Here is a letter Tom Spellman wrote Mayor Tom Barrett outlining his basic concepts in response to violence in the city. I hope Tom will take advantage of this site to elaborate upon these concepts.

October 7, 2004

Tom Spellman
270 Country Club Dr #22
Lake Geneva WI 53147

Mayor Tom Barrett
200 E Wells St
Milwaukee WI 53202

Dear Tom

I will try to make this as convincing and as clear as possible.

I understand the process by which a human being becomes violent. Once you and your staff understand that process it will be much easier to direct and commit the resources necessary to counteract that process.

I was saddened to see yet another group violence attack the other day. It surely makes people in Milwaukee wonder what is going on.

In essence -

1. Violence is a learned behavior. Violence is a bad infection.

2. There are four steps in the process of becoming a violent person.

  1. The person must be brutalized.
  2. The person must rebel against that brutalization.
  3. The person will experiment with violence as a solution.
  4. The person will to use violence to solve their problems.

3. Violence is an opiate much stronger than the drugs we incarcerate many for.

4. Violence can be unlearned with the help of those who are not infected.

I will gladly share with you and or your staff these understanding.


Tom Spellman

Mayor Tom Barrett in his new effort to stop the killing in Milwaukee is on the right track. He is finally telling the TRUTH. No community would accept what goes on in parts of Milwaukee and it is time to STOP the KILLING. What he does not understand is that the killing goes on because the community’s children are being brutalized. Below is an outline of the actions necessary if the killing is going to be stopped.


The Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee’s neighborhood community centers must stop suspending children from their programs. The children being suspended are asking for help and when the community suspends (rejects) them, it makes it that much more difficult to reach these children in the future. The community must also understand that love is the key to healing these children and that it is through grieving that the brutalization (abuse) is lifted from our children.


We have all heard the line from Tina Turner’s “What does love have to do with it?” Bell Hooks in her book All About Love suggest that Love is the essence of life. In school we learn about the need for food, water and shelter but Love is left to the family or not even considered important much less essential. Ms Hooks in her introduction says “Our nation is equally driven by sexual obsession.” “Everyone assumes that we will know how to love instinctively. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we still accept that the family is the primary school for love.” Many have read or heard Leo Buscaglia speak at meetings in the 1980′s and remember his enthusiastic descriptions of love and how important it was to love. We know that some individuals made changes in their lives and classrooms yet little or no change was recorded in school procedures or curriculums. Why have we allowed Love to be reduced to sex and then relegated to big business and Hollywood, who then prey on our children? Love is the foundation for civility and trust. Civility and trust are the building blocks for our families, neighborhoods, cities and even our nation.

Ms Hooks in the preface of her book makes a startling observation that provides a path for our troubled children, when she says “We can find the love our hearts long for, but not until we let go grief about the love we lost long ago, when we were little and had not voice to speak the heart’s longing.” It is through grieving that abused and brutalized children can become whole.


Dr Lonnie Athens in his book The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals says that those who are violent have gone through a process with four developmental stages which he calls violentization. The first stage as describe in chapter 10 and 11 of Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes is brutalization. Brutalization is a more inclusive term than abuse according to Dr Athens. Some people who are brutalized will not consider themselves to have been abused.

Brutalization includes all physical abuse but it also includes the emotional abuse a child suffers as they listen to or see a loved one being beaten or abused. We know a person is being brutalized by the appearance of the second stage called belligerency.

The brutalized person finally says I am not going to take it any more and so begins the belligerency stage. Belligerency is that array of behaviors that we associate with acting out, being a trouble maker, being a bully, etc. Dr Athens’ research does not detail the line between a child having a bad day and getting suspended and a child who gets suspended because he or she is responding to their brutalization by their belligerent behavior. It is only through questioning and listening that we will see the brutalization that is occurring in the child’s life. The breakdown between those children who are just having a bad day and those who are belligerent is not clear and as programs are implemented that address these issues the magnitude and scope of the problem will become clear.

What is critical for us to see is that children who are belligerent are asking for help. If we as adults see that children being suspended and expelled are not “bad children” or “trouble makers” but children who have been deeply hurt and that, their “misbehavior” is the “normal” response to the hurt they are experiencing. When someone is physically sick and throws up we do not blame them for the mess they have made, do we? No. We clean up the mess and do whatever seems right at the time, by taking the person to the Doctor or to the emergency room, or tucking them into bed.

The third stage is violent performance and the fourth stage is virulence. When a child reaches the violent performance stage they are being suspended on a regular basis or they have already been expelled. It is unlikely that a child who has reached stage four is still attending school for they have committed a serious offense.

It is the belligerency stage where directed and effective action needs to be taken if we are to make a difference in the child’s life and the question what is that action.

A complication to working with a child who is being brutalized is the fact that one or more members of the child’s family have been brutalized at some point in the past. This is a challenge and yet if it is not addressed the effort to help the child will in all likelihood fail.

(I could put in here a reference to the New Jersey case of the 10 year old boy killing the 3 year old boy. It is such a clear presentation of Dr Athens 4 stages and yes he significantly injured a small child three months before he killed the 3 year old.)


Grieving is a path by which a brutalized children may leave behind the impact of their brutalization.

For those children who are dependent on those who are brutalizing them, this will be a very difficult process. The brutalized child is still wanting and needing love from their parents and yet the brutalization is happening in the family. For the grieving process to be successful it will be necessary for the brutalizers (victimizers) and brutalized (victim) to participate in a grieving process that enables all participants to change. They must first see and feel the hurt they themselves have experience when they were brutalized and then they must become aware of the pain they have inflected on others.

For those children who are not dependent on their brutalizer the process is still not an easy one. These children must be able to identify how they have been brutalized and then go through a grieving process to deal with the anger.

A process that has been successful at integrating both support and grieving is Scott Peck’s Community Building program. Robert E Roberts in his book My Soul Said to Me explains how the “Community Building” model works with a group of 50 people.

Chapter 2 of My Soul Said to Me describes the first “Community Building” process that Robert Roberts facilitated with the inmates at Louisiana’s Dixon Correctional Institution. The first meeting of the group takes place over three days and the essence of the event is that the group is asked to form a community. As the members of the group begin their work they will discuss the task at hand and sometime towards the end of the first day or the beginning of the second day someone in the group will trust the group enough and will share their sorrow (abuse). The other members of the group respond to the person’s sorrow (abuse) with empathy and respect. Other members may also begin to share there own stories of how they have been brutalized. Robert Roberts goes on to describe the session as “The men in Dorm 7 were not complaining or seeking pity. They were people unloading burdens they had carried for years, burdens that had weighed them down with guilt, shame, rage and grief because there had been no place to lay them. They had no one to listen to them, no container that could hold their anguish, no environment safe enough to let them be heard.”

It is this group grieving that is critical to change and allows the individual to “let go grief about the love we lost long ago”.

Last edited by TeganDowling. Based on work by Godsil and g.  Page last modified on March 09, 2005

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