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Teachable moment

10/27/2017, 6:45 a.m.

We cannot excuse bad behavior because of someone’s age — middle school children are generally between the ages of 11 to 13 — or because we believe they come from two-parent, middle class homes, which is the generalization about Short Pump demographics, comfortable in their privilege and lacking in the trauma that plagues poorer households in Richmond.

What responsibility does the Short Pump coach bear, or the parents of the perpetrators?

The issues are layered, and the answers are not easy or straightforward.

Daryl V. Fraser, a licensed clinical social worker who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, has worked with children and mental health issues for 18 years. He’s also the president of the Richmond Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers.

“When these things happen, they rip the scab off,” exposing the underlying problems and issues in a community, Mr. Fraser said. “The first response is for quick punishment, silence the victims and let’s move along. We want to deny the problems that are happening and that ugly exists, even with our children.”

Instead, the Short Pump Middle School situation offers an opportunity to deal with tough issues of race and racism, sexuality, bullying, toxic masculinity, inequity, power and control, he said.

“We must first agree and recognize that these things are happening” often outside the public spotlight. They came to the public’s attention in this instance only because the Short Pump video was posted on social media, he said, and students reported it to adults at the school.

Mr. Fraser suggests that talks with the football team should be only the start — that deeper conversations should be conducted with students throughout Short Pump Middle School, Henrico County and the entire area.

He also suggests that steps be put into place so that the perpetrators understand the gravity of the situation. He shied away from saying lock them up, noting they are children and should be dealt with as children.

Instead, he talked about employing “restorative justice” in which the offenders “can make amends to the victims and their families.”

“We believe that children can learn from their mistakes, that you have to give them the model of restorative justice.”

While it is expected that black parents and people are outraged by the racial aspects and sexual connotations in the video, white parents also should be outraged and speak out about it, he said.

“Until white people deal with racism in their homes and communities, we will continue to have these situations, and there will be no true community healing,” he said.

Let this be a teachable moment — with action — for all of us.