In Detroit, just this past June, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for intent to murder and felonious assault. The teenager, upset about something, fired a weapon in his home and injured his mom. While he could be tried as a juvenile, he might be “sentenced as an adult” or be given a “blended” juvenile and adult sentence.
In Flint, Michigan, just down the road, in April, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for assaulting his mother while she was driving them somewhere. The kid had pulled his mom’s hair and tried to grab the steering wheel of the car.
Just last month, in Mercerburg, Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old stabbed his classmate in the stomach. He was arrested for attempted homicide.
All three of these 14-year-olds have faced the American criminal justice system. All three probably ended up doing at least some time in juvenile detention, with the possibility that they may also face some time in an adult prison.
Now let’s take GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson at his word, just for the sake of making a point here, and accept his stories as true. By his own admission, at 14, growing up in Detroit, Carson not only stabbed at a kid/family member, but the knife broke on the victim’s belt buckle. Prior to that, he had a history. He said, “As a teenager, I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers.” That hammer incident, by the way, was his mother’s head. In other words, really, when you get right down to it, except for one literal lucky break, Carson really isn’t that different than the 14 year-olds listed above, except for having the good fortune to have grown up in the 1960s, pre-mandatory minimums and 3 strikes and the like. (By the way, the Rude Pundit’s just scratching the surface of non-sexual assaults that 14-year-olds committed, including attacks with bricks, rocks, and baseball bats).
For decades, we’ve been told by conservatives that youths like teenage Ben Carson were monsters who needed to be taken out of the population and imprisoned. The right is quick to look at black youths, especially, as unrepentant criminals, deserving of whatever punishment is meted out by a cop on the spot, a la Michael Brown, or by a justice system that charges them as adults and puts them in penitentiaries with grown-up convicts. And the criminal justice system is willing, especially on a state and local level, to put kids in the adult prison population for crimes like theft or assault. (This doesn’t even get into the school-to-prison pipeline that has been caused by the privatization of prisons, unfounded hysteria about youth crime, craven politicians looking for easy targets, and corrupt judges.)
But when it comes to Ben Carson, conservatives see in him someone who has overcome a violent past to be a leader in their movement (whatever that movement is anymore). Todd Starnes, in a column with the overwrought title, “The Media’s Lynching of Ben Carson,” summarizes this ability to overlook the very things that cause conservatives to condemn a generation of youths to a revolving door of prison and parole: “Ultimately, Dr. Carson’s life story is not about condemnation — it’s about redemption.” Well, no shit.
In the National Review, David French calls Carson, “An admirable though imperfect man who rose from abject poverty to the pinnacle of one of the most challenging professions in the nation — all while never forgetting his roots, maintaining grace and humility even as he earned riches and honors.” Pre-presidential race, many more on the right were equally orgasmic in their praise of Carson.
If Carson is telling the truth about his youth, he should be the shining example of how forgiveness, rehabilitation, and social justice policies can turn around the lives of lots of black kids in abject poverty who have the same rage Carson says he had.
You can’t support Ben Carson and support the savage nature way this nation deals with youth crime. Unless, obviously, you’re conservative and just couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your own hypocrisy. You didn’t have to deal with teenage Ben Carson. You only get to kiss his ass now that he’s made it and shares your corrupted beliefs.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on November 9, 2015, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.