The parallel tragedy

Normally tranquil Jonesboro was rocked in the first minutes of Mother’s Day when gunfire erupted at a private party in a popular downtown venue. Two suspects are in custody, accused of killing one person and wounding six others when they fired into the crowd.

In smaller communities, violence like this hits close to home for just about everybody.

Local teachers know a lot of the kids involved in Sunday’s tragedy, as do local police. Countless local residents have been inside the location of the shooting, since it was a longtime restaurant setting before becoming a rent-out space for events and organizations.

A local church group had to cancel its weekly Sunday night services hosted there, but members still congregated outside to pray.

Young Monterio Barnes lost his life in the shooting, which forever changed the honor and recognition of the maternal holiday for his family into heartbreak and desolation.

“You don’t know which is worse, the shock of what happened or the ache of what never will.” The words of English author Simon von Booy resound with relevance and poignancy, although the magnitude of grief in such moments defies literacy or description.

As expected, the main suspect is no stranger to entanglements with law enforcement. Kalius Lane is only 20, but his brief stint as an adult is already peppered with a lifetime’s worth of police run-ins and arrests.

In addition to being out on bond for a kidnapping and armed robbery charge in Osceola, a local news outlet detailed no fewer than 12 incidents reported by the Jonesboro Police Department involving Lane from April 2015 to January 2017—including one in which Lane was allegedly seen in a local hospital with a gun in his back pocket.

In an unusual twist, Lane began posting about the shooting investigation on his Facebook page about 10 a.m. on Sunday.

He shared the press release about the crime from the Jonesboro Police Department and then posted, “This [expletive] sad [expletive] slandering my name frfr 100 Case beat.”

About fifteen minutes later, he added another post: “Feds wanna lace put me on murders tryna case,” which was followed by a middle-finger “bird” symbol, a police officer emoji and a palms-up shrug emoji.

An hour later, this: “The rest of my life just gone over some [expletive] Ian do. [Expletive] wanna cover up for the next [expletive] 100 Dirty world frfr,” followed with another bird.

Around noontime, a barrage of posts included this: “[Expletive] I’m shooting for and Ian get touched,” followed by laughing-to-tears emojis.

That indecipherable mess is a compounding, parallel tragedy.

It’s worth remembering that the state of Arkansas committed approximately $130,000 in resources to the suspected shooter’s education, including English classes every year.

That is not said in mockery. It’s posited in the spirit of pondering aloud the prudence of that investment in its current form as part of the far-flung public education system.

Maybe we should reconsider the one-size-fits-all approach funneled into schools, in terms of whether it truly serves kids coming from neglected, parentless, impoverished or other at-risk situations.

Rather than funding one large system, would that money be better invested in individual children at a younger age when home circumstances throw up early red flags?

It’s too late once a kid pulls a gun at a party.

But this shooting suspect was once an elementary student. Probably in class with 25 other kids. Possibly in a school with high free-lunch counts and low test scores.

Money spent that permits a child to slip through the cracks is more than mere waste. It paves the way for greater losses later on: damages caused by crime, court and incarceration costs, unrealized earnings and tax revenue. Not to mention the incalculable loss of individual potential, and what might have been.

We see this pattern over and over. It’s time we open up discussion on what has to change to alter it, with a willingness to slaughter some sacred cows if necessary.

Who’s to say that front-end loading the same $130,000 on private tutoring and mentoring through junior high wouldn’t produce better English? Maybe better behavior? Then as an alternative to traditional high school, provide an accelerated technical school path to a practical career. There might even be federal financial aid available for that. Or maybe lottery money.

Heaven knows we need resurgence in the skilled trades. Good plumbers, electricians, carpenters all stay busy.

The difference in cost to society between a kid launching a lifetime of productive work at 20 and a kid going to prison for life at 20 is literally in the millions.

We’re already spending significant money on every child’s education. It’s not too much to insist on equally significant results, or at least sufficient vigor to demand exploratory change when status quo inertia produces failure.

Uneducated kids who can’t communicate are tragedies unto themselves. Instead of being surprised when they beget further tragedies, shouldn’t we be trying more innovative things to prevent that first tragic deficiency?

Tomorrow’s violent criminals are in primary school today. Their paths can be changed. But not if nothing else changes first.