Editorial: Find more men to teach love

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1993:

Three Brazilian military policemen shocked the world July 23 when they
machine-gunned 45 homeless children who were sleeping in front of the Candelaris Church
and Museum of Modern Art in the fashionable part of Rio de Janeiro, killing seven. So
great was the outrage that three days later the suspects were arrested. And that was the real
news. In 1992 alone, 424 children were killed in Rio de Janeiro––as many as half of them
by police, many of whom liken the murder of a street orphan to shooting a stray dog. As
the very first issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE reported, the killing has previously been done
with impunity. People trying to help the children and attempting to bring the police to jus-
tice have also been killed. Elsewhere in Brazil, and in other parts of Latin America, the
situation may be worse, but only Brazil keeps good statistics, recording the murders of
more than 1,000 children a year––mostly poor semi-orphans. In all, 700,000 Brazilian
children don’t live with their mothers, and 460,000 of them don’t live with either parent.
More than four million don’t go to school, and more than 10% of adolescents can’t read.

Only two weeks later the world was horrified again when Brazilian gold miners
who had been rousted from their squatters’ camp by conservation agents took revenge by
massacring 65 of the Yanomani natives to whom the land belongs. Most of the victims
were children. But so, apparently, were many of the perpetrators: young men who fled
urban poverty to seek their fortune the only way they knew how. Some of them were virtu-
al slaves to older miners. They viewed killing the Yanomani as killing wild animals.
Appalling as the Brazilian situation is, a comparable bloodbath is erupting among
disenfranchised children here in the U.S., where numbers and attitudes are just as scary.
As many as 2,700 American children a year are murdered, slightly more per capita than in
Brazil, which has just over half our population––but here the police aren’t doing the killing.
Three out of 10 child murders are committed by a fellow juvenile. Juvenile arrests for mur-
der are up 85% since 1987. The Justice Department estimates that one million teenagers
per year are raped, robbed, or assaulted by peers. A recent Harris survey of 2,508 students
in grades six through 12 at 96 schools found that one boy in six sometimes carries a gun;
59% have access to a gun; 11% have been shot at; and 9% have shot at someone else.
Forty percent knew someone who had been shot. Twenty-three percent of American chil-
dren live below the poverty line; 40% are close to it. Nearly 60% of inner city children are
poor readers. The real incomes of young families with children have fallen 32% in under
20 years, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.
Just one more number explains many of the rest: 37% of young families are now
headed by a single parent, twice as many as in 1973. The single parent is usually the moth-
er. Many of the missing fathers, especially in inner cities, are in trouble with the law.
They are not effectively providing for their young, they are not establishing a secure home
atmosphere, and they are not providing the positive male role models that children need.
Boys without good fathers don’t learn how to be good fathers; girls without good fathers
don’t learn how to recognize the qualities that distinguish a good father. In absence of
fathers, or father surrogates such as caring male relatives, teachers and coaches, both seek
their male role models in popular culture––and on the street. Popular culture provides TV
heroes who kill at such a rate that the average child sees as many as 18,000 murders before
even entering school. On the street, the leading male role model for many children is the
most violent man or manchild in the neighborhood––the one tough and strong enough to be
the gang leader, or what used to be called the bully.
A burst of concern about misogyny and violence in rap music swept the U.S. in
midsummer, following several especially vicious murders of children by slightly older chil-
dren (most of whom had histories of animal abuse), and an explosion of gang attacks on
young women in New York City swimming pools, commited by gangs who chanted rap
lyrics as they raped and assaulted. Just as rock-and-roll took the blame for everything nega-
tive about youth rebellion from the 1950s through the 1970s, rap takes the rap today. And
certainly some rap lyrics are much more overtly threatening than anything beyond the sensu-
al beat in any popular rock before the advent of acid rock and heavy metal. But blaming rap
misses the point––some rap artists may be as degenerate as bowhunting rocker Ted Nugent,
or as the most flamboyant degenerates of popular music in the swing and ragtime eras, for
that matter, but their acts wouldn’t catch on if an audience wasn’t hungry for the vicarious
expressions they provide.
Behind the dehumanizing lyrics of much rap is a cry for help, and a warning.
When the only parent a child has is female, the adolescent rebellion that most young men
traditionally direct toward their fathers in specific and adult male authority in general may
be directed instead at women. Thus women who already suffer from all the abuse that goes
with being physically, economically, and politically weaker become the victims of even
more violence because, ironically, they appear to be the controlling figures in many young
men’s lives: mothers, teachers, nurses, welfare caseworkers. The first male authority fig-
ure they meet may be a policeman, a judge, or a jailer.
We are not going to develop a more humane civilization if we allow children to
suffer inhumane conditions, learning the lessons of kill-or-be-killed. We certainly aren’t
going to succeed in protecting animals if we can’t protect our children. American SPCA
founder Henry Bergh recognized this when he helped Etta Angell Wheeler rescue the
severely abused Mary Ellen from a New York tenement in 1874, and put his political
weight behind our first child protection laws. Carolyn Earle White understood this when
soon afterward she founded both the Women’s Humane Society of Philadelphia and the
Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children from Cruelty. The American Humane Association
has accepted a mandate to work on behalf of both animals and children since 1885.
Most of us acknowledge the importance of humane education. But we can and
must do more than taking information on pet care to classrooms. Humane educators are
already doing an excellent job of providing positive female role models, reflected in the
hugely disproportionate number of women who have become involved in the humane move-
ment, and who have become vegetarians by way of rejecting participation in any kind of
violence. Now we need to provide positive male role models, a tall order for a cause whose
workforce is more than 80% female. We need to introduce young men to grown men who
exemplify the strengths they will respect in combination with the qualities of compassion
and responsibility they must develop. We must provide fatherless young men with male role
models to rebel against––because young men build their moral strength through the combi-
nation of rebellion and discipline, maturing to resemble most the men they pushed and were
pushed by.
The Louisiana SPCA just showed the way with a poster entitled “Real Men Love
Animals,” depicting New Orleans football star Rickey Jackson at play with a kitten. We
must find more Rickey Jacksons, and enlist their help; one such example is worth morey
than all the lectures we could possibly deliver.
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