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Columns

Violence rears up in hopeless places

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published April 27, 2007


Patricia Hines, left, hugs Lucy Mills to offer condolences Thursday on the death of her grandson, Cedric "C.J." Mills. "He touched so many lives," Lucy Mills said.
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[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
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[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Classmates at Jefferson High created a memorial at school to honor Cedric "C.J." Mills, 17, a linebacker who was gunned down Wednesday evening in front of his father's Tampa home. No suspects have been arrested yet.

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[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Cedric "C.J." Mills' grandfather Ernest Mills, top left, his grandmother, Lucy Mills, center in black, and cousin Zaza Mills, 11, sitting, receive condolences Thursday during a special service at St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church.

As a former sports writer, I knew I'd get the chance one day to write about the son or daughter of an athlete I covered.

I just never knew that child would be a murder victim.

Cedric "C.J." Mills was the son of Vidal Mills, a former Bethune-Cookman College football standout I wrote about a decade ago.

C.J. Mills, a promising Jefferson High linebacker, was shot and killed in front of his home Wednesday night, adding his name to a sad and growing list of young males - particularly young black males - who have been tragically cut down.

March 22, Torrie McDuffie, 16, died when someone fired shots into a crowd standing on a Tampa street corner. Two nights later, errant bullets ended Deandre "Squirrel" Brown's life in St. Petersburg in a similar reckless and senseless shooting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide was the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 in 2003. Among those victims, 82 percent were killed with a gun.

The statistics also show that homicide is the leading cause of death for African-Americans ages 10 to 24, and the rate among African-American males is 15 times as high as that of whites.

We, and I do mean we, are throwing lives away. I fear the solutions are too complex to make a meaningful change. I started the day wondering if the deaths of Mills and Brown should be part of the revived gun control debate in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Maybe they should, but with a flood of guns already on the street, we're talking about a symptom more than a cause. Speaking generally, John Bolland, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor, said the larger problem resides in the defeating inner-city environment.

"About a third of the kids we've interviewed have said they don't expect to live a very long life," said Bolland, who studies youth violence. "They never have learned the capacity to imagine a future.

"In a situation like that, when you're not thinking to the future and you're literally just trying to survive day to day, you do things that are pretty destructive because there's nothing to lose."

Bolland said a greater sense of community and mentors from outside the home - it takes a village - could help curb the problem. However, fear, isolation, poverty and the depression that rises from those negatives make it difficult to have a true community. You can't mentor a child if you don't trust him.

There also is a sense of bravado - fueled by the violence of movies, music and video games - that makes guns a meaningful solution and walking away from trouble a cowardly option. No one wants to be called soft.

Add to that a legal system that doesn't have any real consequences for juvenile offenders until they commit the most serious of crimes, and you have a disturbing recipe.

Despite the challenges, we have to find a way to give hope to the hopeless. We have to convince them that the difficulties they face can make them stronger.

And we have to celebrate the kids who didn't let their environment define who they are.

I think C.J. Mills could have been one of those kids.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or 813 226-3406.

[Last modified April 27, 2007, 00:48:17]


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