There’s a flaw or two in our community discussion of what led to a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old engaging in a shootout with the Sheriff’s Office.
We’re being asked to believe, variously, that some children are just inherently evil, that Florida’s juvenile-justice system is a broken mess, and maybe that mollycoddling wayward youths encourages this kind of behavior.
While those opinions may be comforting to some who don’t wish to be held even remotely responsible for this tragedy, as usual, it’s not that simple.
It may help us sleep better at night to shrug our shoulders and believe that some people are predestined to commit vicious acts, but we should take our blinders off, and face the truth, instead.
Reinforcing bad-apple generalizations is foolish, and gets us nowhere. No child is inherently evil, and the problems that derail their young lives are systemic and extremely complex.
As long as we’re all participating members of a community, or a society, where tragedies like the June 1 shootout in Enterprise continue to happen, we should all be willing to accept some responsibility for working toward solutions.
And that starts with asking questions, not with pointing fingers, pronouncing final judgments and laying blame.
How can we look the other way when some children’s lives loom over us like dark rainbows that reveal a spectrum of family-busting ills: drug addiction, poverty, unemployment and underemployment, inadequate education, unaffordable housing, unattainable mental-health services, and more?
Yes, many families — and children — heroically battle challenges like these and overcome them. But too many cannot.
We know very few specifics about the lives of these two children. But in the lives of our neighbors, and in tragic headlines, we see social problems crying for solutions. Talk with any public-school teacher if you are unfamiliar with these harsh realities. Teachers see these conditions affecting their students, and their students’ families, every day.
We do know that both of these children had histories of being Baker-Acted — taken into custody involuntarily when they posed a danger either to themselves or others. It seems likely that they both needed far more help than they got.
And, if you want to lay blame for that on the Department of Juvenile Justice, it’s also worth asking whether that state agency was capable of rendering effective aid, given the resources we taxpayers — and the legislators we elected to represent us — have been willing to provide.
Florida cut $13 million from the DJJ budget in 2020, and the dust is just now settling on further cuts proposed this year.
In addition to asking these hard questions, there’s another step we can take as we inch together toward solutions and progress. We can recognize the good that is being done.
We can salute the deputies of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, who bravely handled being shot at by youngsters brandishing powerful weapons, to bring the Enterprise incident to a close without any loss of life.
We can pause for a moment of gratitude for the efforts of every counselor and social worker who has touched the lives of these children and others like them, knowing that these caregivers are doing the best they can, and probably for very little in return.
We can feel compassion for these children, and for their families, and we can resolve to seek change — in whatever small way we can contribute — that can prevent tragedies like the one in Enterprise.