Technically, It’s Not Punishment

Months after charges were dropped against most of the (allegedly) unruly kids on their way to an (alleged) gangster’s funeral in Bushwick last May, the kids seem to be “disturbing the peace” again. This time they’ve created some discord between Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Herbert said in his column that these kids are “not gangsters… not out of control” and accused Hynes of perpetuating “the canard” that they were. Hynes went on the Brian Lehrer Show and called Herbert “naïve” and derided him for using the word “canard.”

Hynes expressed “surprise” that a “bright fellow” like Herbert missed the distinction between a community service order (with a sealed record) and a plea bargain that would leave a “blot” on a kid’s record (as Herbert had suggested in his column). But seizing on this technical misunderstanding misses the real point: why, in the absence of evidence, should the kids be required to accept anything punitive, even “mere” community service that no one’s ever allowed to ask about? Herbert asked, “why should it take more than nine months to resolve charges of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct?” Without accepting his conclusions, I think these are fair questions to raise.

Hynes is right: “Bob Herbert is not a lawyer.” But I wouldn’t hold that against him.

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