Blame the Kid

Over the last few days, the saga a 15 year old girl, Jakadrien Turner, made national headlines. At 14, Jakadrien ran away from home after her parents split up and her grandfather passed away. Apparently, the stress of the two events was too much for this young girl to handle and she ran away from her home in Dallas and found herself in Houston.

The details of what happened next are still fuzzy; however, many in the blogosphere have already made up their minds as to what happened and who’s at fault. And predictably, the nation is split between those that are compassionate, understanding, and outraged at U.S. law enforcement, and those that want to paint the girl as a free-loading drug addict, welfare queen, from yet another broken Black family.

According to one CNN article, after Jakadrien went missing, Facebook postings indicated the girl started working at a DJ club under an assumed name. Clearly, the girl wanted to get away from her home and start making a life for herself as an adult. This story should sounds familiar to millions of American families.

The National Runaway Switchboard reports, “Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year. Youth aged 12-17 are at higher risk from homelessness than adults. 47% of runaway/homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent or guardian was a major problem. Over 50% of the youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care. 80% of runaway and homeless girls reported having ever been sexually or physically abused,”

We don’t know if Jakadrien was ever subjected to any physical or sexual abuse at home, nor should we jump to that conclusion. I do know that since her disappearance her parents and grandparents desperately worked endlessly with the police to help find their child. We also know Jakadrien worked equally hard to hide from her folks, including changing her name in order to present herself as a 22 year old woman.

Even at age 45, I can remember back to when I was 14 years old and running away from home. I spent one night sleeping in the balcony of a local church. While there was some physical abuse in my family (in the name of “tough love”), it was never bad enough for me to want to completely run away at 14. However, by the time I was 18, I walked away from home and never looked back.

Believe it or not, there is a big difference between the brains of a 14 year old, a 18 year old, and a 21 year old. Recent studies on adolescent show teen brains are going through some of the greatest changes in their lives during this period. The following two paragraphs are from a report jointly conducted by Cornel University and ACT for Youth Upstate Center for Excellence:

“Until recently most scientists believed that the major “wiring” of the brain was completed by as early as three years of age and that the brain was fully mature by the age of 10 or 12. New findings show that the greatest changes to the parts of the brain that are responsible for functions such as self-control, judgment, emotions, and organization occur between puberty and adulthood. This may help to explain certain teenage behavior that adults can find mystifying, such as poor decision-making, recklessness, and emotional outbursts.

 … In a study conducted at Boston’s McLean Hospital, psychologist Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and colleagues showed pictures of people wearing fearful expressions to teenagers between the ages of 11 and 17 while the teens had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). She found that compared to adults the teens’ frontal lobes (the seat of goal-oriented rational thinking) are less active and their amygdala (a structure in the temporal lobe that is involved in discriminating fear and other emotions) is more active. The teens often misread facial expressions, with those under the age of 14 more often seeing sadness or anger or confusion instead of fear.”

From a growing mountain of studies on teens, and troubled teens in particular, we know that 14 year olds are not capable of making the same rational decisions as adults. That is why teenagers can’t be held legally responsible for contracts and why we have developed an entirely separate legal system for juveniles.

As stated earlier, what happened next in Jakadrien’s case is still a mystery. However, we do know that she was picked up for shoplifting and provided police with her false identity. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to Jakadrien, that name belonged to a 22 year old illegal immigrant from Colombia, who just so happened to have warrants out for her arrest.

Houston police then handed Jakadrien over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who fingerprinted Jakadrien but didn’t get a match. Nonetheless, Jakadrien, was then moved in mass with other ICE detainees through the system, and before she could bat her eyes found herself in Colombia.

Political Science professor at Northwestern University, Jacqueline Stevens explains  how quickly this can happen:

“Often in these situations they have these group hearings where they tell everybody you’re going to be deported… Everything is really quick, even if you understand English you wouldn’t understand what is going on. If she were in that situation as a 14-year-old she would be herded through like cattle and not have a chance to talk to the judge about her situation.”

Soon after Jakadrien found herself deported to Colombia, a country in which she didn’t speak the language and knew nothing of the culture.  However, this creative young kid in no time founds herself working in a Bogotá call center and partying with the locals. Next we know, Houston police finds her posting on Facebook, where she admits to smoking marijuana and being pregnant,  just Jakadrien turned 15 years old.

