Thursday, May 7, 2009

Girls on Our Streets

I'm a fan of Nicholas D. Kristof, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. He's done a lot of writing about Darfur, but he also focuses on the troubles in America. Lately, he investigated the unfortunate and overwhelming number of teenage girls who are selling their bodies to stay alive. I really agree with his statement: Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.  YES - they need to learn the law, but we need to quit throwing them in the system. We all know that our penal system is NOT the rehabilitative environment it should be. What they really need is HELP fighting their inner-demons, so to speak, and assistance to get off the streets.  

This statement is even more true: If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest. What is up with that? Why does this country turn a blind eye when something happens to a minority? Why are we still turning our noses up to these populations? It makes me sick. People feel as though these people are a dime a dozen, and good riddance to the ones that pass on. Frees up resources, right? One less mouth to feed. One less sick child to be taken into the emergency room with no insurance, which jack up everyone's health insurance. One less pimp on the street. One less drug addict. One less prostitute. One less. 

What people don't take a moment to think about is that most of these minorities are stuck in the endless loop of poverty. In fact, most grow up experiencing nothing else. All they see is drugs, sex and violence. It becomes their culture, their distinct set of values and beliefs. Yea. Seems crazy to value violence, huh? But what if it's all the person has ever experienced? 

Can you un-learn your culture? I dare you to try.

And don't even get me started on how our capitalist, oligarchical economy only exacerbates the poor's situation. Or how we have this Just Deserts mindset. Or Cumulative Oppression. Or how we point the finger and blame individuals instead of looking at the broader systems and policies that are not in place, which then exacerbate a situation! We can't expect people to pull themselves up by their friggin boot straps anymore. Not in today's exorbitantly priced world. We need to GET OVER that mindset! 

Do not misinterpret my opinion. I obviously believe that criminals should be punished. However, we are going about it in the entirely wrong fashion, and have been for a long time. And no, I don't have a solution, I just know that our social and penal system really, really, needs an overhaul. However, how do you change a complete system as ginormous as these? pfft. The answer I feel everyone has on the tips of their tongues is: You don't. And that is the sad part...

(I totally ranted and went off on a tangent. Score!)

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