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6-year-old boy sent to court in North Carolina for picking a tulip while waiting at a bus stop

Of 7300 complaints filed against children, 47 percent were against Black children between the years 2015-2018 despite the state's Black population being only 22 percent.

6-year-old boy sent to court in North Carolina for picking a tulip while waiting at a bus stop
Image Source: Getty Images/ Left: Young boy picking flowers/ Right: Judge holding gavel in courtroom (representative)

It's not common for a six-year-old to be presented at court for a crime, so naturally, the case at a North Carolina court gained attention. The boy's attorney had to hand him crayons and a coloring book, just so she could keep him at the courthouse during proceedings. His crime? Picking a tulip from a yard while waiting at the bus stop. His attorney, Julie Boyer, said the boy was on trial in juvenile court for injury to real property. "I asked him to color a picture. So he did," she told the court as she prepared to defend him. The boy's mother wasn't able to attend the proceedings, which meant he had to go with his attorney. The judge dismissed the case as soon as he heard about the crime.



The boy's mother was served with papers. Boyer added that the boy didn't have the mental capacity to grasp the juvenile justice process and understand the gravity of its consequences. They couldn't make informed decisions to protect themselves or demand their rights such as deciding against talking to the police or what to tell them. While the case was dismissed, it opened up a debate as to the damage an episode like this could have on a boy as young as 6-years-old. "Should a child that believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy be making life-altering decisions?" asked New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge Jay Corpening.



Advocates for children in the justice system pointed out that the case could have a lasting effect on him, not to mention the charge remaining against the child's record forever. It could be used to label him a criminal, and used against him at school and in the future. “A 6-year-old cannot comprehend what is taking place in court, but probably will never forget being labeled a delinquent,” said district attorney for Durham County Satana Deberry. Being continuously targeted and called a criminal also increases his chance of getting into trouble again, and of being sent to an alternative school. 




An opinion piece in Journal Now touched upon the matter. One particular issue with the juvenile system was the racial injustice meted out to minorities. "When a cop picks up a White boy, he takes him to his parents," said Mary Stansell, juvenile chief at the Wake County Public Defender's Office. "But if he is Black, he takes him to the state." According to the numbers from the state Juvenile Justice section, nearly 7,300 complaints were filed against children age 6 to 11 years old between the years 2015 through 2018. During the same period, there were 70 complaints on average against 6-year-olds each year.




Nearly 7,300 complaints were filed against children age 6 to 11 years old, according to numbers from the state Juvenile Justice section. Of complaints, 47 percent were against Black children, 40 percent were against White children, and 7 percent against Hispanic or Latino children. This is in sharp contrast to the state's population where 22 percent of the state's population is Black, 70 percent is White and 10 percent is Hispanic. Yakob Lemma, 17, an Enloe High senior and co-founder of the Wake County Black Student Coalition, a student-led organization, said the stats pointed to kids from the African-American communities being targeted. "This is just proof that we have been criminalized since we're young, since we are little kids, and we have to grow up all our lives like that, with being criminalized and being actively targeted," said Lemma.




It also opened debate on the recommended age for juvenile proceedings. The state of North Carolina can hold juvenile proceedings against kids as young as 6-years-old, while three other states set the age of 7. Roughly 12 states including Massachusetts and California set the age at 12. Multiple committees and advocate groups suggested ages ranging from 10 to 14 but none of them went below the age of ten. A subcommittee of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee recommended the age of 10.




The National Juvenile Justice Network is pushing to raise the national minimum age for trying children in juvenile court to 14. "National Juvenile Justice network (NJJN) calls on all states to set a reasonable minimum age for prosecuting children and recommends that age be no lower than  14-years-old in accordance with the standards set forth by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and practices around the world; 14 is the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility internationally," read a statement. “Anyone who has spent time with a 6-year-old child knows that temper tantrums are a completely normal and expected aspect of their development. That a child would get arrested for exhibiting what every normal child at that age goes through is completely appalling and unacceptable. Sending a child under 14 to juvenile court should never be an option - ever,” said K Ricky Watson, Jr., executive director at NJJN. You can access the toolkit to raise awareness on the matter here and help push raise the minimum age to 14. 

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