April 19, 2021

Adam Toledo & Kyle Rittenhouse: Innocent Boys or Vicious Men?

Was Adam Toledo a man or a boy? And what about Kyle Rittenhouse?

Most of us probably agree that the police shouldn’t kill 13-year-old boys, but what if these boys are allegedly members of a gang? That is exactly the conversation Chris Cuomo and Sean Hannity were recently trying to have on their shows.

While Hannity called Adam Toledo a 13-year-old man, Cuomo is defending the teenager based on his age. This reminds me of the outrage after Kyle Rittenhouse was parading with a rifle at a Black Lives Matter protest last year. At that time, Hannity called Rittenhouse a 17-year-old boy.

If Adam Toledo was a member of a gang, what do we call Rittenhouse’s affiliation with right-wing militias?

And most importantly, does it really make any difference? Isn’t the more obvious question why there are teenagers joining gangs or threatening protesters with guns? Do we really solve the problems by focusing on these teenagers?

As we witness one mass shooting after the other, the question should be: how can we stop gun violence?

After one year of a global pandemic, shutdowns, and political polarization, I am worried about society as a whole. I see rioting in the streets during Spring Break, several shootings in cities and rural areas, and a general inability to solve conflicts without losing our sh*t.

Of course, we could continue the name-calling and feel superior to folks who disagree with us. Thanks to social media, we will always find a bubble that agrees with us, no matter what we believe in—even if it is fake news.

There are two different types of confrontations:

1. People involved trying to figure things out.

2. People taking sides without being involved.

It seems as if the second type is dominating our daily lives. It is much easier to take a controversial position without personally knowing the folks we are bashing.

How about talking to the teenagers before these things happen? How about rebuilding our communities, so we don’t have to watch a trial discussing if a cop should kneel on someone’s neck or not? How about creating a society we feel safe in without feeling the urge to carry weapons?

As a society, we will never be able to accommodate the needs of all its members, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t try. There will always be someone who feels left behind for reasonable or not so reasonable desires. The question is: how do we deal with not getting what we want?

Kyle Rittenhouse could have accepted that he was outnumbered by protesters instead of using a gun; Adam Toledo could have not roamed the streets at night, allegedly firing shots at a car.

I understand that being a cop these days is not an easy job, but there are other jobs that are also not easy-going these days. I haven’t seen any frustrated musician shooting someone for canceling their next gig or a waitress kneeling on someone’s neck because her restaurant got closed.

Instead of focusing on the symptoms, we could take a look at the disease itself—and I am not talking about COVID-19.

The pandemic highlighted already existing problems of societies around the world: poverty, racism, misinformation, domestic violence, organized crime, and these are just the most obvious areas with room for improvement—we haven’t even talked about climate change yet.

We have to solve these problems if we don’t want to hear reports about shooting on a daily basis or watch anchormen debating whose fault it is—we may not be in the same boat, but we are in the same storm, and there is no point in debating the weather.

If we don’t want 13-year-olds to join gangs, then we have to do something against poverty. If we want to stop 17-year-olds fantasizing that they have to save the country by using guns against protesters, then we have to stop the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories. If we want cops to not randomly murder citizens, we have to make sure that not every criminal in this country has easy access to guns.

What doesn’t help is arguing with folks who we don’t know on social media. It doesn’t help to have two cable networks that seem to report from two different realities.

We need to start talking with each other and not about each other. Here is what I would like to see:

>> Police officers talking with representatives of minorities.

>> Liberals and Conservatives finding middle-grounds instead of radicalizing their positions.

If we don’t want modern societies to implode any further, we need to take action. COVID-19 has challenged our lives in an unprecedented way, and it is upon us to create a new normal that is solving the problems of our time, not making them worse.

Every human being acts to the best of their abilities. Nobody wakes up saying to themselves, “Today, I am going to be the biggest asshole possible.”

I would like to challenge you: think about one person who made you angry this week. Ask yourself, “What made this person feel this way and what was my role in this?”

I know that this won’t solve our problems overnight, but what we are currently doing is also not solving any problems—let’s give it a try.


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