Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2000 / 8 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
The crime that hides behind a wall
IN THE END, the greatest
danger to children who need protecting does not
come from those people who torture and
sometimes kill them.
What Patrick Bourgeois and his girlfriend, Tracy
Lynn Bratton, did to Bourgeois' 3-year-old son
P.J. -- the beating, the biting into the boy's skin, the taping of his legs and
wrists so that he could not help himself as he slowly choked to death on his
own blood -- are beyond forgiving. Regardless of how long they would have
spent in prison, no penalty is severe enough to adequately punish people who
would do that to a child who has absolutely no defenses.
To feel anger at Bourgeois and Bratton is instinctive -- but if ever we, as a
nation, are going to be able to keep children safe, the anger toward the
torturers and killers of those children, although understandable, is not the
Because -- as we have stressed so often in reporting cases such as this one --
the greatest enemy the children face is not the abuse that is inflicted upon
The greatest enemy they face is indifference -- indifference from the courts,
indifference from the agencies entrusted to assure the children's well-being,
indifference from prosecutors who act as if they can't be bothered with
vigorously pursuing cases against people who do this to children, indifference
from police departments that don't always consider the grievous mistreatment
of children to be full-fledged crimes, indifference from the citizenry.
The reason a judge such as Nodine Miller of Franklin County Common Pleas
Court can get away with doing what she did -- releasing the killers of P.J.
Bourgeois from prison early, stating without supporting evidence that what
they did in killing that child was a product of "ignorance, immaturity and
inexperience, more than malevolence" -- is because we allow judges to get
away with that sort of thing, just as we allow prosecutors to get away with
not objecting to the release of child killers, as the prosecutors in Franklin
County failed to object. We allow prosecutors to cut deals with child
torturers and child killers, as Franklin County prosecutors cut a deal with
Bourgeois and Bratton, agreeing not to oppose the "supershock probation"
that let them out early.
Why does this indifference so often prevail?
Because it's easy for the adults in authority -- because the children, with no
voices, cannot speak up to say that this is wrong. The children are usually
invisible in courtrooms; the judges can see their tormentors asking for
lenience, for understanding, but the judges cannot see the children, whose
cries for mercy went unanswered in the first place.
And -- perhaps most sadly -- the children end up being blamed, directly or
indirectly, for their own torture. It is the ultimate insult -- not only do the
children go unheard, but they are treated as if they somehow deserved what
was done to them.
When Judge Miller referred to P.J. Bourgeois as a "difficult child" whom his
father's girlfriend "could not control," a child who "began misbehaving" and
thus was punished with the torture that led to his death, she was relying only
on the killers' own descriptions of what the boy had been like. It would be
bad enough if Judge Miller's decision to impugn the dead child were an
anomaly -- if she were the only judge to do such a thing.
But it's rather common. Readers may recall another case we have covered
here -- the case of the 7-year-old girl in Calumet County, Wis., who was
kept locked in a small dog cage in an unheated basement, left to live in her
After her 11-year-old brother walked alone, crying and barefoot on a
freezing Wisconsin night to ask police to save his sister -- and after the
parents, Michael and Angeline Rogers, pleaded guilty to felonies that could
have put them in prison for 40 years -- the time for sentencing arrived.
Judge Steven Weinke gave Mr. and Mrs. Rogers no state prison time at all.
He looked at the torturers of that little girl, and in sympathetic tones he said to
"I have children, and I know what a challenge it can be even raising good
She was caged because, in Judge Weinke's clear implication, she was not a
"good child." He had personally appointed a psychiatrist to offer him an
evaluation of the case; the psychiatrist used words that were almost exactly
the same as Judge Miller's words about P.J. Bourgeois. The little girl in the
cage, the psychiatrist said, was a "very difficult child." Only one problem with
that diagnosis: The psychiatrist admitted, when we questioned him, that he
had never even spoken to the girl, or to any of the Rogers children. He, and
Judge Weinke, blamed that little girl without ever spending a single second
talking with her.
The indifference is everywhere, and it is the worst enemy the children have. In
some states, reporters are not even allowed into courtrooms to cover the
cases of abused and neglected children. Judges and state officials often say
this is "for the protection of the children," but time after time it turns out that
the secrecy serves only to protect the people who are supposed to be
looking out for the children.
The lesson of the killing of P.J. Bourgeois is that the indifference still prevails.
It always will, until the day we recognize that the indifference itself is a crime
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
11/02/00: If you have been asking yourself what you can do ...
