. 1022 go a little bit further and deal with gangs in prison. However, while we continue to campaign for a U.S. Department of Peace, the "Gang Prevention, Intervention and Suppression Act" sounds like a good step in addressing the root causes of violence and building a culture of peace. Send your Representative a note and tell them you want them to co-sponsor H.R. 1022.

H.R. 808: Department of Peace Act

GovTrack has a very useful tool for subscribing to updates on legislation to create a U.S. Department of Peace - H.R. 808. Check out:

H.R. 808: Department of Peace Act (GovTrack.us)

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why do kids fight?

CNN.com posted another story today about another fight at another middle school where another group of kids recorded another video for posting on YouTube, complete with background music. (I won't provide the YouTube link because I don't want to support this kind of thing with a visit.) The school is in Wisconsin, but the location really doesn't matter. This sort of thing can happen anywhere.

Many people loudly lament these events. "Why do kids do this?" "Where are the teachers?" "Where are the parents?" All legitimate questions, but thinking that bewailing the savagery and brutality will cause anything to change is a sure sign of insanity. Teachers are already doing the best they know how with the direction and limited resources they've been given. Likewise, the parents who get it are already passing on the values of civility and nonviolence to their kids. (BTW - Those kids are not anywhere to be seen in the above picture.) And the parents that don't get it - the ones that teach through their actions and words that "might makes right" - are just making things worse. Adding more school police doesn't help. The kids just move the fight somewhere else.

A visitor from abroad once inquired:
"Why is it that Americans are so advanced and literate, and yet so violent?"

The answer:
"Because we teach our kids to read."

It seems rather obvious that, for the most part, our kids don't have the skills they need to resolve their differences nonviolently. Without some kind of intervention, these kids grow up to be adults who cannot resolve their differences nonviolently.

The proposed Department of Peace will help educate children in the life skills they need, such as mediation and conflict resolution, that would create safer and more productive learning environments. The best school programs that have already been proven to reduce violence in some districts will be expanded and made available everywhere. Kind of a "No Child Left Violent" campaign.

Check out the Department of Peace bill - HR 808 - and contact your Representatives and Senators and ask them to support this important legislation! Help kids get the skills they need to resolve their conflicts without resorting to violence!

Clint supports the Department of Peace



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Corruption in the Violence-Industrial Complex. (Surprise, Surprise!)

Are you as unsurprised as I am that corruption exists in the violence-industrial* complex? Color me shocked and awed.

The news break today is that two judges in Pennsylvania have plead guilt to federal fraud charges. These two judges - former Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella and former Luzerne County Senior Judge Michael Conahan - conspired with private juvenile detention facilities to generate business for the detention centers by inflating the sentences for juveniles involved in minor crimes. Over the course of five years, these two judges took in over $2.6 million by sentencing teenagers to incarceration for infractions that would normally result in a small fine, probation, or community service.

The private detention centers are owned by Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corporation. (Check out their schmaltzy web site and blatant lack of acknowledgement of their part in this. Send them an email demanding they own up and be accountable.)

The kids' biggest crime is that they could not afford a lawyer. From the CNN.com article:
"About 50 percent of the children who waived counsel before Ciavarella were sent to some kind of placement, the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center reports. In comparison, the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission in Pennsylvania found that 8.4 percent of juveniles across the state wind up in placement."
I'm having trouble holding down my breakfast.

A couple of things strike me about this injustice:
  1. I'm saddened beyond words for the kids who were unjustly impacted by this, and for their families. How many lives were turned upside-down by the callousness of the conspirators?
  2. The immense power of greed to turn reputable citizens into corrupt money-grubbing villians who have no care for the consequences of their actions.
  3. With this type of corruption a possibility, does privatization of the justice system make any sense at all?
  4. Where's the accountability on the part of the detention center? If the judges were paid $2.6 million, how much did Mid Atlantic Youth Services make off of this (at the expense of the PA tax payers)?
  5. If this kind of thing can happen in America, how bad must things be in countries where the rule of law is not as well established?
Normally, I would try to tie these postings into practical solutions for making the world a less-violent place but, as I sit with the thought that no punishment is harsh enough for these two judges, I'm at a loss today. How would something like a Department of Peace help in this situation? Any ideas from the peanut gallery?



* "Violence-Industrial" complex - an umbrella expression to include all commercial activities that have a vested interest in perpetuating the culture of violence in the U.S., including defense contractors, prison systems, military organizations, violent forms of entertainment, hand gun and assault rifle manufacturers, etc. (Q: Who would you add to this list?)

2009 Department of Peace Conference in DC

Lynn McMullen, executive Director of the Peace Alliance, shares her perspectives on what makes this the premier conference for activists working to make the world a better place (March 20-23).

I will be there. Will you join me? Go to The Peace Alliance to find out more and to register.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Peacemaking in the Inner City

The Baltimore Sun on 2/15/09 had a front page article titled "Peacemaker" (by Justin Fenton). It was about a seasoned, ex-gang member who is talking to inner city youth to tell them about his experiences, explain what he would have done differently, and encouraging them to make life-affirming choices.

The story contains a lot of good information about what works and what doesn't work when trying to discuss this topic with desperate young men and women who feel they have few choices. Street credibility is a big plus, as is maintaining obvious distance from police and political influence. This is the sort of thing a U.S. Department of Peace would help research and fund to take full advantage of the humanitarian spirit that people like "Black" (Tony Wilson) bring to our troubled communities.

The story also mentions Devon Scarborough, who wants to stay out of street/drug life and contribute society, but he's having difficulty finding anyone to listen to his business plan and provide funding to get him started. We need government and/or NGO services to help people like Mr. Scarborough get going in the right direction. The return on investment would be priceless.

What can you do to help make this type of story more of a commonplace event and less of an anomaly?

  1. Write to your Representative and Senators and ask them to co-sponsor HR 808 to create a US Department of Peace. Check out The Peace Alliance for more information and tools for contacting elected officials.
  2. Talk with your local city council about enacting a resolution supporting HR 808 and the creation of a US Department of Peace. The Peace Alliance also has tools and templates to help with this.
  3. Join a local group to start lobbying your Representative to co-sponsor HR 808.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Azim Khamisa Stands For Peace


Azim Khamisa tells the story of his son's - Tariq's - violent death and how the Department of Peace can help make sure this tragedy doesn't happen to someone else.