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Dig deeper for answers to chaos at Florida State Fair

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Published Feb. 15, 2014

Show his smiling photo.

Show the trophies he won playing football for the Brandon Ravens.

Show the sterling report cards he received as a student at St. Stephen Catholic School.

Show the anguish of the parents as they grasp for answers and only come up with more questions.

Show everything left in the wake of Andrew Joseph III's death.

Show it all to the kids who ignited a wild rampage at the Florida State Fair on Feb. 7, and then ask them why they chose to embark on a senseless, chaotic, riotous spree that played a factor in Joseph's death.

After being ejected from the midway by sheriff's deputies struggling to restore order, Joseph died trying to cross Interstate 4. We may never know the exact chain of events that led to that fatal decision, but his friends believe Joseph, a black teen in the same location as black teens terrorizing the fair, may have been an innocent bystander who got caught in the middle of a foolish spree of misbehavior.

If we accept that probability — that a young man preparing to be confirmed at St. Stephen Catholic Church took no part in the criminal behavior of others — then we have to turn over every stone.

And while we don't lay all the blame on the offending juveniles, we start with them.

Let's be honest: Without the lack of regard they displayed for their own lives, the sheriff isn't seeking the help of black leaders; the fair and school district aren't reviewing things; and a family isn't grieving.

Yes, they hold no regard for their own lives. You may argue that they hold no regard for the property of others or common decency or the law, but at the root of these transgressions lies a hopelessness. They don't care if they get in trouble; they don't care if they get thrown out of the fair.

But they need to care. They need to hear from the hard-working vendors who lost business and the deputies who feared for their lives.

Most of all, they need to realize their actions victimize everyone who looks like them and adds to a toxic stereotype that engulfs innocents.

But we can't pretend to have all the answers or even any of the answers. We can't try to change their behavior without understanding what drives them to be so reckless. So we ask, "What happened to just having fun at the fair?"

Then we examine all the other factors. The trend at the fair revolves around Student Day, the day kids in most Hillsborough schools get free passes and the day the misbehavior has plagued the fair.

Fair officials already said they will limit entry with free student tickets to before 7 p.m. and allow free entry with student tickets after 7 p.m. only to students with an adult.

Good move, but is it possible that the kids who end up finding trouble do so because they get inside the gates but lack money for food or rides?

Allowing kids in who simply stand around and watch others eat and have fun can result in trouble. It's not an excuse, just a reality.

Maybe they should charge students entry but give a free food voucher. Maybe students who can't afford the midway armbands could earn them by helping to prepare for the fair.

Another idea? Maybe the school district should tie ticket distribution to conduct. Earned admission will be more treasured.

Finally, the Sheriff's Office needs to consider holding offenders until parents arrive. They're not baby-sitters, but casting troublemakers into the night can lead to unintended consequences.

In the end, let's explore every solution. Let's do it for Andrew.

That's all I'm saying.