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Mallahan Upsets the Dust on Youth Violence

September 14, 2009

Yet another “Joe Mallahan said” controversy has sprung up since last week’s Cinerama Mayoral Candidate forum, after this question was posed by James Donaldson, himself a former candidate for mayor:

“Rising crime violence in Seattle, escalating rate not just due to the bad economy or kids are out of school for the summer. What can we do about it? What are some of your ideas?”

Mallhan responded, in part:

“I think the outreach model we had before that was focused on adult males in particular. Although these days actually female gang..membership is rising. Adult role models who can be effective and credible in attacking the culture of self hatred that leads to the illogical behavior that you see with a young person joining a gang.”

(For his full answer, click here and fast forward to 1:09:00)

As word spread about what Mallahan had said, the emails and phone calls began.

One acquaintance asked if I thought the Mayoral candidate was “talking down to people of color”.  He mentioned behavior, not race- though the behavior he spoke of does disproportionately impact youths of color.

The bigger question is, does a lack of self worth, positive role models and consistent, positive reinforcement lead some (if not all) to join gangs?  It certainly is a very real factor.

Is there a culture of self hatred amongst young people?  Do we really even need to ask that question?  The answer is emphatically, hell yes.

I give Mallahan credit.  With that one sentence he stepped beyond the simple reasoning of “more cops will fix everything”- the fact is, by the time the police are involved, 99.9% of the time it’s too late.  The cycle and culture of “gang” life has most likely already taken hold.

We have to identify youths who are in gangs and give them incentives to get out, while also identifying those youths at risk and keep them from making the choice to join a gang- self esteem and positive role models play a part.

What a novel idea; to address and attempt to root out those factors which would make a youth turn down a troubled path to begin with.  It’s not one or the other, people, it’s both at the same time.

It’s easy to say “let’s hire 200 more cops” or “let’s stiffen criminal penalties for youths that break the law”- neither of those will fix the problem, neither of those will eradicate gangs or prevent a youth from being shot as he minds his own business walking down the street.  We’ve got to get much more in-depth about what is going on before we can begin to fix it.

Remember when we learned that drug addiction was best viewed as a disease that required treatment, rather than a crime for which the abuser should be punished?  That’s when society began to understand that treatment was a more effective (and cheaper, btw) method for addressing drug addiction (and the crime that comes from it).

The same needs to happen for youth violence.  Yes, youth violence should be examined and treated as a disease in our young people, and a disease in our communities.  Such a prognosis is not without precedent.  In 2001 the Surgeon General recognized the work of Dr. Joseph Mashall’s around youth violence as a disease.  From his website:

“…violence is a social disease with an explicit treatment process. The disease is transmitted by the germs of bad information, bad instruction, bad advice, and bad examples that to young people appear to be good. Youth are exposed to these germs via their families, peers and neighborhoods; and through music, television, video games, and movies. The disease appears as techniques for survival when, in fact, the opposite is true. Infected youth do not survive, they only learn how to die or go to prison.”

And folks want to debate whether or not there is a culture of self hatred spread amongst the youth?  Get real.

“But why is[Mallahan]talking about these things?” A blog reader asked me in an email, “it doesn’t sound right”.

Why?  Because he’s White?  White men aren’t allowed to care?  White men aren’t allowed to try and make a difference?  Now that’s just silly.

Mallahan has at least a 50/50 chance of being the Mayor of this city- of the entire city, which means he is responsible to everyone in it, even if it’s a challenge, and even if it requires things to be said that haven’t been said before, or that make people uncomfortable.

Overall, Seattle has gotten complacent in dealing with these kinds of issues.  We tend to think “that’s them, not us”, when a young person is gunned down, or a young girl gets pregnant, or kids drop out of school, and that’s not true.  We have to shake ourselves out of the delusion that somehow we’re walking around with individual force fields that prevent bad things from touching our lives or our kids or our neighborhoods.

We should encourage- no- we should demand that our elected officials, whoever they wind up being, take bold and comprehensive steps to address the issues plaguing our youth, and yes, at times that’s going to mean saying things that will make poeple squirm.

It’s a false argument to try and call Mallahan out for what he said simply because it raised eyebrows.  It’s also BS to think what he said was meant as an insult or an attack (or pointing blame) on a certain group of people based on race; take a breath and get over yourselves.

If our elected officials acted on issues only in such a way as to make people comfortable nothing of substance would ever get done.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2009 11:02 pm

    I am again youth violence being consider a disease now that it is black on black killing. That the easy way out. Why was it not a disease when white people was running the slave trade and lynching Black folks it was not a disease when we segregated in communities with out work. Only now it is a disease I disagree.Violence is the land it is as American as apple pie, our youth is a mirror of this society.

  2. Sable permalink
    September 14, 2009 11:07 pm


    We’re talking about the cycle of violence. I am not saying that it is a disease now because it is black-on-black. We’ve had about a dozen young Latinos in West Seattle who have also been gunned down. They also face the same negatives that perpetuate this behavior. Whether we use a clinical term is almost irrelevant, sort of like that old saying “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a noise?” The answer is yes. To look at something as a disease is to also look at curing the root of the problem, rather than just the symptoms.

  3. September 15, 2009 10:03 am

    Joe Mallahan did not mention race and I did not think it hearing this response. It is an excellent response, if we keep attacking youth violence at the symptom level we will lose. Mayor as doctor willing to diagnose the ailment as others stop the bleeding is what we need. Thanks Joe Mallahan for not being insulting by worrying about being politically correct or making mush of words in your mouth.

    I have taken up a lead role in the Aaron Sullivan Weapons Ban movement. As an African American woman and parent of African American kids, there is a role I can and do play in all of this. I will correct Joe and advise him that most people get their cues form age mates or just a few years up when they are young. So we need fully functioning older adults being role models for the parents of the kids we are losing, not the kids themselves. Then we need younger adults modeling for the kids.

    I know that a 15 year old girl can not see herself as being a Dawn Mason one day. Dawn Mason looks ancient to her and the years between us are too many. But when my daughter presents or has the conversation she is heard. So supporting our young people to get out there and help with this work will be good. We can get this work done in all communities but we have to do it differently than we have been doing it.

    What I like about Mallahan is that he committed two years to the Barack Obama campaign,and understands the Pres. Obama method for “Change We Can Believe In.” Change that starts in neighborhoods with real people, and in the City Halls across America.

  4. Liz Ali permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:56 am

    I didn’t take offense to what Mallahan said in this piece, I personally feel that he is saying what he thinks is PC. Isn’t that what most politicians do?
    Our current Mayor and the two candidates running in this election have no understanding what-so-ever of the youth violence issue- period.
    When someone says to me (and two of the three people mentioned above have) “So tell more about this youth violence stuff? I don’t really understand it” why is this happening? It’s apparent where their level of understanding is on this issue. So it’s very superficial when they come out in public in the next week and openly say they understand what the solutions are, when they have no real understanding of the problem.
    Does Mallahan really understand what he is saying” “attacking the culture of self hatred” certainly this can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If he understood, then his solution wouldn’t conflict with the problem. What outreach? More of the same police officers and gang units, harsher penalties for youth related crimes etc. etc.etc. This is not what I would call a great self-esteem builder.
    I would like to ask both candidates, where is their “real “compassion about this issue? If we value human life above all else we wouldn’t play politics at such a crucial time.
    Auy vey…it’s way too early for this! I just had to add my two cents.
    Peace~ Liz

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