Thursday, February 28, 2019

What causes a 12-year-old girl to commit cold-blooded murder of a random stranger?

by Rod Williams - In February five teenagers murdered Kyle Yorlets, a 24 year old Nashville musician. Yorlets was originally from Carlisle, Pennsylvania but moved to Nashville to pursue his education and music. He was a recent graduate of Belmont University and was a member of a rock band called Carverton.

The accused murderers are three girls ages 12, 14 and 15, and two boys, ages 13 and 16.  Kyle Yorlets was murdered in the yard of his home in the middle of the day.  Police say Yorlets was a random victim. He was not targeted, but just happened to encounter the kids. Reports say the kids were in a stolen pickup truck in an alley that runs behind Yorlets' home. They saw Yorlets outside. At gun point they robbed Yorlets of his wallet, and told him to hand over the keys to his vehicle. Police seem to think that Yorlets was shot when he refused to give the kids the keys to his car.

When I first heard this story, I was shocked.  I have one daughter who is grown but I stopped to recall what she was like at age twelve. That is the seventh grade for most 12 year olds. Most 12 year old girls are just starting to notice boys. They may be too old for Barbie, but not by much. I recalled nieces and nephews and what they were like at ages 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16.  That a 12-year old girl is capable of cold blooded murder is so foreign to me.  I know that by age 16, some boys are at a point where it is easy to fall into mischief,  if they have no guidance and discipline.  Even good kids can get into trouble by age 16.  But a twelve year old and a thirteen year old shooting a man in cold blood? It is hard to fathom.  That they were girls even makes it harder to accept.  In general, I think of boys as more capable of doing something like this than girls.

The children have been charged as adults. Following this murder, there has been lots of news coverage and hand-wringing. A lot of attention has been focused on the need for Juvenile Justice reform.  Comments by State Senator Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis reflect what many feel: “When you have children that young participating in that high level of a dangerous crime, I feel like somewhere along the way there was an intervention that wasn’t taken and we failed those kids.”

Who can disagree with that?  Maybe, if we had a more perfect juvenile justice system, these kids could have been turned from the path that led to this terrible tragedy.  Prior to this tragic murder, an 18-member special committee had been created by Governor Bill Haslam to identify gaps in the system and help children before they commit violent crime.  Several people mentioned the work of this committee, hoping it can make meaningful changes that will prevent future juvenile crime. State Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, said he hoped the group would take a comprehensive approach that extended beyond the courtroom and examined schools, mental health services and the criminal justice system for young offenders.

That is a good goal. We should look at schools and mental health services and the criminal justice system for young offenders.  As reported in the Tennessean, Nashville police Lt. Blaine Whited, who supervises the police department's Juvenile Crime Task Force, said his officers often rearrest the same juveniles over and over again.  He said there is "problem in the system."  Since the police task force was formed last February, 222 minors have been charged with crime and during the year, the Police arrested 101 of them more than once.

There is a "problem in the system," but I think we need to look deeper than the schools, the mental health services, and the justice system.  What is wrong with society, that leads to this?  It is not often that 12-year-old girls commit murder, but juvenile crime in general is a problem and it appears to be getting worse, not better. 

Some would offer a simple answer and say society took a wrong turn when we banned school prayer. I think there may be validity to that. I think starting the day with a solemn acknowledgement of God whose blessing we seek and whose will we should try to follow inculcates a common sense of morality.  It causes people to stop and say to themselves, I ought to try to be a good person.  In a society with so many different religions, however, I don't know how one can acknowledge God without offending others who have a different concept of God. As difficult as it may be to reintroduce prayer into the school without violating Supreme Court ruling, I think it is a goal worth pursuing. it may help.  That may be impossible to achieve, however, and would take a very long time and don't think that in and of itself that would resolve the problem.

A problem I see is that we are so conditioned and intimidated by political correctness that we are in denial of societal problems rather than trying to solve societal problems.  While the problem of crime and violence cuts across class and race lines, we should acknowledge that crime is a problem that plagues the Black community more than others.  Instead, we bend over backwards to make it impossible to acknowledge this.  When schools punish Black kids more than white kids, rather than acknowledge that Black kids may commit more offenses than White kids, we chastise the schools for unequal treatment and racial profiling and accuse teachers of bigotry. A good place to start in addressing problems is to acknowledge the truth.

I don't know anything about the kids who committed this senseless murder other than their sex and age which I read in the paper.  I am going to bet however, that one thing they have in common is that their is no father in the home. This is a problem, about which we are in denial and it is impolite to observe that having intact families makes for a better society.

Fathers matter. Seventy-one per cent of high school dropouts are fatherless. Fatherless children do less well in school, scoring less well on tests of reading, math, and reasoning skills. Eighty-five percent of youth in prison are from fatherless homes. Girls from fatherless homes are more likely to become sexual active earlier and are more likely to themselves become unwed mothers. Ninety percent of  runaway children are from fatherless homes. From drug abuse to sexual abuse to any number of measures of well-being, children from intact families fare much better than children without a father in the home.  The data is easy to find. Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger by Dr. Edward Kirk writing in Psychology Today provides a good analysis.

If we acknowledge that fatherless children is a problem, what as a society do we do about it?  There are no easy answers. A good starting place is simply to acknowledge it. The welfare system is a problem.  There are public benefits that drive families apart or keep families from forming.  A single women with two children may qualify for benefits such as housing, food stamps, and health care that if she were married to the father of the children, the combined income of the two parents would make the family ineligible for assistance. To qualify for these public benefits, the parents may just live together and get the welfare but not get married. Unmarried parents living together do not prove as stable of a family structure as when the parents are actually married. 

The role of this "marriage penalty" needs to be acknowledges and addressed. One approach would be to abolish all welfare benefits and replace them with a guaranteed national income.  There may be other less drastic solutions but the fact that welfare is a cause of fatherless families should be acknowledged. There are also tax structure issues that could be changed to favor marriage.

Persuasion can go a long way in changing values and behavior.  I think there is a public interest in promoting the value of families.  Just as there was a pubic campaign to persuade people to reduce litter, wear seat belts, and stop smoking, there should be a public campaign to persuade people to wait to have children until after they are married. Advertising campaigns could feature a contrast showing a single mother of two labeled "the face of poverty," and a father, mother and two children labeled "the face of success."  The facts of the devastating impact of father less families should be featured in public service announcements so that everyone knows that children born to single mothers are more likely to do poorly in school, to live in poverty, become runaways, to get pregnant early, and to go to prison.

Also, condemnation and societal pressure can change behavior.  In modern America, one of the things we are most judgmental about is being judgmental.  We have embraced absence of moral values as a moral value. To disapprove of another's behavior and to show your disapproval is considered mean.  We need to began to change that.  Bringing children into the world without a father should be stigmatized.  We have almost made being a single mother a badge of honor and something to be celebrated.  I think it should be something to be condemned and the children pitied.  Single women who have children should be embarrassed and ashamed. Also all "single mothers" should not be put into the same basket. The media always refers to all single women raising children as a "single mother."  We should change that and recognized that there are "widowed mothers," "divorced mothers," and "unwed mothers."  Being an unwed mother should not be a badge of honor.

For more on the murder of Kyle Yorlets and related stories, follow these links: link, link, link, and link.   For more on the issue of fatherless children, follow these links: link, link, link, and link


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