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Saturday, October 27, 2012
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I’m nearing the end of my fifth decade on this planet and I admittedly don’t know much about bring up kids (other than having watching my parents do it — and realizing many years later that they had done a much better job of it than I had thought at the time). But with that said, I wanted to discuss a recent “high profile homicide” involving a 12 year old girl, and the question of whether her parents had in some way failed by not training her to be wary of the situation that did her in. (Oh, and also some comments on the parents of the leading suspects.) Actually, I am not going to stand in judgment as to whether the parents in question “failed”. Obviously I cannot. In fact, I am sympathetic regarding all the challenges that parents face in the modern world, a world that is arguably more complex and uncertain than the one that my parents brought me up in.

The case in question is the murder of Autumn Pasquale in Clayton, NJ last Saturday. From what I’ve read, 12-year old Autumn was a fairly typical pre-teen Caucasian girl who lived in a single parent middle-class home. Her father is a postal worker; I couldn’t find out very much about her mother (Jennifer Cornwell). It appears that Ms. Cornwell presently lives in Cherry Hill. According to, Ms. Cornwell lived in Clayton until 2005, then was in Moorestown until 2010. If true, then Autumn lived with her father only. It’s uncertain if anyone else lived with them (Mr. Pasquale was pictured at Autumn’s funeral with his girlfriend Cheryl Evans).

During the week before last, Autumn had a brief discussion on Facebook with one of the suspects, 15 year old Justin Robinson of Clayton (an African American). The discussion was about a picture of Robinson’s BMX bicycle that was posted on Facebook. At some point, Justin wrote “cme 2 my house”. This was on a weekday, probably a school day. But on the following Saturday (Oct. 20), Autumn decided to take a ride on her own BMX bike to Justin Robinson’s home, about 1 mile away. Justin lived with a brother, 17 year old Donte, and their mother. His father lived elsewhere.

Allegedly, the brothers were known to neighbors for stealing BMX bicycles and taking them apart to recreate new bikes. Based upon other facts and circumstances, the media implies that Autumn went to the Robinson house (where her own bicycle was later found) and spoke with the Robinson brothers. At some point, one of them seized Autumn’s bike. She may have resisted, and was thus killed by blunt force trauma. Her body was found buried in a dumpster near the Robinson household. It was the mother of the Robinson brothers, Anita Saunders, who alerted the police to investigate her sons, based on their own Facebook communications, which she had somehow monitored.

Goodness, where to start. Perhaps the social media factor — how can a modern parent control what his child does on Facebook? Perhaps that is just not possible in today’s world. So how can a parent alert a child to its dangers? Could Autumns’ parents have enforced a rule not to visit or directly interact with people from Facebook whom their daughter did not know from real life? (I’m still old school, to me Facebook is NOT real life.) Should Autumn had at least been told that she should never go alone to such a meet-up? Or at least had been required to ask her father or mother first? And why didn’t Autumn feel a bit leery about visiting an unknown older teenage boy on Facebook by herself? Would such old-fashioned advice regarding the dangers of unsupervised interactions between a young girl and unknown teenage males now be considered politically incorrect? Are parents now thinking “oh, he’s on Facebook, so it’s OK?”

I think questions like that need to be considered by everyone. But then again . . . even if Autumn’s parents did lecture her in that regard, would she listen? Living in a single parent household, the girl may have felt that her busy working parents probably couldn’t have enforced their edicts anyway, and she was thus on her own. Facebook and children in single-parent / working-parent households; a rather frightening combination.

I’m glad that Ms. Saunders was able to use Facebook to detect that her sons had committed a major criminal act; but what about the on-going bicycle theft activities they allegedly engaged in? Didn’t she have any clues about that? Or was that just beyond what she could control with her boys, given all the challenges she faced in making a living and keeping the household running?

I wish that I had a sure-fire public-policy solution that could prevent future Facebook-linked crimes in over-stressed single-parent households. Mitt Romney and his conservative friends would lecture on the evils of single parent situations, but would do nothing to lend any practical support to the overburdened modern family.

And as to the racial question — I haven’t yet addressed the possible implications of a violent crime committed by a black teenager on a young white victim. Actually, race doesn’t directly enter into whatever reservations I have about the state of parenting today. With 20-20 hindsight, Autumn should not have gone alone to an unknown (but for Facebook) teenage boy’s house, no matter WHAT his color and background was.

