April 4th marked the 49th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King and many others, both before and after him, have advocated for justice, fairness and equality under the law.
On April 4, 2017, Sherri Jefferson served as a guest moderator for a panel of experts representing DeKalb County Office of the Public Defender, Fulton County Office of the Public Defender, Kennesaw State University, Advocate Richard Pellegrino and Dr. Ben Williams of SCLC at the Forum on Justice and Reform.
The forum hosted by Pastor Beckham at Zion Baptist church in Marietta and community leaders to include topics involving the school-to-prison pipeline, indigent defense for the poor and mass incarceration. This forum was solution driven for outcomes of change. Attorney Jefferson led the discussions as the moderator.
One topic of discussion that loomed over the forum involved the use of social media by children.
Social Media and School
The recent incident at North Cobb County high school has ignited community leaders and parents to call upon the school board to investigate and initiate criminal charges against a student. The student used social media to post violent racist statements about Blacks and referenced Hitler. The abuse of social media by individuals to enrage, scare and threaten a group of people based upon race, religion, gender, class or sexual orientation is a matter of public concern. However, as a child advocate, Jefferson believes that while school board members must be diligent in monitoring social media by its students, it is always the responsibility of parents to teach their children about social media. Jefferson thinks that the use of the criminal justice system against children must be properly guarded.
Remember When Parents Were Parents
Persons born between the 1970s and the 1980s remember black and white television sets. Then, swiftly American families began to own and operate remote controlled, colored televisions. Viewers also experienced changes from watching major networks to cable programming. During this era, households had to be accountable and responsible for how their children viewed television. Many homes used monitoring devices to prevent their children from having access to inappropriate programming. Parents protested the FCC and commercial sponsors about programming. Parents were being parents – responsible and accountable for the safety, well-being and the lives of their children.
By the 1990s, parents were called upon to monitor internet access. Today, parents must be diligent in monitoring the use of cellular devices and social media apps. When a student uses social media to terrorize a group of people based upon their race, it is as much the responsibility of the parent to ensure safeguards and preventive measures as it is the school board to recommend disciplinary action. Our society has shifted the responsibility of child rearing to the government. If a child is unruly, the juvenile court is required to consider charges against the child; if the child is disruptive in school, the school considers disciplinary action. At what point do we make parents accountable for the acts of their children?
These are children! Someone is responsible for their being. When they engage in acts of racism, it is generally because they were taught that this practice is acceptable. Racism is a learned behavior. The child has learned this behavior at home, school and/or within the community. However, the home is generally the first classroom of hate.
Social Media and Our Children
Often, social media is used to spread messages of love, peace, wellness and issues of human rights and humanity. Equally, people will hide behind a tweet or post to insult, belittle, threaten or harass another. When this occurs, action must be balanced with free speech, public safety and self-harm. When a student suggests the killing of a group of people based upon race and references Hitler in the context of his communications, it is not just emotional ranting. These communicative posts could be considered terroristic threats. To this end, we must examine how race and religious beliefs of students are used to consider appropriate disciplinary action.
Notwithstanding, there exist children in Cobb county who have been arrested for engaging in terroristic threats for telling another student they will “Kick their a--.” If these principles are to be fairly applied then, threatening the lives of a group of people in this climate of hate, must be met with swift and responsible discipline. Such discipline would include counseling, suspension- not expulsion- from school to allow for a "cooling down period" and a juvenile offense of terroristic threat because the student is threatening the killing of another based upon race as an acceptable practice. Whereas, if this student suffers mental defects then, the proper course of action should be considered. To this end, the student should be subject to a forensic psychological evaluation, cultural awareness program, and juvenile court ordered probation to monitor his behavior to ensure the safety and well-being of those around him. On the contrary, Attorney Sherri Jefferson opposes "criminal prosecution" and Imprisonment is not the answer.
Nevertheless, we look to his parents to instill morals, values, and respect of others. We look to his parents to teach tolerance, and to celebrate the differences of others or research for understanding. After all, this is still a child!