Safer means taking the right first step

Friday, January 18, 2013
Murray Bishoff, news editor

People have invented some rather unique ways to hurt others. There seems to be no end to the resourcefulness of human ingenuity.

For example, we may not remember their names, but we do recall the infamous Underwear Bomber and the Shoe Bomber. We'd like to think that once such tactics have surfaced, superior technology can provide proper safeguards.

We have also seen things done in the name of security achieve a life of their own. Even without a spate of shoe bombing attempts, the practice of surrendering shoes at the airport will likely endure for decades.

Thus it pays to proceed with caution as we explore new ways to improve safety.

Keith Parris, juvenile officer for the 39th Judicial Circuit, has researched the history of violence in schools. To his surprise, it seems there have always been incidents. Reports about attacks in rural schools simply are seldom circulated. Inner city schools today may be safer than they ever have been, Parris said.

Another misimpression Parris discovered focuses on perpetrators. It's easy to presume today's world, with its incidents of mass violence, represents a new pinnacle of problems. But that may not be the case.

The Juvenile Office has the duty to remove children from damaging family environments. Rather than place children into institutions or foster care, juvenile officers today try to keep families as nearly intact as possible. Placement with another family member, if possible, or a family friend offers more security through family links than total separation.

In the process of seeking placements, Parris hears disturbing accounts about past generations of families. He has concluded that bad people have always been around. We may be more spooked about the incidents of violence surfacing today, but Parris believes people have not changed.

In looking for new ways to improve safety, we would do well to look at what's really different today. What makes today's violence worse than in the past? What feeds today's problem?

Learning from past efforts will also help. A lack of shoe bombings may be credited to enhanced security at airports, or the fact that shoe bombing was a really dumb idea. Either way, getting stripped of shoes as part of routine travel checks continues.

We would gladly put up with much greater inconvenience to make our kids safe. But the zeal to take action can overrun the results. Then we're left holding our shoes and we're not really any safer.

Let the discussion on safety focus on how to stop the one, rather than everyone. More weapons may create more danger, not prevent it. Let cool heads, not passion or paranoia, drive the debate and what we do next.