We have banged the drum for years, arguing that Robeson County, tattooed as the most violent county in North Carolina, will not wiggle out from underneath that boulder until more parents begin, well, parenting.
But what do we know?
Plenty if you ask Herbert Richardson, a District Court judge who has not only held a gavel for parts of five decades, but is a member of this community with eyes and ears. People should listen when Richardson speaks, and on Tuesday, during Forum No. 2 on the problem of crime in this county, most notably of the violent kind, the judge joined the chorus when parenting was the topic.
“You can talk about poverty, you can talk about lack of jobs, you can talk about all that but you still have to ask the question, are you doing your job?” said Richardson, who then implored parents who were in attendance to know where their children are, who they are with and what they are up to.
Tuesday’s forum was long on wind, but the people who were there, the ones who care enough about what is happening in their communities to spend three hours in that warm breeze, were frustrated by the abundance of words and the absence of action. There was plenty said about the violence in public housing, the difficulty of finding jobs, not enough police officers, too many guns, not enough prison cells, too much poverty — in fewer words, not enough money and resources.
But the problem can be fixed one child at a time with two things: a mother and a father. Make that an involved mother and a father.
Gangs are increasingly a problem in Robeson County, although until just a few years ago it was a five-letter word seldom muttered. Now it is part of almost any serious conversation about violence in this community.
Gangs would suffocate if all children came from two-parent homes where there was discipline and expectations that — and here’s a newsflash — young people actually covet. But gangs thrive here because of the large number of children whose parents either aren’t equipped to be parents or don’t want to be bothered with the enormous task. Their children drift toward gangs for validation, and once they are on that dark road, a U-turn is difficult.
We can think of few things more selfish than a woman who has a child she is ill-prepared to take care of, whether it’s because she is too young, too poor, too sorry, too immature or too alone. And it happens all the time, with little shame attached.
We don’t want to suggest there aren’t other ways to chip away at crime. The idea of raising taxes to generate revenue that could beef up the judicial system, provide more police, more prosecutors and even more judges, was floated and surprisingly well-received. Two more cents on the county tax rate, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home a mere $20 a year, would generate $1.2 million that might quicken the pace in which these thugs are taken off the streets and deposited in prison, hopefully for long stays. But it would take a politician more concerned with the community than re-election to make that motion.
And there certainly are programs that provide mentors that are worthy of our support, such as the Boys and Girls clubs in Lumberton and the one sponsored by the Lumbee Tribe.
Most of what was offered on Tuesday night targeted the symptoms of the real problem, which is young people running wild on our streets. Our community — and the churches would be a great place to start — needs to demand that parents do their jobs.
It really is that simple — and that complicated.