My Son’s 14-Year-Old Killer Deserved a 2nd Chance

We don’t make our communities safe by creating artificial lines between “victims” and “offenders.” That’s why I advocated for fair treatment for the teen who killed my son, and why we must insist on it for all children of color in the criminal-justice system.




My only son, Ronald D. Simpson III, was murdered on Father’s Day 13 years ago. Ronald was 21. His killer was a 14-year-old boy.

We were devastated, as any parents would have been. Despite this, my son’s mother and I did not want our son’s killer to spend the rest of his life in prison. We don’t believe in the concept of an eye for an eye. We also did not want to compound an already bad situation by taking another child away from his family and our community forever.

We recognize that even though he committed a horrible crime, the boy who killed our son was still a child. We wanted him to be processed in the juvenile system, which was set up specifically for children. We wanted him tried there and held there after his conviction to prepare him for release. The judge granted our wishes. The young teen was sentenced in juvenile court and told that he would be released at age 21 if he met the requirements of the court and demonstrated his rehabilitation. He succeeded and was released.

We were fortunate that we dealt with a prosecutor and judge who were willing to consider our wishes. As evidenced by the growing national support for restorative-justice programs, my family’s perspective is certainly not unique. The residents of the communities that are most impacted by both violence committed by young people and extreme sentences often recognize that we don’t make our communities safe by creating artificial lines between “victims” and “offenders.” We know that many of the children accused of crime have themselves been victims of violence, neglect, poverty, inadequate schools and failing social services. In addition, many of our families are suffering after having lost some members to violent crime and others to jail.

But too often, the voices of poor people and people of color are silenced on these issues. Prosecutors and others in the criminal- and juvenile-justice systems are far more likely to prioritize the perspectives of individuals from wealthier, whiter communities. The only victims who are considered legitimate are those who are in lockstep with prosecutors looking to implement the harshest penalties possible. Victim services, financial resources and other types of support are often meted out accordingly.

Research has proved what many parents already know: Children are still developing and possess tremendous capacity for change. We also know that they do not have the same capacity as adults to resist pressure from peers and adults, think through the long-term consequences of their actions or remove themselves from dangerous situations.

As we approach another Father’s Day, I call on parents and other interested people from these communities to insist on having our voices heard. We must insist that police engage our communities fairly and stop targeting children of color. We must insist on accountability from juries who determine the fate of our young people.

And as states throughout the country reconsider their juvenile sentencing policies, we must insist not only that they eliminate life without parole but also that they replace it with reasonable alternatives that provide young people with a chance to pay for their mistakes and then later have fruitful, fulfilling lives.

Everyone makes mistakes, and all of us—especially children—possess the capacity to change. We are all deserving of forgiveness and a chance to begin anew. This is a basic tenet of virtually every faith tradition, and one of the founding principles of our great democracy.

The child who killed my son is now a young man. I am not in direct contact with him, but we are forever bonded. My son and his sister had a child together, so my grandson is his nephew.

He has grown into a productive man all because he had a second chance, which is all that any of us could want. Together, we can be sure that more young people get the chance they need and deserve.

Ronald D. Simpson-Bey is a program associate for the American Friends Service Committee in Ann Arbor, Mich. He is a co-founder and board member of the organization Chance for Life. 


Via The Root

2 thoughts on “My Son’s 14-Year-Old Killer Deserved a 2nd Chance

  1. It’s admirable that you’ve separated justice and vengeance. I wish that weren’t something praised as a rarity, but it is. I hope system will do the same one day.


  2. Sorry for the tragedy, but this was as good an outcome as can be hoped for I think.

    The whole idea of “charging juveniles as adults” is absurd. What’s even more absurd is that it seems the worse the crime is, the more likely they are to charge the child as an adult, but this makes no sense at all.

    We charge children differently than adults because we know that children have bad decision making capacity and are driven by all kinds of irrational hormonal processes that people grow out of as they mature.

    The fact that a child makes a really really bad, really really stupid decision shouldn’t cause us to assign more responsibly to the child, it is instead a profound example of just how bad children’s decision making is.

    It’s basically like saying people should be held more accountable for choices they make when really really drunk if they make really bad choices while drunk than if they only made moderately bad choices.

    It’s like if someone is really drunk and they buy a $25 dollar trinket that they don’t really want, and the next day they say, “Oh, I don’t want that, i’ll return it,” and the store says, okay, you can return the $25 trinket, but then if they were drunk and spend $10,000 on a trinket that they don’t want, then saying, “Oh, nope, sorry, too bad, you can’t return it,” when in reality the scale of the bad choice is really an indicator of the severity of the impairment of judgement.

    Someone making a small bad choice may not be very impaired, but someone making a really bad bad choice is likely more impaired.

    This is the same with juvenile behavior, so the fact that we go like on children when they make small bad choices, but throw the book at them when they make big bad choices is absurd.

    A juvenile and is a juvenile, and it doesn’t matter what the crime is there should never be any means to charge them “as an adult”. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished, but it shouldn’t be the same as the punishment an adult would receive.


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