Ryan Harris

Link to:Chicago Park District: Harris (Ryan) Memorial Park

Ryan’s memorial park is in my district. Right now, it doesn’t look a thing like the stock picture that the Park District has. As I’m writing this, the Trib has just reported that the City has settled the Harris case. It’s about damn time too.

For of you that don’t know, or are too busy/lazy to click a link, the Harris case represents a lot that is wrong with the juvenile justice system. Two boys, 8 and 7, were charged with the murder of 11 year old Ryan harris. From reports in both the Trib and the Sun times, they police bullied the two youngsters into a confession. They’re parents were not notified, and I’m a bit unclear as to whether they were denied access to their parents and a lawyer, or if it just didn’t occur. According to those same reports, the police stated that the kids’ motive for killing the girl was to steal her bike.

Ryan was the victim of a sexual homicide, not a “bike theft gone wrong.”

The early evidence (ie physical on the scene evidence) showed that Ryan’s injuries and the state of her clothing suggested sexual homicide. Not in the purview of 7 and 8 year olds, even 7 and 8 year olds who have demonstrated sexual reactivity (sexually inappropriate behavior due to sexual trauma).

A lot was wrong with the system. The police still do not admit any wrong doing; however, children under the age of 17 are required to have a parent or guardian present during interrogation. That is a major violation of constitutional rights, and a clear cut example of wrong doing.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that a lot has changed, system wise, 7 years after Ryan Harris… But it really hasn’t. The public has a perception that juvenile crime is on the rise in terms of violence and frequency. It isn’t. The police still routinely “forget” to let parents in on interrogations.

Fact is, juvenile justice, like the rest of the justice system, suffers from problems that stem from our country’s inability to deal with issues of Race and Class. Even after a brutal murder and a brutal abuse of the justice system, we have not made any significant progress fixing a fundamental system of government. Settling this case does not even begin to address the issues that Ryan Harris’ death brought to the forefront.

Chicago, they city that pioneered the Juvenile Justice, should be held to a much higher standard of progress in regards to these issues. Anything less than drastic, systematic change is a disservice not only to the memory of Ryan Harris, but the two other children that were damaged in her violent passing.

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1 Comment so far

  1. JenniferRoche (unregistered) on September 19th, 2005 @ 7:38 pm

    Thanks for the reality check.

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