There Is No Socially Engineered Solution to Drive-by Killings

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

In a protest that will never make the national news, an estimated 75 people turned out for a weekend march in Richmond to denounce the latest killing of a child in a drive-by shooting. Fifteen-year-old Tynashia Humphrey was walking to the store from her grandmother’s home near the infamous Gilpin Court housing project when she was struck by a stray bullet. “Stop the killing! Save the children!” the marchers chanted.

“My baby had only been 15 for two weeks,” Karen Cheatham, the girl’s grandmother and guardian, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “She was walking to the store. She was out of my hands for two hours. She was supposed to return back to me at 9 o’clock to get ready for school…. Hold on to your babies and hold on to them tight because tomorrow is not promised to none of us.”

The march, I fear, is totally in vain. I see no sign that city politicians, General Assembly legislators, or the media have any inkling of why killings have spiked in the past two years, much less what to do about them. As a society, we are flailing ineffectually as we continue to apply the same bromides that never contained much truth to begin with.

One of the politicians to attend the rally was Delegate Dolores McQuinn, D-Richmond. Her words are worth quoting at length because they mix the failed conventional wisdom with flashes of insight.

From the RTD:

“Gun violence has been an albatross around our necks in the Black community for years,” McQuinn told onlookers. “How many of us have been here before. Raise your hand — it should be most of us under a certain age.”

“Many of us have walked year after year after year, trying to address the issue of gun violence,” she added. “And we’re still here.”

McQuinn said prayers can help — “I’ve seen it happen in my own life” — but real change won’t occur “without the work.”

“We might as well be praying to the roof of the John Marshall Courts Building,” she said. “So we’ve got to get to work.”

Raising her voice, McQuinn said recreational centers must be built for the community, more swimming centers need to be created, and schools should be kept open after school — “where kids can go and be involved in something” instead of the streets.

“An idle mind is still a devil’s workshop,” she said. “Our children are dealing with idle minds and idle time, and the moral compass that we’re dealing with is off-kilter. And this is what it is all about. It’s a moral issue.”

“That I can look at you and not think enough of you to say, I’m going to keep my gun in my pocket, I’m going to keep it in my car. But just because there’s a conflict, I’m going to put a bullet in your head or your heart. Something is wrong with that.”

Borrowing the phrase, “Everything starts at home,” McQuinn told the crowd that she was “particularly talking to the women.”

“We have got to start training our children when they come out of the womb — and while they’re in the womb,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re providing them the nutrition and all they need while we’re pregnant. And when they come out there, we’ve got to be training them. We’ve got to teach them how to love themselves, and if you love yourself, you can love one another. This is nothing new.”

By way of preface, I’ll credit McQuinn for getting closer to the root problem than Virginia’s academic and journalistic punditocracy. At least she didn’t attribute the murders to COVID, budget cuts, or “systemic racism.” Rather than blame others, she called for the African-American community to take charge of the problem.

By referring to “gun violence” McQuinn implied that guns are part of the issue.

An easy retort would be to say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But that would be simplistic. There is no such thing as a “drive by knifing” or a “drive-by bludgeoning.” Tynashia Humphrey would be alive today if it weren’t for guns. Let us be honest and admit that guns are part of the problem.

The question is what to do about them. In a country awash in firearms — and an open border where Mexican cartels could bring them in illegally even if the U.S. banned them outright — any bad guy who wants a gun can get one. Tighter gun laws would not have saved young Ms. Humphrey. Something more is needed.

McQuinn  belongs to the idle-minds-are-the-devil’s-workshop school of thought. Keep the kids busy with wholesome pursuits and they’ll stay out of trouble. Therefore, she advocated more social spending — more recreational centers, more swimming pools, and more after-school programs.

The solution seems spectacularly irrelevant to what goes on today. Every kid has a cell phone. Every kid is online. Much of the violence that occurs today arises from altercations that begin in social media — while the kids are in school!

We’re talking about feral children who have never been taught how to behave in a civilized manner, from single-family homes in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. McQuinn brushed up against the underlying problem when she said that kids’ “moral compass” is off-kilter. And she got close to addressing root causes when she said, “We have got to start training our children when they come out of the womb.”

But then she went astray. “We’ve got to teach them how to love themselves,” she said. “If you love yourself, you can love one another.”

No, love and self esteem are not what’s missing. We need to teach children how to resolve conflicts. We need to teach them courtesy and respect for others. We need to teach them impulse control. We need to teach them to take command of their emotions.

Who will teach them these things? Is this something that schools can do? Is this something that the collective — the village — can do? Or is it something that families do? That parents do? If one or more of the parents are absent or negligent in instilling these values, what happens?

There will be no socially engineered “solution” to indiscriminate drive-by shootings. We need a moral reformation. Parents and family must assume responsibility for instilling values in their children. And individuals must assume responsibility for their actions. Politicians, academics, and bureaucrats cannot raise children from afar. As McQuinn says, someone must “put in the work,” child by child.