SURRATT: Program to reduce juvenile violence will need help of whole community

Published 4:00 am Friday, February 10, 2023

Mayor George Flaggs Jr.’s decision to tackle juvenile violence in the city is a chilling example of how times have changed.

It’s chilling because the mayor should never have been placed in the situation of having to even consider the city stepping in to stop a problem that should never have occurred in the first place.

There has always been juvenile crime, but never on the scale of violence that we’ve seen recently. Not just here in Vicksburg, but across the nation.

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I know my memory isn’t what it used to be and someone may correct me, but growing up in Baton Rouge I can’t recall reading or hearing about a situation where a juvenile used a gun to shoot another. Back then, it seemed the worst a kid could do was steal a car.

Were there disputes? Yes. Were there grudges? Yes, but in most cases, the problems were handled by some sort of physical confrontation on the playground during recess or after school. It may not have been the proper way to settle the score, but the combatants were able to walk away. Bruised and bloodied, perhaps, but alive.

My first true run-in with juvenile violence was working as the court reporter for The Decatur Daily in Decatur, Ala. During one year, we had, if memory serves me right, five homicides where juveniles ranging in age from 13 to 17 were charged and sitting in the Morgan County jail awaiting trial. In one case, a group of teens spontaneously decided to “do a drive-by” and carried it out, killing another teen who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen juvenile violence rise in Vicksburg and I wonder, as I wondered in Decatur, why?

When another reporter and I did a story on juvenile violence in Morgan County, I read up on the recommended ways to raise children and talked to juvenile judges and probation officers. I learned when it comes to raising law-abiding kids, one size does not fit all.

The judges and probation officers told me their experiences with families who did everything “right” only to have their kids turn out bad and the stories of kids from single-parent homes where the parent is working two jobs to survive in a rough area of town who became honor students, class leaders and star athletes.

I have to give the mayor credit for trying to address the youth violence problem and the people he’s appointed to the committee have the ability to put a plan together. But there is one crucial element necessary for any program to work.

The parents and the rest of the community will have to become active participants. That old adage about taking a village to raise a child is true. People my age and older can remember when everyone in the neighborhood watched out for each other’s children.

It will take that kind of behavior to get the violence under control. I hope it works out.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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