Negligent parents, lawbreaking kids

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by LZ Granderson

(CNN) — A detail in the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Shaaliver Douse by a New York Police Department officer earlier this month has been stopping me from grieving his death.

The tragedy happened around 3 a.m.

Why was a 14-year-old boy out that late without his mother, Shanise Farrar, who called the shooting an assassination? Or his aunt, Quwana Barcene, who said the bloody gun police say was found near his body was part of a coverup? Where was the supervising adult who should have been with a 14-year-old boy walking the streets of New York at 3 o’clock in the morning?

“I’m not saying that he’s the best one, but he’s my angel,” his grieving mother said.

Her “angel” was a suspected gang member who police say was chasing and shooting at an unidentified man when they encountered him. Her “angel” was arrested last month for attempted murder of a 15-year-old. Her “angel” left their apartment around 8 p.m. and she had no idea where he was until the next morning when detectives informed her that her son was dead.

I want to mourn for her loss, I really do.

But as callous and as heartless as this sounds, I just can’t get past what awful parents she and the boy’s father were. Children may be born angels, but with all the temptations out there in the world, it takes work to try to keep them that way.

I’m sure the three teenagers suspected in the death of 23-year-old Christopher Lane — killed because they allegedly were bored — started off as angels. But who, besides their parents, would call them angels now?

“I know my son. He’s a good kid,” said Jennifer Luna, the mother of the boy prosecutor Jason Hicks said pulled the trigger.

As a newspaper reporter, I covered and was around a fair number of crime scenes involving juvenile delinquents and few things bothered me more than listening to their parents. Crying, ranting, proclaiming how great their children were despite being kicked out of school or previous run-ins with the law.

That’s not to say kids won’t be kids. Of course they will be.

Which is why it is vitally important that parents be parents.

So when kids get bored, they don’t think of randomly shooting a college student jogging down the street as entertainment. Or to go “f**k with some n**gers,” as then-18-year-old Deryl Dedmon Jr. suggested before he and his buddies ran over and killed 49-year-old auto worker James Craig Anderson, the first Black person he saw, with his pickup truck back in 2011.

Parents are supposed to instill a sense of right and wrong in their children and then keep up the due diligence necessary to make sure they don’t veer off that path. When parents don’t do that, we end up with three 15-year-olds assaulting and breaking the arm of a 13-year-old on a school bus in Florida.

“This is life. I am sorry what happened to the victim,” Julian McKnight Sr., whose son Julian was one of the boys accused in the attack, said after a court appearance. A second appearance is scheduled later this month.

“It’s just the way it is. My son ain’t never been no bad person, he just got mixed with bad people, that’s all … he sorry.”

I am not a perfect parent with all the answers. But I do know that it was the father, and not the son, who was apologizing — and that, my friends, is our problem in a nutshell.

We don’t teach accountability, we don’t expect accountability and I’m not even sure we even know what accountability looks like anymore. Some of us have become so addicted to pointing fingers at others for all the wrong that happens in our lives that self-assessment has become synonymous with blaming the victim.

Yes, there are cultural factors that make parenting difficult. And sometimes a bad seed is just that. But none of this excuses us from taking personal responsibility where we can.

I am tired of seeing “sorry” being used to cloak negligent parents.

Sorry won’t bring back Christopher Lane or James Craig Anderson.

And they, too, were each somebody’s “angel.”

If sorry is not good enough to protect a bartender who serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who drives and kills someone, why is sorry good enough for parents who, through negligence, are culpable for the crimes their undisciplined children commit?

If my son goes out and breaks the neighbor’s window, I have to pay for it. Why is a window more sacred than another human life?

We need to hold parents more accountable, both culturally and legally, for the actions of their children. Maybe then more parents will be more engaged in the lives of their children on the front end, rather than the back end, in front of a judge. Society has avenues for juveniles who refuse to obey their parents. But where are the safeguards for society when parents decide not to use those avenues?

I’m tired of hearing how good the kids who commit heinous crimes are. Maybe we should start putting parents on the witness stand so they can tell us exactly what they did to raise such perfect children.

Editor’s note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor who writes a weekly column for CNN.com. The former Hechinger Institute Fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is also a senior writer for ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

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