Whenever I write a post on my concern of the frequency of reading articles of teens being charged as adults, especially here in Delaware County, I’ve come to expect to be met with a lot of opposition. I read the blog and Facebook comments with an open mind with the hope of getting a better understanding how and why so many teens get charged as adults.
…fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community; make us blind and irrational…
The headline of this post and the above quote comes from a book recommended by a blog reader who sees how I’m struggling to understand this issue. Here’s what she wrote to me in a Facebook comment: Read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. You’ll see how young they go. Sad, sad.
It’s rare that someone recommends a book for me to read, so I jumped right on “Just Mercy”. After reading this great book, I’m convinced that my hunches are correct. This process of charging teens as adults is systemic, intentional, and in many cases unconstitutional.
“Just Mercy” was written by a black attorney who grew up in rural Milton, Delaware, earned a Harvard law degree, and went to work in Alabama to get people off of death row. The core of the book follows the case of a man who was wrongly convicted for murder in a case that seems like it couldn’t have taken place in the 1990s – the 1890s seemed more likely.
After a few chapters, I began to understand why she recommended the book, as attorney Bryan Stevenson discusses cases of teens he represented who were tried as adults and on death row or sentenced to life in prison. He explains the legal incongruities that helped me understand why the legal systems behaves the way they do.
To my shock and surprise, Stevenson mentions Chester, PA by name for a case he’s fighting for a teen girl from here who was sentenced to life in prison.
The details of the cases of these young people vindicate my instincts that something just ain’t right when we charge and punish these kids as adults. Even worse, the community not only refuses to come to these young folks rescue, we are convinced it’s the punishment they deserve.
We’ve become so callous to seeing kids charged as adults that it doesn’t even bother most people that the headlines brag about it as if they know that’s what you want to read… “Teen charged as adult in Chester home invasion”. The paper wants you to know, without you ever reading the article, that the teen was charged as an adult, like that’s the most important takeaway.
If you bother to read the article, you’ll find no one was killed, hospitalized, and nothing was stolen. The article mentioned ‘pistol whipped’ which conjures an image of someone being hit in the head repeatedly and sustaining bloodied, severe cuts and bruises, or worse. You have to read the near end to find…The boyfriend suffered a small laceration behind his right ear but refused medical treatment.
I’ll never try to convince anyone that charging teens as adults is wrong. I’m simply voicing my disgust at the practice and I’m appreciative of the book “Just Mercy” because it’s convinced me that my hunches are based on more than my compassion and common sense.
When I challenged my first boss out of college on something work related, he’d say… “Don’t confuse me with logic, I’ve made up my mind.”
That statement has stuck with me all my adult life and I’ve learned to accept the opinions of others knowing that some folks just won’t bend despite all the evidence to support another way of looking at things.
In the case of charging teens as adults, you can disagree with me all you want, but I’m on the team of attorney Bryan Stevenson.
Read a short paper by Bryan Stevenson if you want to learn more about the plight of teens charged as adults. Click Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison.