Steve Mullen: A tragic lesson, not learned


Steve Mullen



Graduation parties should be a time for celebration.


But parties are ending in gunfire, and death, all too often.


Last year, when four kids all between the ages of 17-18 were shot at a graduation party in West Point, police said the incident was an anomaly. Most of these parties are thrown with the best intentions. But "graduation parties" that draw people well past high school age, don''t provide adequate security, and are allowed to drag on into the wee hours of the next day, are a bad idea.



The death of 25-year-old Curtis K. "C.K." Randle early Saturday -- who police say was partying inside the Starkville club hosting a graduation party -- drives this point home. A rising Starkville High senior is accused of the crime.


All around the South, there are other examples:


  • Early Sunday, one night after Randle''s death, an 18-year-old was shot and killed when another 18-year-old allegedly fired into a crowd at a combination graduation/birthday party in Brandon, Fla., outside Tampa. Two others were wounded. An Associated Press report noted the party "swelled to 300 attendees."


  • Early in the morning of May 18 in Houma, La., a 19-year-old was shot in the thigh and a 21-year-old was shot in the stomach in a drive-by shooting after the two left a graduation party.


    n On May 16, a 17-year-old died when a man not invited to a Tuscaloosa high school graduation party opened fire with a 9mm handgun into a crowded room. Eight others were wounded; one 16-year-old girl was shot three times, including in the face.


  • In Houston, Texas, a 14-year-old who was running away from a fight outside a graduation party at a downtown nightclub was hit and killed by a stray bullet. The teen, who the Houston Chronicle reported was a half-block away when he was shot, was buried Saturday. The Chronicle reported the victim was an "innocent bystander" at the party of more than 1,000 people early this month.


  • It wasn''t a graduation party, but back in March, an 18-year-old was charged with assault with a deadly weapon when he opened fire in a private party at the Columbus Fairgrounds. Two other teens were injured. It''s a miracle no one has been killed at one of these privately held "pajama parties," which draw hundreds of people.


    What''s the answer? Obviously, there''s a fine line between a party and a mob. No amount of security is enough to control some of these so-called parties, and it appears many who throw them are unprepared for what may happen (the party in Tuscaloosa was chaperoned by parents, for example).


    We can''t expect police to be everywhere, and even when they are, things happen. Columbus police were already doing walkthroughs at the Fairgrounds back in March when shots were fired and teens were wounded.


    But we still expect the police to put an end to these things when they grow out of control. Too many precedents have been set, locally and elsewhere. Law enforcement, who hope for the best but expect the worst, should go into these things expecting mobs, fights, guns, and a fresh tragedy. Break them up before fights break out.


    It''s easy to say "no more parties." But that won''t stop killings. The two most recent tragedies in Columbus --- the fatal shootout at the Everyday Club and Lounge on April 20 and the shooting death at a home on Schoolhouse Road on May 17 -- weren''t at large parties.


    These senseless deaths are hard for most of us to understand -- and by most of us I''m including the more than 99.9 percent in the Golden Triangle and elsewhere who can gather together and celebrate something without getting into a fight, whether it be with fists or guns.


    Some people (read some of the reader comments after our stories) blame the police for not doing enough, or the venue owners for a lack of security. Others blame gangs, guns, drugs and alcohol. Or the parents, or lack thereof. Or, the suspects'' tax bracket or skin color, or what they watch on TV.


    Most poor people aren''t killers. Likewise, some rich people are. Most people with guns aren''t killers. So on.


    The fact is, there are people out there who place no value on human life, and they are to blame for their own actions. Shooting a gun at a person or into a crowd -- no matter your state of mind -- is so fundamentally wrong, it''s hard to believe you even have to say the words.


    But we have to say the words, because too many young people haven''t let the lesson sink in. Even after graduation.



Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.


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