Here’s the thing about juvenile court: it sucks. The whole thing sucks. The building, with its stark white façade jutting into an otherwise downtrodden neighborhood, sucks. The courtrooms, fluorescent-lit, with a card table for each lawyer and cafeteria-style benches big enough to seat maybe 3 spectators, suck. The people working there, who don’t know where your client is and don’t know what courtroom the judge is in today and don’t know what you expect them to do about it, suck. The waiting area outside the courtrooms, where if you’re a white woman not one but two people will helpfully say “oh, you must be a victim. I hope they get him!” really suck. (As if there’s no reason a white woman would be in this place were it not to witness the conviction of her aggressor.)

But then, every once in a while, amid all the suckage, something pretty cool will happen. Today, the lawyer in charge of the case I’m working on for the clinic made a speech that was pretty cool. We were in court to argue that our client, D., should not be transferred to adult court. (Remember that motion I was writing a while back? It was argued today! It was so cool! But I’m trying to stay all calm and blasé so I don’t look like the overly enthusiastic newbie. But a judge is actually reading what I wrote! And analyzing it!) D. is accused of first degree murder (he didn’t shoot, but he was there, which under American criminal law yields the same penalty.) D. is 14 years old, was born addicted to crack, and has caught every bad break you can imagine for a young black man on the south side of Chicago. D. is also designated special ed, but stopped getting services in 6th grade and was put instead into an alternative school for behavior problems.

To get a kid transferred to adult court, the state needs to prove that there is no possibility of rehabilitation in the juvenile system because the kid has taken advantage of all the services available to him. This is clearly not the case with D., who isn’t even getting the special ed support he’s due. The lawyer, making this argument, said it better than I ever could. She said, roughly: “your honor, we don’t like to admit this, but you and I and everyone in this room knows what we are doing to these kids. When they grow up and their voices change, or their attitude changes, or they’re just not as cute as we expect them to be anymore, we stop thinking of them as kids who deserve help and start thinking of them as kids who deserve punishment. What we before classified as “learning disabilities” we start to call “attitude problems.” We are scared of these kids because they aren’t cute and little anymore. They talk like adults, they try to act like adults, and sometimes they get themselves caught up in some very adult situations. But they are not adults. What was a learning disability is still a learning disability. But we’re tired, and uncertain, and “alternative school” means “no longer in this building.” We are throwing these kids away. We have got to stop treating kids like this. No kid deserves to be thrown away.”

Amen, sister.

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