A Culture under Fire

Article excerpt

Don't believe it a coincidence that in one week a mother in a Prince George's County suburb and a grandmother in the District were caught in the crossfire of two separate gunfights over drugs and money between rival groups. Don't believe that events earlier this year in Littleton, Colorado - where dozens of young people were killed or injured at Columbine High - is unrelated to the age-old drama in urban schools, where kids frequently shoot each other. Shootings in city schools haven't merited the term massacre, although in the aggregate there have been far more. There is a reason both suburban Prince William County and the District enacted teen curfew laws.

Don't think it happenstance that Montgomery County, Fairfax County and other wealthy suburbs in the country have education woes that duplicate those of inner-city neighborhoods. And don't believe it a fluke that cases of child neglect and abuse are rising in the suburbs - as is drug use among teens.

The line between urban and suburban America has blurred. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know where one begins and the other ends. The serene, bucolic neighborhoods families sought in suburbia are overrun by the same pathologies visiting neighborhoods like the District's Congress Heights and East Capitol Dwelling. There are no border guards capable of preventing the intrusion. Not unlike inner-city communities, the cultural fabric of the suburbs is ripping - loudly.

Some people may want to deny the disintegration and the synthesizing that have occurred over the last decade; they ignore the resulting effects. But there is tangible evidence, both good and bad, to offer as proof that the landmarks that delineate and separate communities are becoming invisible. Truth be told, the lines between black, white and Hispanic cultures in this country also are fading. One need only to hear the music of N'Sync or the Backstreet Boys, the cadence of some conversations between white teens and their counterparts, or see the baggy, hanging pants some white and middle class suburban kids wear.

"The problems don't stop neatly at the central city borders," Myron Orfield, author of "Regional Agenda for Community and Stability" once noted. Cities are where many of the socioeconomic challenges - poverty, immigration, education, crime, community development, reconstruction of families and the values that guide them - are being played out. All that is changing as suburban communities grapple with similar concerns.

Still, a destructive individualism prevails, where the rules, regulations, integrity, values and discipline necessary for a healthy society are tossed aside. People maintain a not-in-my backyard or not-my-problem mentality. Public leaders are not much different. Their discussions, analyses and proposed solutions to the expanding socioeconomic pathologies are myopic and narrow.

When the Columbine shooting occurred the quick whipping horse was the entertainment and video industry, followed by the gun industry. Each of these bears some responsibility, but none can claim eminence. To be sure, the entertainment and video industry nurses the public on a plethora of violence - some of it, like cartoons, seeming benign until it is measured over time. …