I was just eating lunch in place a TV (sound off) tuned to CNN. They were discussing the horrific story of two 12 year old girls who brutally stabbed a third. Here's the kicker: they kept replaying images, recorded through crowds, of the two girls manacled to their waists. They only had a couple of seconds of each kid, they looked like replaying Vines.

When did it become okay for a major news network to air images of child suspects? (To put this in perspective, even the Daily Mail blurred their faces, as did several other outlets.)

These girls are going to be charged as adults. This seems to fall in to fall into the bizarre line of thinking that it isn't the age or development of a person that determines juvenile status, rather it's the gravity of their actions. The entire point of a juvenile system doesn't actually apply to a certain class of crimes, apparently, never mind that the juvenile system isn't about the crime, it's about the defendant.

A lot of people will say, presumably from a place of shock and shattered ability to process reality, that children don't commit such horrendous deeds, therefore the commiters of such deeds aren't children. This is a clearly nonsensical tautology, but it is also belied by the fact that adolescents tend to be more violent than adults, not less. (Civilizing children by teaching them impulse control, empathy, and managing disappointment is in fact, a major aspect of "raising" them.)

Others will say that the defining characteristic of childhood is innocence and that anyone who could do such things lacks the prerequisite innocence, therefore those who could do such things aren't children. The defining characteristic is โ€” most emphatically โ€” not innocence nor is it goodness. The defining characteristics of childhood are still growing and developing brains, bodies, and experiences.


There is a reaction that may be downright instinctive to a large population of homo sapiens sapiens. The idea is that there are some violations that break through not just childhood, but humanness. That people can forfeit the rights and compassion we culturally believe are inherently deserved by our fellow humans. I personally find this absurd and pernicious, but that doesn't even apply to these girls because they are children, not adults. We have different standards for children than we do for adults and for good reason: we recognize that children haven't the capacity to function safely in our society without our help, guidance and protection.

Whether we like it or not, these girls are children. Children did this, not monsters. (To paraphrase Sartre, there is no such thing as a monster, for whatever a person does is something that people do.) Children who are too young, legally, to be left along unattended, to drive cars, to go to movies that show nipples. Children who are too young to have Facebook pages, according to the terms of service.

These girls are not adults and won't be for some time, a time during which they will grow to interact with the world in an entirely different way than they do now. This doesn't mean that we have to forgive their crimes, it just means that we have to recognize their stages of development. If we continue to charge 12 year olds as adults, we might as well give them the right to vote, drive, and drink.


Note: This is by no means an isolated incident. Children โ€” usually boys, usually black boys โ€” have been charged as young as 9.

Here is more information on the juvenile process, and here is more on sentencing options, and a small overview of outcomes.