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Black Children Jailed for Crime That Doesn't Exist

Judge Donna Scott Davenport was the subject of a recent ProPublica investigation because of the staggering rate at which children are arrested and put in a juvenile detention center. Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%. In Rutherford County, it was 48%.

The exposé centered on one particular case where police were called to arrest several children at Hobgood Elementary School in Murfreesboro. The children were identified from video footage from a recent fight.

But the children targeted were not participants in the fight, merely onlookers. School resource officer Chrystal Templeton refused to arrest the boys who were fighting because she figured the local district attorney thought they were too young to be charged. But she wanted to find a way to charge all the other students in the periphery.

So, Templeton, in consultation with two local judicial commissioners fabricated a crime called “criminal responsibility” that they thought would apply. On that basis, Templeton and several other officers made a public spectacle of arresting several children on school grounds, weeks after the fight had taken place.

But it turns out, Templeton and commissioner Sherry Hamlett were incorrect. When Hamlett came up with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another” as a possible charge, there was a problem. There is no such crime. It is rather a basis upon which someone can be accused of a crime. For example, a person who caused someone else to commit robbery would be charged with robbery, not “criminal responsibility.”

As for Judge Davenport, she not only appointed the commissioners herself, but it was her reputation for harsh treatment of juveniles, that motivated Templeton to find a creative solution for charging the children. She thought that getting the children to appear in Davenport’s juvenile court would ultimately help them. Eventually, the families of the children collectively received almost $400,000 in settlements from a class action suit against the city and county for illegal arrests and incarceration.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Any adult that is overly punitive in dealing with children risks God’s anger toward those who mistreat children. Children need boundaries and accountability, but they also need grace, forgiveness, and enough space to make mistakes without being branded as criminal outcasts.

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