How Do We Respond to Violence Broken by the Cries of a Child?

cries-of-a-child-quoteThe summer and fall have been one of considerable unrest and violence throughout many parts of the country. Most recently, a police shooting here in Pasadena generated a mostly peaceful public demonstration, highlighting the tensions that exist in our community. I would not presume to analyze the complexities surrounding these incidents, but what these volatile situations create is a deep sense of unease that is traumatizing for the whole community.

For the children we serve throughout the greater Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley area, it is hard to insulate them from such well-covered public demonstrations. It impacts their sense of security and thrusts them into situations that can have a lasting effect.

Our children look to their parents, neighbors, teachers, and community leaders, and they see a whole spectrum of reactions: outrage, fear, determination, resolve, anger and at times a debilitating indifference. Beyond our local situations, nationally, a political environment characterized by fearmongering only exacerbates a sense of vulnerability.

In the midst of such a trauma-generating environment the voice of child was raised, that of 9-year-old Zianna Oliphant, who tearfully addressed a public forum in Charlotte, North Carolina saying, “It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed and we can’t see them anymore, It’s a shame that we have to go to the graveyard and bury them. And we have tears, and we shouldn’t have tears. We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.”

It is a shame that fear dominates, that biases influence our behavior, that reason is illusive and violence threatens to rule. In such a shameful environment what are we to say to our children who are so vulnerable and traumatized?

There may not be much to say. However, there may be much we can do. We can de-escalate the tension with our language. We can insist on the truth. We can strive for justice. We can promote dialogue. We can be solution-oriented. We can reassure with our attentiveness. In the midst of all the vitriol we can tone down the rhetoric, give children the opportunity to be heard, and by our actions, demonstrate that we are listening. There is much we can and indeed must do. May the trembling voices and cries of our children touch our hearts and motivate us to act with resolve to build a safer community.

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