Opinion: When violent crime strikes very close to home

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

GUEST COLUMN

I am, at this point, crying out for leadership. On July 4th, while on vacation, I was tagged by a good friend on Facebook about the shooting of a 14-year-old boy on Saturday, July 3rd around 10 p.m.

It was behind my house.

I got back from vacation on Tuesday. Once I got my son settled and dinner in the oven, I put on my shoes, grabbed my keys and walked to the site of the shooting.

There, I found this shrine and this girl grieving. I walked up to her and wrapped her in my arms. She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I felt her tears trickling down my arm and I said, “Baby, I am so sorry.”

Her grandmother got out of the car and walked up to us, tears in her eyes. She said, “Thank you. She’s been here since yesterday. They were best friends. She just can’t understand why he had to die.”

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

I talked to the grandmother for 10 minutes. And you know what I learned? These were young boys who did not know how to resolve conflict. This was a schoolyard fight, only with guns.

I’ve been waiting for leaders of this city to tell me what’s going on. But the truth came from this grandmother.

We cannot address crime without addressing mental health for our young boys.

Fighting is a natural instinct for boys. But we have to figure out how to teach them to fight without guns. Broken bones and black eyes will heal, but you can’t undo bullets.

More importantly, they need to learn how to de-escalate a fight.

It’s a perfect storm, really. They haven’t been in school, and the normal boys and girls clubs and other programs couldn’t meet because of COVID.

And where are the parents, you ask? Many are working two jobs.

As a community, we have to figure out how to reach these boys.

I don’t write policy, and I don’t even pretend to.

What I am is a single mother, a citizen, and a person who is willing to serve.

But I need leadership.

I need to know more about the problem and then information on how I can help.

This should be a regular press conference like COVID because our crime rates are a public health issue. In fact, they’re a direct outcome of COVID.

This is not the post I wanted to make after my vacation, which was blissful, BTW.

But I’m home now. That’s right, Atlanta is my home and I care about it very much.

Maria Balais is principal of The Balais Group, a community engagement consulting firm. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and the author of a memoir called “Pinky.”