Like most Savanniahians, I am appalled by the rash of violence in our beloved city. I am equally disheartened over the number of youth and young adults who are engaged in violent, deadly behavior. Most recently, the District Attorney’s Office is trying four young black men and is seeking the death penalty in those cases. At a recent symposium sponsored by the Chatham County Juvenile Court, it was reported that there were 1,281 delinquent referrals in 2015. Of that amount, 63 percent (809) were black males. In 2016, the majority of the delinquent referrals (94%) were youth 12-16 years of age. Sadly still, the majority of these incidents involve African-American males, both as victims and perpetrators. It appears to be a growing problem.
In 2014, there were 1,825 arrests for Part I crimes. Of this number, 301 arrests were to youth ages 8-16 (16%). Of the Part I crimes (minus shoplifting, car theft and arson), there were 421 arrests. Of this number, 99 arrests were to youth ages 8-16 (23%). For 2015 between Jan 1st to August 23rd, there were 261 arrests for Part I crimes. Of this number, 182 were to youth ages 10-16 (70%). Of the 62 youth arrests, 50 were black males, five were black females, six were white males, and one was a Japanese male. (Source: SCMPD)
To stop the violence we have to stop what is feeding the beast. We are told by politicians and social pundits that a major culprit is poverty and related factors (i.e. lack of education, high unemployment, lack of things to do, and a host of other “lacks”) they like to espouse. Granted, these elements do play a part. However, I want to make the case for another type of lack: lack of “moral aptitude.” Aptitude is defined as “inclination, intelligence, being appropriate.” The best way to effectively dealt with youth violence is before it starts. “Bend the sap when it is young” my grandmother used to say. The truth is, not enough bending of the sap goes on in our homes. What we are witnessing is the Biblical, spiritual truth of “you reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.” I don’t care how much jobs, government benefits, welfare reform or other antipoverty measures you put in place, until and unless we deal with the “root” causes of antisocial behavior, the violence and bloodletting will continue.
In 2017, social service organizations are simply overwhelmed to deal with the madness. And in some cases, ill-equipped, to deal with the sheer number and magnitude of the problem. Parents, especially many teen parents, are ill-prepared to take on the rigors of parenting and socializing children of today. The socializing/parenting apparatus is broken in far too many cases. Not to get too deep into Bible study, but recall (or if need be study) the case of the Priest Eli and his two sons (Hophni and Phinehas) who were behaving wickedly. Why? Because their father rebuked them too lightly and was unable to stop them. Eli’s failure to lead his family led to his downfall. The punishment for this lack of “bending the sap” was all male descendants dying before reaching old age. (1 Samuel 2:1217; 22-36). The point is clear—absence of moral and ethical training of children at a young age (sow) will eventually end up with our youth acting wickedly and blood running in the streets. If we fail them, then they will end up failing society and us.
Many homes have relegated the responsibility of moral education to schools and the social service industry. That is why we have initiatives like “Character Counts” sponsored by the school district. I am glad we have such programs in the community, but that does not mean it is solely, or even primarily, the school district’s job to properly instill moral values in our youth. They can assist, but it is not their job.
This leads us to the question of who is ultimately responsible for the moral training of the community. Or perhaps a better question is, “Who is in the best position to offer such training?” Many would say it is ultimately the responsibility of parents to convey moral values to their children. Others might identify the church to dispense such teachings. So point to the notion that Christ left the church in charge: not the schools, not DFCS, not Greenbrair Children Services, not EOA, not YFA, but the church. The rest of us can help because it does take an entire village to successfully raise children. You can provide everyone with an appropriate amount of jobs, food stamps, EITC benefits, health insurance, and other poverty reduction efforts and still not end the violence in homes, in neighborhoods, in schools, and eventually in the streets.
“The ruins of a nation begin in the home of its people” (African Proverb). The “ruins” we are seeing in our streets is a byproduct of the ruins in homes. A child without a moral compass is liable to take the life of another child because of their lack of moral aptitude, not simply because he was bored and had no other outlets. The sooner we begin to deal with the root of this problem, the sooner we can alleviate it. Statewide in Georgia, there were 34,946 youth served by the Department of Juvenile Justice in 2013. The cost of confinement was approximately $249.66 per day per youth, or about $91,126.00 per year (Data sources: Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, Statewide Snapshot, 2013; Justice Policy Institute, Sticker Shock, 2014). I am not saying we should not do our best to amass the appropriate amount of social benefits to people, but I am saying that a lack of ongoing moral training of our youth at a young age stands the chance of rendering those benefits non-consequential. I do know we need to do something different, intentional, and forceful concerning our wayward children if we want the violence to stop.