Every day, I ride a few stops here and there on D.C.’s Metro trains. And almost every day I, and the rest of the innocent passengers just trying to get from Point A to Point B in peace, are accosted by teenagers who either missed the day home training was scheduled in their households or forgot the lessons as soon as they boarded the subway.
Occasionally, it’s rowdy White kids headed to a ball game at Nationals Stadium or teen tourists on a school trip, whose excitement bubbles-over into public annoyance. But for the most part, it’s Black teenagers who hold other folks on the train hostage with loud music, loud cursing, and — to my utmost embarrassment — loud, devil-may-care use of the n-word. They could give a darn about the people around them. It’s their world.
What makes the scenario even more irksome is the reaction of adults when the kids finally offload and take their teenage terrorism elsewhere. They comment to each other about how foul their mouths are or how unruly their behavior is. When the kids are in front of them kicking up all kinds of havoc, the grown folks may sigh or roll their eyes, but they don’t say a word to check the unruliness that’s rampant and ruining everybody’s train ride — or meal or shopping trip — because it certainly isn’t confined to public transportation. It’s almost like the roles are reversed: the older folks are the ones sulking and mumbling under their breath and the kids are the ones running the place.
That happens often, but it only happens because we allow it to be that way. Somewhere along the line, we’ve developed a fear of our own kids. Maybe it’s because we’ve read too many news stories about teens jumping somebody or murdering somebody and it’s struck fear into our hearts. Maybe we shy away from potential confrontation because so many teens have no regard for age, gender or physical disability when they dole out cuss-outs and worse, beatdowns.
Violent flash mobs in New York and Philly prove that kids are getting wilder and more brazen, assaulting innocent folks on the street and bumrushing stores to steal. In New Orleans, a 19-year-old boy was shot because he accidentally bumped into another dude on the street. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimates that 47 percent of the 55,810 juveniles killed in 2008 were Black, and 50 percent were killed with a firearm.
Violence is a reality for teens in this generation, but it builds up a bravado and a swagger that spills over into disrespect and outright invincibility. Authority, to them, is laughable. If their parents can’t control them and the threat of arrest or jail time doesn’t keep them in check, it would be nothing to snuff out a perfect stranger telling them to act like they have some sense on the Metro while they’re trying to have fun with their friends.
I don’t believe for a minute that all of these kids are coming from lackadaisical parents and dysfunctional households. There are just too many to tuck them under the blanket assumption that all of their moms and dads have set them up to be walking statistics. But peer pressure is a beast, and it blurs the lines between the know-betters and the act-a-fools. The worst part is watching the expression of gray-haired elders who lived through the Civil Rights movement and bested all kinds of challenges in their lives, but be visibly intimidated by packs of loud, crass and uncouth teenagers.
In a way, I can understand our hesitation to ask them to check their brash behavior. We’re running the risk of being on the wrong end of their collective temper. But they behave that way because they know they can, because they’ve realized that they got the rest of us shook. One person standing up might risk retribution. But backing each other up to correct what we know is absolutely wrong is what community is all about. I’ve seen it happen on rare occasion. Look, they can’t fight us all.