Feral children and the age racket

A new trend in crime is taking the form of vicious, potentially fatal attacks by children. They prey on older people whom the attackers deem incapable of defending themselves:

Vincent Poppa, 72, spent 39 days at Methodist Hospital after he was assaulted, robbed, and stomped by a group of youths, the victim of the notorious "catch and wreck" near a playground in Southwest Philadelphia.

But the case, which drew national attention for its brutality, has proven difficult to prosecute.

Family Court Judge Kevin Dougherty was forced to find three of Poppa's four alleged attackers not guilty on Monday, after a 13-year-old witness recanted on the stand, saying she had received death threats. The fourth defendant, an 11-year-old boy, was convicted of aggravated assault and related charges, and will be sentenced Tuesday by Dougherty.

"Our hearts dropped," Poppa said during an interview in his studio apartment less than a block from the site of the March 13 attack. "My gut feeling was, it was a big disappointment."

"The judge was infuriated that he had to find them not guilty," said Deborah Rossiter, Poppa's longtime friend and former partner, who moved into his apartment to care for him.

"It is frustrating," agreed prosecutor Adam Geer, who handled the case of the four boys, all ages 11 to 13. He said it was less common for Juvenile Court witnesses to recant than in Common Pleas Court cases.

"We only had one witness," he said, noting that Poppa was unable to identify his attackers. "It was too dark, and the attack was so brutal."

Because of their ages, the middle schoolers' names have not been made public.

I think that by engaging in adult behavior, these "children" have forfeited any claim to privacy.

Not only did they beat this guy within an inch of his life, but they used a gun (which sounds pretty adult to me):

Poppa's brother, Nicholas, 74, who also attended the trial, was so upset by the outcome, he began shouting at Dougherty.

"They beat a guy half to death and left him there to die," Nicholas Poppa said.

"The overall picture is, they got away pretty clean. . . . It was a just a nightmare to go to 18th and Vine," he added, referring to Family Court.

Dougherty did not return calls seeking comment.

Vincent Poppa is a lifelong resident of Eastwick who ran a candy store at 65th Street and Dicks Avenue for three decades. What happened to him March 13 as he walked near Finnegan Playground, he said, "was like a bad dream."

He was returning to Unico Village Apartments, the seniors' apartment complex where he lives, from a nearby Chinese restaurant with two bottles of Pepsi around 9:30 p.m.

"It was so dark, it was like going through a hallway to your door and not seeing anything and then all of a sudden - smash! Your nose and your eyes are hurting," Poppa recalled. "It was like a freight train hit me."

He remembers "a couple blows to the head, and I weakened. And then more blows came, and then I went down."

When Poppa struggled to get to his feet, he found himself staring at the barrel of a gun.

"When I was down, they pointed it at me," Poppa said. "I could see it was a .45 silver-plated gun."

Police said Poppa was struck in the back of the head with the gun, punched, kicked repeatedly, and stomped. He was left unconscious by his assailants, who stole $200 from his recently cashed Social Security check.

What worries me about feral children (not a new topic here) is society's refusal to recognize their existence and deal with them honestly. This denial often takes the form of a bizarre belief that being of a certain age conveys "innocence," even though anyone with an ounce of common sense who has seen such monsters knows full well that they are the antithesis of innocence.

Sooner or later, someone who is carrying concealed is going to be attacked by such a mob, and will be forced to defend himself. No one wants to be portrayed as having shot innocent "children," but I don't see any way to prevent it from happening.

The age racket can be so unfair, and it isn't just unfair to adult victims of "children." At least adults walking down the street have the legal right to call 911 and press charges if they are attacked -- no matter how old the attacker is. But if you are a child, and you are attacked by other children, society turns a deaf ear, especially if you're attacked at (or on the way to or from) school. I've never been able to understand what I think is a grotesque double standard. Once again:

...what crime have students committed which requires they be legally required to be placed in hellholes of incarceration where they must face huge undisciplined thugs on a daily basis? Remember, teachers, like guards, can quit at any time. Unless a student's parents have money or influence within the system, he's stuck. His daily life is a struggle to survive in the cruel and violent world we call the public school.

And where is due process? No one can be imprisoned absent a lengthy process which requires society to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime, following which a judge has to actually sentence him to prison, but even beyond that he has the right to appeal the sentence. Students are simply sentenced by society to attend the daytime holding facilities without any hearing at all. No due process. No appeal. If they have committed a crime, it is one of status. They are (it seems) the wrong age.

Imagine for a moment if society did the same thing to adults. Suppose I received a notice in the mail telling me that I had to report each day to a place of "education" where I knew I would learn nothing but where violent men abounded who would threaten me, and where I was not allowed to carry a weapon in self defense. But I just had to go there daily -- so that society could pretend I was being "educated."

