Monday, June 22, 2015

Failure to Launch

Last week a 21-year-old South Carolina man took a gun into a prayer meeting at an African American church and shot nine people dead. 

The shooter planned to kill himself when he was finished, but he ran out of bullets. 

He fantasized that his actions would start a race war.

In this, too, he failed.

Failed Young Men

Dyllan Roof never got traction as an adult.  His family life fell apart when his father and stepmother divorced and she moved away.  He repeated his freshman year of high school and then dropped out.  He did not have a job or any prospect for a career.  He used drugs. His father gave him, or gave him the money to buy, the gun he used to kill nine generous, kind people.

Unfortunately he is not alone.  There are many Dyllan Roofs in this world. 

In the last two weeks, without intending to do so, I have posted about two other young men who turned personal frustration into justifications for murder.

On June 12, it was a 20-year-old black man with nothing much going for him besides a gun.  He settled a verbal argument by killing two men.  He will be in prison until he is 92, if he lives that long.

On June 10, it was Anders Breivik, a Norwegian man who set a bomb and then went on a shooting spree, killing 77 people.  He had convinced himself that Muslims were destroying Europe.  Like Roof, he had delusions that his rampage would set off a race war.  He too is in prison, likely for the rest of his life.

None of these guys was going anywhere.  The power to kill was the only power any of them had.  They used that power deliberately.

There are many more young men, equally frustrated and going nowhere but not violent.  It is time to do something about their failures to launch.

Helping Lost Boys

At the last report I could find, for 2013, the U.S. high school graduation rate had reached a new high, 75 percent.  My guess is that most of the dropouts are young men.  College enrollment, we know, is now 60 percent women.

A high school diploma, even from a crummy school, makes a difference.   It tells a potential employer that a young person has stuck with something to its completion.  It unlocks access to vocational school and community college.  

I can imagine some things that might keep guys in school -- more male teachers (particularly military veterans), more tech classes, internship opportunities in skilled trades, more adult attention instead of suspension for misbehavior, and outreach to bring truants back into the classroom.  

It also wouldn't hurt to make economic growth a national priority. Young people want careers, not part-time jobs at a higher minimum wage. Why not also make it easier for people  -- young men who've mastered a skill, say -- to start their own businesses?  

How about rethinking our juvenile justice system?  When young people act out, prosecution might not be the best response.  It would be nice -- maybe impossible, but nice -- if young miscreants could be paired with good people like the ones Dyllan Roof met at that church in Charlotte.  The last resort should be locking young offenders up with other boys who have all the same problems.

Most of all, young men need strong families, particularly fathers and uncles and grandfathers.  Boys crave the guidance of honorable men like thirsty sponges. 

Dyllan Roof's father will not be held legally responsible for what his son has done, but unless he is an inhuman monster he will carry a heavy burden for the rest of his life.      

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