Trying to reach teenagers increasingly exposed to gun violence and attracted to gangs, a motivational speaker met with the 600-member student body at Seattle’s Cleveland High School and threw down the gauntlet. It came in the form of a rope stretched across the floor, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Stand on the line if you are not being raised by your mother or father,” said Brenda Caldwell, as many youths stepped forward. Stand on the line if you have experienced emotional or physical abuse. Stand on the line if you are holding anger or unable to forgive. “They flooded the gym floor,” said Caldwell, a Tennessee-based counselor who works in schools, giving lectures to youth around the country. “There was no talking, no speaking, but the message in Seattle was loud and clear.” In the past four months, three teenagers have been shot to death in killings that police are increasingly attributing to gang violence.
To Nancy Gratton, a community activist, the problem has reached bewildering proportions. “Our plan is actually to try to talk with kids at the next funeral to see if they can tell us what’s going on and how to slow this down or stop it, because we really don’t know,” she said. “I’ve been doing this work for four years and this is a new day. The kids I talk to now don’t seem to care. Death is not a big thing to them; killing is not a big thing to them.” No longer, Gratton said, are street wars waged over drugs or turf battles, as in years past. Today, something as vague as perceived disrespect can trigger a shooting. “When that’s the issue, I wonder where it’s going to go — what’s going to happen next,” she said.