I don't know whether I'd call it Communism, Fascism, or Totalitarianism, but I'd probably scream that I had committed no crime, and I'd go to court and allege that the outrage violated my 5th and 14th Amendment rights to due process, as well as the 13th Amendment prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude.

The reason I have these rights is not because I am a United States citizen, but because I am over eighteen. (This, of course, fits right in with what Dr. Robert Epstein observed in the Glenn and Helen podcast interview -- that young people are severely lacking in basic rights.)

But beyond the right not to be compelled to be sent to a place against my will, common sense suggests that adults and children have the same rights not to be attacked. I have the right to walk down the street without being attacked, and if someone attacks me, I can defend myself, and I can also call the police and have the attacker arrested. It strikes me that children have these same rights, but they are not being enforced.

While there's nothing in the Constitution about it, the fact is that those we call "children" neither have the responsibilities that other citizens have, nor do they have the same legal rights as other citizens. They are placed in a special, off-limits, unaccountable category based on a naive meme of "innocence" -- even if they are the casually-spawned offspring of parasitic criminal elements who pass along their legacy of violence to their children beginning in infancy.

And polite civilized, law-abiding society is then shocked when they commit crimes.

Perhaps lawlessness promotes lawlessness.

posted by Eric on 06.11.10 at 10:56 AM


Erika Holzer wrote a good novel, Eye For An Eye, dealing with this subject. I know it's just fiction, but after reading this latest travesty, her Victims Anonymous fantasy sounds appropriate.

Frank   ·  June 11, 2010 1:26 PM

Even without the idea of "innocence"... if we give every right adults have to every child, we have insoluble problems.

Say your five year old doesn't want to go to bed on time... and calls the police alleging unlawful imprisonment when you put him to bed?

I don't think that actual children lacking some of the rights adults have is bad... because they are, after all, children. The two states really are different. Seriously different.

The problem here is treating little criminals like angels, and treating young adults like children (and a culture that tries its best to ensure they remain children).

Sigivald   ·  June 11, 2010 2:12 PM

YES!!!! I work in a school, and have considerable sympathy for the truly innocent who can be preyed on with impunity, since their attackers are also young.

If they fight back, they will be suspended.
If they give in, they are victims - and, they will be targeted in the future.
If they "tell", they will be threatened within an inch of their lives.

The rotten little thugs should be expelled. Give them a computer, and let them get their online, until they change their ways.

LindaF   ·  June 11, 2010 7:08 PM

It's a problem with no good solutions.

I personally blame it on the parents. Kids all start out basically the same. How they turn out is based on how they're raised.

So since we can't hold the children responsible, I say we hold the parents responsible.
You know, the way you used to get your dad to kick his dad's ass.
Or at least, your parents would call their parents.
It usually happens in big cities, where there are thousands of kids going to a school. That means parents have anonymity in numbers so they can avoid the repercussions because they won't know the parents of the bullied. If the bullied kid's parents call the bullies' parents, they'll be in trouble for harassment or just told to screw off.

It also doesn't help when the parents take the kid's side against the cops or schools.
My parents assumed I was in the wrong (usually a good assumption) and acted accordingly. Now? People get mad at the cops or the school administrators.

Parents need to pay a penalty. Then maybe they'd take their duties as parents seriously.

The only problem with that is that, like everything else, they'd enforce it selectively.
So good parents, who are easier to bully, would pay when their kids do relatively minor things while bad parents, who are not as easy to bully, would be "warned" repeatedly when their kids to some really bad stuff.

I also hate the idea of giving the gov't more power, but we don't handle too much stuff anymore, this is just another thing.

Veeshir   ·  June 12, 2010 12:36 AM

For those who might not have heard of it by now, you might want to check out Michael Caine's Harry Brown. While the perps are older (in their teens), the situation seems rather similar.

Casey   ·  June 12, 2010 2:41 AM

Once again the Philly court system shows these feral savages that there are no consequences no matter how barbaric their actions may be. Holding the 'parents' responsible would be an exercise in futility. These feral beasts come from a 'culture' where there are no boundaries, people reproduce irresponsibly, and live off the work of productive taxpayers and actually think they are entitled to this because of some so called 'crime' that happened centuries ago. I think it is time we start thinking about executing people for these savage crimes no matter what their age!

j davis   ·  June 12, 2010 10:25 AM

Kids all start out basically the same. How they turn out is based on how they're raised.

Uh, no. Parents can/should shape and civilize their children, but the "nurture" can only go so far.

There are kids that grow up sane and successful inspite of really dysfunctional families and vice versa.

I would say these "feral kids" actually have no "families" and I don't see why DCFS doesn't investigate each family and yank those kids away. Juvenile Detention would be a blessing for 'em (they'd get structure, school and psychiatric care).

Darleen   ·  June 12, 2010 8:39 PM

Can we send these "kids" to Afghanistan?

Joseph Hertzlinger   ·  June 13, 2010 12:31 AM

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