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Our View: Colfax students react positively to senseless crime

Our View
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The tragic rock-throwing crime that injured a Sacramento man who was driving through Colfax on Interstate 80 July 26 has raised much debate in our community. The Placer County District Attorney’s Office decided to try the teens as adults, no doubt considering the serious injury the Colfax High School students inflicted upon an innocent person. And the callous nature of the crime, which allegedly escalated from throwing gravel, to rocks, to a barricade off the Canyon Way overpass. The victim, Jose Palomera, 48, sustained serious injuries including a smashed face and broken jaw. Palomera attended a hearing in the Placer County Jail Court for the youth, and told the Journal and other media afterward that an example should be made out of these 16- and 17-year-olds. That is absolutely true. But where the difference of opinion lies is in what way an example should be made. The response from other Colfax High students, their teachers and administrators has been phenomenal. Students at the Colfax school, led by Principal Rick Spears, have offered two concrete ways to reach out to Palomera, who has unquestionably suffered severely from this thoughtless criminal act. Colfax High is donating $2,000 from its share of proceeds from “Battle at the Capital,” last weekend’s high school football extravaganza at Del Oro High School. And, proceeds from the Colfax High School band and choir’s Oct. 13 Fall Music Concert will also go directly to Palomera, who has missed work and incurred substantial costs related to his injuries. Colfax High School has made an example of how students should react to a tragedy caused by their classmates with appropriate action, selfless deeds and compassion. Colfax High School students are by and large intelligent, compassionate, caring young people and their reaction to the tragedy shows just that. This is also an opportunity for the Placer County District Attorney’s Office to explain, through the proper court venues, why these boys should be prosecuted as adults. Common sense says the alleged crimes were very unsophisticated and poorly thought out. And since alcohol reportedly played a major factor in the crime, that, too, should be the topic of many parent-teen discussions in the foothills. Proposition 21, passed by California voters in 2000, gave prosecutors the right to charge juveniles as adults in some felony cases. Most of the cases cited in the quest to pass Prop. 21, however, involved the use of guns, violent street gang affiliation and much more criminal sophistication. No one is saying that there should not be consequences to this serious crime. But the punishment should fit the crime, and justice for all should be considered in the prosecution and sentencing. That’s if, they are indeed, found guilty. The benefit to the community of having these three teens spending numerous years in prison should also be considered. Some studies suggest that sending teens to adult prisons has a negative effect. The teens are subjected to harsh behaviors from older, experienced criminals, and come out from incarceration as much more hardened individuals and a greater threat to society. Their recidivism rate is also higher. How does the community, the victim or the perpetrators benefit from that? No matter what happens, this senseless act of violence at 2:30 a.m. on a summer night is an example of how a very bad decision can affect an entire community. The subsequent example that is still unfolding is how our court system will work, how adults in the community ultimately will react, and how and if justice will truly be served. So far, the Colfax High School student body has shown by example a thoughtful and healthy response. Let’s hope adults in the community are up to the same challenge.