“In the US, juvenile drug offenders are routinely tried as adults,” says Eric Levitz. Thirteen-year-old murderers have been sentenced to life without parole; teenagers who text naked pictures of themselves are regularly arrested for child pornography. The American Right has worked hard to bring this situation about, and wants the law made still harsher.
Trump has previously supported the death penalty for teenagers. But since Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault as a 17-year-old, “the Right’s thinking on juvenile justice appears to have radically changed”. Many of Kavanaugh’s defenders argue that even if the allegations are true, it would be unfair to hold alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour from his high-school days against him now.
So why does such leniency only apply to the white and privileged? African-American teens are often arrested and sent to prison for crimes far less serious than attempted rape. When Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012, many conservatives blamed him for looking like a “thug”. In our society, it seems that “law and order” doesn’t apply to everyone equally. (Eric Levitz, New York magazine amd The Week 6 Oct 2018)
Fear of the “other” and the need of so many people to feel superior (“I may be poor but at least I’m not black”) are given as reasons for the stubborn failure to treat blacks as equals under the law. At least there are moves in Congress to reform sentencing and maybe to reduce the obscene number of people rotting in jail, many for trivial reasons.
Epicurus is supposed to have welcomed all comers to his Garden – women, slaves, foreigners, anyone committed to intelligent discussion and debate, all treated equally. He would be appalled that, after so many centuries prejudice, discrimination and racial violence continue as if we as human beings have learned nothing in the interim.