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Are we dealing with a generation of monsters?

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is back on the stump arguing for reform of the juvenile justice system after the high-profile Greenwood murder.
Dave Workman

With yesterday’s Seattle Times update on the Greenwood murder case for which 17-year-old Ballard High senior Byron Keith Alonzo White stands accused, there is a chilling allegation in the charging documents that after killing David L. Peterson to steal his cell phone, White apparently told some friends that he was disappointed that the phone “was not as nice as he had hoped.”

White allegedly shot Peterson almost at point blank range with a 9mm pistol that so far has not been recovered. This was, according to documents obtained by Examiner, not only because he apparently overheard Peterson calling 911 to report the attempted robbery but also because, “He (White) said that the man had seen his face, and he had to shoot him.”

If White is convicted of the killing, he will become the latest – and probably not the last – example of what might best be called a generation of monsters. One is compelled to wonder whether there is any distinction between right and wrong with such people, only satisfying their own interests.

Wednesday’s Miami Herald carried a report about 19-year-old Eric Ellington, who allegedly admitted to police detectives that he fatally shot 23-year-old Julian Soler after pulling Soler from his Ford Mustang three years ago because “He didn’t look scared enough.”

The other day, WTKR reported about a York County, Va., case in which Heather Perkins, 40, was allegedly stabbed to death by her 19-year-old son, Ronnie L. Dovbish.

Down in central Georgia, JeNorman Bland, 18, has been charged with murder and other crimes in the beating death of his grandmother allegedly because she didn’t take him to the store to buy cigarettes, according to the CBS affiliate in Atlanta. Glenda Woodard was beaten with a baseball bat Tuesday.

Fox News reported last week that a 15-year-old Massachusetts teen has pleaded not guilty to the rape and murder of 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, his math teacher at Danvers High School. The suspect is identified as Philip Chism allegedly killed the teacher after she asked him to stay after school. That killing occurred last fall.

Earlier this week, the three teens accused in the high-profile shooting death of Australian baseball player Chris Lane were back in court, according to Fox News. Chancey Allen Luna, James Francis Edwards and Michael Dewayne Jones allegedly killed Lane last year as he jogged down a street in Oklahoma because they were bored.

KING5 News carried a story Wednesday quoting Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who thinks the juvenile justice system in this state is in serious need of an overhaul. The juvenile courts are, in his opinion, too lenient when it comes to dealing with teens who illegally carry and use guns.

In an e-mail exchange with Examiner and The Gun, Satterberg observed, “While our juvenile justice system works well for many young offenders, it falls short of providing an effective response to juveniles illegally carrying firearms. To me, a young teenager carrying a gun to school in his backpack, or packing a pistol in his pants pocket as he wanders the neighborhood, is a very serious matter that is worthy of immediate and strong intervention. As Prosecuting Attorney I have seen far too many cases where a senseless act of gun violence committed by a teenager had been preceded by an earlier missed opportunity by a court to intervene in that youth’s life.”

Nobody can accuse Satterberg of being all talk and no action. Eighteen months ago, Satterberg successfully approached gun rights advocates at the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and gun control proponents at Washington CeaseFire, and got them on board with a proposal to toughen the juvenile laws where illegal possession of firearms is concerned. It didn’t survive the legislature, but with the Greenwood slaying, he’s got another good example of bad behavior.

Or maybe not. White, the Ballard football star, has apparently never been in trouble before. Satterberg's overall suggestion about intervention probably would not apply to this specific case. According to the Times, his mother – who actually helped police catch her son as he waited to board a flight to Atlanta last Saturday – said he began changing a couple of months ago. That's a mother who evidently made one of the toughest decisions of her life.

If White is guilty of everything the authorities say he is, a pressing question now is, what turned him? Anti-gunners will insist the presence of the gun “made him do it,” which is utter nonsense, considering the number of teens who grow up in homes full of guns; who hunt, shoot with their parents at the range, keep their guns secured in their rooms or have the key or combination to the family gun safe, and never harm anybody.

Yet, White’s case and the similar ones mentioned above frequently wind up being used as examples by gun prohibitionists for pushing tougher gun laws against law-abiding adults who had nothing to do with the crimes. These proposals often include technicalities that would penalize teens, possibly turning them into paper criminals, thus costing them their gun rights.

In Satterberg’s case, he wanted to crack down on genuine offenders, not push some meaningless legislation to make a headline. Perhaps hammering down on the individuals who have it coming will send a message to other teens. That will be far more effective than proposing a new gun law that only sends a message to adults that they’re once again being made scapegoats.

“We need to do a better job of warning young people about the consequences of illegal gun possession,” he said, “and paying attention to them when they are caught in illegal possession of a gun.”

The other part of that equation is that young people should also be reminded that there is nothing wrong with safe, responsible gun ownership. It’s their birthright as American citizens, and as with all other rights, each generation needs to understand that the right to keep and bear arms does not include criminal activity or behaving like a fool.


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