No More Second Chances for Lionel Tate, by Dutch Martin

It goes without saying that 19-year-old Lionel Tate was dealt a bad hand in life.

In 1999, at the age of 12, Tate became the youngest person in modern American history to be sentenced to life in prison. It was for the beating death of six-year-old playmate Tiffany Eunick. After he served three years in a Florida juvenile prison, however, Tate’s conviction was thrown out on a technicality. He then plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to a year of house arrest, ten years probation, counseling and 1,000 hours of community service.

Lionel Tate was given a second chance.

In May of 2005, Tate violated his probation. He was arrested and charged with robbing a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint (as well as being caught by police with a knife in his pocket). According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Judge Joel Lazarus of the Broward County Circuit Court told Tate during his sentencing on May 18, 2006 that, “In plain English,… you’ve run out of second chances.”

Judge Lazarus then sentenced Tate to 30 years in prison.

I have been observing and writing about the Tate case for some time. In 2004, I criticized the media for ignoring the 800-lb gorilla in the young man’s life. It is something that unfortunately plagues the lives of many of our nation’s troubled youth: fatherlessness.

According to the scant news coverage I could find at the time, Lionel Tate’s father – John – never played much of a role in his son’s life after his divorce from Tate’s mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate.

The following comment comes from my previous column, and it perfectly expresses my point about the problem of fatherless families:

This case involves a single-parent household, a troubled boy and the reality that the environment in which Lionel Tate was raised was undoubtedly a factor in how he came about bringing fatal harm to Tiffany Eunick. And this is not an isolated case, albeit perhaps the most extreme example. John Tate’s “intermittent presence in his son’s life” [according to one news source] is arguably the most important element in the Lionel Tate story, and I find it infuriating that the press has not zeroed in on it.

I also reported how juvenile justice experts warned that Tate never should have been released from juvenile prison and should have received professional help long ago, given his emotionally unstable condition.

At the very least, the sad saga of Lionel Tate offers three valuable lessons:

  • Lionel Tate’s family failed him. No matter how you slice it, this young man’s parents – divorced or not – neglected their primary responsibility to ensure that he grew into a decent, law-abiding citizen. To say that the way he turned out is a poor reflection on them is an understatement. In fact, if it were up to me, Lionel, John and Kathleen would be sharing the same prison cell.
  • The local black “leadership” failed him. I previously took the media-hogging black community activists/hypocrites to task for simply mugging in front of the TV cameras with their public “pledge” to help Tate turn his life around after his release from juvenile prison. Not surprisingly, they left this troubled kid high and dry after the cameras stopped rolling. They got their 15 minutes of notoriety out of the Tate story and then promptly left young Lionel in the dust while he sank into even more trouble.
  • Most importantly, Lionel Tate failed himself. His parents’ arguably criminal neglect and profiteering community activists notwithstanding, Lionel Tate let himself down in the final analysis. He was given a second opportunity to rebuild his life in the aftermath of a horrible incident that left an innocent six-year-old girl dead. Tiffany Eunick got no second chance. Lionel Tate did, and he blew it.

Barring any last-minute appeals or a change of heart from the judge, young Mr. Tate is going to have to wait 30 years for his third chance to come around.

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Darryn “Dutch” Martin is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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