Stopping Violence

The Boston Bomber & Mother Bears

Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School

Whatever was Djhokhar Tsarnaev thinking-- accused of setting off homemade bombs on April 15? It’s baffling. Here is a teenager, deeply wounded, isolated from all he knew, and now in police lock-down. I did meet him a few times when he was 16 at the Cambridge high school. Djhokhar grew up in Massachusetts where “all the kids are above average.” (as said by Garrison Keillor). His fate is wrapped up with the fate of hundreds of injured people. I do not excuse what he did.

When my curious sons entered high school, I was shocked at the danger exposed to them: the hazing, the used needles, the assaults. In 2005 I woke up from a daydream that the US is a safe and law-abiding society. Like ice cubes down a sweaty back I realized our cities can be a war zone for teenagers. My son was harassed by gangs after school: he was intimidated and paralyzed. He escaped physically in one piece, but his inner landscape was scarred.

Now after Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT an epiphany strikes me. A major problem of our culture is that Americans murder one another as much as we kill “enemies” overseas. An armed police officer is employed at the high school, where students have been removed for

Boston in Mourning
Boston in Mourning

carrying switchblades. After Kennedy’s assassination Malcolm X famously said, “The chickens have come back to roost.”

You know what I’m saying? These massacres, by and for Americans, show how our young men are addicted to violence. It’s not criminals pulling the trigger-- it’s not the drug dealers, nor the crazies, nor the sociopaths. It’s our children, growing up under the opium of the gun. By 10 years old, Americans learn that problems will get solved if you carry a gun. Our boys are executing the values promoted by the NRA and allowed by the media (TV, games, CDs). It’s Djohkar this time, next time it could be your nephew. Kids have access to guns, and access to making bombs. The hard truth of the Boston bombings is this: we are all complicit.

The effect of mass violence is a people in trauma. Our haunting fear is that our children are at risk in schools, on buses, huge concerts, and now at large sports events. Where is the fierce mother bear icon to protect the defenseless? Imagine a grizzly hunting for berries, and finds her cubs in danger? See her stand rising up on hind legs, bobbing her head-- doing anything to keep her cubs safe.

Christians wait piously inside church, praying for their salvation. At night Godly people lock their cars with a McFlurry shake in hand, hoping not to hear gunfire outside. Will salvation come in church, in the courts, or in the jailhouse? Where can we reverse the gang-busting, trigger-happy attitudes of our young people?

My sons are excelling in college, but did not escape unscathed the initiation rites of teenage cruelty. My sons grew up happily engaging with people like George Zimmerman and Djhokhar Tsarnaev. My sons are constantly living out the question: how can you be a respectful, strong man without being violent or revengeful.

How  can we stop accepting violence?

We will talk for months about the Marathon bombings in Cambridge where the two Tsarnaev brothers grew up. Djzokhar, the 19 year old, was a year behind my son in high school. They played volleyball together, my son was the team captain. My older son worked for at a summer job for 3 years with Krystal Campbell whose body was blown up by the bombing. One son knows the accused, the other one knows

Asking for Guidance
Asking for Guidance

the victim killed. If you didn’t know someone who was injured, you probably know someone one step removed.

Our family is struggling, the same as most of us are trying to make sense of it all. Let’s not just continue work as usual. We do not have to accept the use of violence when our cubs get as big as we are. Mother bears can do more than growl.

The Jewish scriptures provide understanding for Boston’s tragedy and the culture of violence:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

mourning and great weeping,

Rachel weeping for her children…, because they are no more.”

This is what the LORD says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded…” (Jer. 31)     Let’s get to work.

Statue in Harvard Yard
Statue in Harvard Yard

Our Beloved Boston Marathon

Not the Boston marathon. OMG. Not 2 explosions during the marathon. This is worse than a Hitchcock nightmare. Oh Holy God. 4 people dead and countless injured. Here, in my cheerful cocky energetic hometown. And the Marathon, started in 1897 with 18 runners, is emblematic of savvy Boston. Now I know the violence in the US is a run-away train. Now I know we Americans are over the top. So. Help. God. So help me God.

Don’t call me naïve if I chortle that Boston is a wonderful city. The health fairs, the new city-wide bicycles, the parks used for skating, baseball, picnics, dogs and Frisbees. We don’t even call it Boston central park: instead it is Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons, because the land is commonwealth to us all. That’s all 4.5 million of us packed into a peninsula beside the Atlantic Ocean.

