Protecting young offenders can lead to tragedy

January 07, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

THE DEATH OF Joseph A. Harvey Jr., who was attacked and stabbed by a group of teen-age boys Friday, hit a little too close to home for me.

Harvey left his home about 5 p.m. to escort a family friend, a woman, to the bus stop. He was on his way back home when three boys attacked him. They "punched, kicked, threw bottles at him and stabbed him in the back of the left leg," said Detective Donny Moses, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department. Harvey staggered into Charlie's Chinese Carryout in the 5200 block of Park Heights Ave. He died a short time later at Sinai Hospital. Two 15-year-olds and a 14-year-old have been charged as adults in Harvey's death.

Harvey was 52 when he died. Just three days earlier, I turned 52. Harvey lived in the 5100 block of Chalgrove Ave., just three blocks from where he was attacked. I live five blocks from the site. Harvey was attacked near a bus stop. On those days when I'm not driving my car, I've stood at the same bus stop.

Had I happened by just moments before Harvey, he might still be at home, where he lived with his parents, Joseph A. Harvey Sr. and Norine Harvey, and you wouldn't be reading this column, although I suspect certain male relatives of mine would have urged Baltimore police to get to the suspects before they did.

In short, it could just as easily have been me lying on Park Heights Avenue on Friday, bleeding to death. For that matter, it could have been any one of you.

"We were just talking about that," Joseph Sr. said from his living room yesterday afternoon, where he sat with some of Joseph Jr.'s friends. Joseph Sr. was at home Friday when a friend of his son's named Donald ran to the house and told him that his son had been attacked on Park Heights. He and his daughter rushed to the scene to find his son being put in an ambulance. Joseph Sr. and his daughter followed the ambulance to Sinai Hospital's emergency room, where, he estimates, doctors worked on his son for about 30 minutes.

"I guess he lost too much blood," Joseph Sr. said yesterday. "The doctor said he just bled out."

Detective Frank Miller - whom Joseph Sr. said he owes "a lifelong gratitude" for "doing a good job and really sticking with us" - brought Joseph Sr. and his family news the next day that three suspects were in custody. Joseph Sr. said he wasn't shocked to learn their ages.

"I expected it," he said. "I know out here is a living hell, and it's our young people that's doing this. Why do we have to be afraid of our own babies?"

Joseph Sr. added that in this Pimlico neighborhood, folks hear about teens robbing people "every other night. ... Elderly people are getting so they're afraid to go to the store."

No one knows if the juvenile suspects had criminal records. Such records legally can't be revealed, because the juveniles have to be "protected." Joseph A. Harvey Jr. - the guy who mowed lawns and shoveled walks for his elderly neighbors, who, his dad said, "would help anyone out with anything," who was "an easygoing person," whose granddaughter burst into tears when her great-grandfather said her grandfather wouldn't be coming home - isn't worthy of protection in this criminal justice system.

If he had had a gun and fired it to defend himself, the same criminal justice system that protects his juvenile assailants couldn't have slapped him behind bars fast enough.

Anyone who has experienced firsthand how the juvenile "justice" system works knows it's all about the young offender, not about the victim. Prosecutors and public defenders alike will tell victims it's about rehabilitation, not punishment (as though the two are mutually exclusive). So juveniles come before the system and get the old wrist-slap treatment until they commit a crime serious enough to be charged as adults. That should leave us pondering whether a bit more punishment for the minor early offenses would have deterred the more serious ones.

At the very least, there should be a law that says that when a juvenile is accused of a crime serious enough to be charged as an adult, his record becomes public property. The laws might "protect" juveniles, but they also protect those adults who, had they been just a wee bit more attentive, might have taken measures to prevent more serious crimes.

That likely won't happen. In spite of what happened to Joseph A. Harvey Jr., the "rehabilitation, not punishment" model of juvenile justice will prevail. I only have one request of those who hold to it: When Joseph A. Harvey Jr.'s viewing is held from 5 to 9 tonight at Wylie's Funeral Home at Harlem Avenue and Gilmor Street, and when his funeral is held at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow at Harlem Park Baptist Church, be on hand to tell this nonsense to his mourning relatives.

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