Tuesday, October 23, 2007

America Eats Its Young

As part of our “get tough” on crime initiatives, the US imprisons more people, gives the death penalty to children, and gives children life without parole. Remember this was designed to stem the new diabolical child criminals we were going to be seeing following the crack and meth epidemics. These kids were supposed to be so violent and so spiritually flawed that prison for life and the death penalty were the only solutions for them. I have never understood why the US continues to support this “lock em up” and throw away the key mentality when none of the so-called crises ever manifest themselves. Where are these ultra-violent juveniles who are suppose to be stalking our streets and invading our homes?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.[1]

Many studies suggest that juveniles are not more violent, the statistics are being driven by juveniles having more access to guns, which is driving the rise in the statistics. Because so many more of our youth are carrying guns, these youths are committing more violent acts, but the number of violent youths has not substantially increased. I remember there was a young man in Chicago who made magazine covers and newspapers all over the country, this young man became the face of the new pre-teen killers. His name was Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, he was the 11 year old who was accused of killing a fourteen year old girl in a gang shooting cross-fire mishap. This child was going to usher in the new wave of violence perpetrated by these pre-teen psychopaths.

Once again playing to the fears and prejudices of the population, politicians were able to push through legislation in many states allowing for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for children as young as 13. If you allow crime to fester in neighborhoods by providing insufficient resources and an attitude of indifference towards the victims, naturally there will be frustration and a call to get tough on these vicious children. It will always be easier to deal with the aftermath of crime than to deal with the systemic issues that create it. The fact that there are way too many guns in America and it is too easy for kids to get them, the fact that too many of our children are being allowed to become invisible and slip through the cracks of our social service nets, or the fact that too many of the parents of these children are either incapable or unable to provide the emotional, physical, or financial support to sustain these kids.

Are we willing to say to children that their lives are over at 13? Are we a nation that will fight for a child only up until the time it is born? As more and more of our children are becoming at-risk for not only being victims, but also for being perpetrators are we willing to marshal the necessary forces and resources to rescue them or will we continue to turn a blind eye to those least able to protect themselves. Are there some children who have been so damaged by their life’s circumstances to be beyond redemption? Maybe, but we owe it to our children to provide them with every chance to become rehabilitated. Remember, no one is born a cold-blooded killer. Each child comes into this world an empty vessel, we want to pollute the vessel and then cast it aside to rot in some dudgeon so we don’t have to admire our handiwork. At least the rest of the world is willing to try to repair the damage society has done to its most vulnerable members, we unfortunately do not share that ideal.

Every child destroyed by our society is an indictment against all of us. Yet in the best of situations we dump them off at malls with little or no supervision or at worst we leave them to raise themselves while we pursue our own selfish pleasures of drug and alcohol abuse. We expect them to behave like little robots and if they don’t we pump them full of psychotropic drugs to regulate their moods. We promote youth in our culture as a trait to be valued and envied, yet we sacrifice our children so we can continue to feed the machine that is American culture. Yes, America eats its young through inattentiveness, selfishness, and moral deficiency.

In its sentencing of juveniles, as in many other areas, the legal system in the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States is an island in the sea of international law.

In defending American policy in this area in 2006, the State Department told the United Nations that sentencing is usually a matter of state law. “As a general matter,” the department added, juvenile offenders serving life-without-parole terms “were hardened criminals who had committed gravely serious crimes.”[2]

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/us/17teenage.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/us/17teenage.html

No comments:

HTML stat tracker