Death drove by the corner of Cedar Avenue and Mosely Street in Macon’s Unionville neighborhood at about 8:20 p.m. on Thursday, November 21. Actually, the big, dark GM-type car drove by a couple of times, finally lighting up with a blaze of gunfire that left Alyssa Jackson, 16, who had been hanging out on the corner, dead with a large-caliber bullet wound to her back.
Death just missed Charleston Burnett III, 13, who was riding on Mosely in the back seat of his granddaddy’s pick-up. Charleston’s head was grazed by a bullet shot through the truck’s back window. That same bullet just missed a front-seat passenger, who happened to be leaning over.
I gave condolences to both of Alyssa’s parents. Alyssa’s mom, Shenese Brown, lives in Bloomfield with her other kids and husband. Alyssa’s dad, Sebastian Jackson, lives with his own mother in the greater Belleview area. Alyssa had gone to live with her dad and grandmother in recent weeks. Alyssa was visiting a friend in Unionville at the time death drove by.
I took the opportunity to ask each parent separately what they might suggest to reduce mortal risks faced by our young people. Mother Brown’s answer was simple: find and punish the killer(s) of Alyssa. Meanwhile, keep your kids close. Father Jackson responded that today’s youth are “misguided” because “they’re bored” and need more “educational entertainment.” He added, “Why not take them to where they’re taught multicultural? Then you wouldn’t have them on the down street.”
I also asked Phyllis Habersham for her advice. A Mercer alumna who has a record store nearby on Pio Nono Avenue, she got into action three years ago after another Unionville “slaughter,” as she described it, of a friend’s son. She shared in starting Helping Hands Community Outreach to provide families and the homeless with food, clothing and counseling. She pointed to the Promise Neighborhood Center as something hopeful. Her organization will get an office there, which she finds “exciting.”
Paint me skeptical about whether such killings would be stopped either by “educational entertainment” or collecting a number of well-intentioned welfare-providers and bureaucrats to bunker down in some of the most outrageously costly real estate in Macon.
They tried bread and circus in Rome before its fall. Welfare and entertaining distractions, even if marginally educational, aren’t likely to fare better here in protecting basic civilization.
I also spoke to a savvy Unionville resident at the deadly Cedar/Mosely corner. She thoughtfully recommended that police more aggressively flush out guns illegally carried by idle, impulsive young men. Drugs are dangerous, she said, but let that go. Go after the guns wielded by guys beyond the legal edge.
Macon has never wholeheartedly embraced that simple, solid concept. Why? The practical political problem is that we’d have to change our approach to policing, in part by going after people in hot spots who conceal guns without a license, or cruise around without the right to carry because they’re gun-restricted probationers, convicted felons, etc.
If outlaw carriers turn out to be disproportionately young, male and black, so be it. That’s not the law’s fault.
It’s not that we shouldn’t also shut down and/or demolish hot spot shot houses and “unoccupied” structures like those within steps of where Alyssa was gunned down. But let’s go after outlaw gun carry, too.
Alyssa’s mom would agree, but not Alyssa’s dad. When I asked him about possibly going after guns in the wrong hands, Jackson said that “it’s not the guns, it’s the individuals.” He called New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” approach “ridiculous.”
But New York’s legal stop-and-frisk policy, instituted about 1994, contributed to a 73 percent decline in murders in that city through 2012, while Macon’s rate remained relatively steady. True, New York’s policy imposed embarrassment and inconvenience on innocent people. But what about the benefits of saving people like Alyssa? Anyway, Macon-Bibb could target outlaw gun carry without adopting stop-and-frisk.
Law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to carry. People who carry illegally do not. It’s time firmly and proactively to police that critical legal distinction.
David Oedel teaches constitutional law at Mercer University Law School.