Sometimes I hate to be the Explainer-in-Chief. You’ll remember earlier in the summer when a number of black young people charged through the Wal-Mart on Zebulon Road and did about $2,000 damage as they rumbled through the aisles. Some were arrested and were charged with various serious offenses. Their parents were not happy campers. I heard some parents let them get a taste of what it was like behind bars for a few days before bailing them out.
I wrote a column about how the consequences of that one stupid act could follow them for the rest of their lives. I called it a prank. What did I do that for? The mail came flowing in. “This was no prank,” many said. “These thugs should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.” “Thugs” was one of the nicest descriptions of the 88 teens involved.
The subject dominated the Viewpoints page for a while, and the video of the incident was watched by thousands of people.
There also were letters in the teen’s defense. Gwen Westbrooks, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, wanted law enforcement officials to drop the criminal gang activity charges. Vandalism yes, gang activity no.
District Attorney David Cooke explained that many times charges are decreased, dropped or increased.
“I dismissed the warrants for violation of the Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act against all but one adult and one juvenile,” he wrote in The Telegraph. However, at the time of publication, the teens still faced charges for felony criminal damage to property in the second degree and for misdemeanor rioting. A court of law is the place to decide innocence or guilt, but surprise, that doesn’t always happen.
A couple of weeks ago, a young lad took a loaded gun to Huntington Middle School in Warner Robins. School officials called law enforcement, and an arrest was made. As we all know, taking a gun to school is really bad. Surely this “thug” would see the inside of a courtroom like most other individuals accused of such a crime.
Somebody talked to somebody who talked to somebody, and the teen is now living out of state with a relative. Isn’t that special? Some parents at Huntington are upset at the school for how it handled the incident. Sheriff Cullen Talton is upset, too, but any letters? Any outcry? There hasn’t been a mumbling word. No “thug” talk or any of the other names generally associated with such crimes. There’s no talk of learning a lesson or accepting responsibility. There has been a lot of social media chatter but more aimed at the school, not the teen. This kid had a loaded gun with 13 bullets, and he didn’t even receive a slap on the wrist. I wonder if his new school was informed of his situation?
Some questions. Was it his gun? If not, whose gun was it? Shouldn’t that person bear some responsibility for allowing this eighth-grader to take his or her loaded weapon to school?
I’m not saying the teens who ran through Wal-Mart should be given a pass. That’s not what this is about. They’ll face the music of their own creation in due time, but should a student be able to take a loaded gun to school and walk away clean, like it never even happened? I know it has been said that he had been bullied. Does that give him a “Get out of jail free” card? What if he had acted on his angst?
There are teens sitting in youth detention centers or jail today for doing a lot less. Last school year, a 15-year-old seventh-grader at Oak Hill Middle School in Baldwin County was charged with taking a gun onto the campus. The weapon was rusty and unloaded. Where did he end up? Sandersville Youth Detention Center until he could go to court.
Four years ago, two Rutland Middle School eighth-graders were charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds, possession of a handgun by a minor and disruption of a public school after officials found an unloaded handgun inside a female student’s purse. Where did they end up? The Regional Youth Detention Center in Macon. I could go on, but you get my drift.
Lady Justice is far from blind. She sees very clearly. It’s just that some have the power to lift the blindfold from her eyes while others do not.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.