The 50 cities listed above are in some of the most beautiful areas of the world. Most of them are rich in some if not many natural resources. They are surrounded by some of the most amazing views and environments in the world. In their own way, they are also populated by many wonderful people. What, then, would make them so violent? Why would these areas be so much worse than so many other areas?
I am not here to debate the facts or consider exactly what went into these rankings. Change some of the criteria, and some of these cities will go up, down, or completely off these rankings. What I am sure of, however, is that these areas are home of some extreme violence, in many locations violence that makes walking down a dark alley in South Chicago the preferred choice over a daylight stroll in one of these areas. What I do believe is that each of these areas, and many more areas across the world, lack three key components that drive many of its residents to acts of violence.
First, the rule of law is undervalued. Sure, there may be strong laws on the books, lots of police, many ‘officials’, but the culture does not value equal protection under the law. Whether by corruption, by a system that does not enforce laws at all, or a culture that has a twisted view of ‘respect’, these societies breakdown to a level of lawlessness that lets criminals go free, does not punish corruption, and creates a sort of chaos where criminals thrive and violence becomes the law of the land. When I and many others talk about regulations, immigrations laws, or any other type of rule, my first question is whether we as a society are willing to enforce them. Similarly, when I read about individuals, groups, and even state and local governments unwilling to enforce immigration or any other laws on the books, I cringe at where that takes us. People need expectations from their government, and when they selectively ignore laws, even bad laws, personal stress increases, expectations and norms become muddy, and the very foundation of a society where we live together peaceably comes into question. Lawlessness drives many to the next component of a violent society.
The second component is hopelessness. Without knowing what is expected of them, combined with rampant corruption, societal breakdown causes people to throw up their hands and give in to their baser selves. In part, out of sheer survival, and it really should be expected. Also, it brings out the worst in people where their only hope for stability and prosperity is by theft and power. A normal life with the white picket fence and a regular paycheck that allows for a comfortable life seems so foreign to those without hope that they take what they can. For many youth growing up on the streets where gangs and drugs are the norm, many of them have never met a college graduate–or even a steady job holder–that looks like them. Their visions of success are the short-lived lives of drug pushers with cash in hand, the thieves with worldly possessions never purchased. Living a long life, having a stable family with a home and a pension are so far beyond their picture of hope that they turn to the quick-fix world of crime, drugs and thuggery. Which leads to the third key element of a violent society–a lack of respect for life, and in particular, human life.
When those of lawless societies lose hope, the value they place on life–their own and those around them–drops to near zero. Even survival can seem futile when you don’t feel your life is worth anything. Such has been the case in some countries in Africa where the AIDS epidemic is seemingly beyond hope. Youth are known to be so free with their sexual partners because they do not see a life beyond their mid-20s. They have resigned themselves to an early death, so they do not take precautions to protect themselves or their partners. Similarly, it is not rocket science that some of the highest violence cities in the world also have some of the highest rates of abortion. Citizens don’t respect the unborn, they don’t respect their neighbor, and don’t respect themselves. Taking a life in the womb or taking a life from another on the street is like changing the channel on their stolen TV–no big deal. Like going to the bathroom, just a part of life.
To say that these cities are beyond sad is an understatement. Perhaps the saddest part, however, is that so much of this is preventable. Making, then enforcing laws, is step one. Laws that apply to everyone. Next, with the foundation of expectations that creates, providing role models, opportunities, and examples of hope for everyone is key. Not all will achieve that picket fence. Not all will rise to greatness. But the opportunity for greatness, even for a stable life, is a must. Lastly, we must teach an appreciation for life. This can be through faith, through laws and policies, but mostly in how we act towards each other. There can be no ‘unwanted’ members of society. Say what you want about abortion, when life matters, but the simple fact is that it diminishes a form of life, a stage in life, and with that diminishment, the rest of us are also diminished. By taking that step, regardless of how necessary one may think it is, we are saying that not all life is worthwhile. And the cost of that mindset is the greater willingness to end life in other ways.
The large thinkers of governments of the world constantly talk of fixing poverty, violence, and the ills of the world. Without the rule of law, a sense of hope, and a respect for al life, it will never happen. I can promise you that.