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Mother Defends Son Accused of Burning Peer

michael-brewerTwo fifteen-year-olds and one sixteen-year-old are in jail facing attempted murder charges after they allegedly doused their peer, Michael Brewer, in rubbing alcohol and flicked a lighter, all over a $40 video game.

One of those charged is Denver Jarvis, and his mother recently appeared on The Today Show to discuss her feelings about the brutal attack.

She was accompanied by her other son, 13-year-old Jeremy, who was present for the attack but against whom charges have been dropped.

It may be hard to imagine what a mother could possibly say in defense of a crime that heinous. And in fact, Sherry Jarvis doesn’t seem to have much of use to say, which makes this story doubly tragic. She repeats platitudes such as, “They’re not monsters,” and, “There are two sides to every story.” Such bland statements come off as callous in the face of so much suffering, and I came away from the interview feeling that a boy with such unforgivably violent tendencies should not be returned to this woman’s care.

Certainly, this interview was conducted in what must be one of the most difficult times of her life, but I got the sense that she was a bit checked out from reality–which is probably at least part of the reason her sons’ behavior got so out of control in the first place.

That said, I don’t think this clearly troubled young man will learn lessons in compassion from jail, either. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think he should be locked up–he has absolutely forfeited the right to his freedom–but I think his mother did have a point when she mumbled something about rehabilation, saying that while she believes there should be punishment, she doesn’t see how it helps anyone to “throw away” a 15-year-old.

And when 13-year-old Jeremy puts his head in his hands while watching the video about Brewer’s painful physical therapy and then says, “Michael is one of my friends; he was one of my friends until all of this happened,” you do get a sense of how terribly young everyone involved in this tragedy was.

Anyone who’s ever dealt with a teenager knows that a 15-year-old brain is not fully formed, and I do believe there’s a chance of turning these kids around if they end up in an effective treatment program while behind bars. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system was made to deal with adult offenders, and teenage offenders rarely get the schooling and mental health treatment they need in jail.

Nevertheless, extreme violence cannot go unpunished, even by our broken system, and perhaps Sharvis is naive when she says, “I don’t see that throwing a 15 year-old away for 30 years helps.” Do you agree that such a punishment is too harsh, or have Brewer’s attackers forfeited the right to liberty for many years to come?

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