Violence in, violence out--James' story
From National Public Radio's "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED," September 27, 2000


Violence is all around young people in films and on television, in video games and comics, but commentator Desiree Cooper says it's not the violence in the media that poses the greatest threat to children.


Just chatting with James, I would never have guessed his background. He seemed like a level-headed 23-year-old, one who worked as an assistant manager at a suburban Detroit grocery store. Even after I noticed his prolific tatoos and found out about his interest in gory special effects, I never suspected the depth of darkness in his troubled past.

At 15, James had taken a baseball bat and bludgeoned his father in the head. Although his father survived the attack, he never fully recovered, and James spent three years in juvenile detention for the assault, most of it in psychiatric hospitals. 'My lawyer said I was depressed,' he told me matter-of-factly, 'but I wasn't.' Instead, James said, he was a victim of abuse.

Recalling when he was 10, James said, 'I remember this one time I was watching two movies back-to-back on a Saturday afternoon. All of a sudden, I felt my face hit the television screen. My father had punched me in the back of the head.' James said his father attacked him his whole life while his mother stood by and did nothing. So one day he took a bat and decided to fight back, an act for which he refuses to apologize. 'There wasn't anything wrong with me,' he said. 'I was 100 percent justified.'

We've heard the horrifying stories of children who, at tender ages, are capable of unspeakable violence. But what about the unspeakable violence that makes children capable of such acts? According to the Justice Department, abused and neglected children are arrested at younger ages, commit more offenses and are arrested more frequently than children who are not abused or neglected.. And most of them, like James, aren't any more likely than other children to keep offending once they grow up and escape the grips of an abusive household.

We so often blame violence in the media for youth crime, but how can we continue to ignore the direct correlation between child abuse and youth violence? In 1997, an estimated 3 million suspected child abuse cases were reported to state child protection services nationwide. As long as we continue to offer so little support to familes n trouble, these children will be forced to fend for themselves, and many, like James, will resort to violence as their only way out. 'It was physical and verbal abuse,' said James, 'and I took a stand.'

ADAMS: Desiree Cooper is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

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