RICHARDSON: Signs of blight

March 2, 2014 

This newspaper along with the Center for Collaborative Journalism and Georgia Public Broadcasting are looking into blight. We all think we know what blight is, but do we? Merriam-Webster defines blight as:

1. A disease that makes plants dry up and die.

2. Something that causes harm or damage like a disease.

3. A damaged condition.

Too often we think blight is something physical. We know it when we see it -- and we see a lot of it in Macon-Bibb County. But that form of blight is the result, not the cause.

We see blight’s results everywhere. I saw it at a gas station Friday morning when someone dumped trash -- and a lot of it -- right in front of the pumps. Farther down the street, I saw homes in various stages of decay. I wouldn’t call them blighted yet, but the presence of the disease was evident -- and spreading.

They say the eyes are the windows into the soul. Some of the eyes of teenagers I see are windows into an abyss -- an abyss not of their creation, yet lying in wait to swallow them up.

I see blight in the eyes of 17-year-old Jedarrius Treonta Meadows Jr. and 15-year-old Roland Watson accused of murdering Damion Bernard “Little Petey” Clayton, who was all of 16. Stuck in the middle of this war was 16-year-old Alyssa Zari Jackson. She was collateral damage in the first attempt to kill “Little Petey.” Another 16-year-old, Dontavius “Man Man” Mintz, has been accused of Alyssa’s murder.

Many people are living in an alternate universe -- a universe we don’t understand, and it’s not just youth who live there. There are those who find it easier to buy into stereotypes of one sort or another: All black youth are running around in gangs brandishing weapons, for example, or they live in fear -- a paranoia -- that someone is always out to get them.

That’s the blight that occupied the mind of 47-year-old software engineer Michael Dunn. He fired seven shots into a vehicle with four black teenagers playing rap music inside, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn, in his blighted mind, believed Davis had a shotgun, though no weapon was ever found. Dunn believed he was protecting his life when he exited his car, assumed a firing stance and pulled the trigger three more times at a fleeing vehicle. Danger eliminated, he thought it OK to leave the scene and not call police. He thought the stand your ground law would protect him. He was only partially right.

It was mental blight that caused a retired Tampa police captain, 71-year-old Curtis Reeves, to shoot 43-year-old Chad Oulson in a Florida movie theater. Why? Reeves wanted Oulson to stop texting and when he got into Oulson’s face, he thought he was in danger because, according to Reeves, Oulson assaulted him with popcorn. If that’s not blight, I don’t know what blight is.

I see the results of blight in materialism. Have you seen the price of the latest Jordan tennis shoes. Why would any child need a pair of sneakers costing $180? Mental blight is being manipulated everyday in almost every way to separate us from our dollars. We willingly march behind the Pied Piper who leads us like the rats the piper led out of town to their destruction.

You know its mental blight because the evidence of where it leads is everywhere. Fools rush in ... You know the rest. Young people moan and groan at the funerals of other young people. They see the results of the path well traveled, yet, shortly after services, instead of seeking the narrow road, they are back on the expressway to nowhere.

Blight of the mind is the most dangerous sort. If we don’t fix that, we can clean up all the neighborhoods in the world. We can send all the Dunns, Reeves and “Man Mans” to prison to spend the rest of their days, and blight will easily survive. There is an antidote -- education -- but we don’t care enough to do what it takes to administer it properly. That’s blight, too.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at crichardson@macon.com. Tweet @crichard1020.

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