MARSHALL: Crime involving young people hits close to home

June 22, 2014 

My 19-year-old daughter the other day announced that she did not plan to live in Macon after college.

There is nothing here for young people, she said. No jobs and absolutely nothing for them to do. They go to the movies and out to eat.

“Tell me what else there is to do,” she dared me.

I listed some things. Local theater, museums, lunch hour downtown, proximity to amusement parks big and small. Bowling (hey, I was reaching).

It’s no surprise that a 19-year-old who just finished a year away at college would be so sure she’s had it with the place she calls home. That’s almost a rite of passage. But the passion around our discussion -- at least on her side -- was surprising. This is the kid who once said she loved Macon.

Here is what also was surprising. A lack of activities of interest to young people was only part of the problem. My daughter told me there are certain parts of Macon she will no longer visit after dark. She has friends who live in some of these “off-limit” places. What was this about?

Crime. Pure and simple.

“You don’t know when the bullets might be flying,” she said.

Macon is a small enough town that I am shocked at how many victims (and sometimes perpetrators) of violent crime my two daughters know, even if only casually.

A recent victim in a double homicide attended Westside High School with my older daughter. While she didn’t know the victim personally, social media and news stories caught her up on the post-high-school life of a young woman who didn’t live to see her 24th birthday.

A young man from our church was shot recently during a domestic squabble while taking a friend to visit his girlfriend. A couple years ago, the parking lot outside an acquaintance’s birthday turned into a shoot ‘em up with one young man dead.

It is finally starting to hit my 19-year-old. Some young people are targets, almost like sitting ducks. They might be good kids hanging with the wrong people, or they’re simply in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time.

At my younger daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party, we had a hard and fast invite rule, and our small force of adults had to turn some young people away. News of a party can travel fast among young people looking for entertainment -- or trouble. There were parents in attendance at the birthday party that turned deadly. Parents worry that despite their best efforts, they can’t protect their kids from the kind of crime that is far too common.

I explained to my daughter that crime can happen anywhere. And it does. It happens at the movies, in schools and on college campuses. Atlanta, the preferred destination for so many young people from Middle Georgia, may offer a lot that they long for: night life, professional sports of all types, parks constantly packed with art, music and food lovers. But Atlanta doesn’t offer much comfort to parents hoping for the safest environment possible for their young adult children.

Is it the company they keep? Are they discerning enough? Are parents on the case with the necessary rigor?

There are no easy answers. But when your own child is scared, when she no longer feels that she is invincible as so many young people do, you know that she is truly growing up and that she must now be more in charge of her personal safety than you are. Your ability to protect her may be limited to whatever common sense you have tried to impart about personal choices.

Still, that young people are so vulnerable weighs heavy on my heart.

Sherrie Marshall is The Telegraph’s executive editor. She can be reached at 744-4340 or via e-mail at smarshall@macon.com. Also follow her on Twitter @shemarsh.

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