We are talking about guns in our country. Certainly mass shootings prompted this two part edition of “The Means Report.” We decided in the wake of all the horrible headlines we’ve been reading, to bring in some people from our community who know firsthand about tragedies, violence, guns, education, the law, medicine, anything and everything we could think of to address this issue from all angles.
Brad Means: We continue our panel discussion now with Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan. Judge Flanagan, I want to begin this edition of “The Means Report” with a message perhaps to those who would consider committing these types of acts. That is, what is the punishment? What do you have the power to do? Because I suspect some young people think, “Well I can do whatever I want before I’m 18 or maybe 21 at the worst and juvenile court can’t touch me. I’m free after I’m a grownup.”
Judge Doug Flanagan: No.
Brad Means: How much power can you wield?
Judge Doug Flanagan: If they’re treated as a juvenile, they can get up to five years confinement. Now, in this state we have “Seven Deadly Sins” Ed 1 says, “any crimes of violence can be treated as an adult.” Thirteen, 14, the district attorney’s office can indite you, treat you like an adult and you’ll get adult punishment. Life in prison, 20 years, whatever fits the crime. In this state, teenagers under 18 cannot get the death penalty or life without parole. But all the other punishments that are open to adults can be open to teenagers if they commit murder, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated child molestation. The serious offensives can opt out of juvenile court and go directly into the adult court.
Brad Means: Dr. Michael Vitacco is a forensic psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia. Dr. Vitacco, how much liberty do you have to go to the authorities if a patient with the propensity to be violent crosses your path?
Dr. Michael Vitacco: That’s a great question and it’s also is a judgment that’s state dependent. In Georgia, there’s almost no rule that I have to do that. On the other hand, I would do that. In turn, that person may have the ability to sue me for my license. I think I would roll the dice on that.
Brad Means: Interesting and appreciated, I’m sure. Dr. Pringle, we’ll just continue to go through the top row here, let me ask you about, from an administrative standpoint, what do you have the authority to do if somebody acts like they’re going to do something bad? What’s the threshold? because sometimes on television we’ll say, “A student said something and got in a heap of trouble.” How do you look at it, Is it case by case?
Dr. Angela Pringle: It’s case by case and every student is afford a due process. The real challenge we have Brad, is when we come across a student who is in need of mental health services. There’s lacking, often times parents won’t acknowledge that, that support is needed. And our counselors are not trained in that area. That’s some of the most difficult challenges is when we have children that we are well aware, they need support beyond that school house. They need support beyond the teachers and the counselors and parents just aren’t aware, aren’t able, or not willing to acknowledge that, that support is needed. Those are the biggest challenges we run into.
Brad Means: Are you able to tap into the resources of certainly Richmond County, but the entire state of Georgia to wrap their arms around these families, these children and try to help them?
Dr. Angela Pringle: Absolutely, but you know, to say to a parent that we think your child has some mental health issues in certain communities, that’s taboo. Parents don’t want to acknowledge that, that support is needed. We have to have a conversation in our communities around the support that’s needed for children beyond the school day.
Brad Means: Is there a stereotypical, Sheriff Williams, Sheriff Alfonzo Williams of Burke County, for those of you just joining us for this edition. Maybe you didn’t see the last one. Used to be the Board of Education Police Chief of Richmond County, is there a stereotypical student who fits the profile of somebody whose going to do bad things or does it kind of go across all socioeconomic lines?
Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: I think it crosses all socioeconomic lines. We just got to look at behavior, not at a particular student. If a student who may be withdrawn or a student who may be filing complaints about being bullied, a student who may have some writing or some drawing that indicates that they might be in trouble and some of those behaviors community behaviors, and typically almost all of these mass shooting incidences, you always have these kids who say, “He said it.” Or they know who the student is. They just didn’t take it serious. So it’s what I said earlier, we’ve got to have a vigilant student, staff, and faculty that’s going to tell us who it is and what could potentially happen. We’ve got to report behaviors. We’ve got to talk about what’s going on. We’ve got to have a multi disciplinary approach to resolving these issues and it takes the entire community both professionally and personally to prevent this.
Brad Means: Can parents and caregivers of kindergartners, or 1st, 2nd, 3rd graders, should they listen to what you’re saying right now? Or are you mainly talking about those in charge of older kids?
Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: We’re talking about parents, teachers, grandparents, community persons, doctors, whoever, everybody needs to listen to what we’re saying here and everybody needs to get involved. Everybody needs to come to the table. Often times in these mass shooting incidences, it’s been televised and people just ignored the warning signs.
