It’s that feeling when you get up in the morning with a tune rolling round inside your head. You turn on the radio and there’s the song.
So it was last week. I’d been utterly involved in the drafting, the development and finally the launch of this year’s Social Justice Sunday Statement by Australia’s Catholic bishops. That night I had just watched the 7.00 pm news and was quietly waiting for the cloud of tragedy, portents and sporting setbacks to settle out. The news rolled seamlessly into the 7.30 Report and, as for Sam Tyler in Life on Mars, it seemed that my recent life was suddenly being broadcast at me from the television.
The bishops’ Statement is titled Violence in Australia: A message of peace. The episode of the 7.30 Report dealt with … well, it dealt with the growth of violence in Australia.
According to the report, there had been 2000 arrests throughout Australia over the previous weekend during a police campaign against drunken violence and related problems. It opened with a group of young police officers being briefed before being sent out onto the streets and into harm’s way to quell as much biffo as they could.
As the camera followed them down the corridor, I thought about what it might mean to pay these young men and women take risks, and at worst to be violent, on our behalf. Of course, the vast majority of police, including several of my friends and relatives, are committed to finding ways to solve issues without violence. But how much easier is it for me to call myself nonviolent when there’s a police force to help me out if I need it?
As the segment continued, the intersection between the events onscreen and the words of the Statement became starker. Take this excerpt from the bishops’ Statement, for example:
… when children feel they have a need or right to carry knives to assert or defend themselves, recently with tragic consequences, we must ask what kind of society we have created for them and what values we have instilled.
And here is the Salvation Army’s Brendan Nottle, in the report:
We see between 70 to 100 young people a night, and out of that group, one in three indicated that they either had a knife on them at that time or they normally carry a knife …
Here are the bishops again:
When wealth and possessions are made the measure of happiness and success, people who are already disadvantaged can easily feel further excluded ... Exclusion leads to frustration, and frustration can lead to rage and even violence.
And here from the 7.30 Report is a boy recalling his time as a street kid:
It feels very degrading knowing that … there are all these people around you everywhere in nice houses, warmth and everything and you're stuck out on the streets … I'd walk down the street and start swearing at people for no reason other than they were wearing a nicer top ... If someone hadda put a knife into my hands, I would not be standing in front of you now. I would be behind bars, if not, you know, in a morgue.
This Sunday is Social Justice Sunday. My friend Beth Doherty has already meditated beautifully on finding the reality of this Statement in the streets of Kings Cross. The ABC did something similar. You won’t solve the problem of violence unless you solve the issues of justice beneath it.
David Brennan is the Editing and Publications Officer for the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.
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