Years of research, on top of anecdotal experience, conclusively proved the unreliability of eyewitness identification. Yet, when it served a political end, someone at the New York Times thought it worthwhile to publish an op-ed that the trauma of being a sexual assault victim made their observations, their memory of victimhood, reliable.
It wasn’t merely outrageously false, but a sellout of fact to the cause. It was a lie, and they knew it and didn’t care. In their fight for “survivors,” it was a lie they needed people to believe, and so they conveniently forgot the exonerated on death row who were the victims of false eyewitness identifications and proclaimed it real, but with a hook. This was about victims of sexual assault and rape, as if the same trauma, the same false identification, the same false memories, weren’t the same worst evidence against every accused. With that hook, they could pretend it applied exclusively to rape, even though memories are memories for any crime.
It’s happening again, and again for the same reasons. A 16-year-old boy named Kyle was accepted to Harvard College. After word of his admission got out, because Kyle was both a survivor of the Parkland school shooting and very conservative in contrast to some of his classmates, Because of this, people took a deep dive into his life and unearthed a rant that was exceptionally ugly and racist, using the “n-word” numerous times. This was sent to Harvard, which, despite Kyle’s apology, rescinded his acceptance. All hell broke loose, as it’s wont to do.
The focus on the left was that Harvard’s rescission of acceptance was certainly warranted. In arguments reminiscent of the rationalization for campus deprivation of due process, it wasn’t like he was going to prison, but just not going to Harvard. After all, Harvard isn’t a right, and more importantly, he deserved it. As George Conway wrote in reply to me, “there’s no excuse.”
There is an excuse.
All the effort to reform laws to get kids out of adult court, solitary, LWOP, based on their immaturity and brain development lost for a moment’s partisanship to use one dumb kid as a pawn in the culture war.
Like eyewitness identifications, research and anecdotal experience have shown that kids’ brains develop until their twenties. Like eyewitness identifications, even the New York Times knows this. This is a foundational reason that teens shouldn’t be tried, held accountable or punished like an adult, because they’re immature.
Kids do dumb things, and we need to consider that they’re just kids, immature, developing and not to be judged as if they’re adults. This wasn’t just science, but a rallying cry of reformers fighting the tough-on-crime crowd. Except this time, this kid, had no excuse. “There must be consequences” this time, because he was a racist.
The rationalizations were as expected. Losing admission to Harvard was hardly the same as going to prison, and Kyle was an awful racist asshole. As invariably follows, any defense of this kid, or challenge to Harvard’s decision, was racist as well. After all, why would anyone but a racist defend a racist? The irony is not lost on an old criminal defense lawyer, given that we defend murderers, which is somehow less offensive to the unduly passionate.
Even the more thoughtful, and more dedicated to the cause of defending youth, couldn’t bring themselves to admit they were attacking science and their own deeply held beliefs.
I think many (1) don’t have a good understanding of how Harvard’s admissions process works, and (2) should maybe save the developmental psychology dissertations to protest the millions of people in lockup for dumb things they did as teens. Prison is worse than “not at Harvard.”
Does developmental psychology no longer apply when you’re either okay with the punishment or hate the offense enough? Either it’s true, and applies to all youth, or it’s not. If not, then it’s just as false for those “millions of people in lockup for dumb things they did as teens” as it is for Kyle. So, which is it? Me:
Can we not harm the argument for the kids in lockup to beat down the transient hypocrites, please?
Columbia Prawf Jamal Greene:
Is your argument that Harvard College shouldn’t rescind offers to people who repeatedly say the N word (in unambiguously racist ways) and “Kill the Jews” because doing so hurts the defense of juvenile criminal defendants? If so, we’ll have to agree to disagree.
What a peculiar reply. I’ve said nothing to you about what Harvard should do.
Then I’m not sure who or what you think is harming the argument or how it is doing so.
Since Jamal Greene is a very smart person and there was nothing to be gained by indulging his suddenly dense reply, I ended the discussion there.* At least the many passionate simpletons had the courage of their convictions.
David Brooks argued that Harvard missed a teachable moment. While the unearthing of a quasi-private two-year-old rant was unseemly, as was Harvard’s response to his apology and explanation, my concerns bore no connection with this kid’s politics, character or attendance at Harvard. Indeed, as Elie Mystal compellingly argues, Harvarding While Black is replete with racism whether Kyle goes there or not.
But what can’t be ignored was Conway’s “there’s no excuse.” There is an excuse, and it’s a damn good excuse. It’s the exact same excuse raised by progressives, reformers and criminal defense lawyer every time a teen does something dumb, whether that’s a crime or a racist rant or jumps off a roof. They’re kids. Whether they’re smart kids or not, they’re immature and make poor decisions.
This doesn’t mean Kyle’s apology is sincere, though it appears to be. This doesn’t mean Kyle isn’t, in fact, a racist. And whether he goes to Harvard or Podunk Community College has nothing to do with anything.
What happened here is that the forces of anti-racism willfully abandoned all principle, all science, all integrity, that provides the very strong and very real rationale that the conduct of teens reflects their developing brain, their immaturity. What matters is how they tossed a kid off the ledge because, instead of murdering someone, he uttered the n-word, and so there can be no excuse. It’s not about some kid named “Kyle,” but all kids. They don’t care.
*Notably, quite a few people have “liked” Jamal Greene’s twits.