Brad Means: Letitie Clark’s son, Ryan, they’re both well known in this community, not only because of Ryan’s time at Lakeside High School where he was a rising star for sure, but for tragic reasons, what happened to Ryan at Virginia Tech in 2007 when he was part of the massacre that happened there. Ms. Clark I welcome you back and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your son was a psychology major. Did he ever talk to you and say, “Mom there are some weird people up here at college.” Or “Mom, some things are scaring me.”
Letitie Clark: No he actually didn’t. Ryan loved Virginia Tech, Ryan loved people. He took people as they were. He was always willing to help. He volunteered, hence we have the Ryan Clark Scholarship and Community Service Award. We were raised to just love people as they are, but hence that, we are a community that we need to stay vigilant. We need to stay open minded and we need to report things that we hear and we just take as every day teasing and saying because everyone here is saying, “You’ve heard it. You’ve seen it, someone knows it.” but we think, “Oh, they’re just kidding. That kid stays by themselves, but there’s always something.” We need to take the case of mental illness seriously and take the stigma of getting help away from it. Because it’s not just helping that one person we have to help the family who mentally ill. Because there is such a stigma about getting the help that we need and there is no crime in getting help when you need it.
Brad Means: Steven Fishman you said something during our last segment, well it was the break after the last segment. Since Steven Fishman owns Sidney’s Department Store downtown, they sell uniforms, they sell guns. The sale of guns is why you’re here. You were talking about how stringent you can be when it comes to selling a firearm, but you have no control over other folks who sell firearms, tell me more about that.
Steven Fishman: Well you have probably 90 pawn shops in the Augusta area and as far as most of them are concerned, they’re just vendors. They have the ability to make a sale, a legal sale. They make the sale. I can’t judge what that particular shop owner uses for his Lisbeth test. I can only do what I can in my shop. I say this all the time, murder is against the law. The person who goes to a gun free zone where he knows there will be guns to oppose him with a firearm is shooting ducks in a pond. He is the person without the intestinal fortitude to go up against someone who is armed. He’s shooting people who are unarmed. Just because he’s insane doesn’t mean that he’s stupid.
Brad Means: When does Ms. Clark, mention bullying, Dr. Vitacco and teasing and things that we might just brush off as typical childhood behavior. What should we as parents and caregivers look out for as something that crosses the line? That shows that either our child is troubled or the person coming at them is?
Dr. Michael Vitacco: I think the key there is any type of behaviors that sort of leave the child on the zone by himself to the fact where that child feels unable to reach out to other children, they’re isolated, they’re alienated. Often what happens then is these children start to feel angry and that can often lead to ways that extract revenge and do different things. I think the other thing that Ms. Clark pointed out that is central is that we need to get parents involved even of some of these troubled kids. Because the kids in Florida knew. This gentleman wasn’t even allowed on campus with a backpack. He was viewed as a threat. The individual in the Newton, Connecticut shootings. He was basically in a basement playing first shooter games all day and had very little interaction with other people and was bullied and alienated all his life. There was clear warning signs in each of these cases that if the right steps had been taken, there’s a possibility, I can’t say with certainty, that maybe they could have been prevented.
Brad Means: Dr. Angela Pringle Superintendent of Richmond County Schools. What’s the best way for those parents to get in touch to say, “I want to get involved. I want to be an advocate for a safer school system.” Who’s their first call go to?
Dr. Angela Pringle: Their school principal, the school principal. Every principal wants an involved parent, a parent whose going to support children and that’s the first person that they need to see.
Brad Means: Judge Doug Flanagan, Juvenile Court Judge, If we are able to spot these children early and these problems early, what can you do as a member of the legal system to help other than lock the offender up?
Judge Doug Flanagan: We can do a lot, locking up is the last option. If they come to juvenile court under the laws we have here in Georgia, we can make the parents take them to counseling. We can make the parents go to counseling. We can give the children mental health care whether the parents like it or not. You know a lot of times people come to the juvenile court when a child needs a transfusion and the parent refuses. We do those cases too.
Brad Means: Do you really?
Judge Doug Flanagan: Yes we do.
Brad Means: People have no idea.