Obviously, the danger of sexual approach by an unsupervised teenage boy is what most people would worry about here. But sexual assault did not enter into the Autumn Pasquale incident. There was no sign whatsoever of any sexual contact in the autopsy. Still, the casual use of deadly violence by the teen boys here is quite frightening. And it IS statistically correct, if not politically correct, to say that violent crime is significantly more likely to be committed by an African American actor than a Caucasian one. (E.g., according to 2012 UCR statistics published by the NJ State Police, the arrest rate in NJ among blacks for major crimes is 3.28 times the rate for whites.) Should Autumn have been told that by her parents or other adults? I don’t know.

Many African Americans, especially those with professional training and positions in our society, say that “we need to have a conversation” nationally about race in America. [You will hear this more and more if President Obama is not re-elected next month.] I agree with this. [And I’m voting Obama, by the way.] America is not yet color-blind; white-on-black racism still lives, in more subtle and less obvious ways. That all needs to be discussed. HOWEVER, as part of this discussion, the higher propensity of violence in African American communities ALSO needs to be discussed.

Yes, there is much lingering poverty in those communities, and much of that poverty is connected to previous and lingering racism. But other ethnic communities living in poverty don’t exhibit the same levels of criminal violence, and seem to make more progress in terms of generational social and economic improvement. If whites need to examine their subtle attitudes and actions that prejudice the black community, the black community needs to examine its subtle attitudes that continue to tolerate and enable criminal violence and low achievement in poor neighborhoods.

For now, my sympathies to all involved in this terrible tragedy, both in the white and the black community. But allow me to point out the irony of the message that a friend of Autumns’ apparently sent on her Facebook wall right after she received the invitation to visit Justin Robinson. The message appears to be “totally not this not his house”. Was that comment racist? Or just common sense advice, i.e. don’t go to a strangers house alone — i.e., just because an otherwise unknown person is listed as your “friend” on Facebook does NOT necessarily mean he should be trusted in person.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:04 pm      

  1. Jim, A couple of things come to mind here—-well, maybe more than a couple. The first thing that occurs to me is the terrible tragedy for both of these families—-the family of the 10 year old girl who was killed and the family of the boys who killed her; what deep sorrow and despair both families must be experiencing. It’s almost too much to bear. Back in the early 1970s (or perhaps it was the late 1960s) I had a colleague whose young son was shot to death on the street when another boy asked him for his radio; when my colleague’s son said no and kept walking, the other boy simply shot him in the back. I can’t tell you the sorrow involved in that entire situation.

    On another note, I find myself wondering if the girl in this case were black, would the outrage at her death and the disposal of her body so callously be taken by the general public as seriously. Likely, the answer is no, which says to me that racism is alive and well in today’s world. In Chicago this year there have been a seriously large number of deaths of teenagers caused by other teenagers—-and most of these were black on black crime. The tragedy is as great when one is white or black. I find myself wondering what will happen to this young generation. How many of them will be left? Will an entire generation die due to young people killing young people?

    Then too, when children are the ages these children were—-10 for the girl and 17 for the boys—-that age difference is very large. It’s the difference between a ‘tween and a teen (and older teens at that), to say nothing of the girl/boy difference at that age.

    As to the Facebook connection: I don’t think I can lay blame anywhere for that as for young people today (even into their 20s and 30s) it’s a way of communication. I know of parents who themselves have no real use for text messaging, yet will use this method as a way of communicating with their children because their children prefer it.

    Because all these children were from single parent families I think adds nothing at all to the situation, except to say that the parents themselves have a harder job than perhaps in a 2 parent family. Obviously, the mother of the boys who killed the girl, while I’m sure she loves her children, has a sense of right and wrong; she’s the one who turned her own kids in. Think how difficult that must have been! One cannot even begin to describe how difficult that kind of thing is.

    When it comes to kids not doing what their parents want them to do, all I do is look to myself. While I always considered that my motivation was good, my parents certainly despaired of me and my decisions at various times in my life. So it seems to me that parents, single parents or not, simply cannot be held responsible for the things their children do. In this case either the young girl taking her bike to the garage or the boys killing her and then disposing of her as if she were trash.

