By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
This week a 15-year-old Birmingham male was arrested and ultimately turned over to Juvenile Detention Center Officials. The crimes for which he is being held accountable for began around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when he and a 16-year-old male were investigated because they were in possession of a paintball gun and a BB gun, both of which can look like real weapons, and also were technically in violation of Birmingham’s curfew law, yes we do have one. It appears that when police called the 16-year-old’s mother, she agreed to come and take responsibility for him, but when they called the 15-year-old’s mother she refused to do so. The police attempted to take the young man to the Juvenile Detention Center rather than arrest him and place him with adult criminals on a weekend night. While they were in the parking lot of the Juvenile Detention Center somehow the 15-year-old demonstrated his Houdini skills and escaped police custody. Officials at the Juvenile Detention Center have made it a point to note that the young man was never turned over to them, but escaped from the custody of the Birmingham Police.
At this point you are thinking this kid has had a long day and he just wants to get someplace quiet. Well, you would be wrong. Shortly after this the 15-year-old steals a small MAX bus and then proceeds to ram several police cruisers in route to driving himself back to the Tom Brown Public Housing Community, ditching the bus and apparently running to the public assisted home he shares with his mom. Well, at least the really bad part of the story ends here. It appears that the mom, the great example of parenting that she appears to be, arranged to turn the 15-year-old over to officials at Tom Brown Village who turned him over to the police who turned him over to the G. Ross Bell Youth Detention Center. Officials at the Center say the youth will receive, “…needs based assessment, mentoring and strong supervision”, while he is at the Center and they are in hopes this will make a difference in his life.
This case exemplifies what we allow to go on in too many homes in our community. Why were 15 and 16-year-old males out unsupervised at 3:30 in the morning? Why did the mother refuse to take custody of her child and what are the consequences for doing so? What kind of public benefits is the mother getting for this child and what is she investing in trying to teach the child the responsibilities of being a citizen in this country? What role does the child’s father play in his life?
Unless we begin to ask more questions and demand more accountability we will never be able to bring about real change in our community. I believe that parents, both custodial and non-custodial should be responsible for the behavior of their dependent children, and that there should be consequences for willfully abandoning this responsibility. I think that people should feel more peer pressure when they are not doing their jobs as parents, and absolutely believe there should be an impact on benefits received for parents who are not providing adequate supervision over their children. I believe that people only change bad behaviors if they are forced to change them, and that if we simply accept it as okay for parents to fail to supervise their children and fail to give their children adequate support in school, that people will continue to do so because they can.
Parenting is a hard job, that takes everything. When I first became a parent a more experienced parent told me a joke, “What does it take to raise a child? What do you have.” I know from painful experience that you can try and instill values in a child, and simply fail, either because of the child, because of yourself, or because of the relationship you have with the child’s other parent. I think any evaluation system that deals with this issue should take all of these factors into consideration as a solution is sought. Yes, we must be compassionate in our support of the needy amongst us, but we must also insist that our values go with our help. Or at least that’s the way I see it.
Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.