The Lionel Tate Saga Continues, by Darryn “Dutch” Martin

Lionel Tate is back in the news again.

Tate is the young black boy from Florida who was convicted of brutally murdering a six-year-old girl when he was only 12 and became the youngest person in American history to be sentenced to life in prison.  After serving only three years, however, Tate was released from a juvenile prison last year on a technicality.  In agreeing to plead guilty to second-degree murder, he was sentenced to a year of house arrest, ten years of probation and counseling.  Tate was also ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

Now 18, Tate was recently arrested for twice violating his parole.  In September of 2004, after Tate gave the police a fake name, a subsequent search found a knife in his pocket.  In May of 2005, he allegedly assaulted a 12-year-old boy and held up a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint.  Tate is currently being held without bond at the Broward County Jail.

Juvenile justice experts not only warned that Lionel Tate should have gotten professional help a long time ago, but that he never should have been released. 

Dr. Michael Brannon, co-director of the Institute for Behavioral Sciences and the Law in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was the forensic psychologist appointed by the court to examine Tate after the 1999 killing of six-year-old Tiffany Eunick.  Appearing recently on the Fox News Channel’s “The Big Story with John Gibson,” Dr. Brannon told guest host Judge Andrew Napolitano that he concluded that Tate possessed “a high potential for violence” along with “uncontrolled feelings of anger, resentment and poor impulse control.”  Thus, he said it is very unlikely that Eunick’s death was “an accident” as Tate and his defense attorneys claimed.

Dr. Brannon recommended that, in lieu of prison, Tate be placed in a juvenile treatment center to receive intensive counseling.  Instead, the boy was prosecuted and convicted under a new, tough-on-crime Florida law.  Dr. Brannon said his initial evaluation of Tate was misrepresented by the defense in an effort to have Tate released from prison:

He was let out initially because there was… a misrepresentation of whether or not he was violent, although [I] and another psychologist both said that he posed a high risk of violence… There’s been an ongoing effort on the part of the defense to characterize this as just… a poor, young, immature boy who was borderline mentally retarded, who had never been violent before, who, just by circumstance, accidentally, through play wrestling, killed a girl, a little girl.  All of those things are untrue, though.

The handling of the Lionel Tate case is further proof of how utterly inept the Florida juvenile justice system is when it comes to dealing with troubled kids.

Tate’s troubled life is all too common among young people, particularly black youth who come from fatherless homes.  This new aspect introduced by Lionel Tate saga only serves to drive that point home.

Where are all of those black community activists who stood by young Lionel upon his release from prison last year?  Tate and his mother were flanked by the Nation of Islam’s “Fruit of Islam” security force, while black church ministers, mugging for the cameras, pledged to “work with” and “counsel” young Lionel in an effort to help him turn his life around.  What happened?  Were their “counseling” efforts insufficient?  Was Lionel Tate just too incorrigible?  Or maybe it was all just a publicity stunt typical of today’s civil rights leadership. 

Had these so-called community leaders done what they’d pledged to do, perhaps an extremely troubled kid might not have blown his second chance at a new and rehabilitated life.

Instead, Lionel Tate is now looking at a long stretch in adult prison.


Darryn “Dutch” Martin is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

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