The teen years. They only last seven short/long years and should be the most wondrous time of a person’s life. 

For far too many black children, they are also the death years. Young people’s lives are snuffed out due to violence and — as has happened far too often of late — during the commission of a crime. It seems like every couple of months there is a horrific story of a young teenager killed while trying to rob and steal or in the aftermath thereof. 

We had the teen who tried to stick up a man at the bank in Oak Park and the “victim” who had a valid concealed-carry license drew his weapon and shot the offender dead. We had another teen just weeks ago, who decided to hop into someone else’s car; he was killed when he was shot by the car’s owner.

Recently in south suburban Dolton, a stolen vehicle was pulled over. Inside the car were three young people who had fled the mall after being spotted shoplifting. When the cop approached the car, the vehicle took off at a high rate of speed. The ensuing crash killed a young teenager who was a passenger in the stolen car. 

His story, like many of the others, has had family members who have lost their loved one getting condolences on that loss. At the same time, comments by the public on the news story can be honestly vicious. There is no sympathy or empathy given for those killed during the commission of a crime. 

My question/dilemma is this: If a person is killed while committing a crime, are they on their way to heaven or are they headed straight to hell? I know many churches/pastors don’t like to bring up the polar opposite to God and Heaven. But if we accept that light has dark, summer has winter, man has woman, then good has to have a counterpart in evil.

Does one look at the dead kid and profess, “He’s in a better place?” Can his obituary have him with angel’s wings when it’s more likely he now has devil’s horns? Should the standard wording, “accepted Christ at an early age,” be omitted? 

Over the 14 years I’ve been writing this column, whenever we get near the upcoming holiday season, I’ve written about speaking with one’s loved ones about their behavior. This year the emphasis needs to be even greater. For girls, the saga of Kenneka Jenkins should be an automatic subject of discussion — from partying at hotel rooms with adult men, the responsibility that comes with friendship (we arrive together and must leave together), to the age-old “designated driver,” made even more important because of the drinking and drugs involved. We may never learn the full truth of how Kenneka ended up in that freezer, but her “friends” have a lot of explaining to do.

For boys, and that is exactly what a 15-year-old is, the emphasis on their ill-advised decision-making processes can never be too much. Riding in a stolen car, stealing from a store and then speeding off when stopped by the police are all bad decisions that each led to one of their deaths. 

My mother raised her three children by always telling us that she knew where to find us on visiting day. That can be amended to include cemetery visiting hours!