Children, not murderers

By Jennifer Foote Sweeney

By Salon Staff
September 11, 2000 11:38PM (UTC)
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I agree with you that it is the nature of kids to do stupid, heartless, sad things. I look back and wonder how we got through without police blotter or medical marks on our permanent records.

And yet we have to wonder if 17-year-olds with bricks and an appetite for free Chinese food are as innocent a combination as a kid jumping off a garage roof. We must ask ourselves at what age do children have to say, "I shouldn't hit someone with a brick for an eggroll. It would hurt if I were hit with a brick and I wouldn't like it."

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Perhaps the media have demonized the kids; I think of them as pathetic kids whose lives are ruined forever. I also think of them as an example. We demonize them not because we want to blame them, but as a warning to those who have a brick and a desire for an eggroll: "This is how bad it gets when you do hurtful, awful things."

Surely our reaction to those kids is not the worst thing that is happening to them. And maybe you are reacting too much in the opposite direction. This was not naughty, it was horrendous. This was not a prank, it was murder.

What would be our best reaction to horrendous murder?

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-- Michael Schau

I am tired of the excuses being made for teenagers by well-meaning adults. Do you think an automatic switch turns on when they turn the magic age of 18? I turned 17 last month, and am currently a sophomore at the Stern School of Business at NYU. I have been the CFO of a successful Internet venture. I found a luxury condo in Manhattan. I have spent my entire life trying to dispel the opinion of teenagers that Sweeney so righteously espouses in her article. Had she replaced the word "teenager" with "African-American" or some other minority group, readers would recognize this article for how offensive it really is.

-- Jennifer Fan

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Sweeney makes it seem like all children go through a normal stage where it is natural to lure a deliveryman to a secluded spot and murder him for his food. These weren't 1-year-olds drinking antifreeze, or 7-year-olds jumping off roofs with umbrellas. To call what to me looks like a case of premeditated murder "hijinks" and "pranks" is unbelievable.

Sweeney says, "We try to imagine the paralyzing hurt felt by the family of Jin-Sheng Liu and we can't." I'm pretty sure what I would feel if a member of my family were murdered. How can Sweeney feel such empathy for these killers while taking a "shit happens" approach with the victim's family?

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Sweeney admonishes the prosecutor for not remembering what is was like to be a kid. Gee, when I was a kid I don't remember plotting such murderous pranks and hijinks. I'm pretty sure even a screwed-up kid knows the effects of smashing a brick against someone's head.

I consider myself a left-wing liberal, but I also believe that 16- and 17-year-old children know right from wrong. I also believe that people have to accept the consequences of their actions even if those actions were caused by stupid kids. This "kids will be kids" defense is a further assault on the grieving family of the victim.

-- Glenn Fechner

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Frankly, Ms. Sweeney, they became "demons" -- if that is the word you choose -- when they thought it appropriate to beat up a man with a brick to steal $60 worth of food. These are teenagers, not four-year-olds. At 14, 15, 16, 17 we most certainly understand that bashing someone with a brick who is hidden under a cloth means there is a possibility we will hit his skull. This was not a spur-of- the-moment, oh-my-god- what-happened experience. The kids called a restaurant with the intent to lure an innocent man doing them a service to an isolated area. They had formed a plan that involved, at the very least, beating him up severely.

That's not simply childish hijinks or a mistake. That's murder. Would you dismiss their actions so quickly as a childish mistake if the murder had happened in your neighborhood, to your brother, son or husband?

-- Jennifer Levitsky Kasoff

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Sweeney asks this question at the end of her story: "Do we not care enough if we aren't willing to condemn the sad children who killed him?" My answer is, yes, you don't care enough if you are not willing to condemn his killers, children or not.

I have a friend who suffers from some severe psychological problems and was in need of funds. So he decided to rob a liquor store. He did not intend to harm anyone. However, he was so nervous the shaking of his hand caused the gun to discharge, shooting one of the two people in the store. With his twisted logic he figured that as long as he shot one person he really should shoot the other. Neither of these people died. (One will never have full use of his arm and the other recovered completely.) My friend was caught and sentenced to 17 years.

It does not matter that he did not mean to hurt anyone. He walked into the store with a gun. Those kids hit that man in the head with a brick. My friend was 19. If he serves all of his time he will be 36 when he gets out.

-- Wahrena Brown

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There's a reason we don't let our kids leave home until they're 18: They need all those years to grow up. Children have limited attention spans, limited ability to reason and think the world revolves around them. Childhood and adolescence are periods of learning how one's own actions affect other people, and the role of parents is to guide their children through the process of becoming adults. It's ridiculous to expect kids to act like adults.

-- Dagny Roark


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