Relative Ethics vs. Absolute Justice
When families forget to teach kids right from wrong, the courts must.
On the final day of school last year, 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill stalked the halls of his West Palm Beach high school and discharged a gun into the face of his seventh-grade English teacher, Barry Grunlow.
The fatal shooting occurred after Brazill had been sent home early for disruptive behavior the last day of school. Upset that he would not be able to say good-bye to two girls he liked, Brazill went home, grabbed a gun, then returned to the school demanding to see them. When denied, Brazill pulled out his gun, pointed it at the teacher, then squeezed the trigger.
Brazill was convicted Wednesday by a Palm Beach County Circuit Court of second-degree murder, a lesser charge than the first-degree sought by prosecutors. Now the court has to make the very solemn decision whether to lock Brazill up for the better part--if not the remainder--of his life. The judge will have to contend with the question whether this child has acted in such an insidious manner that we must remove him from society, as a doctor would cut out a cancerous tumor.
The decision to lock away and effectively end a child's life will not be easy. Still, it is a decision that the judge must make.
Truly, it is a tragedy that a young adult--by definition, someone full of possibilities--will not be allowed to pursue a customary life. However, we cannot allow our sympathies to guide our understanding of the law. Plainly, laws cannot be relative. Central to the effectiveness of any democracy is the understanding that the law exists as a mutually agreed upon standard that is applicable to all. If the law fails this standard, the law fails its citizens.
For this reason, the full brunt of the law must be applied to Brazill, just as it would be applied to any murderer. The decision to sentence Brazill to life would be a final testament not only to the sanctity of innocent life but to the sanctity of our social order as well. As State Attorney Barry Krischer noted in the Miami Herald before the verdict, "Ethically, it's my duty to charge the highest level of crime provable." And indeed, it is sad that we must increasingly charge children with such crimes. But, with the disintegrating moral consensus in this country, such is the state of our children.
Lacking firm parental guidance, many of these kids come home from school every day, make their own dinners, then stare into their television sets, debating whether to do their homework. With perverse pride, they see themselves reflected in the hyperviolent television programs that serve as their surrogate parents. Lacking a moral foundation to arbitrate their understanding of right and wrong, they live out lives based on whims, often violent whims.
"Just watch, I'll be all over the news," Brazill reportedly bragged shortly before shooting the teacher.
Stalking down the hallways of schools across the country, many other children feel the same way.
Against this backdrop, an impartial and unyielding law is paramount.