In the wake of the drive-by shooting death of Palo Verde High School student Chris Privett, a tragedy that has sparked heated and anguished discussions across the community, here are a few things I think we should keep in mind.
Most of the time, being a Las Vegas teenager is not about getting hold of a gun and driving around looking for someone to shoot at.
Sometimes, being a Las Vegas teenager is about studying late into the night, long after your siblings and parents have fallen asleep, to ensure you complete your homework and prepare for your tests. Plenty of teenagers here earn straight A’s, take challenging courses and do the hard work required to be ready for college and a rewarding career.
Sometimes, being a Las Vegas teenager is about giving 110 percent in practice every day, expending every ounce of your energy and developing the skills needed to help your team succeed. Thousands of students here commit mind and body to a sport and a team, not because they believe they’re going to make millions in the pros but because they love the game and relish the camaraderie of their teammates.
Sometimes, being a Las Vegas teenager is about coming home after school and playing your guitar for hours on end, honing your skills, learning songs and creating some of your own. It’s about understanding that if you want to become really good and perhaps have the opportunity to make a living playing music, you have to practice more than everybody else.
Sometimes, being a Las Vegas teenager is about working a menial job after school to help your family pay the bills. It’s about long evening shifts in a fast-food restaurant, leaving no time for fun and barely enough time to keep pace in school so you won’t have to do this kind of work your whole life.
Sometimes, being a Las Vegas teenager is about overcoming your fears and insecurities and participating in a theatrical performance. It takes guts to thrust yourself into the spotlight and the intense scrutiny of hundreds of people. Yet local students eagerly do it every year.
Last week, I attended Arbor View High School’s performance of “A Chorus Line,” and I couldn’t help but contrast what I saw with the senselessness of the Privett murder. The two dozen students in the cast clearly had dedicated many, many hours to rehearsing a very challenging production.
The dance numbers are intricate and physically demanding, requiring kids with little or no formal training to deliver a convincing approximation of a professional chorus line. And guess what? They pulled it off, reflecting the hard work they put into the production.
Even more impressive, several students sang solo numbers. More than their actual vocal talents, I respected their willingness to stand alone on a stage in front of a hundred people and belt out a tune.
“A Chorus Line” is made up largely of monologues in which the dancers spill their guts about who they are and why they want to dance. Some of these monologues are long, requiring the performers to memorize thousands of words, and to deliver them from their souls. The show’s highlight was a monologue by Jeremy Neilson, who had audience members on the edge of their seats as his character described a tortured youth in which he struggled to come to grips with his homosexuality.
Over the past week, we have been bombarded with media reports about the Palo Verde shooting, and understandably so. A 15-year-old boy walking home from school was shot to death by a fellow student. This is not only big news but it’s a natural impetus for community leaders, school officials and parents to discuss why something like this happened and what, if anything, can be done to prevent a recurrence.
It’s too much to expect that everyone who comments on this tragedy will do so thoughtfully and with sound reasoning. Unfortunately, the ugliness of the shooting has generated further ugliness in the form of racial and class bigotry. While those anti-intellectual utterances must be condemned and dismissed, I have been frustrated as well by the virulent derision of teenagers in general.
Sure, Las Vegas has its fair share of stupid, reckless kids who get themselves caught up in gangs, guns, drugs and crime. It’s painfully clear that a segment of the teenage population is more interested in screwing off than in more productive pursuits.
But be careful of the broad brush. This adrift segment represents a small percentage of the total.
Having two teenagers of my own, and therefore being acquainted with a bunch more of them living around the valley, I know that most teens have better things to do than go looking for trouble. For one thing, they’re too busy for such nonsense. For another, they understand the severe consequences. And finally, they fundamentally believe it’s wrong.
Nobody’s perfect, of course. It would not be a big surprise to learn of an honor student who burglarizes homes, a football player who’s in a gang or a theater student who takes illegal drugs. One thing is not necessarily exclusive of the other. Even the bright, focused kids are capable of making mistakes.
But again, I submit that it’s a relatively small number. And that’s worth remembering at this time when it’s fashionable to declare that the Palo Verde shooting sums up the youth of Las Vegas.
The shooting does say something alarming about the kid who gunned down Chris Privett. But it doesn’t say anything meaningful about tens of thousands of other teenagers in this community.
Geoff Schumacher (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Stephens Media’s director of community publications. He is the author of “Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas” and “Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue.” His column appears Sunday.