Friday, October 25, 2013

War toys--what's the harm?

"I had war toys when I was a boy and I turned out fine."

Really? Are you sure about that?

One of my students posted about taking her four-year-old nephew into the supermarket, giving him her phone to play with to amuse himself. He played Angry Birds and squealed with proud delight every time he killed a pig. Teaching a four-year-old to kill? Is that OK?
Ask the family of Andy Lopez Cruz, a 13-year-old who was carrying two plastic toy guns while walking to his friend's house in Santa Rosa, a peaceful town in California's wine country. He was wearing a hoodie and allegedly failed to drop his toy guns when police responded to a call of concern by some citizen worried about the replica toy assault rifle he was carrying.

Sonoma County sheriff's deputies shot the boy dead. A boy with a reputation for being a good kid, a school budding musician with a sweet disposition by all accounts.

War toys can indeed be lethal.

The responses to the shooting are predictably polarized. The kid was asking for it say some. Cops are trigger happy say others. Sadly, if we use any logic, we can see the truth and the avoidable tragedy in both positions. What parent allows a 13-year-old to run around with a real-looking assault rifle dressed in clothing that the culture associates with gangs? What sort of purblind cop cannot tell the difference? Lousy parenting, rotten policing, and a dead child--can we learn nothing from this?

Do we do any favors for our children by approving of them preparing to murder others?--and when we give them toy guns we are issuing that stamp of approval. Parents, teachers, community workers, social workers, health care professionals, law enforcement, elected officials, child safety experts--all these groups and more should be working to end this sick tutelage of our children and concomitantly confronting law enforcement's own corrupt and unprofessional role in literally overkill response. For a scholarly exegesis of the war toy problem, see the July 2013 issue of Peace & Change and a 25-page peer-reviewed study by Rachel Waltner Goossen, history professor at Washburn University. The evidence against war toys and in favor of healthy peace-teaching toys is voluminous. We can fix this if we listen to the Grandmothers for Peace.

Blame is not a zero-sum game. We can apportion it to parents, teachers, toy companies, media workers, law enforcement, and society in general in large and fixable proportions. In the end, we all have some part in this. We all contribute to the solution or to the ongoing problem. It should hurt our hearts to lose a child to totally avoidable circumstances like these. Each child is precious and we can begin to inoculate them against the dangers or we can ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Andy Lopez Cruz has gone away instead. Let him be the last.

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