Although I am now in the twilight of my life, I still have vivid memories of when I was a teenager. I can recall hearing the defense of somebody accused of a crime and their lawyer defending their actions by blaming it on their youth. I can remember thinking that I, too, could get a gun and shoot up the kids who bullied me and get away with it, because I was only a teenager. It never happened, but I remember having that kind of illogical thinking.

As a community and as a society, we send unintended messages to our young people all the time. One of my classic examples of this was listening to Black ministers talk about how they used to be a drug dealer, pimp, menace to society, etc., and then they were called by God and they changed their evil ways.  

Most people couldn’t understand why I hated to hear that. I would always comment on that person’s story by reminding folks that in the meantime until God calls them, we as a society have to deal with that criminal behavior. And in a lot of instances, the criminal element may never get the call. 

So instead of that story being one of positive redemption, it sends an unintended message to our young people to continue doing their dirt, because one day God will call. And in the meantime, we have to deal with the criminality that goes on.

I am seeing that same sort of situation today in both the media and activists’ decisions who are trying to turn Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old who was out shooting a gun at 2:30 in the morning, into simply an innocent victim while ignoring his criminal actions. 

 Nowhere in the video could I tell that he was a 13-year-old as he ran down the alley at 2:30 in the morning. Yes, technology has allowed us to see him raise his hands, but less than a second before, those same hands held a gun. The armchair quarterbacks are ignoring the fact that the officer had a split-second decision to make.   

Many of those who are critiquing the shooting sit behind locked wrought iron fences, security doors and home security systems as their manner of fighting crime. Very little chastisement has been made of Toledo’s family for permitting him to be out there running the streets. 

As our young criminal element watches while one of their own is turned into a hero, including a mural drawn of him with angels’ wings, there’s very little concern about the opposite message that is being sent: Do your dirt and let the police go after you because this society will defend your actions so long as it’s the police that are involved. Even if you are caught, this society will do all it can to make you an innocent victim.

Our criminal elements have now become more emboldened in their behavior. Now, as someone goes through a drive-thru at McDonald’s, they can hop out of a car and shoot up a 7-year-old, Jaslyn Adams. Or shoot up a guy, Jawaun L. Davis as he stands in line waiting at the DMV to get his license while one of the killers has his 6-year-old brother in the car as they attempt to escape and are chased by police. Or shoot up a car as it drives down the street killing a 17-year-old girl, Lydia Jimenez. Or be in a car at the gas station and they can get to shooting and kill a child just sitting in the backseat, Ny’Andrea Dyer.

None of these innocent victims get murals or thousands of people protesting their deaths, because they weren’t killed by police but by the criminal element who benefit from the unintended messages.