We have public transit that works dependably; the universities attract a UN rainbow of people; we have specialty health centers like and Dana Farber for cancer. Our exquisite health care system is aided by an amazing high Tech industry, employing lots of software engineers after graduating from a prestigious school like MIT. Tufts, UMass, BU, and Harvard all have strong undergraduate programs and medical/dental schools. We are replete with young people, artsy folks and street jugglers. Mayor Menimo budgets lots of money for youth summer jobs, and with the same fervor doffed to our beloved Bruins/Pats/Celtics, Boston has built up a hefty police force. The Red Sox nation is a unique phenomenon--winning the World Series in 2004 and in 2007-- we are proud, wielding our economic hammer with a Bossypants attitude. But we, like other places-- Newtown CT; Aurora CO; Virginia Tech and the Twin Towers in NYC—don’t tolerate senseless violence. We are vulnerable now and in tragic mourning. Our town with its Yankee ingenuity has just taken a whuppin’. So we put down the brass and show our tender side: the side that loves Jack/Bobbie/Ted Kennedy, the side that lets OccupyBoston camp out in the middle of the commercial district, the side that treats children suffering from severe burns and cancer, has Spring races for the hungry, for those raped, for our Vets, for AIDS survivors, and for the healthy. We embrace them all.

Boston is in Recovery.

I’m a nonviolence trainer and a trauma crisis counselor. Please hear our agony-a pain only us who love our Marathon can feel. If you aren’t from Boston, the Marathon is not just a race—it’s a cherished symbol. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, with over 500,000 spectators. Amateur and professionals run it, with about 27,000 runners. Massachusetts official nomenclature for this Monday in April is Patriots’ Day, a state holiday so school age children can view the marathon along Commonwealth Ave.

The response to the violence is more telling than the hateful crime. Boston’s real marathon is the healing. Our recovery from fear and reconciling ourselves to each other will take a Herculean effort. Pray for the victims, and pray that our love grows even deeper of this place, for all of us-even the criminals. It’s the legacy of Boston. We will be proud of this Marathon too.

Practicing Peace-More on AVP

There’s not much silence in an Alternatives to Violence Workshop. But there’s a lot of soaking in good energy. We do silly games like Mrs. Mumbly Just can’t smile (talk without showing teeth); sly games like taking a slow boat to China; rowdy games like Jailbreak where in pairs you race to sit in the chairs before anyone else gets there. What do all these games have to do with Nonviolence?

When a divided and defensive community like in a prison links arms and runs or laughs together; you transform that community into one of trust and openness. Then guys look at how to change negative reactions. In short, it’s hard to punch someone when you’re laughing with them.

In the AVP workshop we have serious discussions. What incidents happen that make your anger thermometer rise up? At what point do you boil over? In Concord Prison if one gets vexed it means break out in a rage. How can you react differently to insults thrown your way? My vocabulary really expanded in this exercise: I learned the words skinner, to ice someone, and when you take someone down. We looked at messages that still linger from childhood such as, “You’re a moron-you’ll never succeed. You’re too clumsy, who’d ever work with you?...You are estupido… You can’t do math…. You’re a loser.” WE then looked at messages we wanted to receive in our youth. Sitting in a circle on the ground we gave these messages to each other. “You’re wonderful; I’ll love you no matter what happens. I support whatever career you want to pursue…. Your kindness makes you successful… Your inner soul shines.

We talk about apologizing. Is forgetting the altercation necessary for total forgiveness? How do we let go of an insult? Does revenge fuel us and give our lives meaning? Does keeping a grudge stoke our pride? Then we all considered someone in our lives that we need to apologize to. We took 10 minutes and wrote a letter to that person, making sure to take responsibility for our mistakes. It was very powerful and touching. One guy said, I hurt you and I want to stitch up the wound. Another man, call him Jose, was about 22 years old when he found that the victim of his past crime was incarcerated. He tried to apologize but the victim was still furious. In fact Jose feared that his victim was seeking to harm him. So Jose avoided him in the gym, hall and lunchroom. He was quite scared of any contact. He thought they’d both end up in the hole if they ever physically attacked. Then Jose ended up taking an AVP workshop in prison, and his past victim shows up at the same workshop. On the second day, the victim chose to sit down with Jose and he apologized and shook Jose’s hand. Now they are friends and support each other. It was quite a transformation.

Andy Towle & Patty Derr

Is Violence our Religion?

What religion is most dominant in the world? Is Islam on the rise accompanied by its US shadow Islamaphobia? Is Christianity flying high with curving right wing? Is it atheism? Buddhism ? No. Truthfully, it’s the religion of violence: our belief that war (with Afghanistan… Japan… Iran… or___ _blank) will bring peace. A belief, worldwide as far as I can see, that military strength brings security. Even Quakers succumb to it. “Be tough.” “Get the upper hand.”

I first understood this idea from Walter Wink, who died last year. He explains how Redemptive Violence is the dominant religion in our society. Redemptive Violence is the belief that when someone offends us, violence towards them is appropriate and can heal the victim. How are we taught that violence saves us?

