Since the advent of Donald Trump, hate crimes in the U.S. have had a rapid rise, his rhetoric having emboldened racists to display their bigotries with violence and public desecration. But what about the young people committing such crimes; can they be turned around?
In an interview with NPR, prosecutor Alex Rueda explains how she constructed an unorthodox sentence for three teens who vandalized a historic African-American schoolhouse in Virginia with swastikas in October. The unnamed youths pled guilty this week, and the judge is requiring them to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum and read books. Homework rather than jail time.
Rueda seems to think all three teens are missing a crucial component of their education and, to some degree, were not even entirely aware of the context of what they were doing. She says, “What I can tell you about them is that three of them were minorities. Two of them were white. But none of them knew that it was a school. None of them knew that it was a historic property. They all thought it was just this abandoned shed.”
The kids’ parents are apparently “mortified” and at least one family shuttled their kid to the Holocaust Museum before the sentence even came through. To people who think that hate speech from a teenager should be punished on the same level as from an adult, Rueda argues that this ugly incident should be used as a teachable moment. She reminds us that the number one goal of juvenile court is rehabilitation.
The culprits have to write a book report each month from a list of novels assigned them by Rueda. On the list are The Color Purple, The Kite Runner, and Native Son. Rueda says she wanted the books to cover “race and religion and gender and war” to illustrate “oppression all over the world.” She says, “I want them to understand that this can happen anywhere and that these kinds of symbols can be very, very hurtful.”