Judge Doug Flanagan: It’s what the doctor said earlier. We get a lot more child abuse and child molestation cases in the last 20, 30 years because the reporters are protected. They don’t have liability. If you go see a doctor and you report something that the child has been sexually molested by someone else, the doctors don’t have to worry about getting sued, because they’re protected. So mandated reporting we have right now for sex offenses, why not have them for these kind of offenses where health care professionals can make a report to be looked into by the authorities but they have no liability. The legislature could pass those kind of bills.
Brad Means: How many doctors have you heard from other than today with Dr. Vittaco who said, “he’d roll the dice and turn in a potential offender, despite what he’s legally bound to do.” I bet most doctors aren’t like that. They’re too scared.
Judge Doug Flanagan: Some could be, I don’t know about doctors but I can tell you right now that real professionals are going to look out for the children and they’re going to do what they think is right and they’re going to report it.
Brad Means: What happens if your child breaks the law and encounters say Sheriff Alfonzo Williams down in Burke County, Georgia? What happens to them is that the end of the line? Is life over? One of the topics we’re going to continue to tackle on this special edition of “The Means Report” talking about all things guns and shootings and violence and trying to turn it all around. We’ll be right back.
Brad Means: We welcome you back to this special edition of “The Means Report” focusing on ways we can make our kids and our community smarter and safer. Sheriff Alfonzo Williams of Burke County Georgia used to be the Police Chief of the Richmond County Board of Education Police Force. Sheriff Williams, what about when a child breaks the law and comes to you? Should we as a family view that as the end of the line? Judge Flanagan talked about how his court can help fix kids and get them on the right track. What about law enforcement?
Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: We’re there to do the same thing. Because they get to see the judge, they get to see us. It’s our job. That’s why they’re called school resources officers. They’re supposed to have resources to help children. So we’re not trying to criminalize children. We’re trying to help get them restored and back to order and living a normal life. The whole juvenile justice system is predicated upon rehabilitation. Law enforcement understands that and we want to help in that endeavor.
Brad Means: Dr. Pringle, this definitely ties into what you do in our school system. A lot of kids just as when you think about a courtroom or a jail, when you think about the alternative school, you may think, “that’s the end. It’s over, there’s no turning back.” How can you, if you can, turn a child around who’s gone as far as alternative school and get them back mainstream?
Dr. Angela Pringle: Some of our alternative schools students become our best students. You never give up on children. You always try to find the next resource to help children. My dream would be to have those resources available prior to having them go through the juvenile court system, prior to them getting in trouble with law enforcement. That would be my dream world, is to have children with the resources they need because unfortunately families don’t all come alike and they don’t all come with the same support systems and we pretty much know what children need, but we just don’t have the funds and access often times before they get in trouble.
Brad Means: Forensic psychologist, Dr. Michael Vitacco. Are we talking about though the last episode and a half of “The Means Report” a gun problem or a mental health problem in our country?
Dr. Michael Vitacco: I think the answer is “yes.” One of the things you hear from both sides of the aisle, is, “it’s people that kill people. Guns don’t kill people.” I was reading something the other day that I thought was very much on point. It’s certain people with guns that kill people.
Brad Means: What’s the profile?
Dr. Michael Vitacco: Well, there’s not one, besides being male seems to be the primary thing, but one of these we see often in the cases, I mentioned this earlier on the program, is these situations, there’s been multiple problems before. Many of these folks have been identified before, sometimes even mental health treatment has been tried before and failed. In the courts, in a couple of cases including Virginia Tech, didn’t act strongly enough to stop some of these individuals. So I think that is one of the keys, is early intervention, early identification, and when there are these significant problems people are seeing, to get everybody on board with helping these individuals.
Brad Means: At the risk of sounding like an insensitive adult, should you trust your gut? Because a lot of people watching us would say, “I could tell when a kid’s not normal. I can tell that one’s just not right.” and report it or is that overreaching?
Dr. Michael Vitacco: I think that might be overreaching. There is a lot of atypical people all over the place. But what you have to look for is some of these maybe atypical behaviors, where there’s threats being made. What the research has shown is people who idolize schools shooters, they’re also very at risk, especially after Columbine. Those two individuals in some circles were highly revered. I think those are some of the risk factors we really need to be cognizant of when we start looking for a so called “profile” and looking at where people might be most at risk for committing these acts.
Brad Means: Are we doing as much as we can Ms. Clark when it comes to gun control and limiting access to guns? You said our communities have become more aware since 2007 when we lost Ryan. What about on the gun control side?
Letitie Clark: I think we have a long way to go. I think we need a lot of work. I think we have a long way to go.