Most of us watched TV starting at a young age. Cartoons and sit-coms are quite violent. The average child who has had 40,000 hours of screen time by age 17, has viewed some 15,000 murders. What congregation can hold a candle to that inculcation into the Dominant religion. No wonder so many of our 17 year olds easily register for the military. Now we have MP3 and dramas that sell violence as pleasurable and entertaining. They want to fight villains like Darth Vadar and Popeye.

Everyone remembers Popeye the sailorman? Wink reveals the plot, “In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummellings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.”

So the US drones on a similar trajectory as Popeye (or are we Bluto?). We conquer Germany, and then fascism rises its head again. We fight Al Queda in one country and then invade another country endlessly fighting around the world like Popeye from one episode to another. We appear to vanquish the enemy, but violence never brings us peace. It’s delusionary. Wink again, “Our origins are divine, since we are made from a god, but…We are the outcome of deicide.” Even our religion, the death penalty of Jesus, is infused with murder. This Domination Religion is found everywhere.

How is it that this Autumn seems so gorgeous in the midst of living Under Domination? By Domination system I don’t mean exactly apartheid regime. It’s a more subtle form of mind occupation, it’s the ocean of violence and the acceptance of violence all around. It’s bittersweet to see such beauty in the world of Domination. The wind tussles a yellow leaf back and forth over the river’s edge. A seagull soars from a bridgepost and cuts spirals in the sky. Wildlife seems so tame to me after absorbing the Pillars of Violence humans live and breathe. We are savage in our violence. The wind moans through the copse of trees, and despite the stiff breeze the yellow and red-tipped leaves hold onto the dancing branches for dear life.

“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” G Fox 1680s


Forgiveness after Murder

Nancy & Diana exude compassion

Kim Odom is a friend who lost her 13-year-old son because of a drive by killing. She speaks openly about the pain and need for forgiveness in order to help others.

She, and a group called Mothers for Justice and Equality are looking at how do you offer curricula to our youth to prevent violence, inner and outer.  Odom believes each person, saints and murderers, are worthy. “It’s about the value of life, not just about stopping the killing.” Bullying can lead to arson; targeted abuse can lead to suicide.  Odom wants to take a peacebuilding curriculum with juvenile offenders to help teenagers before incarceration. She is heaven-bent on changing the cradle to prison pipeline talked about in The New Jim Crow (the cradle to college pipeline.)

Our cities are killing fields. US foreign wars and increasing poverty claims many lives. But in the Boston area these neighborhood murders are preventable. In 2010 in Massachusetts 48 people were killed because of family violence. That same year 72 lives were claimed on the streets of Boston. 2011 was less of a bloodbath: 63 street murders and 27 family killings. The pain for survivors like Kim and the Odom family is immense.  So many of our resources are overtasked:  police, court system, hospitals, detective units, safety officers, public health all at cost to our communities.

“After he [son Steven] was killed I was so depressed I couldn’t leave the house.” After 2 days of seclusion some neighbors and friends had a candle-light vigil at the Odom house. With the love surrounding her, she couldn’t hide. After many prayer meetings, Kim Odom gained perspective. “I was determined…I didn’t want anyone retaliating. God is in the midst of us. Steven’s death will not be in vain. God will redeem the pain, the tragedy, and our sacrifice. Ephesians 4 says, ‘In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

How to endure the darkness, when the sky
Is totally eclipsed by evil, when
Foul grinning Chaos spreads its reign again
And all good things in senseless ruin lie.
Must we be hard as stone?  It wears to dust.
As stiff as oaks?  But they untimely break.
As pitiless as steel?  It turns to rust,
And time from Pyramids will ruins make.
In violence, decay, starvation, need,
What can endure?  Only the Living Seed.  (K. Boulding)

After losing your child to a speechless crime, grief comes in many shades, all of them tinted with anger. Outside her house after Steven was killed, lots of objects in memory came to the place where blood was spilled. There was a mound of teddy bears with candles and cards and photos. It resembled a gravesite. Friends covered it with plastic when it rained. Then it appeared ghastly, like Steven’s body was covered up right there. “It was too much for me to bear the site of what that mound represented. I expressed to others the need to take it down. We had a tree planted in that spot to replace the stain of death with a symbol of life.”

Then Kim tells me about what she calls the ‘algebra of prayer.’ On one side, the first side is praying for the victims, the family, the innocent ones. But when you pray for that side you can’t complete the formula without considering the other side. With discipline and struggle Kim wants to pray as much for the offender, his (or her) family and those that enabled the act. Kim works to pray equally on both sides. The answer to her algebra comes out as peace.

Four deaths and a Bird

The hot summer gusts bow to a rain squall. A hard rain pours into the ground and the air is sharp and ivory. A bluebird flickers among the cedar tree out my window. His eye like a wet stone, fixes on a reality I cannot know. Boston has seen humid days, but the sultry weather has thunder-headed into a storm. Three women were killed in Dorchester this week: Genevieve Philip, 22, Kirsten Lartey, 22 and Sharrice Perkins, 22. Another man Raschad Lesley-Barnes, 24 was killed on Aug 15th at 2 pm outside Dudley Square library. Four deaths in 4 days.

