Just An Excitable Boy

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 This was sent to Harvard, which, despite Kyle’s apology, rescinded his acceptance.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.

Me:

What a peculiar reply. I’ve said nothing to you about what Harvard should do.

Jamal:

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.

24 thoughts on “Just An Excitable Boy

  1. DaveL

    Of course Harvard admissions are very different from the criminal justice system. But that’s neither here nor there, because everyone is talking about Mr. Kashuv using the language of punishment. We don’t normally speak of “excuses” for not making it into Harvard. We don’t regard it as a “consequence” precisely because it’s highly selective and you don’t have to actually do anything wrong not to get in. If there are more promising candidates who would make better Harvard students, that’s fine. I’ve long been skeptical of Harvard’s passion for extending invitations on the basis of celebrity status, anyway. But when you make it clear that he has sinned and must be punished, it encourages the destruction of young and immature people who’ve done much worse than use the n-word.

    Reply
    1. SomeGuy

      What a crock. Don’t punish this celebri-kid, or we’ll hurt the regular kids more out of reactionary idiocy!

      What’s your point, that you’re an ass? Point taken.

      Let the kid learn his lesson.

      Reply
      1. SHG Post author

        I salvaged your comment from the spam folder because there’s value in people seeing the deep thoughts of the passionately outraged.

        Reply
    2. SHG Post author

      Harvard is a red herring here, an entirely irrelevant aspect that seems to capture the consciousness. Forget Harvard. Forget college admissions. Forget punishment at all. None of these things alter the fact that we’re talking about a teenager.

      Reply
  2. delurking

    “…research and anecdotal experience have shown that kids’ brains develop until their twenties.”

    All kids? Or is there a distribution? Maybe some develop faster and some slower (my anecdotal evidence certainly supports that). Maybe some are quite mature at 16 and others have the maturity of a middle-schooler well into adulthood and become president. Maybe Harvard admissions should sort by maturity as well as by grades, and evidence of such severe immaturity at 16 (which is the age at which he made the remarks) is evidence that at 18 he is likely still too immature.

    This dilemma here is the same one you raised in your “Juice of Innocence” post. It is worrisome when our society does not in practice support the protections enshrined into our laws as principles that should be widely applied, but I haven’t decided yet how worrisome.

    Reply
  3. Hardfloor

    At the risk of being deemed suddenly dense, I really do think you are overlooking a distinction between reward and punishment. Kids are immature risk takers who lack proper sense of consequences, but there exists significant variation among them on that plane that typically reveals itself as “achievement”. Just as a lad who is discovered to have plagiarized his senior essay can expect F’s and and the rescission of scholarships, the lad who is discovered to have made patently offensive remarks in a quasi public setting shouldn’t be stunned to see his admission to the nations most elite college crumble. He’s not being punished, but he’s not being rewarded either. I don’t think this does violence to the very sound basis behind juvenile systems of justice.

    Reply
      1. Hardfloor

        I really am struggling to get your point. My density may not be sudden but it is persisting. It should go without saying that I hate to see people publicly pillorying this boy as a racist terrible human. I don’t believe that and I do hate to see this kid’s prospects disintegrate so publicly —but I daresay that he’s the one who has made them public. Presumably Harvard didn’t issue a release about a prospective student’s fortunes? In the modern style, he has elected to play out this drama in public, publicizing his acceptance letter and then his unacceptance letter. Sad to see. But I really don’t see the linkage to the underpinnings of juvenile justice. I fully agree with your macro position on that (and on eyewitness testimony and due process even for thought criminals…) but don’t see what exactly has got your goat here.

        Reply
        1. Sgt. Schultz

          It’s not really a hard point to grasp for anyone who actually wants to. Maybe you’re dense. Maybe you just don’t want to understand. But it’s not that the point isn’t clear and well explained; it’s you.

          Reply
  4. B. McLeod

    Sadly, it won’t just be Harvard. The kid will be lucky if he can get into a University of Phoenix Internet study program.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      There have been, and will continue to be, many people sacrificed on the alter of social justice. He’s just one more casualty of war.

      Reply
      1. B. McLeod

        Not lost on me is the irony of these people refusing to try to educate a kid who may not believe as they do.

        Reply
  5. Allen

    The prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is not a principle to be held by society at large, it’s only about crimes. I’ve heard that tune before. Besides doesn’t every parent try to crush their children’s potential to show them the error of their ways? I had no idea the woke world was so vicious.

    Reply
  6. st

    Kyle’s offense wasn’t penning a racist screed. That was the excuse, unearthed only after he had been found guilty by the mob and sentenced to burn.

    His real crime was expressing conservative opinions that didn’t conform to the woke narrative around the Parkland tragedy. His fate was sealed once he diverged from that script.

    If no racist rant had been found, he would have been accused of rape of a Harvard coed. If by some miracle Harvard dismissed the complaint due to evidence that the accused and accuser were separated by 1,000 miles at the time of the alleged assault, Kyle would have been followed by at least one woman carrying a mattress (or its 2019 equivalent) for his entire time at Harvard. He would have been hounded mercilessly. The accusations would never end.

    The science suggests that immature, not fully developed brains don’t process the consequences of actions as well as an adult brain. Perhaps Kyle’s expression of conservative opinions while in a hostile media spotlight overflowing with the woke reflects that immaturity.

    But the same standard suggests that those who are willing to throw away decades of effort to limit the destruction of young lives at the hands of the justice system suffer from the same developmental deficit. Whatever their chronological age, their brains seem not to have developed to the point where they can foresee and plan for inevitable consequences.

    Reply

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