I was stunned as I read the Jan. 8 editorial "New focus needed on juvenile crime." The focus recommended is to arrest and jail children. We tried that in the 1970s and '80s. And now we have mass incarceration and prisons crammed with men and women who are disproportionately people of color. We see police shooting and assaulting Black children on the news. Do you really think returning to a failed response to crime will make things better?
Our children live in a world where guns are considered a "right" and are easy to be found. They have been out of school for months. Many live without adequate housing, food or parental care while facing virulent racism. Alcohol and drugs are readily available.
Dealing with community social problems that lead to violence may be expensive, but "getting tough" on our children, locking them in juvenile detention jails and subjecting them to policing and prosecution will cost more in the long run.
Candace Rasmussen, Rochester
The writer is a retired public defender.
The calls for the county attorney's office to charge and hold violent offenders is appropriate. The court system, however, has more than one actor per offender. At the very least there's the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the judge. Depending on the case there may also be a probation or parole agent involved.
Defense attorneys do their jobs by attempting to get the least amount of punishment, whatever it may be, for their clients. That's not going to change. Certainly prosecutors can charge at the highest offense level that's provable. Probation and parole officers most likely err on the side of community safety, meaning they're probably not going to recommend that violent offenders, especially repeat offenders, be released immediately into the community.
The judge, on the other hand, is the most powerful person in the courtroom. He or she, within the law and depending on the offense, may order any number or types of sanctions. Of course, the judge takes into consideration the recommendations from the other parties, but doesn't necessarily have to abide by any of them. Too often there have been cases where offenders, often with repeated violent offenses, have been granted bail, no bail or receive minimal consequences for the admitted or proven offense. The judge in these cases could make the choice to hold offenders accountable in a realistic manner no matter what the plea deal involves. Instead, too often, the system and the need to move things along dictate the outcome. The community and the many victims of these offenders deserve an approach that includes accountability first. In these cases accountability should involve keeping the offender off the streets for a period of time. If after that, the offender is amenable to restorative justice interventions, that would be the time to utilize those.
In addition to requesting that prosecutors take a more restrictive approach in their charging and plea deals, we must also ask that judges look at the defendant's history of compliance and kinds of prior offenses and the nature of the instant offense, and stop allowing "just one more chance." That chance too often results in one more victim. When will the first one be enough?
Jeanne Torma, Minneapolis
I didn't see anything "new" in the Star Tribune's "New focus needed on juvenile crime" editorial. Same old put-'em-in-jail. With how much the world has changed in the last two to three years, especially for kids in poorer households, we need a new approach to the juveniles committing crimes. Boot camps that help them thrive in this world with computer training, education, therapy ... there are numerous ways that can be tried that actually may produce healthy productive citizens. I doubt these would be any more expensive than jail. And could actually help.
These are the kids who in many cases were left to their own devices at ages 10, 11 or 12. We can do better for them now. Haven't we proven that locking them up without any help doesn't work?
Jim Schulte, Maple Grove
Voting is still a main problem
One of David Brooks' points in his Jan. 8 commentary, "Why Democrats are not saving democracy," is certainly well taken. The Democratic establishment does seem to have lost touch with many Americans who should be the natural allies of that party. Meanwhile the hard right has perfected the art of attracting far too many American voters by appealing to our worst instincts, and the common thread of such unworthy efforts is nearly always some variation of racism. Donald Trump is the logical culmination of these efforts, first with his absurd birther canards about Barack Obama, and then with his blatant appeals to racism by attacking immigrants, refugees and all varieties of non-Caucasian Americans during his campaign and term in office.
But I can't agree with Brooks' casual attitude toward Republican attacks on voting rights. Even if it was true that such efforts have little effect on the outcomes of elections, they are still contrary to everything America represents. This paragraph especially troubles me:
"Given how local Republicans are behaving, I understand why Democrats want to centralize things. But it's a little weird to be arguing that in order to save democracy we have to take power away from local elected officials. Plus, if you tell local people they're not fit to govern themselves, you're going to further inflame the populist backlash."
The first sentence makes perfect sense, but the next two are disappointing because here Brooks distorts the issue in a manner worthy of the most egregious right-wing propaganda. The issue is not that people are unfit to govern themselves. The issue is that these Republican efforts to suppress the vote and manipulate and distort the outcome are blatant machinations to prevent people from governing themselves in the way they have chosen by casting their votes. Brooks' argument here is a variation on the old claim of "states' rights" that was always used to justify slavery before the Civil War and then to uphold Jim Crow laws after that conflict. In both these historical cases, it was finally necessary for the American people, as represented by their duly elected federal government, to intervene and uphold the rule of law as defined in the Constitution. The voting-rights legislation now before Congress is another attempt to make such a correction by overruling the current onslaught of state-level voting rights restrictions, and not even one Republican senator has the courage to voice support for it.
I think the speeches during the Jan. 6 commemoration event spelled out the issues clearly. The Democratic Party does have some work to do with clarifying its positions and explaining them to American voters on both the national and local levels, but the most vital current political issue is whether the Republican Party has enough courage and love for America to break free of the toxicity of Trump and all that he represents. That would require putting together a platform with policies to attract more voters rather than attempting to cheat their way into power by rigging the system.
Steve Atkinson, Minneapolis
"Our flag is still there."
This was one writer's response (Opinion Exchange, Jan. 5) to all the perceived issues we've faced as radical politics takes a firmer grip on our society. Those words seem uplifting at first glance but couldn't be more meaningless in the greater context of things.
Our flag will still be there on the day after one state or another invalidates a legal election, and it will be there when that state's legislative body throws out votes it arbitrarily declares to be fraudulent. The flag will still be there when the issue is brought before the courts and it will still be there when their decision does nothing to change the result. Finally, the flag will still be there as we begin the slow descent into autocracy and the winners will continue to bathe it in glory.
Yes, the flag will still be there, but it will have taken on new meaning to those who have been disenfranchised.
Dale Jernberg, Minneapolis
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