This is my opinion, and it might not be anybody else’s. But sometimes, you see things over time… and the images boil over in your mind. It’s not a good thing to keep cooking in your head. So here goes:
A kid is dead… after he opened fire and shattered the leg of a Knoxville Police officer. Police returned fire inside a bathroom at Austin East Magnet School. I’m betting that investigators already have an idea of why that young man carried a gun into school. And their answer could reveal evidence of plans for violence on a wider scale.
The community hears about the latest bloodshed, on top of other students’ shooting deaths in the same neighborhood. The television cameras record their grief, and their struggle to get control of a condition that seems to be in a flat spin.
Before I say this, please understand that I am a God-fearing Christian man. I believe in the power of prayer, and I have felt that Blessed Assurance because of the prayers of many. Some days, I keep the circuit hot in my silent conversations.
But I also believe there comes a time when we have to act on what God would have us do. There are times when we need to move. I don’t believe God expects any of us to just sit back and wait for something to happen, if we can do something. Think of the time Christ healed people. The moving of the water, the mud in the eyes of the blind, picking up the bed and walking. It seems like, a lot of times, Jesus required some action on our part before the healing could begin.
This is where my belief might part with others who are reacting to violence in that community. And I apologize in advance if I make you uncomfortable when you read it. I want you to know that, while I cannot comprehend the grief and anguish family and friends of the victims feel, I do understand your sorrow can almost be tasted right now.
The time for signs, slogans, and school programs has passed.
The community is facing an invasion, and no enemy can be defeated with talk. Stories of battles are common in The Old Testament. And again, God’s people were told to do something to defeat their enemy.
I covered a lot of stories about children and crime. From The Atlanta Child Murders, to an award winning series on where kids buy their drugs, I have been close to the battle zone. I sat in the kitchen of a woman’s apartment. The night before, her son had been forced to the ground, and shot in the head, along with two other young men. Days before, that mama had begged police to arrest her son because she knew he was dealing dope, and would be killed. One time, a kid told me I could order a pizza, and he could order some dope from his supplier, and he would get his dope faster.
I humbly submit these actions are needed immediately:
First, the family structure needs to be hardened. A child needs two adults in the home, for accountability, and solidarity. If a mother or father has left the scene, the community will have to find a way to stand in the gap through churches, social agencies, or organizations. Young men need to see male role models, solid men in their lives. If it takes a generation to clean up its collective act, we need to get to work.
Young people need to see a future. Studies show that many young males don’t have an expectation of living past their twenties. Their twenties ! If you have no expectation of living a year or two past high school age, it’s a pretty grim future. You can preach til you are blue in the face, but the best sermon would be to live a life where you can be there for your child.
The community needs to learn that, by the time the police department becomes involved, it’s probably too late. Social structure in every demographic needs to realize the justice system is not in the child rearing business. Youth detention centers can become “felony schools” where young offenders learn little more than tricks of the “trade”, and the caseload for juvenile cases can be staggering.
Mental health needs to be addressed, with better pathways for those who need treatment for psychological disorders. We have preached the opiate addiction story until it’s numb. I don’t even know if we can do much about it. Videos depicting gang life, exotic cars and cash, and opulent houses glorify a lifestyle that causes death, and robs a person of their dignity.
Gangs are more prevalent that we might imagine. We need to support police departments that glean gang intelligence and movement and treat them for what they are, a continuing criminal organization designed to make money by illicit means. Attorneys General and Law Enforcement should be empowered in special task forces on gangs, statewide. And, back to the expectation of life again… young people need to somehow see there is a life beyond twenty.
No matter how hard it seems we try, there is an inequity in schools within the same system. There will always be “good” schools and “bad” schools that carry a stigma. That reputation can be broken. Not by calling schools something other than a school… but making all schools able to carry out lessons that lead to better state benchmarks.
It’s going to take a long time, and I believe that if we start right now, the goal might not be achieved in our lifetime.
But we have to try.
We have to do something to bring about healing.