How to treat a boy convicted at age 13

freelittleb_bw_finalLast month, The Daily Kos published an article written by Shaun King about Michael “Little B” Lewis, a 13-year-old Atlanta resident who was convicted for murder in 1997. In one of the first paragraphs, King explains:

[Lewis’s] story had gripped the city and was regularly on the nightly news and on the front page of the AJC. They said he murdered a dad in cold blood in front of his kids on January 21, 1997. I didn’t know if it was true or not, but I was immediately struck that it seemed like every politician and newscaster hated his guts. I haven’t heard the word used since, but I never forgot hearing him called a “super predator” on television. What does that even mean?

If King’s recollection is true, what does this say about the way media covers this and other stories? A “super predator” is an animal with no natural predators of its own, such as humans. It’s is a scientific term. But it conveys something different when used to describe an abandoned 13-year-old boy. The term isolates the child from society, and it helps establish his role as a public enemy. King goes on:

No boy typified and demonstrated the system’s failure of Atlanta more than Michael “Little B” Lewis. For me, he is “The Bluff.” The living, breathing product of a community that a world-class city like Atlanta felt easier to abandon than rescue, when Michael’s boyhood descended into a grade-A clusterfuck. Instead of accepting him as the boy Atlanta made, he would soon be cast into a perpetual state of punitive abyss, apparently forever.

King has serious doubts of whether Lewis actually killed a man in 1997. In the end, however—and from a social perspective—Lewis’s charges are not even the largest concern. What should concern us most is that we are capable of “raising” and abandoning children like him. King concludes:

What I do know is that in the years before that night, Michael had been abandoned, by his parents, by his school, by social services, by the community, and by his extended family long before that fateful January day. The idea that we live in a nation willing to try a pre-pubescent 13-year-old sixth grader as an adult (mind you the state didn’t think he was old or responsible enough legally to drive, vote, serve in the military, buy cigarettes or alcohol or lottery tickets) and banish him off to an adult penitentiary for the rest of his life is despicable.

King’s piece was the first in a series of articles documenting Little B’s story as an abandoned orphan who has spent more continuous time incarcerated than any person starting his sentence at the same age. There are six more pieces to come, and I look forward to reading them.

— Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Associate Editor

Michael “Little B” Lewis, abandoned orphan who has spent more continuous time incarcerated than any person starting his sentence at the same age.

To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.

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