The film Moonlight is one of the best films I’ve seen about a young man coming of age, the roots of youth violence, and what’s behind the hard mask of so many minority youth, including those who become enmeshed in the criminal justice system. A hunger for human connection, compassion, and empathy often hides behind the hardness these young men project, underneath the Raiders’ jacket, the forbidding tattoos and intimidating muscles.
One incident in Moonlight was eerily reminiscent of an episode I witnessed at age 15 as a Boy Scout. There was more than a little bullying in Boy Scouts. That was often directed at vulnerable or perceived-to-be soft or effeminate boys. For reasons that were never clear to me, I was not victimized, even though I was a tiny kid and the troop’s only Jew.
The lead bully, whom I will call Steve, regularly tormented another boy, whom I will call Tim. Steve was older and larger. There realistically wasn’t much Tim could do. The adults never did much to help, either. I suspect they expected Tim to stick up for himself.
One day he did. On one cold camp-out, deep in woods, Steve made some cutting comment in Tim’s direction. Tim suddenly grabbed a small sled and smashing it over Steve’s head. Steve’s blood poured from a gaping head wound onto the snow, as adults ran from all directions to staunch the bleeding.
This being late-1970s white suburbia, no one was arrested or locked up. That’s probably for the best. I don’t know what happened to either boy in later years. Throw an off-the-shelf handgun into the mix, and this would resemble any number of Chicago homicides. It might even be labelled gang-related.
That was my first brush with potentially lethal violence perpetrated by a cornered young man defending his honor and masculinity. Every day, in my morning newspaper, I see more.