Below is a letter written to Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos concerning the decision to charge a 14-year-old as an adult. You can also write or call Ms Vekos at email@example.com or 802-388-7931. Also, contact your state representatives and tell them that we should never charge a minor as an adult.
Children are, in every sense of the word, the most powerless citizens of our communities. They cannot vote, they cannot exert any legal control over their lives, and one of the signs of this unequal power balance is the utilization of the loss of one of the major protections they have, which is juvenile court. There is no justification for this choice, ever.
I hear supporters of trying children as adults say “this was a horrible crime, and they absolutely know better and know they shouldn’t have done this.” This assumes that children are capable of having the same level of understanding and maturity as an adult.
In which case, it logically holds that if children have the same level of understanding and maturity as adults, then why don’t we offer the privilege of voting to 14 year olds who demonstrate exceptional behavior? When I ask this question, the reasoning is that every child is too immature to make a serious decision like voting. But this is the kind of decision a child could actually be successful with–it’s a calm, rational, measured choice over a long period of time.
Crimes, on the other hand, are the opposite type of situation — they are highly emotional, charged, and immediate, all areas where a child’s brain struggles. There is a preponderance of scientific evidence to this effect — that the part of children’s brains that assess the consequences of behavior does not finish developing until they are in their 20s.
We have never, not once, offered a child a benefit of adulthood. We only remove the protections of childhood. This dichotomy underscores how this choice is an arbitrary abuse of power, and entirely unjustified in any possible situation.
I am not going to go into how this terrible tragedy was an accident, and that this child is from a marginalized community, because I’m sure that has already been addressed at length by others. For me, the foundational moral and ethical aspect of this is that we have a duty to protect our most vulnerable, our most powerless, and there is no one with less legal power than a child in our society.
Additionally, the (fundamentally immoral and unethical) choice to try a child as an adult is applied in ways that can only be attributed to racism, since Black children are disproportionately tried as adults, largely because people have an inherent elevated fear of Black crime. I hope you do not plan to continue to fall into this trap.
I hope you re-examine your decision and find a way forward that isn’t an abuse of power and privilege–I don’t know you, but I am sure you are a person who values decency and doing the right thing, or you wouldn’t have taken this job.
— Mary Catherine Graziano
The writer is an educator and a parent