Rebirth of Reason


I Did Not Fail Him
by Anton Kelly

Six New Zealand teenagers have just been convicted of killing 40-year-old pizza-delivery man Michael Choy in South Auckland last year. The oldest killer was seventeen at the time; the youngest, BJ Kurariki, was just twelve.

The youths attempted to rob a KFC delivery-driver a few days earlier, but aborted the plan when a woman turned up with their food. Apparently they did not want to assault a female. When Pizza Hut employee Michael Choy was lured down a dark driveway by BJ Kurariki, he never stood a chance. At BJ's signal another youth leapt out and hit Michael in the head with a softball bat. As Michael lay on the ground with his skull smashed in, the youths robbed him and took the pizzas back to a nearby house to eat them. Despite his horrific injuries Michael managed to get up and stagger to his father's nearby house, where he was found dying on the back doorstep the next morning.

The 16-year-old who wielded the softball bat was found guilty of murder, as was the girl who placed the phone order for the pizzas. The four other youths, including BJ Kurariki, were found guilty of manslaughter.

Predictably the case and subsequent verdicts have dominated the nation's newspapers and talkback radio discussions. The surprising youth of the perpetrators, particularly BJ, and the brutality of the crime, make this case unique. It was of course only a matter of time before the hand-wringing began, and sure enough, the day after the verdicts were announced, the headlines of a leading national newspaper read: OUR YOUNGEST KILLER - Teenagers doomed to a life of crime. Talkback radio hosts have been saying that we have failed these children, that we aren't teaching our children the difference between right and wrong, and that we as a community need to take responsibility and prevent further crimes of this nature.

What do they mean, our youngest killer, that we have failed these children, that we need to take responsibility?

I believe this we-ist approach is a root cause of crimes such as these, especially with regard to young BJ. No one person took responsibility for his care. He began getting into trouble at the age of five, and by the age of nine he was known to police for shoplifting, tagging and assault. At the time of the killing he was a state ward and was on the run from a social welfare home. His life was a mess of school expulsions, social workers and family conferences.

It is clear that an appalling lack of discipline played a major part in the way BJ turned out. "Discipline" does not mean just physical punishment; it means setting and enforcing guidelines for a child to act by until he can reason for himself. BJ's mother says she only hit him once, by banging his head against a wall. Abuse such as this hardly constitutes sound discipline, and no doubt served only to push him even further off the rails. The things BJ needed, loving parents and firm, fair guidance, were conspicuously absent.

Despite what the media or anyone else says, the blame for the way this boy turned out can be laid squarely at the feet of his woefully inadequate parents. They failed to teach BJ respect for the right of others to life and property, and allowed him to run so far off the rails that he is a convicted killer at the age of thirteen. As adults, they should be held responsible for the actions of their pre-"age of reason" child.

To the radio talkback host who told me I have to take some of the blame for what happened to Michael Choy, I say this: I am responsible for the actions of two people in this world - myself and my own child. I resent having one iota of guilt for the role this boy played in this crime put upon me. I do not know BJ Kurariki. I did not breed him. I did not fail him.

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