Juvenile Justice and the Fight for Freedom: Second Chance Kids

This Frontline documentary, Second Chance Kids gives us an inside look at the fight of mandatory life sentences in juvenile justice. Following the 90’s tough-on-crime era and the birth of the “superpredator”, this documentary shows us the lives of two juvenile lifers, Anthony Rolon and Joe Donovan. Both men were waived and convicted as adults, and both were sentenced to mandatory life without parole in the state of Massachusetts. This documentary takes us through the landmark supreme court decisions that allowed the parole of these two lifers, as well as how our juvenile justice system has changed with new scientific understanding. Additionally, the rationale and effects that the tough-on-crime era had on juveniles and race is also discussed and highlighted.  

Anthony Rolon, a black male, was sentenced to life without parole at the age of 17 years for the murder of another young man. His mother was an absentee parent and drug addict, and his father was a drug dealer. Rolon got into an altercation with several young men hosting a house party. The altercation started when Rolon went over and, for fear of the police coming around, asked them to quiet down. After a conflict broke out, Rolon stabbed another young man several times, killing him. 

Joe Donovan was 17 years old when he was involved in an armed robbery of a MIT student. Donovan’s part was that he punched this student, but the incident turned into a felony murder when someone he was with stabbed the young man several times in the chest. The 15 year old that actually stabbed the student was too young to be tried as an adult, and the other individual took a plea deal, leaving Donovan to face first degree murder charges. Without directly murdering anyone, he was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life without parole. 

Several years into the sentences, the supreme court ruled that sentencing a juvenile without considering extenuating circumstances was unconstitutional – meaning that automatic mandatory sentencing for those under the age of 18 was to be prohibited. These punishments, which were dolled out to juveniles during this “superpredator” era, were the justice system’s way of trying to appease and reassure the public that something was being done to fight the recent rise of crime. 

As we have already explored in this class, the laws and actions that happened in response to this crime problem were disproportionate to young men of color and discriminated against black and Latino males. In her essay, Henning (2018) points out that during the “superpredator” hype in the 90’s, black boys were especially targeted and hyper criminalized. A predicted rise of violent crime perpetrated by young black men with no morality or remorse created a wave of fear that swept across America, and legislators scrambled to do something about it. Although the “superpredator” myth has been debunked and years of data show no corresponding rise in juvenile crime, the legislation and attitude towards young black men still remains.

This has added to the over-prosecution of not only black boys, but black men as well. In her essay, Davis (2018) establishes that black men are more likely to be prosecuted federally, leading to more substantial, punitive sentences. Additionally, Fairfax (2018) connects this prosecution with a grand jury indictment, stating that a black male perpetrator is more likely to be indicted, and in fact grand juries very rarely deny prosecutors a verdict. Even more so, when discussing juveniles, not only are black boys more likely to be perceived as adults by police (Laura, 2014), but they are also more likely to be tried as adults in court. The supreme court decisions in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana that banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles have been just the first step in undoing the punitive, discriminatory actions of the tough-on-crime era. It was these rulings that allowed Rolan’s and Donovan’s cases to be re-examined in consideration of release. The supreme court based their decisions off of new scientific evidence that suggests that juveniles cannot be held to the same accountability as adults due to a lack of development of the adolescent mind. 

To fully appreciate the weight of this decision, we must understand that the prison system is not meant to be punitive, but restorative. If there is evidence that shows that violence juvenile offenders can mature to be non-violent men, our justice system must reflect that. Anyone wishing to understand the impact and struggle of the fight within the juvenile justice system would find Second Chance Kids well worth the watch. Not only does it focus on this issue, but also the evolution and change of our system regarding juveniles and race.



Davis, A. J. (2018). The prosecution of black men. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 179-208). Vintage Books.

Dornstein, K.  (Producer). Dornstein, K. (Director). (2017). Second Chance Kids[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/second-chance-kids/

Fairfax, R. A., Jr. (2018). The grand jury and police violence against black men. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 209-233). Vintage Books.

Henning, K. (2018). Boys to men: The role of policing in the socialization of black boys. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 57-94). Vintage Books.

