"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'"
— Luke 23: 39-43, NIV
A thousand people didn't show up at the funeral of Omar Hampton. Hampton was killed March 17, 2005. He was buried Saturday, March 26, 2005. The media did not cover it. Those of us who were elected officials didn't take the time to show or offer resolutions. A family was left basically alone to send off their beloved 18-year-old in an environment of obscurity.
Maybe it is because of the circumstances of his death. Hampton killed Jackson Police Officer Thomas Catchings while in the commission of a crime. Hampton had carjacked a vehicle from a U.S. Postal Worker during that worker's lunch break. Catchings bravely responded to the call and killed Hampton in the ensuing car chase and shootout while wounded.
Many Jacksonians have developed a new respect for the Jackson Police Department because of Catchings' sacrifice. But what of Hampton? Why was an 18-year-old that should have been a senior at Forest Hill High School out and about to do such a criminal act? What possessed him a year earlier to physically attack his mother? More importantly, what will the community do in response to his actions?
Those of us in public policy cringe at the thought that those men and women who put on a badge to serve and protect the citizens of this state could possibly end up giving up their life in the line of duty. We do everything we can to provide them with the tools necessary to safely do their jobs and return home every night to their families. But what are we doing for the Omar Hamptons in our communities?
Is it possible that we are somewhat to blame for what happened? Have we done all we can do to provide the tools necessary for the young men and women in this state who obviously need help? When I look at a state budget that will cut funding for the Mississippi Department of Education, the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, I wonder.
Could a few extra dollars have provided the counseling Hampton needed? Could there have been an extra caseworker available to keep track of Hampton's progress and able to see any warnings signs, if the resources were on hand? Maybe those are unfair questions for those of us in leadership alone.
Hopefully the community will be allowed to see the whole picture of this tragedy and start to ask their own questions. Sure, it is easy to say he got what he deserved, but would any of us say that if we were burying our 18-year-old son on Easter weekend? No, I don't believe we can summarily shake off that responsibility.
It is imperative that we, as a collective community, do more. While we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must remember the story of forgiveness exhibited on the hill known as Golgotha. When we see these young people in our communities, we must be able to decipher their criminal behavior as cries for help. We cannot afford to assume that all we have to do is incarcerate and ignore most of them. We have to go the extra mile to reach them where they are and enlighten them to a better way.
Most have been raised to know right from wrong, but many need help, professionally, spiritually and otherwise, to be disciplined to stay on that straight and narrow path. Hampton's friends said he was easily influenced by others. Besides his mother, who exerted their influence to guide Hampton away from a lifestyle that eventually led to his destruction?
When an Omar Hampton dies a violent death, we all suffer. With proper treatment and mentoring, who knows what potential he could have achieved. Is it popular, or comfortable, to challenge ourselves when an event of this magnitude takes place?
The short answer is no. However, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. admonished us that courageous character is not defined during times of comfort, but is forged during times of challenge. If we truly believe that God's will is to be done on earth, as it is in Heaven, then we should do more to make sure that this doesn't happen again on our watch. That way all of us will be able to sit in judgment before God and claim our place in paradise.
Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Hinds, is a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives. He is a frequent contributor to the Jackson Free Press.
Great piece. I'm thinking that Representative Fleming has a career as an essayist, if ever he gets out of politics.