OCTOBER 13, 1961
NEW YORK—I have been very much interested lately in the case of Salvadore Agron, the Puerto Rican boy who is under sentence of death on his conviction on two counts of murder in the first degree here in New York City. The psychiatrist who telephoned the firm of lawyers who decided to take this case, on the psychiatrist's recommendation, feels that the boy was actually psychotic when the terrible event took place which led to his conviction.
It is again a question of whether a boy of 16 should be sentenced to death in a case involving a crime motivated solely by racial hatred for non-Puerto Ricans. And also whether under these circumstances he should have been tried by juries from which Puerto Ricans were arbitrarily excluded, contrary to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
I have a feeling that no youngster of this age should be sentenced to death. No matter how much one deplored the crime, one is also conscious of the drives in our society which can bring a child to the feelings of race hatred which existed apparently to the point of real emotional mental disturbance on the part of this youngster.
It is the society that permits situations to arise which give one group so many disadvantages to fight against and which is partly responsible in a case of this kind. It seems to me that, morally, anyone who has been the victim of a social situation should be given care by the proper authorities in an effort to recover sanity and be able to live a normal existence.
I hope the Supreme Court will direct in the future that juries, no matter what the racial or national origin of the individual, shall have a proportion of representation which equally represents the different groups of our society according to their population in the area. If the Supreme Court could see its way to making this decision or to at least discussing it so that it would be clarified and people could think it through on their state level, it would certainly tend to give us greater justice for members of our minority groups.
I am also deeply concerned about the treatment of our young offenders because it seems to me that there is hope with them for rehabilitation. I will concede that this is not always true when you are dealing with mature individuals.
I was sent some excerpts sometime ago from a book called "Personality and Adjustment" by Patty Johnson, and I think it might be encouraging to many of us who worry about the state of our world and particularly the state of our youngsters to remember that today's problem is not unique. It has existed a long time. Here are the quotes:
"Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching." (From an Assyrian stone table of about 2800 B.C.)
"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners; contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servant of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." (Attributed to Socrates (469-399 B.C.) by Plato.)
There still may be hope for us!
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I have a very appealing letter from a trained and practiced social worker. She says she finds the understanding of much of our present-day science difficult, but she knows people, their behavior, their desires, their fears, and she is opposed to nuclear war and feels that the armament race now going on can only lead to this end.
She feels we are leading our people to fear and hate, and we are not training them to search for a way to peace and to accept peaceful negotiation and believe that all the peoples of the world want the same good that we do.
Her attitude is one to which I think most of us would like to subscribe, but we cannot quite forget that there have been instances in history when people could not be completely trusted and when what they thought was good for them was certainly not good for some other people
We must strive for the highest ideals and for the greatest trust we can have in others, but we must also look at realities, particularly if sometimes it is just a group of leaders and not the people behind them who have any decision in the matter at all.