Monday, April 7, 2008

Kids, Crime and Media Panic

Several students, particularly from Juvenile Delinquency, have emailed me with links to the story about a group of 3rd graders who allegedly planned to kidnap or kill their teacher down in Waycross, Georgia.

Most of you wondered if this was an example of the "media panic" and hysteria that surrounds the exceptionality of youth crime, and I would have to say at first blush (or 250th, as in the world-wide coverage of this incident) the answer is probably yes.

Here are just a few of the headlines, from a brief Google News search (which turned up more than 253 hits using the search parameters "third graders plot"), of the incident:

Third Grade Thugs Pose Puzzle To All.

Kids Terror Plot Motivated By Revenge.

Third-Graders Plot to Attack Teacher With Knife, Cuffs, Duct Tape.

Third-Graders Suspended After Plot To Kill Teacher Uncovered.

Third Grade Plot Ringleader Charged For Threatening Student.

Chilling Alleged Plot By Grade 3 Students.

The latter being my favorite editorial with the breathless, "So, as a group they decided to kill their teacher. Not with kindness, but with a steak knife. What is this world coming to?"

From my brief content analysis of these headlines, I count numerous references to "terror plots," "thugs," "ringleaders" and "attackers," all in relation to a group of third-graders who may or may not have been acting out a scene from Pokemon, for all we know.

Lost in the madness and hyper-vigilant coverage, replete with menacing pictures of a 1970's-era steak knife, and a roll of duct tape (left over from the terror-scares of the early 2000's, no doubt), is the fact that the incident probably did not and could not have happened the way it is now being alleged by Waycross authorities and a runaway media.

Fundamentally, children this young lack the cognitive awareness and impulse control to hatch an "elaborate plot" the kind of which is being alleged.

Most children under the age of 12 don't generally experience the kind of long-standing anger necessary for a premeditated crime, said Dan Mears, an associate professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

"Kids tend to be more spontaneous," Mears said. "If they're angry, they act on it right then."

Experts said children that age are certainly imaginative and capable of creating elaborate games. But Dr. Louis Kraus, a child psychiatry expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said he doubts they would have actually attacked.

"The reality is it is highly unlikely they would have been successful at this," Kraus said. "Even if it had begun, it's unclear whether they actually would have followed through with it."

But don't let a few facts get in the way of a ratings barn-burner, and a crime chalk-full of political capital.
The district attorney is seeking juvenile charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault against an 8-year-old boy and two girls, ages 9 and 10. The girls are also charged with bringing weapons to school.
No word yet on whether the death penalty will be sought, but it does raise the question of what kind of punishment would be appropos for such "thugs."

As one student put it today in 3070, perhaps "six months in time out" would do it.


Jenn said...

I won't clog up your comments page (I really could) after reading all those articles you posted), but after I read all those links to those articles you posted, I noticed there was one point none of them mentioned: where are the parents in all of this?

One kid had handcuffs (one of the articles states they were steel), and I seriously doubt that this kid went to the Toys R Us and bought it with their Christmas money. The parents probably had the handcuffs available in the house for the kid to find.

And one of the articles blamed it all on too much television. Who let's kids watch all that television? Their parents, that's who. It sure shuts up most kids, anyway.

So, where are the parents?

Kell said...

I live in Waycross, where the local eight year olds are closet street thugs and murderers. It was ridiculous to see how sensationalized this story became as the media took over.