- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

ALL-POINTS BULLETIN: "Be on the lookout for robbery suspect, 4 feet tall, 70 pounds, wearing all-black clothing with a hooded sweat shirt; last seen brandishing a toy gun at the local video store. May be defiant and dangerous. Approach with caution."
If this caricature weren't so serious you could crack up laughing.
Surely the silly idea of a pint-size perpetrator holding up an Annapolis video store with a toy gun is enough to bring a smile to the most stoic. But the startling sight of a handcuffed 7-year-old suspect being carted off in a squad car must have caused a few to shake their heads.
The brazen boy, whose name was not released for obvious reason, was charged with attempted robbery after he brandished a fake .32-caliber silver handgun to "hold up" the Hollywood Video store on Easter Monday, Annapolis police said.
What? A traditional Easter egg hunt not exciting enough? Happily, this "crime" scene didn't produce the predictably tragic ending, though this wayward child's case presents its own tragedy.
We must stop and ask ourselves: What kind of society have we created and sustained in which a 7-year-old acts as if he has a right his Second Amendment right, to be exact to fight for his gun, which he would use to get whatever he desired? Reportedly the child never asked for money. Maybe he just wanted a free copy of a blow-'em-up blockbuster. Fingers undoubtedly will be pointed in different directions to offer pat explanations for the unexplainable and inexcusable here. But the blame starts with the adults, not with the child.
Yesterday, Officer Hal Dalton, a spokesman for Annapolis police, said the case was turned over to juvenile services and the child was turned over to his mother until his hearing next week.
Would that be the same agency that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. renamed this week from the Department of Juvenile Justice to the Department of Juvenile Services to signal a switch in the state's handling of juvenile offenders? Mr. Ehrlich promised more preventive programs to break the cycle that leads to a life of crime. Well, here's hoping that any real changes in the department that had been badly mismanaged by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are not too late for this little boy.
Officer Dalton, pointing out that the case is now out of his department's hands, said, however, that the small boy "obviously needs some correction or help." What an understatement. When children are involved in crimes such as school shootings and dangerous pranks, such as the one involving the Prince William County teens being held for experimenting with soda bottle bombs, many people are shocked and find themselves at a loss for words. Not me. I've got too much to say, and even more to ask.
First, look to parents who appear to have abdicated their responsibility.
Granted, the details of Annapolis' Junior Jesse James are not known. But, for starters, you've got to wonder whether returning this gun-toting child to his home and his mother is the best placement.
Clearly, this is a child in need of better supervision. Clearly, this is a child (and possibly an entire family) in need of intervention either from public officials, relatives, neighbors or the clergy. Sorry, but this mother should be more outraged with herself or whoever was supposed to be supervising this child than she is with the video store employees and the police she reportedly harassed for corralling her son. Only whether his action warranted handcuffs is debatable.
By all accounts, his actions appeared to be anything but a joke.
Indeed, what's deeply troubling is the determined attitude exhibited by this 7-year-old, who should have been out riding a bicycle or playing ball or any other kind of kiddie thing. He acted like a defiant delinquent when the police tried to retrieve his weapon. He told them they couldn't have the gun because "it's mine." Here's the disconnect: Apparently no one has taught the child that he can't take things that belong to other people, especially at gunpoint.
The knee-jerk response to this case is to assume that this child comes from a poor neighborhood plagued by crime. Officer Dalton, however, said that is not the case. He characterized the suburban neighborhood where the child lives as middle class, with town houses, and where police receive few calls for crime.
This case, as well as others such as the Virginia baby bombers, proves yet again that socioeconomic status is not the predominant predictor of errant behavior that is sometimes beyond parental control. Still, we can point the finger at politicians and educators who offer scant educational and recreational opportunities to keep children busy and off the street. We also must lay blame on violent television programming.
Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has often criticized the noxious "culture of violence" that breeds younger and younger children who are increasingly desensitized to bloodletting behavior.
Remember the Michigan case of the 6-year-old first-grader who killed his classmate in a playground scuffle after he found an unsecured .32-caliber handgun in a "flophouse" where he was staying for two weeks?
Prosecutors said the child, seemingly oblivious to his actions, made a reference during questioning to the shooting being like something that happens on television. His father told authorities the boy liked to watch violent movies.
Duh? When will we hold media moguls accountable for the violent and lewd programming they produce in cartoons, video games, music videos, television shows and movies that devalue and dishonor life? This is National TV Turnoff Week. Read a book maybe even the Good Book to your children and have a family discussion about the part that says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The pint-size perpetrator's potentially dangerous actions present a sad commentary on our violence-saturated society. And that's no laughing matter.


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