“We as a city have failed this child.”
These were the now infamous words spoken by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg upon hearing of the malicious murder of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown.
Despite the fact that her school, her neighbors and child welfare workers all saw the signs of abuse, no one managed to intervene effectively to prevent the systematic torture that was being inflicted upon little Nixzmary Brown. She was found dead by authorities in a Brooklyn apartment on Jan. 11.
Cesar Rodriguez, her adoptive father, has been charged with second-degree murder while her adoptive mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, was charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Bloomberg has said “ACS’s (Administration for Children’s Services) procedures were probably adequate, but not applied with proper urgency.” Were they? More importantly, what does society do with parents who adopt a child and then torture her to death?
Bloomberg is correct in one way: New York City did fail to protect Nixzmary Brown. In a publicized letter to New York City Chancellor of Education Joel Klein, former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz wrote “they (the faculty at Nixzmary’s school) did the bare minimum required of them.” Rodriguez and Santiago were uncooperative, often refusing entrance to caseworkers checking on Nixzmary, said ACS commissioner John Mattingly at a news conference. ACS never obtained a search warrant, despite the fact that in the month prior, two other children monitored by the agency died. Neighbors – who either did not report what they saw or had their complaints fall on deaf ears – said they had noticed unexplained injuries and that the child, weighing only 36 pounds, appeared frail and emaciated for her age. There was also evidence that she was sexually molested. After Rodriguez’s final violent outburst, Nixzmary’s final words were, “Mommy, don’t leave me,” according to Santiago.
This is not the outcome of adequate procedures: It shows great incompetence with unbelievably abominable results. Society and government both failed in this instance, and the result is a dead 7-year-old girl.
Considering the fully justified outrage of New York City, as well as the nation as a whole, a reorganization and re-examination of New York’s Administration for Children’s Services is imminent. The fate of Rodriguez and Santiago is far less certain. The case may very well renew national debate about the death penalty. It is possible that Rodriguez will eventually be charged with murder in the first degree, a capital offense in many states. Another eventual outcome of this crime is that the murder of a child will be adopted by New York as a special circumstance that warrants the death penalty.
It has already been reported in The New York Sun that state legislators are calling for more severe penalties for those who are convicted of taking the lives of children. Although no specific mention of the death penalty has been stated, it has also not been excluded.
In an apparent attempt to save his brother and quell such vengeful reactions, Miguel Rodriguez has said, “Sometimes, you know, he could be reckless, but he was a happy guy who loved his family.” Did Cesar Rodriguez love his stepdaughter when he tied her up and beat her? Did he love her when he was molesting her sexually? Did he love her when he left her to die?
Perhaps it is right that the death penalty has not been excluded in cases such as these. For me, a libertarian who has never been a proponent of the death penalty, this is a difficult case.
According to Amnesty International, 86 countries worldwide, inclusive of the entire European Union, have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. The death penalty, when adding in the cost of the lengthy appeals process, is more expensive than life imprisonment.
In New York, where capital punishment was readopted in 1995, it has been estimated that the cost to the state is $23 million per prisoner condemned to death, according to Amnesty International, far more than life imprisonment. Non-capital punishment sentences may also be a far worse fate for the condemned than the death penalty.
The problem extends further than purse-strings, however. In cases such as the recently executed gang leader Stanley Williams, who told an inspiring tale of redemption, taking the anti-death penalty stance is very comfortable. When it comes to the likes of Cesar Rodriguez and Nixzaliz Santiago, however, it is much more difficult.
It is an issue that boils down to a simple problematic dichotomy. I agree with most of the anti-death penalty arguments I have heard in both principle and practice. I have a severe distrust of government power, which tends to exclude a pro-death penalty position. But the fact remains that if asked tomorrow about the fate of Cesar Rodriguez and Nixzaliz Santiago, in the famous words of Juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda) in the classic film 12 Angry Men, “Maybe you would like to pull the switch?”
You bet I would.
Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.