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What part of 'too young to understand' doesn't he understand?

The genius Judge Lazarus of Broward County, Florida, apparently unaware of the irony in the legacy of his own name, condemned a 14 year-old boy to prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole because the lad's brutal actions at 12 years of age resulted in the tragic death of a playmate, little 6 year-old Tiffany Eunick.

"Cold, callous and indescribably cruel," Judge Lazarus said of Lionel Tate's actions, contradicting his own words by describing said actions while confounding logic and humanity by writing off a child's entire life for ugly and destructive imitative behavior the consequences of which he lacked the ability to comprehend. The trial was fair and the verdict just, intoned his be-robed highness as he lowered the boom: "incarceration for your natural life," the sentence mandated by law. Clearly, if the definition of judge is one who is "capable of making rational, dispassionate and wise decisions," the optimistic word in this man's case is 'capable.' Is he totally unaware of the inner-directed (read selfish or egotistical, sometimes cold, apparently callous and all too often cruel) nature of children's behavior? Does he think the ability to control impulse and comprehend consequence magically appears at birth? At three? At twelve?

In a society terrified by media-heightened episodes of cruel and apparently irrational behavior on the part of otherwise normal-appearing children, shock and anger often impel an immediate punitive response so that we can quickly return to the comfortable pretense that 'nice people don't do things like that.' Getting rid of the 'bad' people, then, is a form of self-delusion that remedies nothing while guaranteeing more tragedy. Children need to be taught to behave appropriately, as is clearly the case with some adults. The difference is that most adults possess minds mature enough to learn the necessary lessons - some judges excepted - learn them quickly and adapt behavior accordingly. The current panic-induced tendency to view imitative behavior of children as indicative of adult reasoning power and thus deserving of adult-style responses - trial as an adult, harsh sentences served with adults, capital punishment - suggests a huge failure on the part of our hurried society. Not only have we failed to understand that children's brains are not fully developed until they reach maturity - and are thus incapable of comprehending thhe consequences of their sometimes inexplicable behavior - we have failed our primary duty as parents and responsible adults: to protect and nurture our children to the point that they have the mental, physical, psychological and moral ability to assume the mantle of responsibility we bestow upon them.

To do less, to turn from them in fear and condemn them to wander in the wilderness of alienation, incarceration, or worse, is to deny not only our children, but the best of ourselves and our future in the bargain.

Judge Lazarus, who has spoken for us in this instance, demonstrates the most gross failure, one of maturity. Granted a position of authority and respect, looked to by society for a decision grounded in reason that can provide resolution, comfort, hope, compassion and a properly thoughtful and positive course for the future of all involved, he instead falls prey to the most base response available and condemns a human being, one not yet fully formed, as worthless. Having thus dispensed of the matter, one can only hope that in retrospect, perhaps in memory of his namesake, Judge Lazarus might consider a self-referential sentence, one that begins with the possibility of renewal and ends with a period of mourning.


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