Now that Jakadrien has returned to the U.S, the blame game is on. In reviewing this article, I looked at the comment threads of both right-wing and left-wing leaning websites. The line between who is at fault by the two political sides are fairly distinctive. For the most part, the left-wing is blaming ICE and other law enforcement agencies for not doing their job. Essentially arguing that once ICE discovered the fingerprints didn’t match the 22 year old Colombian woman, they needed to follow up. Had they, they would have discovered the girl didn’t speak Spanish and was completely ignorant of the history and culture of Colombia.

On the other hand, the right-wing blames the child and her family. Researching this article, I’ve read dozens of comments which have called Jakadrien everything from a drug addict, thief and a whore, (Remember we are talking about a 14 year old girl) to those that claim her whole story was set up by her “lazy” “welfare” reliant grandmother (who just so happens to have a full time job). According to some right-wing theories, the family sent Jakadrien into the ICE system just to see if she would be deported, in order to then sue the U.S. government and sell books. The whole conspiracy theory can be found on dozens of sites, including some of the so called “liberal” news sites like MSNBC. Just check the comment thread on this link. You will have to open the hidden comments to find this conspiracy theory, along with other racist accusations and remarks.

Professor Jacqueline Stevens has actually studied the problem of the illegal detention and deportation of U.S. citizens and says in recent years the problem has increased. The following is an excerpt from an interview Stevens gave with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of  DemocracyNow! Stevens provides us with the statistical data to better understand what happened to Jakadrien:

“I did research in the southern Arizona area to look at the rate at which people who had been detained in that area were found—had their deportation orders terminated by an immigration judge because they were determined to be U.S. citizens. And I found that between 2006 and 2008, 82 out of the over 8,000—the 8,007, I think—files that I considered showed these cases that were terminated because the people were found to be U.S. citizens. That area has 10 percent of the nation’s detainees. And so, I think it’s, you know, reasonable on the basis of that research and additional research, including interviews with immigration judges, ICE agents and people who have actually been deported, to extrapolate that figure. There was also a study that was done by the New York City Bar Association in 2009, and they found that 8 percent of the people that they interviewed in the Varick detention center appeared to be U.S. citizens. So, I think there’s a systemic problem in this country of ICE detaining and, in addition, deporting U.S. citizens”.

There are those that are quick to blame Jakadrien, her parents, and grandparents for this unfortunate ordeal. They seem to show no understanding of what it is like to raise a teenager. They are quick to attack her and her family, labeling them a bunch of lazy losers, who have fantastically designed this elaborate plan to deport their 14 year old daughter in order to push a book deal and sue the government. There is absolutely no basis for such angry race laden claims. However, that is how some will justify the governments failings in the case of Jakadrien Turner.

They will blame the parents because the kid ran away, even through millions of kids from all sorts of families (good or bad) run away. Even worse, they will blame the kid, whose brain is not even fully formed and may very well be running away from a bad family. They will blame her for shoplifting and lying about her name and age. And in doing so, they will be ignoring the facts that children actually lack “self-control, judgment and emotions” which explains “certain teenage behavior that adults can find mystifying, such as poor decision-making, recklessness, and emotional outbursts.

In addition, those that wish to blame the kid will ignore that fact that, according to Professor Stevens, 10% of the nation’s immigration detainees are actually U.S. citizens, that can sometime languish in U.S. immigration prisons for months and in some cases years, we can see a “systemic problem in this country,”

Who is to blame? Unlike some, I will not put too much blame on a troubled 14 year old girl. Yes she ran away from home. At the time, her family was going through a divorce and death. In Jakadrien’s case, we have no evidence of the sexual or physical abuse in the family which is common in most runaways. We do know the family worked tirelessly to find their lost daughter. We also, in spite of the false and ugly accusations about the parents and grandparents, the family is not a lazy family that relies on welfare. To me, those accusations seem completely unfounded and appear to be racially motivated.

On the other hand, we also do not know why ICE did not follow-up and do a further background check on Jakadrien, after the prints didn’t match. It might be argued that this was just an isolated incident where one poor girl simply slipped through the cracks. However, considering Stevens’ evidence, deporting American citizens has become a systemic problem. Perhaps the one good thing to come out of Jakadrien’s story, other than she being returned to the U.S. is the fact that her story is highlighting ICE’s egregious deportion of American citizens.

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1 Comment

Filed under Interviews and News Articles

One response to “Blame the Kid

  1. Melody J Haislip

    Dean, I was familiar with the basics, but I was truly shocked that anyone would try to turn it around and blame this child and her anguished family. Thank you so much for doing your usual fine job of getting the Whole story out there!

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