This is my platform, so I choose today to take it a different direction. What I want to say deserves more than a one-liner on Facebook.
Your children are no longer allowed to make stupid, criminal mistakes and move on with their lives after they turn 18.
It has been a long-standing policy in television news not to name or otherwise identify juveniles who are accused of a crime. It is not illegal to show them or name them, but a matter of ethics not to.
The assumption being that children are entitled to privacy, are entitled to make horrible mistakes and not be held accountable for them by the public in their adulthood unless they choose to disclose it.
Now, we work in a newsroom divided. It is a business of blurred lines. There are those of us who believe the “rules” of covering crimes where perps are minors were protocol for a reason. There are the others who think if you’re “old enough to know better” then we can blast your ugly baby-faced mugshot (or even Facebook profile pic) for the world to see.
The first time I remember there being any debate about whether to identify a juvenile who committed a serious crime was while covering Lionel Tate.
He was 12 years old when he murdered a 6 year old girl in Broward County.
He was the youngest person in modern American history to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The justification for showing and naming Tate was that he was being charged as an adult.
That became the bar. The S.O.P.
Charged as an adult? We name you. You’re an adult according to the law now.
Sometime during the past few years, opinions started to shift in the newsroom. People started suggesting that any child who committed a crime as heinous as murder or rape could be identified.
I say “child” because you can tell where I stand on the issue. If you’re young enough to be in foster care, young enough to be required to have a guardian, young enough to not even be allowed to buy a pack of smokes… you are a child.
But, now when you kill someone you are “old enough to know better.”
Now begins the slippery slope. People are suggesting naming and showing juveniles charged with carjacking. “It was with a gun!”
I understand the frustration. It really is starting to seem like the thugs are getting younger, the crimes getting more violent.
Is showing their mugshot a deterrent? Not at all.
Is it even our responsibility to attempt to deter crime? That’s what the justice system is supposed to be for.
Is showing their mugshot informative? Not in the least.
Is showing their mugshot going to help the community? If they’re a violent criminal on the loose, perhaps. But, the cases I am referring to are generally not a “wanted murderer on the lam.”
They are children. Horrible children who will become horrible adults. Thank God they were arrested, will be charged and begin the endless cycle of arrest and release, arrest and release.
Or maybe, just maybe… they will someday realize the error of their ways and mature into normal well-adjusted people. People embarrassed by their past. People who want to contribute to society. People who don’t want it to be so easy to find their mugshot online from an arrest when they were 13 with a simple search.
I read an article about a 15-year-old girl who was convicted of smothering her four-year-old half-sister. A newspaper printed her name. The conviction was overturned and THEN they decided not to name her “because of her age.”
Too little. Too late.
I also read an article recently about an aspiring welder who started a life of crime when he was in sixth grade. During his time behind bars he ended up with tats on his face. Barely in his 20’s he went to extremes to make his mistakes less visible.
We can’t keep kids from committing horrible crimes. But, we also don’t have to leave an indelible mark that could have a shelf life even longer than a face tattoo.
You lose your rights when you break the law. But, you don’t stop being a child. That’s my view. All opinions welcome.