Re: the 6 teens arrested today in the murder of Omar Wellington (July, 2006) – how can children grow up to become teenagers who surround another teen to spend 5 hours beating, stomping and stabbing him to death?

What happens along the way in the journey of childhood – from the beautiful, innocent faces I see in classrooms everyday, the ones running in after recess to solemnly show me the tiny block of ice that’s “‘xactly like a diamond”, those who tell me in shocked tones that somebody said the D word – dumb, the ones who gather around the window during a stormy, windy day in worry about the newly planted trees in the school yard, who find wonder in the clouds, ants, rocks, who all huddle with furrowed, open-mouthed concern around another child because of a paper cut, a loose tooth, a new scab, a hangnail – what happens to cause some of these beautiful children to turn impassively violent as young adults?

Islam teaches us that everyone is born with fitrah – the innate inclination to choose good over evil.  And yet somehow our society allows some of its members to grow up to torture others to death.

We permit our children to sit stoically through scenes of violence on all kinds of screens, bodies either held still in viewing-stupor or moving in rhythmic sway to the game controllers while we read studies sponsored by this media conglomerate or that gaming company assuring us that viewing violence “in no way encourages children to commit violence”.

We find children who are bullying others and begin to build up a case to keep them bullying well into their teens by clearly marking them as they move through the grades, as though the word BULLY is branded on their foreheads; we do this instead of reaching in to see the thriving soul, the fitrah, to turn that fascination with flies away from pulling their wings off to being interested in their growth cycle.  We diagnose them as bully and keep on the look out to confirm this diagnosis instead of catching them in the acts of goodness children are innately programmed to exhibit; instead of granting them a new diagnosis, a new reputation as the kid who stopped others from stepping onto broken glass in the schoolyard, instead of giving them a new way of defining themselves.

We allow some of us to torture others to death.  And some of us, well, sadly, hundreds of us, lock our doors, close our curtains and not pick up a phone to call 911 while it happens outside our steps.

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Omar Wellington won’t leave my mind.

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