A funny thing happened on the way to my neighborhood ball fields last week. They were closed. In fact, the sign read just that: “Fields closed.” It wasn’t the first or the worst case of “my tax dollars not at work” that I’ve encountered while looking for something to do with my kids. Like many of you, I’ve taken my sons and daughters after school to play in the schoolyard only to find out that I couldn’t even get in. High fences and locked gates now stand between our kids and the places where many of us learned sports and social skills.
Meanwhile, we complain about juvenile delinquency. With each passing day, we witness more and more examples on the news of young men and women acting out. Violence, detachment, anti-social and even criminal behavior seem to be on the rise. Is there any wonder why, or more to the point, whether we may somehow be at fault?
Politicians get elected by playing off of our worst fears. They get elected not by their forward thinking, but by reducing us with anxiety.
It doesn’t take a village, but it does take people and facilities. I can remember Mr. Walker. I can remember coach Andrews and Harris. I can remember coach Randy and Arnie and Sye. These were the teachers, recreation leaders and park supervisors I looked up to as a kid growing up in Hialeah, a hardscrabble suburb of Miami filled with working immigrant families. Today few American cities hire mentors to help our children grow and learn. Instead, they simply hire more and more police. Isn’t that backward?
Will we be the last generation of Americans who will remember what it was like to go to a park and find a staffed adult coach, recreation leader or trainer, rather than a uniformed law enforcement officer at the front entrance threatening us with arrest for loitering or trespassing? I raised this question on my I-Heart radio show on WIOD this week only to find that I wasn’t alone. John from Fort Lauderdale said it also happened to him and his son. “When the schools shut down and the students leave, they lock up the school yards,” he says. “Sheriffs have told me the park closes with the school and that trespassers are subject to arrest. Can you imagine putting a kid in jail for being in a park?” he asks. I can’t.
To those of us who grew up in homes with working parents during the pre tech age; park programs, city- sponsored recreational activities and trained recreation leaders and coaches were a godsend. I’m embarrassed for my generation as I drive by empty parks, many of them locked with ball fields reserved only for paying customers (weekend warriors who form softball and or soccer leagues to compete against each other.) Parks and schoolyards should not be used solely for profit!
Then there’s the perplexing issue of how our tax money is being spent. How do you think those parks are built and sustained? We pay taxes to help build and maintain parks that are then locked up to keep our children and us from using them. What the hell sense does that make?
Politicians get elected by playing off of our worst fears. They get elected not by their forward thinking, but by reducing us with anxiety. Their universal solution: hire more and more and more police to supposedly stamp out crime “after” it happens. I got an idea, how about stamping out crime “before” it happens?
The effect that a caring coach, recreation leader or park supervisor can have on our children is immeasurable. It can make the difference between creating a productive citizen or an unsupervised “thug.” So what do we do?
Here’s my suggestion. Let's make a commitment to our kids by using our best and brightest. Since politicians aren’t willing to hire recreation leaders and park supervisors for fear of blowing their budgets, let's encourage police departments to make it mandatory for officers to spend at least five hours a week doing community service not where they live but rather where they serve. At least get to know those children (smile) before you arrest them.
Although their reputation is tarnished and they are arguably under utilized, police officers can be America’s greatest resource. What a coincidence, so are our children. What do you say we bring them together?