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Jackson is sending teens bad message

Jesse Jackson led a protest in Illinois this week that is sending the wrong message to six teenagers in particular and a generation in general.

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Jesse Jackson led a protest in Illinois this week that is sending the wrong message to six teenagers in particular and a generation in general.

Jackson is questioning the two-year (later reduced to one-year) expulsions of six Decatur teens who were involved in a brawl at a high school football game. Tuesday, he and others were arrested during a march on the school in protest of the sentence. Jackson calls the punishment unfair.

But in Jackson’s eagerness to make the treatment of the students "fair" he is missing the point behind the punishment. These students were part of a brawl in the stands. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but someone easily could have been. High school bleachers are not the sturdiest structures in the world.

And what about those who were not involved in the scuffle? Do they not have the right to attend a high school football game without fear of being caught in the middle of an attack?

But even if you overlook the injury factor, there is more reason than ever to deal with such an infraction severely. Parents, newspapers and community members are constantly talking about making our schools safe. They worry about the violence that children are exposed to and the means they choose to work out their problems.

No, there were no guns or knives here, but this is just the kind of explosive situation that could turn into a tragedy if teenagers think they are going to get away with a slap on the wrist.

Violence is not just the presence of weapons. It is an attitude – a decision to react with fists up at any confrontation. And that kind of short fuse is what helps create students who act in an extreme manner to any conflict – and allow their behavior to escalate until they are out of control completely and a danger to themselves and others.

If students know they will pay dearly if they are caught putting themselves or others in danger, they might think before throwing a punch or taking a knife to school.

If they know they can manipulate a few adults into turning a punishment into a persecution, they might be a little bolder the next time.

The children who follow the rules deserve nothing less than a safe place to learn and a fun evening at their school’s game.