We now must find our way – Beside The Point

Fort Madison took a punch in the face Wednesday.

And for someone who knows what it’s like to get punched in the face, it’s a rare occasion to just stand there and take it.

Not only did we suffer the second murder in our community in less than a month, but this one essentially claimed the life of two. One tragically to a gun shot, and the other will, almost as tragically, likely spend a good chunk of the rest of his life in prison.

Both were youth in our community.

According to reports and charges from the incident, 17-year-old Dimari Meredith allegedly shot and killed 15-year-old Deeunta Ceaser at Ceaser’s grandmother’s house on the west side of town. The shot rang quickly across the census of Fort Madison HIgh School and teachers, coaches, and administrators prepared for a day full of engaging with our children to deal with the tragedy.

Other media outlets descended on Fort Madison High School on Thursday, but we ran the story from the local police perspective and stayed at arm’s length from the school administrators. It would probably have added something to the story, but our sense of the despair of yet another lost student moved us to leave them to the students that needed them more than the readership.

So you get me on a Sunday morning with a furrowed brow and a feeling that this wasn’t just a bad decision enveloped in unfortunate circumstances. It was that. But we can’t help but think the bigger issue however is a failing of a community and a society et. al.

Meredith, and he is innocent until proven guilty, but if eventually convicted wasn’t born wanting to do something like this. In 17 years of experiences and choices he was moved to do this.

As a community of just over 9,000 people we must start thinking now, even though it is far too late for Ceaser and Meredith, why this type of a boil over takes place.

What are we missing, or just turning a deaf ear and a blind eye away from?

I can’t help but think we all shoulder some of this blame. Maybe we’re too focused on broadband expansion, skills gaps, unemployment, building marinas and trails, going to football games, and writing editorials, to see what’s really happening. But I don’t think so.

We have to, as Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said, have an eye toward the future. But we can’t be ignorant of the present.

Are we listening enough to our children, realizing the pressures of their daily lives, and doing all we can to bring forces to bear on those issues? Apparently not.

The death of that beautiful young boy should shake us all. Not scare us from building a new 9-hole disc golf course at Ivanhoe, just a few blocks from the shooting and where another shooting took place this spring. Or pickleball courts at Victory Park, or running on trails throughout the day.

The recent violence should tell us that we must keep moving forward with those projects to enhance the quality of life that tends to keep issues like this at bay.

But we also must engage with our children more, and right now it’s hard to see just what that looks like. I keep going back to the analogy that the pandemic opened our eyes to how poor our Internet access was locally. There was talk about it before COVID came, but it really showed us we needed something more. The issue then became part of nearly all economic development conversations, and now we’re making real strides to improve that access in the very near future.

But it happened because we realized it was failing so many. It’s not that much different with this recent violence. There has to be a realization here as well that we’re just not sniffing it out.

A story broke the same day that two school aged kids tracked down a Spanish teacher in Fairfield, attacked her and left her for dead.

Some people just want to see the world burn. We have that. We’ll always have that. But crimes like these have to make us look in our collective mirrors and start conversations with each other about where the change comes about.

Brianna Kramer-Riesberg is working under a grant at Lee County Health Department to peel back the layers of some of these issues. We’re not liking what we’re finding, and some in all fairness, have been looking for a lot longer than others. Maybe there’s something here that requires a stronger effort, with more people and even greater collaboration.

What that looks like can only be brought into focus with heavy conversations, resources, and a community movement.

We have students killing students, and kids killing a teacher. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more critical time for a community to examine a problem, define an approach, and execute a plan.

We have to start listening to our children… and become their better angels.

My heart is already broken, but it bled heavier Thursday as I put the two pictures of Meredith and Ceaser next to each other on my computer screen. These two were babies in our hands.

I don’t know all the details of this crime. Honestly, I didn’t even want to know. I knew enough. Several hundred students at FMHS may know the details or at least have played this trial out on social media already.

What I do know is we are a community of one. We must now find our way – to remain a community of one.

Chuck Vandenberg is the editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at editor@pencitycurrent.com

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