11/01/00: 'He will never know what it is like to ride a bicycle'
10/31/00: 'It makes you feel that you are absolutely powerless'
10/30/00: THE KILLER LEARNS 'ANGER MANAGEMENT' AND IS FREED
10/26/00: `I'm not going to go up there and yell and scream'
10/25/00: With prosecutors silent, the other killer is released
10/24/00: The boy's killer: 'I've served my time, and I'm out'
10/23/00: Blaming the boy for bringing on his own killing
10/20/00: The child's killer is released -- to care for other children
10/19/00: Words that the judge would not allow to be spoken
10/18/00: A courthouse game in which the boy was not included
10/17/00: The killers get 7 to 25 years ... with a wink
10/13/00: While the killers maneuver, the boy goes unburied
10/13/00: The killers demand a concession -- and they get it
10/12/00: The prosecutors decide it doesn't qualify as murder
10/11/00: 'He wouldn't eat his eggs, and we put him to bed'
10/10/00: The autopsy leaves no questions: 'It was a homicide'
10/06/00: 'Had they shot him in the head, he would have suffered less'
10/05/00: 'I remember the moment that I first saw the human bite marks'
10/04/00: They killed a 3-year-old boy -- and they are free
09/29/00: This just in, sort of: How the news can make you calm
09/27/00: Like being with old
friends in places you
09/21/00: If the Olympics banished television . . .
09/19/00: As summer ends, have the executives learned any lessons?
09/14/00: The new stardom that doesn't require paying any dues
09/12/00: Leave a light on for us children of the pioneers
09/09/00: River banks? How to turn water into an endless cash flow
09/06/00:Oh, give me a home, where the megabytes roam . . .
09/01/00: If this works, it can literally change young lives
08/30/00: From inside all those screen porches, one more cheer
08/24/00: Who will make your life better by August of 2004?
08/24/00: Four men running -- Why do we have to throw out two?
08/16/00:The certain way to measure the Lieberman factor
08/10/00: Can a library be a library without books?
08/08/00: Can't they spare eight nights every four years?
08/04/00: Cheney, Abe Lincoln and Ricky Martin -- do they add up?
08/02/00: Convention aside, you might want to tune in
07/27/00: How to make a killing
07/25/00: 'If we didn't do it, no one else would'
07/24/00: The executioners who walk among us
07/20/00: On Main Street, signs of the times tell two stories
07/18/00: Have the choices changed, or have we?
07/14/00: Gable, Hepburn, Zanuck--you wouldn't find them at HOJO's
07/13/00: The Great Lie about political conventions
07/06/00: If this is victory, what would defeat feel like?
06/29/00: A bright moon and a missing person on Orange Ave.
06/26/00: They're not singing our song
06/22/00: The name game
06/07/00: It's like knocking on a revolving door
06/06/00: Steven who? A close encounter of mistaken identity
06/02/00: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
05/31/00: The best laughter, the truest voices, will never fade
05/25/00: Of distant visions, close views, and Bobby Knight
05/24/00: 'The luckiest thing that ever happened to me'
05/23/00: 'It's funny how you remember the little things'
05/22/00: 'The whisper of a generation saying goodbye to its children'
05/19/00: The place to find life is not a keyboard
05/18/00: A problem of suds but no duds
05/17/00: Are those lazy, hazy dot-com days fading?
05/16/00: The truest things in life require not a single word
05/15/00: 'Evidently he didn't like the way she dusted the house'
05/12/00: Why news executives are hoping this 'woman' is a hit
05/11/00: Ted Koppel, Hitler, Mellencamp . . . and words of love
05/10/00: Maybe it's time for the right people to hear our cheers
05/09/00: The lesson that they always learn late
05/05/00: 'Excuse me, but there seems to be something in my water'
05/05/00: When your first dream turns out to be your best dream
05/04/00: Even baseball couldn't make light of this superstition
05/03/00: The ringmaster who looks back from your mirror
05/02/00: There they go, just a-yappin' down the street . . .
05/01/00: You must remember this (Unless you don't)
04/24/00: Now that casino ads are allowed to tell the truth . . .
04/13/00: The man in the seat across the airplane aisle
04/11/00: A star is born, but do you know where it's @?
04/06/00: Through the eyes of Norman Rockwell
03/21/00: 10 good reasons to avoid making this list
03/21/00: 'I tell myself that they've gone on vacation'
03/21/00: Monday Night Football memories
03/02/00: This report card deserves an 'A' in every subject
02/29/00: What really happened on New Year's eve
02/23/00: Of paste pots, Denver sandwiches and finding Dr. Sam
02/17/00: What would you like to stay exactly the same?
