- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

Come late September, I wouldn’t want to be Judge Janice Brice of the Prince William County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

She has the troublesome task of sentencing a 13-year-old Boy Scout who donned camouflage gear and a red bandana and carried several guns into Bull Run Middle School in late June.

Is this boy a deviant member of society or the inevitable product of a deviant society? Will it matter as Judge Brice determines his fate? The boy was 12 at the time of the incident. Based on reports, he planned to pay back the bullies who picked on him throughout the school year. Thanks to quick action on the part of well-prepared school administrators, the boy’s intended siege — or worse — came to a peaceful end. No Columbine revisited here.

Now that the unthinkable crisis was averted, here comes the hard part: What should the justice system do with this obviously immature and irrational boy?

“He’s not the kind of kid we usually see in juvenile court,” Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said yesterday. On the other hand, he is “not emotionally equipped to handle adversity” or “mature enough to be on the streets at this point.”

Mr. Ebert is asking that the boy receive the maximum penalty of imprisonment until he is 21 to send an unmistakable message about the seriousness of this offense to any copycats.

The venerable prosecutor who convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo said he believed if this boy had been able to get someone to help him in his plans, “there would have been a lot of dead people in the county.”

On the last day of school, the boy was found with three guns, a knife, flammable liquid and 100 rounds of ammunition. His mother, Naomi Lewis, 36, a cafeteria worker at the school, saw the weapons but locked her car and did not notify anyone about them. Her son went back to get his cache with a key she apparently did not know he had. She faces trial Oct. 6 for possession of firearms on school property.

Last week, the unidentified boy pleaded guilty to felony abduction and weapons charges, but the charge of conspiracy to commit murder was dropped when the charges against a second youth, who backed out of the plan, could not be substantiated. Sentencing is set for Sept. 29.

Although Mr. Ebert says this juvenile offender should be in state custody until the age of 21, Judge Brice has several options. She could send him into the state penal system, which could release him after periodic reviews before he turns 21. She could place him on probation. She could impose community service. There is no halfway house option in Virginia for juveniles, and he did not seek special adjudication based on any mental incapacity, Mr. Ebert said.

Some Prince William County residents and students reportedly said they did not think the boy should be allowed back into the school system. They are right. At the very least, we can agree that he needs to be in an alternative setting. Continued counseling for him and his family is also a must.

But should Judge Brice throw the book at him? Sorry to say, I’m still not so sure.

Judge Brice should consider these mitigating factors: The boy was never in trouble before; he was quickly talked into turning over his weapons; he was an honor roll student, a Boy Scout and a member of a religious family; and he was picked on because he was overweight, wore glasses and was “a geek,” as Mr. Ebert said.

“I agree it’s a shame to throw away a life like that,” Mr. Ebert said.

In the long run, will creating an example from this single case really make a significant difference when we have to dismantle a larger ethos? At every level of American society, children and teens are bombarded with the message that might makes right. We teach them with every passing moment that no matter what anyone — including parents, preachers and teachers — tells you, you take matters in your own hands. Or, as the youngsters say, “handle your business.”

With real war and war toys and weapons of mass media destruction swirling around them 24/7, we teach our young that if they have a problem with their enemy, put on their fighting uniform, pick up their fighting gear, get busy and go to blows.

“We’re in a mechanized age,” Mr. Ebert said. Instead of fistfights to solve disagreements, boys and girls now “turn to the weapons prevalent in society rather than punch someone in the nose like I would have.”

Wherever would this child have gotten the idea that it’s not OK to solve problems with guns, knives and flammable liquids? Not from CNN. After all, police took at least 15 hunting guns from his home where, as Mr. Ebert said, they were “haphazardly” kept.

As for bullies and macho men, the other message Mr. Ebert said he hopes children will learn from the Bull Run incident is that “bullying people could lead to something serious.” But look around at the explosive examples of what constitutes “real men” in America’s cowboy mentality. A misogynistic movie hero, propelled to stardom by blowing up and killing people, was rewarded with the governorship of the largest state in the nation and makes no bones about labeling those he views as weak as “girlie men.” Forget turning the other cheek. Forget diplomacy. Forget using your head and your heart instead of your hands. It’s amazing how even though we live in a deviant society, we are so surprised and want to lay blame when someone — especially the young — does something deviant.

No, come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to be Judge Brice any day.


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