Mindsets Must Change to Stop Juvenile Crime | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mindsets Must Change to Stop Juvenile Crime

Last week, a Performance Oil Equipment employee shot and killed 17-year-old Charles McDonald during what police described as an alleged auto burglary. The employee, a white male, saw the black youth near a gray Lexus in the parking lot which police said belonged to another employee. The white male, armed, exited the business and confronted the 17-year-old, then shot McDonald during the struggle. He died from two gunshot wounds to the chest.

McDonald, police confirmed, had run away from his mother's vehicle. She had been driving him to the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center, although police say he was not scheduled to be booked. Did she intend to attempt to book him in herself? Was she just trying to scare him? We may never know unless the case goes to court. The boy himself, still a minor, never had a day in youth court, never had the chance to turn his life around.

What if the shooter was wrong? What if his decision robbed not only a mother of a son, but society of the opportunity to prove that criminal behavior can be corrected before it becomes a life-long career? Why weren't intervention and rehabilitation options for Charles McDonald?

Instead, an armed citizen acted as judge, jury and executioner of a minor. Many defend the shooter's actions, even as they did the black homeowner who went outside and shot the unarmed Quardious Thomas, also black, for breaking into his car. Still, not even the Castle Doctrine provides a defense for walking outside and killing someone for committing a property crime. That's what the legal system is for: to prove guilt before punishment.

Assumptions that a citizen execution is appropriate for a property crime and that certain young people can't be helped and should be locked up are at the crux of our juvenile-crime crisis. Those are the kinds of beliefs about certain young people that keep our community from focusing on serious prevention efforts that save both the juveniles and their victims. The sad truth is that even if Johnson had lived, he likely would have gone into a system that turned him into a worse criminal.

The State-funded 2016 BOTEC report about crime in Jackson addresses popular myths about juvenile crime. For one, it shows that any connection with the criminal-justice system, including juvenile detention, increases the risk of that young person continuing to commit crime.

"Juveniles who spent time in correctional facilities are more likely to drop out of high school and on public assistance," the report warns. Dropping out of school, in turn, is the highest indicator that a young person will commit violent crime.

The 19-year-old in Sierra Mannie's cover story was forced to repeat the ninth grade, again and again, due to his run-ins with the law. His last attempt at finishing school was cut short by his untucked shirt, he says. What is the point of the juvenile-justice system then, if it is not effectively rehabilitating juveniles, helping them move toward graduation? It is time that Mississippi citizens decide that all lives really do matter, including that of a black teen committing a property crime, and band together to help those kids choose a better path.

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