02/04/00: Politics: When did the stagehands step onto the stage?
02/01/00: An awesome idea to make you sound better
01/26/00: Y3K already? We haven't yet recovered from Y2K
01/21/00: Watching the pot that always boils
01/19/00:The story behind the men on the museum steps
01/13/00: Here's to the students who never hear a cheer
01/11/00: The oh-so-sweet sound of modems in the morning
01/04/00: The person in your mirror just got wiser
12/31/99: A lesson -- and a memory -- to last a millennium
12/29/99: Racing the clock, even when it's running backwards
12/13/99: The right to bear coffee
12/08/99: From teen idol to ink-stained wretch: Can you Dig it?
12/02/99: Human 'search engines'
11/30/99: Here's looking at you -- now hand over the cash
11/23/99: Who'll say 'I'm sorry' to the other Decatur students?
11/18/99: "From bad things, good can come"
11/16/99: The man who didn't know the meaning of 'whatever'
11/12/99: Is this progress? We have made the weekend obsolete
11/09/99: Today he would probably be called Kyle Kramden
11/04/99: And you thought the IRS was heartless
11/02/99: When it's free, what will the real price be?
10/29/99: The tissue-thin decisions that define who we are
10/26/99: One way to cut road rage down to size
10/22/99: Asking all the right questions takes a special pitch
10/18/99: The signs are talking to you; Are you listening?
10/12/99: Even Capone would be disgusted
10/08/99: Don't ever look your neighborhood bear in the eye
10/06/99: Land of the free and marketplace of the brave
10/04/99: German warplanes in
09/30/99: While you fret, something is sneaking up on you
09/28/99: In these busy times, why not bring back a certain buzz?
09/24/99: The storms whose paths no one can track
09/21/99: Who's minding the store? Oh . . . never mind
09/17/99:Here's another place where you can't smoke
09/14/99: As certainly as `lovely Rita' follows `when I'm 64' . . .
09/09/99: Why is patience no longer a virtue?
09/07/99: Once upon a time, in an airport close to you . . .
09/03/99: The answers? They are right in front of us
09/01/99: Up the creek with a paddle--and cussing up a storm
08/30/99: $1 Million Question: How'd we get to be so stup-d?
08/27/99: Fun and games at Camp Umbilical Cord
08/25/99: How life has been changed by the woodpecker effect
08/23/99: If you don't like this story, blame the robot who wrote it
08/20/99: A four-letter word that has helped both Bob and Rhonda
08/18/99: They have picked the wrong country
08/16/99: From paperboy to stalker--how the news has changed
08/12/99: Why wasn't anyone watching his brothers?
08/10/99: Come to think of it, stars seldom are the retiring type
08/05/99: The national gaper's block is always jammed
07/29/99: 'Can you imagine the gift you gave me?'
07/27/99: A view to a kill -- but is this really necessary?
07/23/99: Some cream and sugar with your turbulence?
07/21/99: When your name is JFK jr., how do you choose to use it?
07/19/99: The real world is declared not real enough
07/15/99: The real victims of cruel and unusual punishment
07/13/99: A 21st Century idea for schools: log off and learn
07/09/99: Are life's sweetest mysteries still around the bend?
07/07/99: Of great minds, cream cheese and Freddy Cannon
07/02/99: The perfect spokesman for the American way
06/30/99: 'He's 9 years old . . . he trusts people'
06/28/99: A $581 million jackpot in the courthouse casino
06/25/99: A nighttime walk to a House that feels like a cage
06/23/99: At least give men credit for being more morose
06/18/99: On Father's Day, a few words about mothers
06/16/99: If work is a dance, how's
your partner doing?
06/14/99: Should a dictionary ever tell you to keep quiet?
06/10/99: A story of Sex, the SuperBowl and your wife
06/07/99: Take a guess where "California Sun" is from
06/03/99: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
06/01/99: Putting your money where their mouths are
05/27/99: Pressed between wooden covers, the summer of her life
05/25/99:The lingering song of a certain summer
05/24/99:We could all use a return to the Buddy system
05/20/99: Now, this is enough to make James Bond double-0 depressed
05/17/99: It's midnight -- do you know where your parents are?
05/13/99: And now even saying "thank you" creates a problem
05/11/99: The answer was standing at the front door
©1999, Tribune Media Services