He was between ten and three quarters and eleven and a half years old; tall enough, round-faced, sandy-haired with pale pink skin. He had this gentle, good-natured look about him but as I was watching him buy his luas ticket from the machine at Dundrum I noticed a numb intensity in how he stared straight ahead while pressing frantically the buttons on the screen. Then he picked up his ticket, turned away and began to cry. The tears came in a flood and he had to gasp for breath. His friends; four or five boys in the same age bracket looked sadly on but said nothing. There was another six minute wait.
It proved too hard a thing for my mother and me to watch. We approached quietly and asked him was he alright. His friends moved in around us and began to talk. “We got punched just now”, said one. “..just outside the two euro shop”, said another. “By whom?”, we asked. “lads, our age”, they said. “… we were waiting for Emmet”, said one “and these guys saw us and were waiting for us to pass and when we did they punched us and got him in the back of the head.”
Nobody saw, but “they were wearing Adidas tracksuits” and there were “four of them”, the boy, who was still crying told us. I looked at him: he was the biggest. He had all the strength and none of the instinct of a fighter and those boys had smelt it out in an instant.
I don’t care if the kids in tracksuits come from backgrounds of low socio economic status. It is an insult to the impoverished to associate them, by way of a knowing nod, with mindful aggresion and malicious instincts.
If I were Minister Whatshisface, I would encourage Gardaí time and resources to be allocated to tackling, with conscientiousness the culture of cruelty in children which, unaddressed, leads to the reality of brutal relationships, violent attacks and ruthless behaviour in adulthood. The brain is a plastic organ: these boys need not be destined to enjoy the suffering of others.
I want to see the four boys in Adidas tracksuits separated. I want to see them in a uniform of somebody else’s design, picking up litter by themselves for thirty minutes each day for a month in a sealed off area of, let’s say – the Dundrum shopping centre. I want them not to be punished for grievous bodily harm in the future, but now for taking pleasure out of somebody else’s terrified eyes and breathless crying. I want them to receive a small, tokenistic reward at the end of their month-long endevours. They should feel the humiliation that they have inflicted and in turn reap the rewards of a job well done.
Each one of the boys thanked us as they alighted in Cowper. Safe home, we wished them.