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FATTENING WALL STREET — Mike Whitney reports on the rapid metamorphosis of new Fed Chair Janet Yallin into a lackey for the bankers, bond traders and brokers. The New Religious Wars Over the Environment: Joyce Nelson charts the looming confrontation between the Catholic Church and fundamentalists over climate change, extinction and GMOs; A People’s History of Mexican Constitutions: Andrew Smolski on the 200 year-long struggle of Mexico’s peasants, indigenous people and workers to secure legal rights and liberties; Spying on Black Writers: Ron Jacobs uncovers the FBI’s 50 year-long obsession with black poets, novelists and essayists; O Elephant! JoAnn Wypijewski on the grim history of circus elephants; PLUS: Jeffrey St. Clair on birds and climate change; Chris Floyd on the US as nuclear bully; Seth Sandronsky on Van Jones’s blind spot; Lee Ballinger on musicians and the State Department; and Kim Nicolini on the films of JC Chandor.
The Bizarre Case of Philip Chism

Age vs. Justice: Prosecutorial Triple Standards

by THOMAS KNAPP

In October, I wrote an op-ed on the practice of “trying juveniles as adults,” citing the case of 14-year-old Philip Chism. The Andover, Massachusetts teen stands accused of killing 24-year-old teacher Colleen Ritzer.

As I pointed out in that previous piece, politicians and prosecutors (but I repeat myself) enjoy a double standard under which those previously legally defined as “children” because they’re younger than an arbitrary number can suddenly and magically transform into “adults” when they’re accused of committing a crime and when a politician or prosecutor (but I repeat myself again) sees possible political advantage in a sensational trial.

I didn’t know it at the time, but characterizing this regime as a “double standard” doesn’t even come close in Chism’s case. As the Associated Press now reports, “Chism is charged with murder as an adult. He is charged as a youthful offender on aggravated rape and armed robbery charges, which are pending in juvenile court.”

Try and wrap your brain around that: Chism was (and still is) considered a “child” for purposes of driving, voting, drinking, signing contracts and having sex. But standing accused of three crimes, committed at the same time, in the same place, against the same person, he is simultaneously an “adult” for one crime and a “child” for the other two.

Whoever came up with this idiotic claim needs a remedial course in logic, with an emphasis on the law of non-contradiction (Aristotle: “It is not possible to say truly at the same time that the same thing is and is not a man”). In fact, I’m tempted to recommend Avicenna’s corrective (“Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned”).

Philip Chism is either a child or an adult. He cannot be both at the same time and in the same respect. The double standard of treating him as a child for some purposes and an adult for others is bad enough, but it’s at least an apples and oranges kind of thing. This TRIPLE standard, where he’s considered simultaneously a child and an adult, one and then the other for only slightly different parts of a closely connected set of alleged actions, completely belies the claim that what the state’s functionaries are seeking in this case is “justice.”

The obvious remedy to the child/adult problem in criminal prosecutions is to remove such determinations from the hands of prosecutors, judges and politicians (but I repeat myself a third time!). Instead of letting politicians draw numbers out of hats, then ignore those numbers when convenient, allow juries to examine, and determine to their own satisfaction the competency of, those accused of crimes (and those unwillingly co-opted as “victims,” too). Leaving justice in the hands of politicians and of the inherently unjust institutions we call “states” is a mistake with deadly and traumatizing consequences.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).