On Sunday Aug 12 four girlfriends were driving together, in a red sedan after a picnic in Franklin Park. At 10:30 they were dropping Sharrice off at her house in Dorchester when a series of shots killed three of the four women.

Kirsten had graduated from St. Johns College and  died on the same day as her father’s birthday, August 12th, 2012. Agabus Lartey, pastor of the Family Life Fellowship church, lost his daughter on his 55th birthday; he lost his wife to cancer in 2010. He said. “This is purely animalistic behavior. This is not human.” Genevieve Philip had her own beauty salon business and was the mother of a 5 year old girl. Genevieve’s mother said, “We’ve just told [the girl] that her mother will be at the hospital for a very long time.”Read more

A Dark, Sad Knight

Take note of these killings:

  • 2012 The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora with 12 dead, 58 wounded, heroic moviegoers.
  • 2011 Remember the shooting rampage in Tucson when Rep Gifford was shot and ultimately resigned from office.
  • 2009 Remember at Fort Hood, an army psychiatrist killed 13 soldiers.
  • 2007 Remember Virginia Tech where 32 were killed in a rampage.
  • 2005 Remember Columbine with 12 students and a teacher killed.
  • 1998 Remember Jonesboro AR two boys under 13 years old killed 4 girls and a teacher.
  • 1995 Remember Oklahoma city bombing claimed 168 lives and damaged 324 buildings.

Does there seem to be an alarming pattern? Aren’t these mass murders happening too often? Then we have other disasters, some are natural, but more and more are unnatural.

  • 2011 Remember the twister in Joplin MI with 161 dead. Other tornado deaths 349 .
  • 2010 Remember BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill killing 26,000 dolphins, 6,000 sea turtles, and 82,000 birds.
  • 2005 Remember Hurricane Katrina with the FEMA botch-up claiming 1,836 lives.
  • 1995 Remember Chicago heat wave withering 739 lives.

Now that we’re aware of global warming, we can expect erratic weather, electric shortages, and higher food costs.

Obama cut a sharp figure in Aurora CO this weekend hearing stories of victims, called the shooting, “senseless violence”. Our Counselor in Chief has great bedside manner. He loved the story of Stephanie who saved the life of her best friend Allie. Allie took a bullet in her neck and as she fell to the floor, Stephanie applied pressure to the wound, preventing her from bleeding until they got to the ambulance. She saved a life.

“As tragic as today is…, it’s worth reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie. They represent what’s best in us, and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come.”

Obama is empathetic. But he isn’t providing the backbone to prevent such mass killings. A doctor needs to provide a diagnosis and solutions. It’s not solely up to Obama, but our leaders are not addressing gun violence. We need better laws. We need to stop crime and bloodshed. When the 2nd amendment right was given, it didn’t include automatic machine guns. Can we look at the wider picture for a minute?

We are weeping and mourning for the loss of life. Isn’t all life, whether in Colorado or in Kabul precious? Can we call the Taliban terrorists, but not Americans when they spew bullets? We are hearing about the victims’ backgrounds-- stories are all over our front pages. How can our country honor the survivors and condemn the killer while we still praise military intervention, and glorify guns. But we in the USA are conducting raids and killing innocent people in Paskistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan- civilians leading ordinary lives.

Mourning the Dead

+Jessica,+ John, +Gordon, +Alex, +Rebecca, +Matt, +Jon, +Veronica, +AJ, +Micayla, +Jesse who fell to violence in Aurora.

+Nazar, +Farida, +Akhtar, + Mohamed, + Shatarina, +Zahra, +Esmatullah, +Nazia, +Palwasha, +Robeena,+Essa, +Faizullah who were killed by rogue violence in Kandahar.

This is a story of sorrow. But God is present. We may not understand why young people are shooting, or why in 2010 Boston tallied 72 murders on its streets. But we can intervene. This is where prayer and action intersect.

Maybe it's the magazines, maybe it's the internet

Maybe it's the lottery, maybe it's the immigrants

Maybe it's taxes, maybe big business

Maybe it's the KKK and the skinheads

Maybe it's the communists, maybe it's the Catholics

Maybe it's the hippies, maybe it's the addicts

Maybe it's the art, maybe it's the sex

Maybe it's the homeless, maybe it's the banks

Maybe it's the clear-cut, maybe it's the ozone

Maybe it's the chemicals, maybe it's the car phone

Maybe it's the fertilizer, maybe it's the nose ring

Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing

If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns

I'd take away the guns,    I'd take away the guns              by Cheryl Wheeler