In July of 2022, a group of Black teens was washing windshields, known as “squeegeeing,” at a busy downtown Baltimore intersection. A 48-year-old white man got out of his car and threatened the youths with a baseball bat, swinging the bat at at least one of them. One of the teens pulled a gun and fired several shots, killing the man.
Police arrested the shooter. He was charged with first and second-degree murder and other crimes. Although he was a day shy of his 15th birthday when the incident happened, the legal system charged him in adult court. A jury acquitted him of both murder charges, but convicted him of voluntary manslaughter, using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, and handling a handgun as a minor. Judge Jennifer B. Schiffer and other authorities acknowledged that, under the law, if he had not been charged with first or second-degree murder, on both of which he was acquitted, his case would never have been brought to adult court.
The teen’s lawyers argued that he should be sentenced in juvenile court because of his age and the acquittals on both murder charges. So why was he sentenced in adult court? The system allows that the defendant could have been sentenced in juvenile court. But Judge Schiffer decided that he would be sentenced in adult court anyway. And, on October 23, 2023, the judge then sentenced the teen to 15 years in an adult maximum-security prison.
Judge Schiffer recommended, but did not require, that the teen be incarcerated within the prison in a special youth program that supposedly “helps address problems that may have led a person to commit a crime.” Which problems does the judge think are relevant? This youth lived in poverty in a system built on racism. That’s why young people in Baltimore risk their lives in the streets as squeegee workers. Was doing that work a crime? Or is the system of poverty and racism criminal? And wasn’t the violent attack by an adult white man a crime, which would explain the teen’s reaction as self-defense?
Yes, the Black teen shot and killed a white man, but only while the man was waving a baseball bat at the teens. The real crimes include:
Systemic racism and poverty that led to the incident;
Charging the teen as an adult with first and second-degree murder (for which a jury found him not guilty);
The trial being in adult court, while the defendant was only 14 when the incident occurred;
The sentencing being in adult court, despite him being acquitted of the murder charges; and
The sentence being 15 years in a maximum-security prison.
The most important thing this youth did wrong was being born at the bottom of a system of racial and class oppression. It’s the system that is guilty, not the teenager.