These Are Our Own Rye Teenage Boys, and They Need Us Right Now
By Diana McBaine-Cook, Esq., Guest Columnist
The choice we all made to move to Rye to raise our children is a bit like the choice we made when we got married: “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health . . .” Most often in Rye we have had “better” times (if not fantastic times). Most often in Rye we have prospered and then paid high taxes so our community will continue to flourish. And most often in Rye we have been healthy. But in the last few weeks, we have witnessed the “for worse” part of the choice we made to move here. We have been under intense police pressure, as well as local and national media scrutiny, for events involving our teenagers -- mainly our teenage boys. We have had teenage boys go missing and teenage boys acting out terrible hazing rituals that, apparently, were perpetrated upon them when they were younger. We all know the details to which I refer, and I do not plan to go into them further here.
Instead of focusing on the details of these recent events, I wish to remind all of you that these are our Rye teenage boys. They are part of our “marriage” to Rye. They are our own football players, our Garnets, our lacrosse players, our Rye High School students. They are the children of leaders of Rye youth sports and pillars of the community who have given so much back to the other children and families in Rye with their endless volunteer work. So, it is the responsibility of all of us to protect our Rye teenage boys now; to guide them and watch over them even when they have troubles — dare I say especially when they have troubles. That is, after all, one reason why we moved here: so that the small community would rally behind our own children if they ever have a time of need.
Just because things have hit a rough patch does not mean that we end our so-called “marriage” to Rye. (A “divorce” is not that easy by the way. You have to move out of Rye). Just because our teenage boys have been in trouble does not mean they are no longer part of the so-called “oath” we took when we moved here to stick together in this small town, pay high taxes, and do endless hours of local volunteer work so that our community, and our children, would flourish.
Why am I the one to write to you about this matter you may ask? First of all, I practiced criminal defense law in the past and have worked with juvenile defendants. So, as a former defense attorney, I am telling you that I am extremely concerned about the fact that our teenage boys are being charged as adults when they are only 16 and 17; I am extremely concerned about the fact that the media is publishing their names and showing their photos when they are only 16 and 17; and I am extremely concerned about the mental health stresses to these boys (not to mention their families) when they are only 16 and 17. I worry that these intense legal, media, and mental health strains may lead our small, tight-knit community to more sorrow and damage rather than to a resolution of this hazing problem or to the intense social pressures teenagers here face. I have seen it myself in criminal defense practice and I remind you that the teenage mind can only handle so much pressure and guilt at one time. The teenage mind is not as strong as the adult mind.
Criminal defense lawyers get paid to worry . . . I am worried . . . and I am not even getting paid to do it.
The other reason why I am writing this is one of the accused teenage boys is my next-door neighbor and close friend. I have watched him grow up the last seven years, seen him get his first puppy and bring it to my house all the time. I have seen him put out bird feeders on his deck each spring. He and his brother took care of my house and property during Hurricane Irene when I was away. I have been relieved to know that this boy (now teenager) and his brother were there, next door, ready to help me fix the outdoor lamps and dig me out of the snow. He never asks for anything in return, and he is always polite and cheerful. He sets a good example for my children and has allowed them to take toys from his tag sale for free. So the kids and I drop off pies for this particular teenager because teenage boys must love pies, right?
My point is not to focus on the details of my own experience with one of the Rye teenagers allegedly involved in these hazing incidents but, rather, to remind you that many of us know these boys personally. Many of us know boys who may get into trouble next year or the year after. Any and all of our children may encounter some difficulty down the road. So may we all try to remember that the purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate the kids and prevent them from becoming repeat offenders? (They will face more "punishment" than you can even imagine while they are going through the criminal justice system). Moreover, this goal of rehabilitation is to be invoked if the juveniles are found to be guilty in a court of law.
Believe it or not, the juvenile system can and does work when it is followed properly. So why are we not demanding that it be followed with our Rye teenage boys? Why aren’t we closing in as a community to protect both the victims and the charged boys from backlash, to keep the media out (or at least redirect the media to our community efforts to solve the hazing problem), and to help all of these families heal and face the overwhelming legal hurdles ahead of them? Did you notice that our Rye teenage boys have been charged as adults with felonies as well as misdemeanors? They are in the hands of the District Attorney’s Office now. So it is up to the rest of us to support them and help them get through this criminal law process, to love and forgive them, and to rehabilitate them if they are found to be in need of such rehabilitation. Why did we all move to this community if we are not now capable of following these goals?
Why is it that we have not called upon prominent local defense attorneys and/or prosecutors who live in Rye to educate our teenagers about hazing and drug offenses before they happened? Why is it that people wait until there is an emergency to call upon lawyers, particularly criminal lawyers? Why not use these attorneys proactively to educate our teenagers about juvenile offenses during school meetings? This really should have been done long ago.
I know that mine is not a popular or welcomed opinion. Rather, mine is a cautious opinion because I fear this situation in Rye could get even "worse." So I strongly urge all of you to proceed with caution. I strongly urge all of you to proceed with forgiveness. And I strongly urge all of you to proceed with the unity we all have in our “marriage” to Rye . . . For better or for worse.
About Diana McBaine-Cook, Esq.
Diana McBaine-Cook, Esq. received her undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1988 with a double major in History and Political Science; she received a Master's Degree from Oxford University in History and Political Theory; she then received her law degree from Columbia University in 1994. Ms. McBaine-Cook was a Federal Law Clerk to the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of New York, Thomas C. Platt, from 1994 to 1995; and she was a member of the Department of Justice Summer Honors Program in Washington D.C. for two consecutive summers. Ms. McBaine-Cook worked as an associate at Rogers & Wells (now Clifford Chance) and then Kronish, Lieb, Weiner and Hellman, LLP, both of which are Manhattan firms. Her prior publications include: Co-Author of American Bar Association, Tort and Insurance Practice Section, "Zealous Advocate or Officer of the Court ?" (Fall 1999 Ed.).