- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stick ‘em in Junior ROTC.

That’s the message Mayor Vincent C. Gray should be delivering when he gives his State of the District address Monday, then delivers his budget Friday to the City Council.

But as stakeholders await with bated breath to hear where the mayor plans to shuffles dollars, the city’s future remains bleak because officials fail to address the bewitching 3 p.m. hour, when schools let out and youths begin running amok.

Just last week, two boys engaged in fisticuffs outside the Van Ness-UDC Metro while most of the adults - including a Metro employee yakking on his cellphone - merely watched as other youths egged on the boys.

Across town, outside the Deanwood station, police questioned a youth engaged in aggressive behavior. When I asked a Metro officer whether the boy was arrested, he said, “Yes, he accosts people and breaks into cars.”

His mother always “bails him out,” the officer added.

That’s but two spooky pictures. Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier painted another: 12,000 D.C. youths are chronic truants. And when they are not in school, “they’re out engaging in criminal activity,” she said at a recent legislative hearing.

That is the state of the District, an outlook that will remain dark because we have erased child-rearing parameters.

Our youths are undisciplined because they aren’t being raised properly at home, collective bargaining agreements have cornered us into taking a hands-off approach and liberal policies misdirect our precious dollars.

This week, the mayor will follow his predecessors by laying out a “vision” that increases school funding, and talks about voting rights and making this a “world-class” city.

Phooey.

The jury pool is already poisoned by the lapses in judgment of several D.C. officials, including Mr. Gray, a Democrat, who is being encouraged to tell stakeholders that his administration is removing the dark clouds hovering over City Hall.

What he should articulate from the podium at Eastern High School on Monday is that he is thinking out of the proverbial box by strengthening JROTC, whose regimen focuses on discipline, citizenship, education and being stewards of their own bodies.

Traditionally, State of the District speeches lay out the mayor’s vision for the upcoming year. And Mr. Gray’s promises to be aligned with those of his predecessors. But when it comes to the future of the nation’s capital, Mr. Gray’s address will fall short if he fails to spotlight the ugly picture of the city’s unbridled youths.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who will be in the audience as youths from Eastern and other schools are spotlighted, thinks parents, city officials and our schools need to man up with tough intervention in middle school, when children begin smelling themselves (as my grandmother used to say.)

Mr. Brown said middle school is when parents traditionally begin loosening the leash.

“Middle school is the bridge,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat who supports publicly funded school vouchers.

A strong supporter of JROTC, he wants schools to encourage high schoolers to enroll in JROTC, especially wayward youths.

At his weekly briefing last week, the mayor said, “I happen to be a supporter of JROTC” because it instills “discipline, leadership and work ethic.”

He also shieds from promoting military careers, a personal prerogative.

But the mayor shouldn’t tout D.C. veterans and members of military as being shortchanged on voting rights with one hand, and fail to bolster JROTC programs with the other.

Better that potential bad, bad Leroy Browns be led by JROTC hands than turned over to hands of the criminal justice system. Neither the military nor the labor market wants a Leroy with a record.

The mayor said he supports JROTC, where he served as a major when he attended Dunbar High School, and that the “structure and discipline” benefits some people “mightily.”

Indeed, JROTC might not help future leaders avoid “missteps,” but at the very least it will point them in the right direction.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com