Time to be a villager for a child

Published 3:57pm Thursday, July 5, 2012

I’ve seen a lot of things in my years of news reporting, but I don’t recall ever having felt the way I did last Thursday sitting in a small courtroom at the Escambia County Courthouse.
I had gone to witness the bond setting for a young man accused of crime. I had done that sort of thing before but never for a suspect so young.
As the deputies escorted the teenager into the courtroom to face the judge, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the procedure that was about to take place. As I said, I had done this before.
The young man accused of murder wobbled into the courtroom. His arms were bound and his feet were shackled. He seemed perfectly harmless as he was first lead into the courtroom, but I understand the extra security.
As this 16-year-old child stood to face the judge and questions and explanations were thrown at him, I began to feel a change in my heart.
He’s a child. Yes, he’s been accused of an awful, awful crime. But, he is still a child. Only 16 years old. Just three years older than my own son.
The thoughts that ran through my mind as I sat there and listened to the judge explain the charges against him were running wildly. I could only think that life for this young man — and his family and the family of the victim – would never be the same.
What a tragedy.
My thoughts also turned to plans of officials in East Brewton to impose a curfew on anyone 18 or younger. Of course, I thought that if such a curfew had been in place in Atmore, maybe this young man wouldn’t be standing in front of a judge wondering if he could ever go home.
The judge asked him if he thought his family might be able to hire an attorney for his defense in the case.

“I haven’t talked to my family, sir,” he told the judge. The voice of the person accused of killing someone else sounded strong, but young. I couldn’t believe what I was actually witnessing.

I have asked a wide range of people for their opinion on the idea of a curfew in East Brewton or other communities. Everyone had answers, but not many wanted to go on record with their comments.

It’s funny. We all have opinions, but we sometimes shrink away from actually telling people that can make a difference in our community.

Someone once said, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” I believe that.

If indeed he committed this crime, while I’m sure this young man’s family did the best they could, there’s just a slight chance the “village” let him down – simply because the villagers didn’t want to appear judgmental or be judged for their comments.

Yes, I know that many people  – young and old – slip through the cracks and simply don’t turn out to be a benefit to society. But as villagers, we must look out for each other – especially the children around us.

Take the time to pay attention a little. Speak up. Be a good villager so no child has to stand before a judge – his life hanging in the balance.

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