the sweet innocence of feral children

No one wants to be murdered. But it seems to me that there's something especially degrading about being murdered by a child. Even a feral child, like the 12 year old boy who is charged with robbing and murdering a 24 year old woman:

Detroit -- Trisha Babcock's dreams of becoming a nurse were snuffed out by a 12-year-old boy who police say fatally shot her during a robbery attempt.

Demarco Harris has been charged with felony murder and armed robbery in connection with the Aug. 1 slaying of Babcock, 24, of Davison, who was in Detroit looking for a job, Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans said Wednesday. He said police are seeking a second suspect in the shooting.

Babcock's father said she planned to attend nursing classes in the fall.


"It's just so senseless," Steve Babcock said. "You don't know how hard it can be as a parent to pick out your daughter's casket. I couldn't believe it when the prosecutors called and told me it was a 12-year-old kid who killed my daughter."

I don't know why it seems worse than being killed by an adult; maybe it's because it's so abnormal. Children just aren't supposed to be murderers. Not 12 year olds.

Interestingly, the child was already wanted -- for truancy:

Wayne County juvenile officials in June issued an order to apprehend and detain Harris because of a school truancy complaint, but the order was dismissed in July because authorities apparently could not find where he lived.

The fatal shooting happened nine days after Judge Sheila Ann Gibson of the Wayne Circuit Court juvenile division signed the dismissal seeking Harris' detention.

Babcock was sitting in a parked car with a male friend on West Outer Drive near Minock, close to Rosedale Park, when Harris, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall, approached the vehicle shortly after midnight, brandished a pistol and demanded money, Evans said.

"When she didn't respond to his demands, he shot her," Evans said.

6 feet 2 inches tall? Wow. It would be tough to be a teacher these days. I mean, how would you deal with a gargantuan child like that if he became disruptive in class? And what if you were the truant officer assigned to go pick him up? When I think of truant officers, I always think of poor Mr. Rooney chasing Ferris Bueller. This kid could kill Mr. Rooney with one hand tied behind his back.

There is something especially creepy about a 12 year old attacker, though, because there's no way to really win no matter what happens. If a 12 year old kid broke into my house and I fatally shot him, I'd look like the bad guy, and technically, I would have to live with the knowledge that I was a child killer.

Detroit's Police Chief says things have changed since he was a kid, and (naturally) says there are too many guns:

"I could not have been out at night when I was 12," police Chief Warren Evans told reporters Wednesday. "Things have changed."

Police have not said how Harris got the gun, which they have not found yet. But Evans expressed frustration at the widespread presence of guns on the city's streets, particularly in the hands of young people.

"There are days when the shootings -- everyone (victim and suspect) is a juvenile," he said. "There are too many guns out there."

Had the kid stolen a car and fatally plowed into someone he wanted to kill, would the chief be complaining that there are too many cars?

The problem is that no one wants to blame the kid. Much of society is still locked into the myth of the "innocence" of children.

No matter how evil they are.

When I was 2 years old I was attacked by older children, who were about as innocent as playful felines, or child cadres in the Khmer Rouge. Of course, at age 2, I was not old enough to understand society's theory of childhood innocence -- I just thought the attackers were bad because that was how they had acted. Not a good early lesson, because I hated having to listen to adults deliver tedious lectures on the "innocence" of children when I knew from firsthand experience how wrong they were. (In one of life's early ironies, I concluded that it was the adults who were more innocent than the children, for the former had generally learned how to restrain their animalism, and were therefore safer to be around. And unlike children, adults spoke of and claimed to have something called compassion.)

OTOH, I guess you could say that having no feelings or compassion for other people is a form of innocence, and therefore children are innocent. But by that standard, adult psychopaths are as innocent as children.

Millions would disagree, but I think there are plenty of evil children. And they're not going to grow up to be good.

posted by Eric on 08.23.09 at 04:20 PM


Six foot two, he's twelve, and they don't know where he lives. There are so many holes in the narrative it's no wonder he fell through one of them. At the very least they have the wrong age for the shooter.

Alan Kellogg   ·  August 23, 2009 6:47 PM

The nastiest interactions I have ever had in my life is when I was a child being treated badly by other children. There is no limit to what they can do and the pain they can inflict.

Children are barbarians, and the process of raising them is the process of turning them into civilized adults. If they are not raised properly, they never make the transition.

The "innocence" and "cuteness" of children is a hard-wired response of adults that encourages the adults to care for them. It is a functional delusion. (And I say this as a parent of 2 nearly-grown children that I am very proud of.) When I was a child myself, I never perceived my peers as "innocent" or "cute".

Eric E. Coe   ·  August 24, 2009 2:59 AM

I was about 5'10" to 5'11" at 12, I grew only a few inches more in high school. But there were taller kids than me, and they were taller in middle school too. It's not that hard to believe he was 6'2". It may have contributed to the fact they couldn't find him, people forget how big kids are at what age.

plutosdad   ·  August 24, 2009 11:16 AM

We have to throw-out the age factor when charging criminals. The shooter (12 years old) deserves to be hung regardless of age. It has now come to light that the "job" that Ms Babcock was in Detroit seeking was stripping (or worse). It's a shame that 12 year olds kill and it's a shame that a young woman's want for fast money rules over common sense and morality.

