Charges Against SF Boy Signal Break in SystemPosted by Tshaka Barrows on March 2nd, 2010
A recent incident in San Francisco, coupled with other cases across the country of students being arrested in schools, demonstrate a serious lapse in our juvenile justice system and the way that we overreact to youth misbehavior.
In this particular situation, a 13-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of punching a classmate and stealing 46 cents during an after-school program. For this act, the boy was charged with felony robbery, extortion and assault – and faces deportation plus a bench warrant that will be issued if he fails to attend a March 8 hearing in San Francisco that is 3 days after he and his mother are deported back to Australia.
The news coverage has highlighted the issues of immigration, deportation and the negative impacts that those policies can have on families. It has focused primarily on a politically charged aspect of the incident, the deportation of the undocumented boy and his mother to Australia as a result of his felony charge. At issue in most local coverage is San Francisco’s much debated sanctuary policy, and “whether officials should shield undocumented youths from deportation when they are suspected of a felony crime.”
However, what is missing is one of the most alarming aspects of this particular incident – the charges leveled against the boy. The charges reported are completely unjust given the alleged act, and illustrate the widespread issue in juvenile justice of ramped up charges against young people whose behavior is typical of adolescents their age. In New York recently, a 12-year-old Latino girl was arrested for doodling on her desk. In Florida, an 11-year-old girl was arrested at her school for a scuffle at a bus stop with a classmate three days prior.
According to media reports in San Francisco, the parents of the sixth grader who the 13-year-old boy had bullied had filed a police report. The 13-year-old was arrested after he and his parents spoke to the police officer.
“I think my son was in shock, as I was, “ his stepfather, Charles Washington said in a press conference. “What he actually did, and what the actual charges are, they are universes apart. Back when I was in school, at worst, a bully was sent home for the day, creating problems for them at home, when they explain to their parents why they’ve been sent home.”
It is shocking and puzzling that such charges would be leveled against a 13-year-old boy who allegedly took 46 cents from another boy after punching him - basically acting as a bully. Why would a rational adult level such serious charges at a boy who was in a schoolyard fight? What happened to conflict resolution?
The boy’s stepfather said his stepson was held for a week at Juvenile Hall. “We did not understand why this was happening,” Washington, who is a bus driver, said at the press conference. “Kids on my bus get on and do way worse things than he actually did, and the police usually make their presence known, but there is no worry about going to Juvenile Hall.”
Is anyone in the public protected by charging this youth with such felonies? To me this is yet another example of our broken justice system and of prosecutors abusing their power by targeting youth.
In this case and many others across the country, no one is held accountable for their pivotal role in changing the outcome of a youth’s childhood.
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