Thursday, August 9, 2007

Kids of today on bottom rung need a leg up

Mike Thomas


August 9, 2007

Kids say the darnedest things, like, "Give me your money or I'll kill you."

And you give it to them, and darned if they don't kill you anyway.

The kids of today.

What can you do?

A statewide panel has been formed to look at that question. Already there is talk of building a new detention facility in Orange County.

They meet amid increasing reports of gun-wielding kids committing ever-more-violent acts. I get this disturbing mental segue to the movie Blood Diamond, where child soldiers with blank faces were turned into soulless killers.

Are kids worse than in the past?

Or are we just the latest generation of overreacting adults?

In fact, the number of juveniles arrested statewide on felony charges decreased slightly from 2001 to 2006.

In Orange County, though, the number increased 18 percent.

And while crime among Hispanic juveniles has taken an upswing in the past couple of years with population growth, the real problem resides with low-income black males, according to state statistics.

In the 2005-06 fiscal year, 11 of the 14 male juveniles arrested in Orange on murder or manslaughter charges were black.

Of 139 arrested on armed-robbery charges, 115 were black.

Of 69 arrested on concealed-firearms charges, 52 were black.

This is not fodder for racists. It ought to be a wake-up call.

Despite all the economic gains we've made during the past decade, low-income neighborhoods are deteriorating. And they appear to be doing so at a faster clip than in the rest of Florida. The kids see no future, so why not grab a gun?

It's hard to raise angels in hell.

State Attorney Lawson Lamar reports that his Orange-Osceola district leads the state in violent crime.

He says he is swamped, as do the various police agencies.

And the media are all too happy to inform you of each and every crime. Even people in "safe" neighborhoods are increasingly afraid.

It is having a definite impact on the quality of life. More people are talking about leaving.

Political leaders have been working feverishly to upscale our upper end with venues and high-tech jobs. Now it's time to spend that kind of energy on the bottom rung.

The answer is more than locking everybody up, although I would certainly agree that more need to be.

There isn't one big solution, but a lot of little ones.

You can see some of them now. There is the city of Orlando's partnership with Nap Ford Community School in Parramore; hotelier Harris Rosen's offer of scholarships for kids in Tangelo Park; and the move away from busing and toward strong neighborhood schools.

Every little kid should have access to a high-quality pre-kindergarten program with a real teacher instead of the pathetic, part-time child-care service passed off by the state as pre-K.

Older kids should have a place to go after school other than the streets.

Those who can't pass the FCAT need an introduction to skilled trades.

Kids who make little mistakes shouldn't be locked up with those making the big mistakes.

The above is obvious.

So is complaining about parents, which is as effective as complaining about the weather.

We see the kids who commit the crimes because they are the ones who generate the headlines.

What we don't see are the countless others who succeed.

With a little effort, we can improve their odds and raise their numbers.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5779 or His blog is

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