After multiple downtown attacks involving a couple of 13-year-olds, the two have been charged in Suffolk County Juvenile Court.
But many are wondering why that maneuver didn’t come before the kids were able to cause a fracas at a McDonald’s in Roxbury, and allegedly attack two Suffolk University students in the Boston Common.
Here’s what we know about the incidents and why the law prohibits law enforcement from applying tactics typically used on adults.
One incident involving juveniles included a group allegedly assaulting a woman in Downtown Crossing, reportedly over her hairstyle, back in April. Video of the assault showed the woman lying on the ground while the juveniles beat and kicked her.
Then, there was an incident in Roxbury when a group of juveniles, ages 13 and 11, allegedly started fighting McDonald’s employees and then assaulted responding police. In this incident, the juveniles reportedly started throwing rocks and water bottles at workers and customers near the drive-thru window. When an employee threw a drink at them, they threw it back. A manager called 911.
Later on, one of the juveniles allegedly started directing racial and homophobic slurs toward one of the officers. Another threatened an officer. The third juvenile allegedly kicked one of the officers in the genitals.
In the Boston Common incident, two Suffolk University students told the kids to stop harassing a woman with a small child. The group then allegedly turned on the students. One of the children then punched one of the students in the face.
In court, one of the teens was facing 14 charges stemming from nine incidents. The other was facing nine charges related to five incidents. Their bail was set at $5,000 and $3,500, respectively.
Upon release, both were ordered to wear GPS bracelets, and to stay away from Downtown Crossing and from where the other attacks occurred.
“It’s sad to note that if these children had shown up to court six weeks ago, we would have been looking at diversion,” Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden told The Boston Globe. “But the frequency and severity of these offenses have created an immediate public safety concern and hindered an intervention-only approach.”
A change in the law
Criminal justice reform in 2018 brought a slew of changes to how law enforcement deals with juvenile offenders, especially those between the ages of seven and 12.
Kids under 12 must be released to a parent or guardian regardless of the crime. The age for which someone can be charged with a crime was raised from seven to 12.
Children ages 12 and 13 can be charged, but a judge must order them to be put in jail, according to the Globe. At night or during the weekend – courts are closed – the children are released to their parents.
For crimes like the ones committed by the 13-year-olds, their parents must bring them to court on the next weekday, but there aren’t consequences for not showing up, the Globe reported.
The laws have essentially stopped law enforcement from snagging young people in a system that has taken in many low-income and minority children or teens. However, some argue that it doesn’t allow them to help juveniles that need help and also doesn’t hold parents responsible, according to the Globe.
State Sen. William Brownsberger, one of the lead sponsors for the law change, argues that children shouldn’t be part of the criminal justice system, and that they’re too young, according to Boston 25.
“They may need to be grounded, but what they don’t need is to be sent to a criminal justice institution,” Brownsberger told the news station. “Clearly, there’s a whole lot of systems that are failing right now.”
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