The Scapegoating of Brandon McInerney
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
July 25th, 2008
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Douglas Daily ruled yesterday that Brandon McInerney, the 14-year-old who shot and killed Lawrence King at school in February and was charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime, can be tried as an adult.
McInerney’s lawyer, William Quest, along with a large coalition of gay groups, had urged the court to try McInerney as a juvenile. That coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Equality California, Gay Straight Alliance Network, Lambda Legal, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Transgender Law Center.
I know this is a controversial, but I see no purpose this ruling serves. There has already been one tragedy — Larry’s life is over — and there will soon be another. What this court and district attorney is doing setting the stage for a 14-year-old with no prior record to spend the next 50 years in prison. If this path reaches its logical conclusion, two lives will be over.
Do we really think that solves anything?
California only recently passed a comprehensive anti-bullying measure to specifically protect LGBT students in the schools. The ink on that law was barely dry when King was shot, and it’s unclear how much, if any, the curriculum had been revised or programs put into place to comply with that law. And I have yet to have heard any specific steps that the schools in Ventura County may have taken to instruct their students about bullying sexual minority children specifically.
Just a few weeks ago, we saw an anti-bullying law killed in North Carolina because it listed sexual orientation as a reason schoolchildren might be targets of bullying. Notice the clause that started the controversy: sexual orientation. It wasn’t race, religion, or abilities that sparked the controversy. It was because sexual orientation was specified that the bill was killed, and opponents to that bill were vocally proud of having killed it for that very reason.
And that specificity is important. You can tell kids that it’s not okay to beat up Black kids, or kids who speak a different language, or kids who are disabled, or who kids who follow a different religion, and they can understand that. And they can certainly hear it loud and clear when measures to protect LGBT kids are shot down because we don’t want to “approve” of some people. We’ve even seen so-called “experts” extolled the value of teasing and tormenting LGBT kids.
So just saying “don’t bully” isn’t enough. As any parent will tell you, teens and pre-teens are preeminent experts at exploiting loopholes. A huge, gaping loophole of being a sissy — that is all the “permission” some kids need. Especially one whose home environment, like Brandon’s, may have taught him that violence is a way to solve problems. Brandon’s own father had been convicted of shooting his mother in the arm just before he was born.
There’s no information to suggest that Brandon and Larry’s teachers or school administrators did anything to calm this particular situation. And there’s certainly no indication that Brandon received any appropriate guidance from his parents. And all we have to do is look in the newspapers to see plenty of other examples where other “responsible” adults, by their silence as well as their rhetoric, give a signal that kids like Brandon can take as a green light.
We asked last February where the voice of the Church was concerning Lawrence King’s death, but we’ve heard nothing but silence. We’ve searched for Lawrence King’s name on Focus On the Family’s web site and CitizenLink. Guess what? There’s nothing but silence. Look at the Family Research Council’s web site. More silence. Same with American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, the Christian Post, Christianity Today, the Christian Newswire and the Baptist Press. Nobody has raised their voice. Instead, we’ve had months of silence.
We know how easy it is for kids to pick up the idea that if something isn’t prohibited, then it is implicitly permitted. How many other kids are being influenced by the roaring silence coming from the so-called “values” bunch in the wake of Larry’s murder?
In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, a goat was driven off into the wilderness as part of the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The goat was meant to carry the sins of the people out of the city. And being sent off alone into the desert full of wolves and other wild animals without the protection of the herd, the goat’s fate was sealed. That goat was later translated as the “(e)scape goat,” or scapegoat.
We are about to send 14-year-old Brandon McInerney into the wilderness of the California penal system. McInerney committed a horrific crime, one that cannot go unpunished. But that young teen also cannot be expected to carry the sins of those who, by their silence and their rhetoric, have given the tacit green light over and over. He cannot atone for their sins.
Gay kids aren’t the only victims when the adults around them fail to do the right thing. Larry King’s live was already snuffed out far too early. Destroying another one won’t solve the problem, nor will it absolve the guilt of those who allow the bullying to continue.