Opinion

Krause: Getting away scot-free

All crime, of course, is awful, even the ones that would appear to be victimless (because there’s always a victim, even if it’s yourself). But for reasons I don’t even fully understand, reading about minors committing vandalism presses my irritation button like nothing else.

I have a term I use for these little so-and-sos, and you can’t print it. But rest assured I have zero sympathy for them, and I’m always hoping that they get the full weight of the book that ultimately gets thrown at them.

We had an instance of little so-and-so-ism last weekend when four kids, all free to hide behind their status as minors (which means that their names aren’t printed in the newspaper), broke into Lynn English High School and trashed the place.

First, why? What would provoke anyone, regardless of age, to break into an establishment and ruin it? Are these kids that angry? And if they are, angry at what? Or whom? Since the oldest of these little so-and-sos was 13, none of them even attend English.

Was this their idea of fun? Who on earth gave them that kind of encouragement, or set that kind of an example? Obviously, there’s a backstory that results in these kids reaching the point where they thought it was a neat idea to trash a high school. But I’m not interested in it. Couldn’t care less. Little so-and-sos are little so-and-sos, and that’s all there is to it.

I am a big believer in the broken windows theory of crime prevention, which says that the sooner you teach kids the seriousness of their actions and make them fully accountable, the better chance you have of steering some of these little so-and-sos away from vandalism and toward something more useful. Sadly, you’re not going to get them all. But you can certainly get some.

I think we need to have a serious conversation in this country about how to handle minors who commit destructive crimes. Right now, we shield them in every aspect. We don’t print their names, we keep their records sealed, and, to the most practical extent possible, we go easy on them when it comes to sentencing.

Can we stop protecting them so much? Once you get past a certain age, you should expect to see your exploits made public. Why should 13-year-old little so-and-sos be protected if they hurt people or destroy property? They should know better by the time they’re teenagers. And if they don’t, then something’s seriously wrong — either with them or the people bringing them up.

About the only thing that angers me more than seeing a story that says “minors trash school” and not knowing who the minors are is when we allow murder suspects to cover their faces when they’re arraigned. We have every right to see these people, and know who they are.

Last year, a bunch of high school-age so-and-sos trashed Spagnoli Field at Gallagher Park — a Little League baseball diamond named for a kid (Chris Spagnoli) who suffered horribly and died when he was 16. These yahoos wouldn’t know about that. And if they did, they obviously didn’t care.

But we never learned who any of them were. They’re minors!

Give me a break, please.

What bothers me about vandals is that they do serious damage to people’s property, which ends up costing tons of money, and inflicts heartbreak on the victims as well. These kids did major damage at English. Cleaning up after it, and repairing the affected areas, will be expensive. And all be because of what? What was the point? They were bored? That one of the kids may have bullied the rest of them into going along? It was someone’s idea of fun?

Needless to say, I reject all of the above reasons. I was a kid once (I barely remember it), and I agree peer pressure can be destructive. But, good God. When it gets to that point, you have to have enough sense — and enough courage — to say no. Otherwise, you’ll be pushed back and forth, like a tree forever falling over, for the rest of your life.

I don’t know what’ll happen to these little so-and-sos, but while I don’t want them to go to jail for 10 years (or even a day, to be honest), whatever punishment is handed out has to be meaningful and substantial.

Otherwise, for all intents and purposes, they will have gotten away scot-free.

 

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