This tragedy is one on many levels. A 8 year old child being charged as an adult; a child being left alone responsible for other children; the adults in the room or not; that an 8 year old responded to a problem with severe violence; that the only "witness" was a 6 year old and that this happened at all.
There are many questions and to expect any child to answer the queries by law enforcement is of course tragic and veers on abuse as well. We know from past experiences with children as "witnesses" they are malleable and easily confused so their testimony is unreliable. Then a child who witnessed this act of violence is undergoing their own trauma and that in and of itself puts adults who are the victims and/or witnesses challenging.
And then there are adults who were or were not there. Regardless is this something they are teaching the children through illustration.
I just went to the movie Room and that is one of the finest films that I have seen with a 5 year old child whose astounding acting is so authentic to the disturbing tale Room tells I cannot recommend it enough. It is traumatic and horrifying and utterly uplifting as it demonstrates the plasticity of children and how the narrative they are provided is how they learn and in turn respond.
Every action causes a reaction and that can be both good and bad. See the movie, Room, see what happens to not one child but two. As the young woman was from what I presume was about 13 when captured and held hostage for over 7 years. In which she becomes both an adult and mother in the process. The differences in the adjustment to freedom for both mother and child is telling.
So what can I say when I see these same children in schools. I no longer do elementary for that reason, I see them at the end of the spectrum. They have no social skills, no academic ones and they have no one to help them adjust to the role of being an adult but the adults in the room. Sorry but in one hour a day the reality that any one Teacher can do more than minimum requirements of what is the new "prescribed" curriculum is utter hubris. Can we really do that and provide them a moral compass?
My experiences run the gamut but depending on the school, the demographics, the student body, the time of day (yes that matters after lunch is usually horrendous) and the Teacher. But the hostile and disturbing aggressive/abusive behavior at times does frustrate me and that is what these kids want, anger. What they don't realize is that I save that for things and people that actually matter to me, I simply feel sorry for them. In the same way I do when I see the homeless on the street. If the children knew that (or any of the staff frankly) I think they would be angrier. To evoke sympathy is a sign of weakness and worthlessness but anger means I care. Sorry I cannot. I cannot when I see hundreds, yes hundreds of kids a week who behave in the same manner. It is a survival technique and I have to survive to go to another school on another day. It is lather, rinse, repeat in my line of work.
And yes I do get upset. The other day I watched a little girl standing in our pouring rain, cold wet and distressed while her two parents or adults in her life, abuse her verbally, make fun of her and utterly offer no comfort on consolation. I tried to reach out to make her laugh or just acknowledge her and she was utterly confused as if she had no recognition of someone being kind. The male figure, her father I have no idea, was the most angry disturbing man as he boarded the bus and scowled as many of us waited for him to forage for fare and keep us waiting. Most people have such ready prior to boarding and as it was wet and they had been waiting there quite some time he had ample opportunity to do so. That passive aggressive sense of control as he pushed them forward to ensure they were the first to board and in turn lead others to wait was all again abusive to anyone whom he could do so. It is sad.grim.pathetic. I will not see this little girl in the schools as I am leaving this area but I will see her doppelganger. That is the reality of America in our two class society.
Does it mean they cannot be "saved?" No, we all have potential if enabled to have the resources in which to do so. Clearly that is the real problem.
Alabama baby’s death raises questions about child's criminal responsibility
Alabama is one of 30 states with no minimum age as case hinges on account of six-year-old who was also in eight-year-old’s care the night Kelci Lewis was killed
Experts are still concerned about the implications of attaching an act such as murder to an eight-year-old – a decision that seems uniquely American.
Amanda Holpuch in Birmingham
The Guardian UK
Sunday 15 November 2015
The neat green trim on the Birmingham home matched the color of the bountiful trees hanging over its roof. There were stones plastered across the front of the residence so that children inside could imagine that they lived in a castle. A neighbor said that the sloped yard served as terrain for children to slide down on pieces of cardboard – “typical kids”, he said.
