Funding Our Children, Not Our Wars
By Karen J. Greenberg
- Will the program’s focus (rather than its rhetoric) be broader than radical Islam? As the numerous mass shootings of recent years have shown, radical Islam is only a modest slice of a much larger story of youth violence. In fact, as a recent report from Fordham’s Center on National Security makes clear, even the individuals alleged to be inspired by ISIS in the past two years defy profiling in terms of ethnicity, family, religion, or race. Yet the new strategy -- not so surprising, given the cast of characters who will carry it out -- looks like it’s already trapped in the Muslim-centric policies of the past. In this vein, civil libertarians worry that the new strategy continues to “threaten freedoms of speech, association, and religion,” as a recent letter signed by 49 civil liberties organizations put it. In practical terms, the odds are that the usual focus means that detecting the sort of shooters who have dominated the headlines for the past couple of years, domestically, is extremely unlikely.
- Can the kinds of community outreach on which CVE interventionism is theoretically based crack the reality of lone-wolf killers? By definition, “lone wolves” are on their own. Yet the new CVE program expects to rely on what it calls “community-led intervention” to detect signs of radicalization or disturbance among the young. We know, however, that lone-wolf killers interact little with such communities or often even other individuals. They tend to be deeply alienated and startlingly unattached. Deputizing community organizations -- be they mosques, churches, community centers, or schools -- to interact with law enforcement agencies in developing greater awareness of individuals faltering in life and in danger of turning to violence belies the reality that such young men are generally cut off from almost everyone. (A special danger of such an approach is that its focus may, in fact, fall not on potential future criminals and killers, but on oddballs, loners, and those with ideas critical of the society in which they live. In other words, the very people who may in maturity become our innovators, inventors, and artists could soon become targets of the national security state in a desperate attempt to find future mass murderers and terrorists.)
- Will CVE focus on the crucial role that youthful despair and depression play in such cases and on the absence of adequate psychological intervention for such figures? Aurora shooter James Holmes had lost his girlfriend and his job, was failing out of school, and had just received a speeding citation. Chattanooga shooter Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez had lost one job -- at a nuclear facility no less -- was in danger of losing another, was facing bankruptcy, and had had a recent run-in with law enforcement. Both Holmes and Abdulazeez were increasingly unstable and had a history of substance abuse that they were unable to break, despite help from family and doctors. Both were undoubtedly depressed. Even if the government could find such individuals before they lash out, what role has it imagined for counseling in any intervention process?
- Will the CVE program take on America’s gun lobby? This is, of course, the elephant in the room. Any strategy that ignores the ready availability of guns, legal and otherwise, in this country and the striking absence of gun control laws is whistling in a hurricane. While deterring individuals from violence may be an essential focus for any new program, overlooking the striking lethality of what they kill with and the ready availability of weapons like assault rifles honed to mass slaughter is a strange way to go. Chillingly enough, recent shooters have tended to collect whole arsenals of weaponry. Once a top student with a 3.9 grade point average in college, the increasingly disturbed James Holmes managed to purchase two Glock 22s, one semi-automatic rifle, and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, all of it legally. The Chattanooga shooter possessed four guns, three of which -- a handgun and two rifles -- were on him at the time of the shooting. If gun control protections had been in place in the United States, it’s possible that neither of these young men would have been able to carry out a mass killing, whatever their mental states and desires.
- Will the CVE program have any regard for the bright line between law enforcement and civil society? The record of the national security state since 9/11 on this subject remains dismal indeed. Can the government’s CVE strategy, seeking public-private partnerships between law enforcement and local communities, refrain from again crossing so many lines? In reality, such a strategy of intervention would undoubtedly best be served by an independent effort on the part of organizations in civil society. Perhaps rather than creating yet another new security outfit, new civilian organizations are what’s really needed. What about a new version of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America geared to the age of terror? What about a teen-oriented version of the Head Start program that gave children the resources they needed to be more productive at school and helped redirect them when they failed? What about more support for programs that oppose bullying? What about a resource center for parents confused about what is expected of their children in today’s world?