Parenting is often blamed for the high number of juveniles being sent to jail for violent crimes in Richmond County, but some argue there is a bigger issue at work.
“We have parents that didn’t get any support,” the Rev. Esaias Merritt, of the Macedonia Church of Grovetown, said during a panel discussion on local race and youth issues Saturday. “We have gangs developing overnight. Kids will submit to one of two systems, theirs or ours.”
Support for parents and children was an underlying theme when local leaders met with community members for the second Georgialina Race Relations Solutions Summit at Thankful Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon.
The panel – which included two judges, a state representative, a school principal, a Richmond County schools Public Safety officer and others – was asked questions about the state of youths in Augusta and surrounding areas and what can be done to put young people on a positive track.
Although the panel members did not come to any concrete solutions, they all agreed on the need for support for parents and children from community members – and education about the resources available to them.
Merritt said children have two roads they can travel and if their parents were never taught to stay within the law, the children will not either. To convince children to stay out of gangs and stay in school, Merritt said, parents must have support systems.
“The parent needs to know there are alternatives,” said Crystal Rivers, of Communities in Schools.
Glenn Hills High School Principal Wayne Frazier said all anyone can do is focus on where they have the authority.
His authority starts when a young man walks through the doors to his school. At Glenn Hills, every male student has to have his pants pulled up, shirts tucked in and belts on.
“If we treat them with respect, they will learn to respect themselves,” Frazier said. “With some young men, we take one look at them and we’ve already put them in jail. Where do you think they’re going to end up?”
State Court Judge John Flythe agreed. He said he hopes youths leave his courtroom believing they were treated fairly.
“Someone has to start that pattern of respect,” he said.
Richmond County schools Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, who is running for sheriff, said he wants to see a tighter relationship between law enforcement and schools.
“There has to be an alternative to incarceration,” he said.
Superior Court Judge James Blanchard offered his drug, mental and juvenile courts as alternatives.
He said they have produced positive results. One of the requirements during drug court is to get a high school diploma.
“Through positive reinforcement, you see positive changes,” he said.
One facet Frazier wanted to make sure was on the table before the panel dispersed was accountability.
He said the No. 1 issue in Augusta he sees is problems with young black boys, and he believes the answer lies with black men.
“Black men have to stop looking and solve our own problems,” Frazier said. “Until we stop fighting each other, it’s not going to get solved.”