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Should 11-year-old be charged after classmate dies following fist fight?

February 27, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Here's a sad reminder that sometimes a fist in the nose is enough to put someone in the ground.

Last Friday two little girls in Long Beach, Calif., had a schoolyard fist fight over a boy. The fight lasted less than a minute, no weapons were involved and neither of them was knocked to the ground. Both seemed fine when the fight ended. Yet six hours later Joanna Ramos, who would have turned 11 next month, slipped into a coma and died of what doctors say was probably bleeding in the brain caused by a blow to the head she took during the earlier fight. She was revived several times and doctors operated on her, but they weren't able to save her life. That is often what happens with head injuries; at first someone looks just fine only to die of unseen bleeding in the brain a few hours or days later.

Now Joanna's death has been ruled a homicide and the 11-year-old girl she had the fight with could face charges. Should she be charged when both girls were equally responsible for starting the fight and there was no intent to cause serious harm? The case is about to be turned over to a prosecutor, who will decide what if any charges should be filed.

I doubt either little girl or the other kids who surrounded them, probably shouting "Fight! Fight! Fight!" dreamed this could happen when they put their fists up last Friday. This sort of thing happens every now and then, though you're more apt to hear about an unexpected death after a bar room brawl between adults than a fight between two girls so young. Still, girls have always fought over boys. When I was in school, I remember watching biting and scratching cat fights between girls who were about the age of these two or just a little bit older. The cause was usually a boy, who enjoyed being the center of attention far too much and never deserved to be fought over. No serious harm was ever done to the girls except bruised egos or broken hearts.

But this is a good object lesson for anyone who has a kid who might get physical. Any time you put your hands on another person, there is always the potential of causing greater harm than you intend and it is the results that matter here, not the intent. What started out as a schoolyard squabble ended in a homicide. Personally, I don't think the other child deserves to be severely punished, much less charged with murder, but regardless of the punishment the other girl's life is forever changed; the guilt of what she set in motion will live with her forever.


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