Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Will your child have a criminal record?

Timing is everything. Less than a month ago, my husband read a study in TIME Magazine. According to it, 1 in 3 Americans will be arrested by the time they are 23. It could be a traffic violation or something more serious. But, yes, a criminal record. A couple of weeks later, we were both summoned for jury duty. Weird coincidence, right?

The judge excused my husband after the trial juror round, but I was put on a case as a grand juror. I was actually excited (more like intrigued) about the opportunity to understand the workings of the American judicial system. The thought of sitting in the same room as the defendant felt uncomfortable. But the United States law expects jury members to assume the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

On the first day, the judge presiding the case, the prosecution, and the defense attorney threw a volley of questions at the trial jurors. This was part of the jury selection process—who would fit and who wouldn’t. We went around the room sharing our personal and professional details. The officials asked if any of us had been victims, witnessed, or convicted of a crime. Several people raised their hands confirming they had been victims. Later on the attorneys pestered, “If not you, has someone close to you been a victim of a crime?” Over 95% of the people raised their hands, I was part of that 95%, and most confirmed that their perpetrators hadn’t been arrested. At that moment, even for a raging optimist like me, the world seemed dark.

America has the highest reported crime rates in the world. Granted this is New York, and big cities come with their share of issues. But New York, thankfully, isn’t amongst the top ten American cities in terms of crime risk. St. Louis, Atlanta, Birmingham, Orlando, and Detroit rank the crime-charts. Can you imagine the streets and courtrooms in these cities?

I thought about the defendant in the courtroom where I sat. Young, smug, and in trouble? Sitting in a courtroom instead of playing ball. Or studying or working.

One of the trial jurors, she didn’t make it to grand jury for a reason I suppose, said that her store had been burglarized twice. Both times, the burglars turned out to be young boys who put a gun to her head. She cried, begged for her life. She was the only surviving parent of a 14-year-old. They eventually let her go but not without violating her in other ways.

I couldn’t sleep that night. What were these boys, not men, doing with guns? Again, shouldn’t they be playing sports, meeting deadlines, being yelled at by their parents? Massacres in the US receive significant media attention, but gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. usually occur quietly, without national press coverage, every day.

Studies show that firearms are the second leading cause of traumatic death related to a consumer product in the United States and are the second most frequent cause of death overall for Americans ages 15 to 24. Every year, more than 100,000 Americans are victims of gun violence. Do these numbers tell us anything?

“Homicide rates tend to be related to firearm ownership levels. Everything else being equal, a reduction in the percentage of households owning firearms should occasion a drop in the homicide rate.” Evidence to the Cullen Inquiry 1996: Thomas Gabor, Professor of Criminology - University of Ottawa. “The level of gun ownership world-wide is directly related to murder and suicide rates and specifically to the level of death by gunfire.” International Correlation between gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide.’ Professor Martin Killias, May 1993.

Is it fair to infer from the studies that accessibility to firearm is not helping our already troubled youth and society? And that a teenager with raging hormones and access to firearms is a recipe for disaster?

Mass shooting tragedies like the school shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007 and Northern Illinois University in February 2008 – or the 1993 office shooting in San Francisco are testament to what happens when a young person has access to guns. Politicians and other officials have a lot to lose if there was stricter gun control. Or a ban on ownership on weapons. Frankly, I have come to expect very little from them. They will sacrifice their families for their own agenda. But as common people, we can take charge. Instead of a driver’s license, I bet you wouldn’t want to get your kid a lawyer on his or her 18th birthday or a coffin for that matter!

More until next time,


Copyright © 02.21.2012

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Henry de Bracton


Anonymous said...

i like tis one very much. someone needed to say this.

Anonymous said...

Good one. Interesting and disturbing.

My two cents said...

Hi all,

Here is an interesting fact that one of the readers shared. "I read something once that said the mechanism that assesses risks is essentially non-functional in the brain of a teenager. There was some physiological explanation."

Still scary, isn't it?