The unbearable normality of teenage violence [p. 15]

What happened when I crossed paths with the Godfather and the Turk.

Since fortune has usually smiled on me, and since my disposition is to try to smile on others, my experience at the receiving end of "teenage violence" has been meager - just the normal quota of pushing and shoving, not counting a few futile ventures into organized violence, aka rugby. Nevertheless, there were times when I only narrowly escaped becoming a statistic. Once, for example, I even encountered real kiddy crime - a minor Mafia. It involved a kid in eighth grade who went by the inexplicable alias "The Turk." This squeaky, yet cocky, caustically irritating fellow apparently had a beef with an acquaintance of mine, "A." One day, during recess, the Turk declared that "A" owed him a few CDs. "A" denied the claim, adding that, in fact, it was the Turk who owed him a CD. An argument ensued, and so did my laughter, due to the disparity between the Turk's high-pitched voice and "A"'s baritone, which created an amusingly jarring melody, like a contemporary piece played on the classical music station late at night. Of course a measure of scuffling accompanied this contretemps, but nothing serious. No sooner had someone broken it up than the Turk rushed away. "A" hurled a bit of cussing after him, grumbled for a while, and then we chilled. All in all, a display of male hormones. Normal. Expected. WHAT HAPPENED next was unexpected. The Turk followed us into the classroom, bringing with him a rugged-looking youngster known as "The Godfather." Now this kid was an entirely different deal. This kid, rumor went, had a fearsome "gav,"meaning "back" in Hebrew. But it's also slang for "posse," which is American for a pack of friends or, as in this case, goons ready to beat up anyone on command. The Godfather called "A" out of the classroom. I followed. The Godfather eyeballed us, breathed loudly through his nose. We stared back. "Tell me what happened," he asked "A". "He owes me CDs," answered the Turk. "Give him his CDs," demanded the Godfather, justice in jeans. "But I don't owe him nothing," "A" answered truculently. "He really doesn't," I added. Mistake, big mistake. The Godfather walked away, the Turk trailing behind. We went back into the classroom (it was still recess) and tried to foresee the future. Moments later, our worst predictions were realized. A guy from another class came in, walked straight up to "A" and, without any compunction or discussion, punched him in the face. "A" fell to the floor. I shouted something like "What the hell are you doing?!" He turned his still expressionless face to me, said something like "There's more coming," and left. "A" and I were advised to leave the building via the back entrance. We heeded the advice. "A" later suggested that his own posse retaliate, but I was against such lawless conduct and dissuaded him. Besides, it was pointless - the Godfather's following was much bigger. Later, it turned out the Turk had bribed the Godfather by offering him a CD or two if he could get any out of "A". I made up my mind not to succumb to this sort of extortion, and next day entered the school through the front door, acting normally. In the event, nothing happened. The entire "debt" was forgotten; we weren't a great enough affront to their honor. MY PURPOSE in telling this story is not to shock. After all, there are far worse stories. At the same school a kid slashed another's face with a broken flowerpot. Across the country, stabbings occur daily. Indeed, my tale never got a mention in the press. There are two reasons for this story to be told. The first is to shed some light on what is really meant by the term "teenage violence." We hear only about severe cases, frequently involving knives. Yet these are just one end of an entire spectrum of activity; there are hundreds of cases. We need to get a grip on the entire scope, for crime always begins small. It is not either black or white, "terrible" or nonexistent; there is a vast gray area out of the media limelight. The second, more important reason for telling this story is to highlight the effect of media coverage. When big-time gangsters throw extravagant parties, which the media eagerly cover, and publishes "exclusive" interviews with mobsters, all without mentioning the cruelty these people are responsible for, youngsters are bound to be attracted. At least this sort of media lionizing can be counteracted by education. More difficult to deal with is that we hear the terms "violence" and "teenage crime" so often that we become numb to the real meaning of the words and no longer think about them. To touch the public nerve rather than dull it, elaborate and poignant examples must be discussed, as must the "tiny" origins of violence. There are plenty of stories featuring kids on the verge of real crime. My own involved "godfathers" ruling on disputes over property, bribes, extortion, and the resolution of even trivial affairs with violence. As for the incidents of genuinely deadly aggression, what does it mean to our numbed generation that someone gets stabbed? Do we stop to think about the agony, perhaps imagining a needle-prick, multiplied a thousandfold? Do we think about the blood pouring out? About the cries of anguish and grief? About death? Naked emotions are needed to awaken us to the dangers. In order to save kids from crime, we should first truly and creatively discuss the entire spectrum of violence, and not hide dark deeds behind superficial words. The writer, who has just graduated high school, lives in Jerusalem.