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Our Opinion: Vicksburg’s first homicide of 2021 was preventable

When the call came in Tuesday night that the Vicksburg Police Department responded to its first homicide of 2021, it was as though the air was sucked out of the room. 

When it was announced that the victim was an 11-year-old child, the heartache was palpable. And, when it was announced that the person arrested in the child’s death was his 14-year-old cousin, the message became clear: this tragedy was preventable.  

The burden of knowledge is a heavy thing to bear. Listening to a local police scanner day in and day out provides a different perspective of Vicksburg and Warren County than one might normally see. Routinely, our officers respond to calls for shots fired, burglarized vehicles, aggravated assaults, threats and the like. 

However — perhaps, thankfully — we made it six months into 2021 before someone lost their lives in one of these calls.  

Rashawn Wilbert was on the cusp of his pre-teen years. He’d likely just finished his first or second year of middle school, and likely has a host of friends and loved ones who never could have predicted his life would be cut short in such a horrific manner. 

On the other hand, Thomas Hardman is another young man who was on the cusp of his adolescence. Mississippi is no stranger to trying children as adults for offenses such as the one for which Hardman stands accused, and no stranger to imprisoning them alongside adults, either.  

The family of these young men is grappling with not one loss, but two.  

What’s worse of all is, these two boys could have been spared such tragedy if they received proper firearm safety training — or better yet, if there was no firearm within their reach at all. In an even greater scope, perhaps this event is symptomatic of a greater cultural issue wherein children are exposed to violence. 

Many people arrested in our area are in their late teen years or early 20s — barely older than Hardman and Wilbert.  

Former mayoral candidate Troy Kimble quoted Frederick Douglass in a recent interview with The Post: “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” 

Now is the time for the people of Vicksburg to band together and make sure Wilbert didn’t die in vain. We must answer the question: What can we do to steer the children of Vicksburg on a path of good character and citizenship? 

No one knows what exactly transpired Tuesday night leading up to the tragic death of a boy in our community.  

One thing is for certain: This twofold tragedy was preventable, and if we all work together, we can make sure it doesn’t happen again.