Yesterday, the Marietta Daily Journal reported that an upstanding young man was arrested and given a felony weapons possession charge. Normally, we’d probably shrug our shoulders and say, “Good! Another violent thug busted!” Except, the case is not so cut and dry. Furthermore, it raises serious questions about how and why we treat students in such a fashion. We have become so prepared to other trying to hurt us that we have become hyper-sensitive to any “potential” threat and therefore cannot distinguish real risks from faux. It’s a problem that our communities need addressed.
According to the MDJ, this all started with an anonymous tip that homeboy was smokin’ the refer and “smoke” was rising from his car and from there the knife was eventually found. You can read the account of the entire incident here.
Here are some of the telling points that stuck out to me in the story:
- “Under closer examination, it was clear that the contraband in question wasn’t an ordinary pocket knife but an EMT rescue knife. Williams had placed it in his car with the knowledge of his parents for a very specific reason.”
- “Andrew was in a terrible car accident in February where he had to bust the window out and start dragging his friends out because he thought the car was going to blow up, and literally two weeks after that he went out and bought an EMT rescue knife.”
- “If found guilty, the weapons charge carries a fine of up to $10,000 and two to 10 years in prison.”
Here’s the problem I have with this whole incident. Administrators and public safety are failing to distinguish between real potential threats and those that are not a consideration at all. As a result, young men like Andrew Williams are not given the credit deserved for being responsible young people, and those that are risks don’t get the due attention they need in order to prevent something tragic from occurring.
Our laws compel education for young people, and that means for the vast majority of students it’s attending the public schoolhouses. At the schoolhouse – which the students are legally required to attend – they have minimally protected constitutional rights that are far, far less protective than regular society. More than that, our administrators begin to assume the worst about all of them – they’re all criminals, they’re all violent, they’re all dangerous. At the very least, the assumption is that in instances such as these. This is not the first time that an overreaction has led to criminal charges for a student that did nothing wrong.
We’ve become this society that tries to protect ourselves against every conceivable threat instead of really targeting the big risks and work our way down. It’s understandable we fear the Newton tragedies, but for some reason we don’t ask lawmakers to institute policies which allow resources to flow to at-risk youth. Instead, we target young men like Andrew and make sure that people see we have a “zero tolerance” policy and continue to be tough. It may make soccer moms feel good, but I don’t believe we need to sacrifice a few lambs to make the herd feel secure.
What we need to focus on is ensuring that administrators and public safety at our school houses have the necessary training and flexibility to use discretion effectively in instance such as this. After all, while the adminstrator search Andrew’s car, undoubtedly a student with real problems (emotions, family, learning difficulties) was not getting the administrative attention he needed. Therefore, that real problem is still festering and could possibly explode into something far, far worse than finding an EMT knife in a vehicle’s console.