Tuscaloosa is still reeling in the wake of violence around the city, but it’s also reeling at the realization that said violence was caused by people who aren’t even old enough to drink alcohol.

Last week, three young men were arrested on capital murder charges. None of them are old enough to buy a beer at a bar. Two of them aren’t even old enough to vote.

Javaris Delshon Hughes, 16, and Yqwain Malik Hawkins, 17, were charged with capital murder in the robbery and death of Christopher Fountain at Woodlawn Manor Apartments.

Both teens have previously faced violent crimes charges as adults.

Luther Bernard Watkins, 20, is facing a capital murder charge in the death of Tuscaloosa Police Officer Dornell Cousette.

Today, city leaders are wondering how they can stem the tide of violence among Tuscaloosa’s teens.

“It’s tragic,” said Tuscaloosa District Attorney Hays Webb. “You know, we always wish for the best for our youth. And what this says is that there is a whole lot of bad going on in our community. It’s sad for them. It’s sad for their families. It’s sad for all of us, and sad for all of the people and families they victimized.”

Tuscaloosa Police Lt. Teena Richardson agreed.

“It is very awful,” she said. “It makes you think what changes in society have happened to make people do this. It is not a law enforcement problem. A lot of it has to do with the environment they are growing up in.”

These killings bring up a big question: How do we keep this from happening? Webb and Richardson said they wish they had an answer, but there are efforts within both the police department and the city itself to help teens who are falling through the cracks.

“A couple of years ago the Tuscaloosa Police Department started a number of mentoring programs where we try to form an attachment or a relationship with someone in the community,” Richardson said.

Those programs are designed so the police department can reach out to children and teens and help make a difference in their lives.

Webb said the juvenile detention facility in Tuscaloosa may be getting a halfway house, offering teens a place to stay where they can be surrounded by mentors and good people who encourage those teens to succeed.

Although programs like those have their successes, they don’t save everyone. Regardless of age, Webb said he wants violent criminals off Tuscaloosa’s streets as soon as possible.

I think it’s also important that we as a system and a judicial system, a criminal justice system are mindful of the dangers that these youth can pose to us, to the community, to our welfare, to our safety if there are not significant consequences for those offenders when they’re young as well.

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