Sonny Boy

Vincent Avatar

I know this is an Al Jolson song. I chose it because it’s poignant in so many ways.

When I look at my boys, I see great things. I see everything I couldn’t achieve because of circumstance or simply a lack of imagination. I see dreams and aspirations that shame my own lack of ambition.

On a Saturday night in November, seven Long Island teenagers hunted down and murdered an Ecuadorian immigrant, 38-year old, Marcello Lucero. According to Newsday, with the exception of one awaiting sentencing on another fatal shooting, the teens were “normal” high school students attending Patchogue-Medford High School. There were no Marilyn Manson CDs their parents could blame their behavior on. In fact, as far as I know,only one of teens arrested is cited as having behavioral issues. Shea was “withdrawn” after the death of his mother.

Now, Hispanics Across America is considering suing the parents of the seven students, stating: “Parents that teach their children hate are just as responsible as the kids who commit the crimes.”

I agree with the statement that parents are responsible for teaching their children social values. Those that teach hate should be held accountable when their children follow through on their teachings. However, I am not the child my parents wanted. A relatively quiet but happy child, their teachings guided me until something clicked in my head and I chose to act on my own conclusions and beliefs about the world.

While I agree with the statement of parental responsibility. I am uncertain as to when it becomes inapplicable. At some point, the child becomes a “young adult,” acting on conclusions he or she has drawn based on their interpretation of the pieces of information he or she has gathered. I am my parents’ child but I am above that my own person.

My parents and I have the stereotypical relationship of their being more conservative about most social and political issues and my being liberal. If I were to accept Hispanics Across America’s considerations, how many of my beliefs are my parents fault? (and by the same virtue, how many to their credit?)

According to the Library Index, “For many decades, civil liability laws held parents at least partly responsible for damages caused by their children… Several states have enacted laws making parents criminally responsible for their children’s crimes.” But the question remains, when did I stop being my parents’ son? Did I ever?

An opinion piece from 2007 by Zou Hanru in the China Daily suggests parents serve their child’s sentence alongside the convicted child. He references the 1993 murder of a two-year old by two 10-year old boys. He bemoans the fact that the murderous boys only received eight year sentences. He was reacting to the rise in juvenile crime in Hong Kong and Europe.

In Hong Kong the “age of criminal responsibility” is 10. In Taiwan and mainland China, 14. According to UNICEF, it is 15 in the US. I question whether capacity to hate (and I mean hate to the point of acting on the impulse to do someone harm) can be so easily assigned to an age range?

I question because in education assigning a grade based on age does not always guarantee a child’s capacity to perform on the assigned grade level. Prior preparation is not the only cause of this. Sometimes the cause is an inability to springboard from concrete forms of thought to abstract ones. Cognitive development varies based on stimulus.

This is not to suggest parents do not impact their children’s emotional and social development. In 2005, the Center for Disease Control initiated their “Legacy for Children” series of studies. Their driving question was: “do children in the parenting intervention groups achieve better developmental outcomes than do the children in the comparison groups?”

The question here is not whether or not parents have an impact on the developmental outcomes of their children. The question is when does the child sift through his or her parents’ truths and determine his or her own set of truths?

Also, there is the question of environment. Long Island Suffolk County Executive, Steve Levy, has gained notoriety as a champion of anti-immigrant legislation and propaganda. According to Newsday, Levy said if the hunt and murder of Marcello Lucero had happened in Nassau County, “it would be a one-day story. You wouldn’t have all of the side stories trying to link motive to county policy.”

Should Levy be jailed alongside the seven murderers and their parents? His public anti-immigrant stances certainly played a role in this tragedy. There is truth in the punk jeer, “A product of your society!”

Parents should be responsible for providing their children with guidelines and strategies for coping with a sometimes disappointing world. Parents should be accountable when their children take their beliefs to violent ends. But parents should not be held solely responsible. Not when you have respected social figures subtly inciting violence and reinforcing the hate.

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