Nearly five months after a man left the safety of his place of employment, Performance Oil, and came outside with a loaded gun and killed a 17-year-old, a grand jury has indicted him for murder of the teenager who was beating on a car window in the parking lot.
Charles McDonald was a troubled African American child, and the company vice president accused of his murder, Wayne Winstead Parish, happens to be white. The race of the alleged shooter, however, is near-irrelevant because a black homeowner did something similar in 2013, leaving his house with a loaded gun and emptying it into 20-year-old Quardious Thomas who he says was breaking into his car. District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith's office did not push to indict the homeowner in that case (even though Smith and Thomas are cousins), but they target Parish now.
We applaud this decision, even as we see the tragedy on all sides. JFP reporter Tim Summers Jr. did an in-depth cover story on the McDonald tragedy, in which his mother was honest about his troubled life, and Johnnie McDaniels, the director of the Hinds County detention center, admitted that the system had failed to help McDonald.
To us, though, society failed McDonald. Of course, that started with a system that cycles (mostly) young people of color in and out of our juvenile-detention and court systems without proper alternatives to help them turn their lives around and interrupt the crime cycle before it ends in tragedy. We have an ongoing series at jfp.ms/preventingviolence that is vetting potential solutions to stop young crime, and show that over-reliance on the criminal system increases the severity of likely violence.
But there's more. We live in a culture where many say it is appropriate to march a weapon out of your home and office if you suspect someone is trying to steal your stuff—and kill them. That is akin to justifying hanging people back in wild-west times for stealing a horse. Execution is out of proportion to the crime, with often tragic consequences.
McDonald's race is important, though, because a well-to-do white teen on drugs or with mental issues might also jump out of his parents' car and start beating on a car window (whether trying to steal it or not). Research shows that an adult is less likely to kill that teen and assume the worst, maybe even approaching to try to offer help. We see many tragedies of addicted white teens in the metro, and much less rhetoric about how it's the parents' fault.
Two things need to happen right away to stop future tragedies that may destroy both the lives of both the young man and the older shooter. We all must see how out of proportion deadly force is in dealing with theft of our stuff. These men should have stayed safe inside and called the cops. Period.
Secondly, the city, county and state governments must look seriously at how much money, and life, they can save by embracing alternatives to juvenile detention and over-policing. Young people and their parents need help in the form of wraparound and trauma services, education resources and a lot more compassion than we often see.