5/9/2001 12:00:00 AM - Armstrong Williams
Last year, on the final day of school, 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazil stalked through the halls of his Florida high school and discharged a gun into the face of his seventh-grade English teacher, Barry Grunlow.
The fatal shooting occurred after Brazil had been sent home early for disruptive behavior. Upset that he would not be able to say goodbye to a girl he liked, Brazil went home, grabbed a gun, then returned to the school demanding to see the girl. When denied, Brazil pulled out his gun, pointed it at the teacher, then squeezed the trigger.
Presently, Brazil is being tried as an adult in a Palm Beach County circuit court on charges of first-degree murder. In the coming days, 12 jurors will have to make the very solemn decision of whether to lock Brazil up for the better part - if not the remainder - of his life. That is to say, they will have to weigh whether this child has acted in such an insidious manner, that we must remove him from our society, as a doctor would cut out a cancerous tumor. Implicit in their decision will be the understanding that first-degree murder is the ultimate violation of the law and the social order that created it.
The decision to lock away and effectively end a child's life will not be easy. Still, it is a decision the jurors must make.
Truly, it is a tragedy that a young adult - by definition, someone full of possibilities - will not be allowed to pursue a customary life. However, we cannot allow our sympathies to guide our understanding of the law. Plainly, laws cannot be relative. Central to the effectiveness of any democracy is the understanding that the law exists as a mutually agreed upon standard that is applicable to all. If the law fails this standard, the law fails its citizens.
For this reason, the full brunt of the law must be applied to Brazil, just as it would be applied to any murderer. We apply the life sentence as a final punishment, in hopes that the very existence of the death penalty will, in the long run, form some sort of deterrence to capital crimes. In this sense, the decision to sentence Brazil to life is not only a final testament to the sanctity of innocent life, but to the sanctity of our social order as well.
As State Attorney Barry Krischer noted in the Miami Herald, "Ethically, it's my duty to charge the highest level of crime provable."
And indeed, it is sad that we must increasingly apply such penalties to children. But with the disintegrating moral consensus in this country, such is the state of our children. Lacking firm parental guidance, many of these kids come home from school every day, make their own dinners, then stare into their television sets while debating whether or not to do their homework. With perverse pride, they see themselves reflected back in the hyper-violent television programs that serve as their surrogate parents. Lacking a moral foundation to arbitrate their understanding of right and wrong, they simply live out their lives, moving from one violent whim to another.
"Just watch, I'll be all over the news," Brazil reportedly bragged shortly before shooting the teacher.
Stalking down the hallways of schools across the country, many other children feel the same.
Against this backdrop, an impartial and unyielding law is paramount.