Gene   ·  August 24, 2009 5:19 PM

Eric Coe, great comment. Children have to put up with things at the hands of other children that adults do not have to put up with. If a man punches me in the face on the sidewalk in front of my house, I can call the cops and have him arrested, and I can also sue. If a child gets attacked, people just say it's part of being a kid -- even though being physically attacked is more traumatic for a child than for an adult. Why do we tolerate such a double standard? I think it's the morality of convenience.

Gene, I don't see the relevance of the victim's career choices to this discussion -- any more than the make and model of her car. Whether she was a stripper or not (and I have not seen that in the news accounts), murder is still murder.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 24, 2009 6:16 PM

"The problem is that no one wants to blame the kid." Absolutely correct!
Including, unfortunately, yourself: "If a 12 year old kid broke into my house and I fatally shot him, I'd look like the bad guy, and technically, I would have to live with the knowledge that I was a child killer."

Whether in a home break-in or a situation like poor Miss Babcock's I would have neither difficulty nor remorse in killing someone like Harris.

Yes, I'm certain that it's not entirely, maybe even mostly, his fault. Clearly someone, probably several someones, who should have been raising him, failed him miserably. Unfortunately, I don't have the time or ability to back up and rectify that at the moment of an attack. I do have the time and ability to end the attack.

That is not my fault and, while I would regret it, I would refuse to accept the blame for it or lose sleep over it.

Anonymous   ·  August 25, 2009 1:11 PM

Wait a second, how did I say that I didn't blame or would not kill the kid?

When I said "I'd look like the bad guy," I am merely noting an observation that others would make (which they would). I'd look like the bad guy even if I shot an adult, because self defense is frowned on, and in the case of a child, it is doubly frowned on. Voicing my objection to that is not me excusing the kid in any way.

Similarly, when I said that "technically, I would have to live with the knowledge that I was a child killer," well, I would be a child killer and I would have to live with it, wouldn't I? How does that let him off the hook? It would only make me angrier at the entire situation, and it would be an annoyance to live with. Something that would have a way of popping up in strange places, at dinner conversations.... It wouldn't stop me from shooting him, but I'd just rather not be put in a position of shooting children. Not even if it's the child's own damned fault.

I'd like to think I wouldn't lose sleep, but I fear that the police -- and my conversation with them -- might keep me awake. (Especially after his family started screaming for my head, and inventing stories about how the kid was only trying to sell me a magazine subscription.) Shooting the 12 year old might turn out to be the easy part.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 25, 2009 4:01 PM

The "job" Ms Babcock was in Detroit after midnight seeking was stripping (and we all know what strippers do on the side). Don't get me wrong, the shooter deserves to be hung regardless of age, but when you choose to throw common sense and morality aside and engage in dangerous activity bad things can happen.

George   ·  August 28, 2009 7:22 AM

when you choose to throw common sense and morality aside and engage in dangerous activity bad things can happen.

Yes, and bad things can happen whether you engage in "dangerous activity" or not. But even assuming Ms. Babcock sought work as a stripper (and I have not seen any story confirming that hypothesis), by what standard is "stripping" a dangerous activity? This woman was not naked when she was shot, nor was she on stage. Unless you can show some tie-in between her alleged occupation and the shooting, it's no different than if she had beem shot while at home, and her occupation is irrelevant.

So why bring it up here?

Eric Scheie   ·  August 28, 2009 1:46 PM

" how did I say that I didn't blame or would not kill the kid?"

I stand corrected. I misunderstood. And you're right, it would be unpleasant. Life is like that sometimes, but you have to alive for it to be unpleasant. I'll take it.

Anonymous   ·  August 28, 2009 9:18 PM

The Detroit police investigation report states that she was there after midnight sitting in a car with a "male friend" seeking work as a "dancer". My point is that I reserve my sorrow for innocent people, not those who know the dangers and yet put themselves in harms way. I feel sorry for her father, family and friends. It's tough for me to feel sorry for her.

George   ·  August 29, 2009 5:55 PM

Eric S, you ask "By what standard is stripping a dangerous activity?" and "Can you show some tie-in between her alleged occupation and the shooting?" Are you naive?

Anonymous   ·  August 29, 2009 7:16 PM

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! An unsupervised 12 year old man-child, armed, out late at night on Detroit streets.

Anonymous   ·  August 31, 2009 1:38 PM

Are you naive?

Maybe I am, but I'm not naive enough to believe an allegation made without any proof. There is not one news report indicating this woman was a stripper. (Or if she was, that this factored in as a motive for the shooter.)

Of course, even if she was killed for being a stripper, how would that make her any more worthy of blame than a gay man killed for being gay?

Eric Scheie   ·  September 6, 2009 12:09 PM

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