“It’s a 14-year-old. It’s a tragedy.”
“This isn’t a matter of race; it’s a matter of solving a problem.”
Those two comments from Col. James Previtera of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office succinctly sum up the issue of “wilding,” which came to the public’s attention after the death of 14-year-old honor student Andrew Joseph III.
By most accounts, Joseph was not only an honor student, but a good kid from an intact, middle-class family. Hardly the stereotype of a thuggish youth with a dad in jail and a mom on welfare.
Although Previtera is correct that this isn’t a matter of race — it’s a matter of parenting and teaching kids to respect others — race is part of this story because 108 of the 111 kids who were arrested or ejected from the Florida State Fairgrounds were black.
What this whole incident has shown is that even seemingly good kids with presumably good parents — white, black or other — can make bad decisions. There are a host of other lessons to be learned by the fair authority, law enforcement, the schools, parents and students.
In response to the wilding incident, the fair authority now requires an adult to be present with any minor coming to the fair on Student Day with free admission, if they arrive after 7 p.m. There may be sound logic for this, but it seems curious given the sheriff’s office said the “crowd arrived shortly before 6 p.m.” on Friday of that week.
And what is to keep kids who arrive early from sticking around without a parent? Will the fair remove all patrons before 7 before letting kids with a free ticket back in only with an adult?
I have a few better ideas.
Start by requiring any student with more than five detentions to attend a one-hour class held at the fairgrounds on the morning of free student admission day. The class would be conducted by the sheriff’s office and community leaders, and would go over things such as respect, appropriate behavior and information about what will get you ejected from the fair without warning.
Alternatively, a tougher approach would be to limit free admission to only honor students. But that wouldn’t have kept Andrew Joseph from getting in (though it likely would have prevented him from associating with the wrong crowd, as I doubt many of those other 110 kids were honor students).
A more fair approach would be to limit free admission to students with at least a 2.0 GPA and with no more than three detentions. I’m guessing this would cut out about 95 percent of the troublemakers or potential troublemakers at the fair.
It has been reported that Joseph’s family has hired an attorney, and the likely result will be a lawsuit against the fair authority. I have confidence the sheriff’s office did all it could, did it appropriately, and that any lawsuit would be dismissed as frivolous.
The sheriff’s deputies are not babysitters. Parents need to think hard before dropping off their kids at the fair unsupervised on a Friday night. Even the straight-A Eagle Scout who is also an altar boy is just looking for trouble in such an environment when unsupervised.
If parents, the schools and society want to fix the problem we saw at the fairgrounds, they need only do one thing: Teach kids to respect other people, other people’s property and authority.
It won’t be an easy task, and no Band-Aid the politicians will suggest is going to fix it. The problem is as wide as the midway at the fairgrounds. Pop culture, the entertainment media, our schools, parents and the government at all levels are to blame and thus need to be involved in finding the fix.
No matter what, a seemingly good kid who was at least temporarily associating with the wrong crowd got caught up in something bad. That he later lost his life in an accident wasn’t the fault of the fair authority, the sheriff or anyone. His decision to try to cross that busy highway could have occurred regardless of his ejection. The only correlation between his death and the wilding incident is that because of his death, we now know about wilding.
No matter the explanation, as Col. Previtera said, it’s a tragedy. A young boy is dead.
Chris Ingram is a columnist, Republican consultant, and political analyst for Bay News 9. Email him at: Chris@IrreverentView.com.