Friday, October 5, 2012

We couldn't save Trayvon - but how about Cristian?

By the time we heard the tragic story of the short life of Trayvon Martin, it was too late. He was gone.

But there is another tragic story unfolding about a Florida teenager. And it might not be too late for him.

Thirteen year-old Cristian Fernandez is awaiting trail on charges he murdered his 2 year-old brother David.

That a then-12 year old boy would kill his own brother is probably a more painful thought than most of us can comprehend.

Today Cristian is facing trail as an adult for that murder and, if convicted, could spend the next 35 years of his life in prison.

But the real tragedy started a long time ago.
Cristian’s own family background has no shortage of children who find themselves in adult situations. Cristian’s mother gave birth to him when she herself was 12; when he was two, passers-by found him naked, dirty, and alone in a parking lot. When Cristian was 11, his stepfather shot himself in the head after he learned the police planned to arrest him on charges of beating Cristian. Cristian’s defense team says he has been exposed to sexual and physical abuse throughout his short life.
One has to wonder where the State of Florida - which now wants to lock this child up for 35 years - was when he was found naked, dirty and alone in a parking lot at 2. And how did they respond when his step father killed himself rather than face charges for abusing him? Our sense of justice can kick in when he does something terrible. But where were we when something terrible was happening to him?

I'll tell you where we were. We were slashing state budgets that aren't just about funding teachers and cops and firefighters. They are about funding child protection workers and child welfare offices. They are about funding treatment and foster care for abused children. They are about at least pretending we care about the Cristians of the world before they do something awful instead of all of the sudden coming up with the cash to put them away.

This is madness folks. But short of the tragic ending of a 2 year-old killed by his brother, its happening all over America as we speak. I know because I see it every day. We turn our backs on children in the shadows and then give them all kinds of attention when they act out...especially if their skin is black or brown. Because all of the sudden we are afraid of them and want them punished.

So please, when you hear about funding cuts in your state, don't assume its all about cuts to your child's school or firefighters in your neighborhood. Remember that it also is likely to mean that there won't be anyone to reach out to the Cristians of the world who are hurting and need a helping hand before they hurt someone else.

Cristian's case is caught up in a catch-22 between state laws that require imprisonment for life for first-degree murder and a Supreme Court ruling that prohibits that sentence for juveniles. But the issue that needs re-thinking is whether it makes any sense to try a juvenile as an adult.
Juvenile justice advocates say Cristian’s case highlights the importance of broad juvenile-sentencing reform. The issue is “particularly serious” in Florida, said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., and the lawyer who argued and won Miller.

“We’ve made some general progress in challenging this idea that we can treat children as miniature adults,” Stevenson said. “Even for really tragic, violent crimes the idea of the culpability of the child being the same as the culpability of the adult is unacceptable legally, morally, biologically and medically.”
If you're interested in following Cristian's case or showing your support, you can do so by "liking" the Support Cristian Fernandez Facebook page.

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