Brad Means: Steven Fishman, would you accept more restrictions, more limits, would you lose customers and not sweat it because they’re weren’t old enough under new laws?
Steven Fishman: Well, you know it’s kind of difficult to tell a young marine whose 17 years old and served a tour in Iraq that he’s not mentally fit or mature enough to have a hunting rifle. We live in a free society where people have the right to bear and own firearms. Should everyone own them? Absolutely not, absolutely not. Mental issues come to bare constantly. The biggest problem that I see with this latest round of shootings is they seem to be copy cats. The doctor talked about Columbine, but if you looked at the picture of the Parkland shooter and look at the picture of the shooter of the church in Charleston, South Carolina and then go back to Columbine and look at the profile picture of those people they have tried to emulate each other, they’re copy cats. They have their moment of fame, even if it’s infamy.
Brad Means: Sheriff Williams, is there any reason in the world for anyone to own an assault rifle, why or why not?
Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: I think we have a Second Amendment right to bear arms. I don’t think the Second Amendment goes towards a specific type of arm. We typically don’t use assault style weapons to protect our families and our homes and we certainly don’t use them to hunt. I don’t know what part they play, other than it’s a sport, or like possessing them. I’m a Second Amendment advocate. I’ve taught constitutional law for a number of years. I’m not so sure that we have a right to have an assault rifle. I don’t know what part they play and what we do other than sport.
Brad Means: I didn’t want to let your time, Dr. Pringle on “The Means Report” get away from me without asking you, we’re recording this obviously, two parts of it and it was recorded on the day of the National Student Walkout, when they were going to honor the Parkland Florida victims. How did it go in Richmond County?
Dr. Angela Pringle: Very peaceful, very emotional, and very peaceful.
Brad Means: How did they demonstrate their feelings? Did they gather in a central place?
Dr. Angela Pringle: Yes, some students remained in class and chose to write letters and cards of condolences. Some students, 9,000 of our students participated in the walk out. They did a roll call of the 17 individuals who were killed in Parkland. Some had silent prayer, moments of silence. They chose to individualize their recognition of the tragedy in Florida.
Brad Means: About 90 seconds left, I’ll try to finish with you two gentlemen. Dr. Vitacco, first of all how hard or easy is it to turn somebody around if you think they’re on the brink of doing the unthinkable? And how much therapy does it take?
Dr. Michael Vitacco: I mean, these cases, we don’t know. Because often by the time we see them, it’s too late. But certainly I think we would like to give it a try. Yet, we would still need more resources to make that happen.
Brad Means: You’ve seen success stories Doug Flanagan in your courtroom and in your life, but big picture, how are you ever happy? You see people constantly in dark places. How can you even smile?
Judge Doug Flanagan: I can smile and I smile more if everybody locks up the guns so children can’t get them to include young adults. If you got a child with you who is 18, 20 years old and you know they have issues, the firearms ought to be in a gun safe, under lock and key where that child or young adult can not get them and use them on somebody else. Old adults and adults need to look out for children and even as a parent we need to look out for our young adults.
Brad Means: You started this discussion and you’ll end this discussion Ms. Clark, how do we honor Ryan’s legacy? Just give a ton of money to the scholarship fund?
Letitie Clark: That would help, absolutely that would help to the Ryan Clark Scholarship and Community Service Award. Please do give to that but also give to your community. Love one another and know that every time you walk out your door, be safe.
Brad Means: God bless you Letita Clark, thank you for being here and thank you to our panel. We’ll wrap up this special edition of “The Means Report” in just a moment, stay with us.
Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report” back to back episodes on mass shootings and guns and where we should go from here. I want to thank our experts and I want to thank you for your continued input on “The Means Report.”
It’s easy to help shape future editions. All you have to do is let us know what you think and who you’d like to see interviewed on our social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are always ready for your comments. “TheMeansReport” is our address, all one word. You can also email our Executive Producer and Director Marlena Wilson, there is her address. There is my address and you can go to our main website WJBF.com and watch all of our previous episodes.
So what is our next move to make this world and this community a happier and safer place for people of all ages? Young and old deserve that, don’t they? Well I think Ms. Clark summed it up best at the end of our broadcast. She lost her son to such violence at Virginia Tech a few short years ago. Ms. Clarke succinctly said, “We need more love. We need more kindness.” I submit to you, those are wonderful places to start. For Levi, Marlana, and the entire “Means Report” family, Take care.