Juveniles A Family Matter
Chicago-- Last week, a 10-year-old boy in Riverside, Calif., who was charged with his father's murder said he did it to stop the daily abuse that he, his brothers, sisters and stepmother were living with.
The child told a police detective that he took a .357 magnum from a
closet, approached his sleeping father, shot him in the head and hid the gun
under his bed.
Such occurrences aren't as rare as we'd wish them to be. According to
the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention, 1,280 juveniles were arrested for murder and non-negligent
manslaughter in 2008. And 2.1 million children under age 18 were arrested for
crimes such as forcible rape, property theft or weapon and drug violations that
In many respects, the Riverside boy is very different from others in
this awful peer group. For one, he is white. Most of juvenile offenders are
minorities. And he is very young: The bulk of murders involving juvenile
offenders are committed by 14- to 17-year-olds. Finally, most kids who take another person's life target an
acquaintance or a stranger -- a family member is usually the least likely
But this child's most distinguishing characteristic is that he has an
extremely high-profile story.
You see, the boy I've been telling you about is not just another example
of how a chaotic home life, familial violence and alcohol abuse can put kids on
track for lifetimes of hopelessness and run-ins with the law.
This child is the son of Jeffrey R. Hall, the 32-year-old leader of the
Riverside chapter of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a Third
Reich-fetish group that in the last two decades has grown into the nation's
largest neo-Nazi party.
Jeff Hall was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter for an
in-depth article about the everyday, suburban family lives of members of these
types of extremist movements.
The Hall family home was a gathering spot for NSM members who
participate in violent demonstrations, many times wearing Nazi military
uniforms. White and male supremacy was openly embraced and guns, ammunition and
other weapons were unlocked and easily accessible in several areas of what was
described as a squalid home.
Court documents presented at the boy's detention hearing said that he,
his younger siblings and stepmother were regularly beaten by Jeff Hall, who was
prone to out-of-control rants. The boy, already embroiled in a custody struggle
between his biological mother and father, which included allegations of sexual
abuse, told detectives he feared his father was having an extramarital
relationship and his family would soon be torn apart again.
Factors such as family instability, exposure to an extremist and violent
subculture, varying aspects of poverty, and a child's intrinsic innocence are
the same exact triggers that push juveniles into crime. We just don't get the
opportunity to feel sorry for them if their life circumstances are less
shocking -- and more ghetto or barrio -- than those of the Hall family.
"(Unlike in this case) certain stories about young kids committing
extreme crimes are sensationalized, which only adds to the public's perceptions
of juvenile justice as punishment for bad seeds," said Irene Sullivan, an
elected judge in Florida's Unified Family Court and author of "Raised by
the Courts: One Judge's Insight into Juvenile Justice." "Even people
in professional circles believe that the younger the child is, the worse that
kid must be. The mindset is that some kids are born bad."
Sullivan is a passionate critic of the increasing public perception that
juvenile offenders are lost causes who, in a time of collapsing budgets, should
be treated like hardened adult criminals -- "the 'tail 'em, nail 'em and
jail 'em' method" -- instead of through compassionate, but sometimes
costly, youth rehabilitation efforts.
"Politicians and the public are usually not sympathetic to juvenile
offenders," Sullivan told me. "They don't understand that children
didn't get there because they were bad kids, but because they're kids in bad
That's certainly an easy distinction to make in the case of Jeff Hall's
10-year-old son. But this is exactly why -- despite his middle-class suburban
home, white skin and young age -- he is a perfect example of how millions of
American children become violent juvenile criminals.
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group