In one of the most dangerous big cities in the country, Second Avenue South is a relatively safe place during the day. But at night, a neighbor warned, “the goblins come out”.
He himself was newly out of prison and warned of neighborhood cliques who prowl the Alabama neighborhood when it is dark to defend their territory. But one night last month, the night-time horror was of a different nature and the placid-looking, green-trimmed house was the crime scene.
Between about 11.30pm on 10 October and 10.45am on 11 October, one-year-old Kelci Lewis received bruises to her body and injuries to her internal organs and was pronounced dead in the hospital at 11.07am, from blunt force trauma to the head, Birmingham police said.
One month later, police spokesman Sean Edwards announced that an eight-year-old boy was being charged with Kelci’s murder. Kelci’s mother, Katerra Lewis, and her friend had left the boy in charge of five children, all under the age of seven, while they went clubbing, Edwards said. He said that when Kelci wouldn’t stop crying, the eight-year-old beat her in attempt to make her stop.
“This is one of the most heartbreaking investigations that I have seen in over 30 years of my law enforcement career,’’ Birmingham police chief AC Roper said.
Whilst the United Nations calls on countries around the world to set a minimum age below which a child cannot be presumed to bear criminal responsibility, Alabama is one of 30 states with no minimum.
In the case of the violent death of Kelci Lewis, this raises the prospect of a boy of eight being held to account and facing evidence drawn from the testimony of a six-year-old witness.
No adults were present, but the police account relies on the testimony of a six-year-old who was also in the eight-year-old’s care that night. Police said that child’s description of the incident matched with the injuries Kelci sustained.
The dead child’s mother has been charged with manslaughter, although her lawyer Emory Anthony on Thursday disputed the police’s claim that she had left the children unsupervised.
As people wait for a fuller picture to emerge, Kelci’s family and the community have been in mourning.
She was remembered at a candlelight vigil on 20 October where people released white balloons in her honor. And less than a week after Kelci died, people gathered for a cookout at Munchies Food Store to eat $5 fish sandwiches and $3 hamburgers to raise money to help the family pay for funeral costs.
Randy Shunnarah, the owner of Munchies, grew up with Kelci’s grandmother Waynetta Callens and knows the family well. He was shocked by Kelci’s death and described her as a “happy, joyful baby”.
“It was sad to see a baby like this, pretty as she was, die like that,” Shunnarah said.
Callens told AL.com that Kelci was born two months prematurely. “She grew to be a cheerful, active little girl,’’ Callens said. “She was into everything.”
Online, family members have changed their profile pictures to show Kelci with a pink bow. Some have also posted photo collages and slideshows of the child – showing her standing in a bright, floral print dress or snuggling with her family. The family photos show an infant in lavender-colored pajamas printed with smiling bumble bees.
Writing from a rest stop in Kansas on 12 October, truck driver Christopher Harris said on Facebook that he drove and cried all night after learning about the death of his granddaughter.
“Bring her back and take me in her place,” Harris wrote. “I’ve served my purpose, but she hasn’t had a chance to serve hers, reach her full potential, or fulfill her destiny.”
Family members said at the vigil that the Second Avenue South home was not where Katerra, 26, and Kelci lived, but that they were staying there temporarily until the section 8 housing program for low-income families gave them the resources to find a home.
The temporary residence looked more secure than the address where voting records show Kelci’s mother had lived recently.
In September 2008, Lewis said, she lived on Birmingham’s 51st Street North, next to a house that has an entire side collapsed into a chain link fence. It’s just down the street from Eastside funeral home, the grand building where Kelci’s funeral services were arranged and one of the only occupied storefronts on the busy block.
More recently, according to public records, she lived in the Morton Simpson Homes housing projects before moving to a 4th Avenue South apartment in the gentrifying Avondale neighborhood.
Kelci’s mother Katerra Lewis will be tried for a reckless manslaughter charge and was released from jail on $15,000 bond. She could not be reached for comment and her lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
“I know they’re saying she left her child there without any type of adult supervision, but that’s not what she’s saying,” Anthony told the AP on Wednesday. “Right now we’re just trying to find out what they have.”
