The Police Frameup of Two Children

Revolutionary Worker #974, September 20, 1998

At the end of July, the people of Englewood--a Black neighborhood in South Side Chicago--learned that a horrible crime had taken place in their streets. Eleven-year-old Ryan Harris was found murdered in an abandoned lot. She had been hit on the head with a blunt object and suffocated, and her body showed signs of sexual assault.

Then the police arrived--and they dragged the people into an even more hellish nightmare. Anyone who thought that the police might do something positive for the people, at least in this case, got a very bitter lesson.

Without any actual evidence, the police pounced like wolves on two children--7- and 8-year-old boys--and made them into prime suspects. Detectives grilled the kids for five hours without their parents or any lawyers present. A child psychology expert who later examined the 7-year-old said that the boy has significant speech problems and is "virtually non-verbal" unless he is with his mother.

But the police declared that the two children had "confessed" to the murder of Ryan Harris and took them into custody.

In the courtroom, the kids sat at the table with their lawyers, drawing on coloring books. They were so small their feet didn't even touch the floor. But the prosecutors treated them like hardened criminals and filed murder charges against them. The judge released the kids into the custody of their parents--but ordered that they wear electronic monitors on their ankles and be confined to their homes.

Murder charges?! Against 7- and 8-year-old children?! In Englewood and elsewhere, people reacted with disbelief--and anger. How could the police and prosecutors claim to have a case, based solely on "confessions" from two kids obtained through methods that were highly questionable if not outright illegal? Whether the kids were involved or not, shouldn't they be treated with compassion and care--rather than thrown into the frightening pit of the criminal court system?

The two children, their families and acquaintances were put through weeks of anguish as the state pressed forward with their case.

Suddenly on September 4, the whole case broke apart and was exposed as an ugly police frame-up. Prosecutors admitted in court that lab tests on Ryan Harris' underwear showed the presence of semen. Seven- or 8-year-old boys are physically incapable of producing semen. This single piece of evidence shattered the lies that the police told to falsely accuse the two boys. Prosecutors were forced to drop the murder charges.

The relief of the boys' families at this turn of events quickly turned to rage and disgust. "I wanted my son to help catch the monster," said the father of the 8-year-old. "But then the authorities became the monster." The mother of the 7-year-old said, "I can't say I'm happy. There is still a child dead. I am a little bit disgusted. I'm empty. Sad. I'm real sad because the Chicago Police Department is supposed to serve and protect people. And they didn't give these boys a chance."

The families, their supporters and many others righteously demand that the police, the prosecutors and Chicago Mayor Daley apologize for what they put everybody through. But police and government officials are refusing to utter a single word of apology for the pain they caused the two children, their families and the whole community.

The police insist that they did nothing wrong when detectives questioned the two kids alone, behind closed doors. The boys "waived their Miranda rights," they claim. How can children that young even understand what Miranda rights really are--let alone make a decision about waiving them and allowing themselves to be questioned by police without legal advice?

The police and prosecutors still refuse to completely exonerate the two boys. The police superintendent even said the kids might be called back in for more questioning and that other charges might be filed against them.

What This Shows About
How Cops Regularly Operate

The refusal of the police to apologize is outrageous--but it also reveals a basic truth about how cops operate. The shameful way the police treated the two children is typical of the way they treat the common people all the time in this society--especially Black, Latino and other oppressed people. The police are enforcers of an unjust system, and they see whole communities and sections of the people as the enemy. Every day, in cities across the country, cops regularly bully, brutalize and frame up people.

One of the detectives who coerced "confessions" out of the 7- and 8-year-olds did the very same thing to another kid four years ago. In that case, an 11-year-old youth--also questioned outside the presence of his parents or lawyers--supposedly "admitted" to a murder. The youth was found guilty of murder based solely on this "confession," and despite physical evidence pointing to the involvement of someone else in the killing.

But it's not just a question of a few "rogue" cops. In DuPage county outside Chicago, cops and prosecutors conspired to push for the execution of Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez in a child murder case, even after another man confessed to the crime. A series of scandals in recent years revealed how Philadelphia cops made up phony evidence to put people behind bars. Similar exposures in other cities show that this is common police behavior.

R. Eugene Pincham, a retired Illinois judge who helped defend the 8-year-old Englewood kid, said, "It's frightening, really, that if a police officer would do this to two children, what would he do to me?"

And if the police and prosecutors are cold-blooded enough to pin phony murder charges on innocent children, can anyone doubt that they would go to great lengths to railroad a revolutionary like Mumia Abu- Jamal?

Criminalization of a Generation

Before their murder case against the 7- and 8-year-old kids collapsed, the police and prosecutors tried to portray them as vicious criminals who intentionally killed another child. Sensational media coverage linked the case to other incidents of children accused of major crimes.

This is part of moves by the power structure to create a climate for new laws and harsher punishment against youth. There have been other cases of cops interrogating children without their parents or legal advisers present. Powerful forces are pushing for the expansion of the state's ability to try children as adults so that they could receive life imprisonment.

In the recent case of the 12- and 14-year-old boys convicted for the school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the sentencing judge complained that this state did not allow children to be sentenced as adults. The idea that children accused of crimes should have special legal protections is often ridiculed. A common theme in the media is that such children are "predators"--who deserve to be locked away, punished with long sentences, or even executed.

As the Call for a National Day of Protest on October 22, 1998 says: "1.7 million people are in prisons across the country, most of them young, Black or Latino, and most are in prison for non-violent offenses. Congress is debating lowering the execution age to fifteen and imprisoning juveniles with hardened adult offenders. A whole generation of our youth is being treated like criminals based on how they dress, their attitude, the color of their skin or where they live. Who will stop the criminalization of a generation?"

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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