Following is my column for this week's Newton County News:
It won’t be long before the national group that has been supporting Thomas Gregory White begin ripping into the Missouri Supreme Court for its decision to allow Jasper County officials to try White as an adult.
White, you may recall, was 13 years old and a seventh grader at Memorial Middle School in Joplin when he brought an assault rifle into the school, fired a shot into the ceiling and then pointed the weapon at Principal Steve Gilbreth and tried to pull the trigger, according to police accounts. Fortunately, the weapon jammed.
Since that day in October 2006, White, who is now 15, has been sitting in the Jasper County Jail awaiting trial on five charges- two counts of assault and single counts of unlawful use of a weapon, armed criminal action, and attempted escape.
A Jasper County Circuit Court judge ruled White’s trial should take place in adult court and that decision has brought out the national groups that believe all children should be left behind…that is, not tried for any crime in the adult system.
Front and center among White’s proponents has been Justice for Juveniles, an organization that is consistent with its views. You do have to give them credit for that. Not only does it support Thomas Gregory White, whom fate and a jammed weapon prevented from becoming a murderer, according to police accounts, but it also backs the cause of Charles “Andy” Williams, the teenage killer who murdered two at Santee High School in California.
The organization has ripped the Missouri judicial system over and over, not allowing for any point of view that differs from its own. White has been mistreated, he was too young to understand what he was doing, he was bullied at Memorial and teachers and administrators ignored the problem, they allege, so what else was he going to do?
Over and over, Justice for Juveniles members have lamented White’s lack of an education as he awaits trial…though it has been his lawyers who have delayed the process in their ultimately futile attempt to have the case remanded to juvenile court. Nowhere do they mention that despite the fact that White has been in jail for one year and five months, his lawyers did not request a tutor for their client until earlier this month…and Jasper County Circuit Court Judge David Mouton, who has been depicted as a villain by Justice for Juveniles, almost immediately granted the motion.
While I commend Justice for Juveniles for caring about teenagers like Thomas Gregory White and Charles Williams, I appreciate the fact that others are looking out for the Joplin teenagers who do not solve their problems by bringing guns to school…the same students who might well have become victims.
I teach in a Joplin middle school, though not the one that was terrorized by Thomas Gregory White. I remember the fear that students at South Middle School had the day White took his weapon to Memorial. I cannot even imagine what it was like to be at Memorial during those terrifying moments.
On their website, the members of Juveniles for Justice wrote that I had no business being a teacher since my revulsion at what Thomas White did showed that I did not care about children.
On the contrary, I care enough about children that I do not want their lives to be scarred by someone who knew full well, despite his tender age, that you do not bring a gun to a school and open fire.
And a message to Justice for Juveniles: Don’t place the blame on bullies, uncaring teachers, unsympathetic principals, or the evil Jasper County court system for the problems that face Thomas Gregory White.
He was the one with the gun.