Laura, C. T. (2014). Being bad: my baby brother and the school-to-prison pipeline. Teachers College Press.

The Intersection of Policing and Race: Documenting Hate: Charlottesville

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Virginia, race riots, Frontline brings us Documenting Hate: Charlottesville. A.C. Thompson, a journalist, has been following the recent boldness of white supremacists in America for several years now. This documentary is a discovery on several people and groups involved in the Charlottesville marches and riots as well as the preparation, reaction and response of the police surrounding this incident. 

The “Unite the Right” march, as it has been called, was the largest public white supremacy gathering in a generation. There have been several smaller protests and gatherings of this nature, some also violent, but Charlottesville was by far the deadliest. This documentary takes us through the events that took place in Charlottesville, the events leading up to it, and what transpired afterwards. 

What began as a protest on the removal of a Civil War statue quickly escalated into fights and riots between white supremacist groups and anti-fascist, anti-racist protesters. The apex of the violence occurred when someone drove a car through a crowd of protesters, hospitalizing nearly twenty and killing one woman. Most importantly, the documentary touches on the police response, before, during, and after these events. While we, in this class, have not discussed modern white supremacy to this degree, we have discussed how police practices and procedures have been implemented in racist, discriminatory ways, which is what my analysis will focus on.

This country has been built with the ideology of white supremacy, on the backs of black slaves. In his essay on white supremacy, Brian Stevenson (2018) explains how the criminal justice system was an extension of that ideology, dealing unjustly and unfairly toward black people. Today, our general society does not reflect this ideology, but our criminal justice system has been slower to change.  While this documentary is not about violence towards black people, it is about this ideology and the role that police have in perpetuating this ideology and violence on black people. Today, this violence does take the form as an attack on black people by the justice system, as it did a hundred years ago – nor is it to avoid lynchings and please the mob, as Stevenson would explain – but rather an idleness of the police when confronted with this ideology. 

Before the Charlottesville protests, the local police were woefully under prepared. State and federal authorities had not notified them on the type of people coming, namely bands of armed white supremacists. During the protests, while people were being attacked and while fights broke out, the police stood by and did not intervene. An example of this is the incident in a parking garage right next to a police station. DeAndre Harris, a black man and anti-racist protester, was savagely beaten by a group of white supremacists. He was battered with poles, metal pipes, and wooden boards, while the police stood by idly.

This example is just one of many that took place during the events that occurred. Marc Mauer (2018) explains that, although less visible than in the days of lynching, criminal justice practitioners still operate on these ideals based in racism, implementing and enforcing policies in racist, discriminatory ways. This can be seen as a lack of intervention for individuals such as Harris and groups such as the anti-racist protesters. 

Even afterward, the criminal justice response was insignificant. As a response to the murder of Heather Heyer, the woman that was killed in the car incident that hospitalized twenty people, it took several months to prosecute one individual, James Alex Fields, involved in the event. To this day, only a handful of individuals involved in the riots and fights have been charged or prosecuted with any crime. These individuals have, in general, been charged with hate crimes. To the general public, this is woefully inadequate. To the public eye, it looks as if these people have been allowed to incite and carry out hate crimes against minority individuals and simply walk away. This documentary criticizes the police for their apparent lack of action around the Virginia riots. The lack of response of the police have emboldened these groups to become mainstream, to protest in public and incite this level of violence with impunity and without fear of consequences. 

While not discussed directly in this documentary, race plays an important part in understanding the events that transpired. For anyone interested in modern-day white supremacy and the new rise of mainstream antagonists, this documentary is an informative watch. It highlights the part that police play in this conflict, and for an informed person, connects historical white supremacist ideals to modern-day policing. 



Mauer, M. (2018). The endurance of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 31-56). Vintage Books.

Stevenson, B. (2018). A presumption of guilt: the legacy of America’s history of racial injustice. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 3-30). Vintage Books.

Thompson, A.C. (Producer). Rowley, R. (Director). (2018). Documenting Hate: Charlottesville[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/documenting-hate-charlottesville/