Meanwhile, the eight-year-old is in the custody of the state’s department of human resources. The other children who were in the home at the time of Kelci’s death are not with their parents, police said.
The Jefferson County district attorney’s office on Thursday clarified the process for the eight-year-old boy. He will not be charged as an adult or face a criminal offense, “but is charged with being a juvenile delinquent”.
The office said that in Alabama, regardless of the crime, juvenile law operates “to see that the child receives the care or guidance needed in order to benefit the child”.
First, a judge must decide whether he is competent and understood the consequences of his actions before any case may proceed – taking into account his education, age and mental condition.
If he is not considered competent, the proceedings might change to a dependency hearing on the welfare of the child. Subsequently, if he is thought to be a danger to himself or others, he may be placed in “a therapeutic environment”.
“As a last resort, the Court may consider placement in a secure, age-appropriate facility if it is determined that the safety of the community is at risk,” the DA’s office said.
But experts are still concerned about the implications of attaching an act such as murder to an eight-year-old – a decision that seems uniquely American.
“I can’t imagine any other country in the world would charge an eight-year-old in a criminal-like proceeding or in a delinquency proceeding with homicide,” said Marsha Levick, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child called on nations to set a minimum age “below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law”. The UN, however, does not provide a recommendation as to what age that should be and there is no consensus internationally.
In Scandinavian countries, the age of criminal responsibility is 15. In most Latin American countries, children 12 to 18 go through the juvenile justice system instead of adult court. In most of Europe, the age of criminal responsibility is between 13 and 16 – though it is 10 in England and Wales.
There is a minimum age for criminal responsibility in only 13 US states; it is set in a range from six to 12 years old. Alabama is one of more than 30 states that does not have a minimum, Levick said.
Levick said there is no research or child psychologist that would find this child fit to stand competent.
“It is simply fantasy to suggest that an eight-year-old possesses the capacity to form the requisite criminal intent to be held accountable here, even as a juvenile delinquent,” she said. “This prosecution is a fool’s errand.”
John Lochman, the Saxon chair of clinical psychology at the University of Alabama, said that intent would be the key question for the case.
Lochman directs a lab that researches how to prevent youth violence and said instances like this case are very rare. “It just doesn’t occur in normal life for an eight-year-old to be killing other children,” he said.
When young children are suspected of murder, it makes global headlines. But recent cases in the US still bear few similarities to what police say happened in Birmingham last month.
Two girls in Wisconsin are could be tried in adult court for alleged attempted first-degree murder when they and their victim were 12 years old. The girls are accused of repeatedly stabbing their friend to please an imaginary monster named Slender Man.
Tristen Kurilla, 10, is accused of beating to death a 90-year-old in October 2014. He told police: “I was only trying to hurt her.” In Tennessee, an 11-year-old is facing murder charges for fatally shooting eight-year-old MaKayla Dyer. The incident raised questions about why a loaded gun was inside a home with children.
And this summer, two siblings known as the country’s “youngest convicted killers” were released from jail. Catherine and Curtis Jones were convicted of killing their father’s girlfriend when they were 13 and 12, respectively. A Florida agency found that there was evidence that they had been abused by a family member who was part of their murder plot, which also included their father.
Nadine Kaslow, a professor and vice-chair at Emory University’s department of psychology, said that it is “extraordinarily unusual” for an eight-year-old to face allegations of killing someone.
She is skeptical that he was acting intentionally and emphasized that it is also unusual for a one-year-old to be left in the care of children. “I’m having a hard time understanding why you would hold an eight-year-old as the primary person responsible,” Kaslow said.
She said a murder charge implies “a certain level of intentionality”, which should not be assumed in someone so young.
“What he did was wrong, there’s no question, but it was wrong in a larger social context,” said Kaslow. “And I think when children do wrong things, you need to look at their social environment and hold that as much responsible – if not more so.
“I wonder what kind of future this child can have,” Kaslow said. “This child accused of murder, taken away from his family – what kind of identity can he ever have that’s reasonable?”