May 21, 2001
On May 17 a Florida jury found Nathaniel Brazill guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of his teacher, Barry Grunow. Brazill was 13 years old at the time he shot and killed Grunow at his school.
Brazill awaits sentencing on June 26. This 14-year old could face 25 years to life in prison.
What kind of society is this that treats a 13 or 14-year old as if he were an adult, not a child? Can he think like an adult? Can he make the decisions we expect from adults?
There is not a parent, teacher or doctor in the world who would agree that a 13-year old is an adult. Even when our children irritate us, we don't put them out on the street at age 13 to look after themselves. The law recognizes this reality –it says parents MUST look after children until they are 16 or 18, depending on the state and the activity.
The reason civilized countries don't treat children as if they were short adults is that neither their emotional, mental nor physical development is finished at age 13.
Nowhere are young people allowed to make serious decisions: about where they live, what their schooling is, how they will be raised. The law prevents young people from voting or driving a car or drinking alcohol or renting an apartment until they are older, usually 18 years at least. This is socieity's recognition that children don't have the capacity to reason like adults nor to understand the consequences of their actions.
Yet when we are faced with a child who has committed a terrible act, this society asks us to give up on him –throwing him into its hideous injustice system.
This society proposes to lock up children like Nathaniel Brazill and throw away the key. All the little Brazills it has created will learn to be real criminals in prison or die victims.
Nathaniel Brazill is as much a victim as Barry Grunow.