    What I have found myself wondering is why it is people wonder about the lack of concern for life in young people today when violence is taken for granted in everything one sees on TV, movies, games that are played, etc. The other night I watched a program and was taken up short when in one *scene* 10 (maybe 15) people were killed, yet the “good” guys walked away and all was just fine. Then there are all the violent games kids play where one wins, depending on how many people one kills. Even something like paint ball games have me wondering. OK, they are using paint balls, yet there’s the idea that once hit by the paint ball you are dead, which becomes a “so what”. Too many times the idea that people can die and then get up and walk away prevails in our “entertainment”. I find myself wondering: Do those games give young people a kind of immunity to killing people? Then when something happens, perhaps not planned as might have been the case with this situation, suddenly the ones who have killed find themselves wondering when the person killed will get up and walk away—-at least somewhere in the back of their minds.

    On a tangent of this point: Has it ever occurred to anybody that the guy who killed the people at the movie theater did it to a background of a violent picture in which numerous people were killed in numerous scenes? (I haven’t seen the Batman picture so maybe I’m wrong here, but I tend to think I may be right about the numbers of people killed in the movie.) And we wonder why it is that people do such things. . . . Might it not be that they have become immune to seeing virtual violence. What exactly is the effect of virtual violence on the growing human, on the still developing human, on the already developed human? Has anybody even *asked* these questions?

    As to the “message” not to go to the garage of those kids, I find myself wondering if the kid who wrote that knew of the scam those boys were running at the house of the older brother and thus the warning, “you’ll lose your bike”. I’m sure that if asked, there are a lot of young people who knew about that bike scam those boys had. If there is one thing I’ve found out in my life it’s that if adults (parents, teachers, those in charge of young people) think they know everything the kids are doing, the adults are badly mistaken. (To digress yet give an example: I found this out in the 1950s in my homeroom one time. There was some “fuss” going on outside the school with flyers being handed out. Teachers were “warned” about these flyers. When my homeroom assembled I looked around and saw none of the students had one of those flyers. But I tho’t well, I’ll address this subject with them anyway. When the kids saw that I was not going to yell at them or scold them but merely wanted to talk about the situation, it turned out that *every single one* of the kids had a flyer hidden somewhere in his/her things. I learned then: Adults have no clue of what is *really* going on with kids; if the adults think they know what’s going on with kids, the adults are the ones who are the fools. I digress here.)

    Things in schools are not so tame any more. Last year in a high school in my suburb a teacher was suddenly attacked by a student with a knife; she lost the sight in an eye. This year in another school, one on the other side of town, a male teacher was punched, kicked, thrown to the floor, beaten before other students and teachers came to his aid. It seems that violence has been vastly increased in the last 60 years. What is the cause of this?

    Wasn’t it just a few years ago that all the “talk” was about kids having kids, children having babies, oh how terrible; they were too young, etc. Now it’s kids *killing* kids and tragedy abounds for all involved. In some ways I think our young people grow up too early; yet in other ways they mature too late. And I would emphasize that I have used two different verbs here: “grow up” and “mature”. I mean that difference. The kids want to do “grown up” things yet they do not mature enough to handle, deal with the consequences of doing adult things. And in this case I tend to think that if one is “mature” enough, one will have the sense to stop and think before killing—-and thus not kill.

    I don’t know what the solution to any of this is. I think the parents in this situation all did their best. The trouble is that one’s best is never good enough—-and that holds for everyone. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and say what should have been done. Yet, I think of today’s young people and wonder just how it is that our culture has come to the point where scamming people is considered OK, where running a stolen bike parts shop is a way to make money, where killing another child is part of doing business. (Then there was the “Dateline” program the other night where on Craigslist one could get anything at all; even a hit man advertised his work.) And in general what is the answer to the massive increase in violence among our young people. Have we simply become immune to violence? Or has violence always been among us; but it has taken the information age and the immediate and worldwide communication to bring it to our attention so abruptly and horribly. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — October 28, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

  2. why does racism always come up? Blacks are the most biased of all races and will always use the pity me race card. Pathetic.

    Comment by hen — October 30, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  3. Well, I can’t agree that African-Americans are “the most biased of all races”, but just because a group is a legitimate victim of injustice, does not certify that group itself to be entirely innocent of its own injustices. This is not to justify or ignore historical injustice (such as blacks have truly experienced) in the name of relativism, but just to say that yes, the world is a complicated place.

    Comment by Jim G — November 6, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

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