“Ex-Bronx Science Teacher Pleads Guilty in Child Pornography Case”

 

 

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

— John 3-11 (King James Version)

 

 

It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

,

— Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

 

 

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I doubt that this post will win me friends or admirers.

It concerns Jon Cruz, the subject of a recent New York Times article:

“Ex-Bronx Science Teacher Pleads Guilty in Child Pornography Case,” The New York Times, September 23, 2016

 

 

 

 

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To briefly summarize the case:

Jon Cruz, age 33, was a teacher and debate coach at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, one of the city’s most competitive high schools. He was arrested in March 2015 on charges that he persuaded three teenage boys to send him nude or suggestive photographs in exchange for gift cards. He was charged with possessing, receiving, and producing child pornography, whereupon he resigned his teaching positon.

Cruz was a popular figure at the school. He was recognized as a tireless coach for the speech and debate team, which became a formidable national competitor under his leadership (New York Times).

The Times noted:

The charge carries a minimum prison term of five years and a maximum of 20. As part of the plea, the prosecution agreed to recommend a sentence of approximately 11 to 14 years. That range is just advisory, however, and Judge P. Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York will sentence Mr. Cruz in January [2017].

 

 

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A press release dated March 6, 2015 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, available on the Internet at

https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/new-york-city-public-school-teacher-charged-producing-receiving-and-possessing-child

announced the charges that were brought against Cruz on the day he was arrested (March 6, 2015) in his Manhattan apartment. The charges were:

 — one count of production of child pornography;

 — one count of receiving child pornography;

 — one count of possessing child pornography.

According to the press release:

For production of child pornography, CRUZ faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. For his receipt of child pornography, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. For his possession of child pornography, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

 

 

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The charges sound grave, and they are serious ones for an educator who worked with teenage boys. But, I do not think it unreasonable to ask, what has Cruz — who has pleaded guilty and who confessed when he was first apprehended — done? Are his crimes deserving of a draconian sentence?

I am not employed by the FBI. But, using layman’s judgment, I would say that the criminal activities Cruz was charged with – in my own words, absent legal jargon – can be “boiled down,” so to speak, as follows:

 — Disguising his identity, Cruz attempted to befriend teenage boys via the Internet and, over time, encouraged them to send photos of themselves to him. He would encourage them to pose erotically. In several of the photos that Cruz received, the boys posed naked with erect penises. In a few others, they were flexing their muscles.

— The criminal complaint indicates that 30 photos of naked boys aged fourteen to sixteen were found on Cruz’s computer in his Manhattan apartment.

That seems to be the sum total of what Cruz did.

It does not seem to be the kind of activity that usually comes to mind when one thinks of child pornography.

What was Cruz NOT charged with:

— rape, groping, or molestation;

— actual sexual acts;

— making the photos public or disseminating them;

— making pornographic videos.

In fact, the only contact with this “victims” was anonymously via the Internet.

 

 

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The court docket, viewable on line at

http://www.plainsite.org/dockets/2kftrqjvh/new-york-southern-district-court/usa-v-cruz/

details Cruz’s exchanges via Facebook and text messages with teenage boys. It provides details about the number and types of photos he obtained. The photos included:

 — several photos of naked teenage boys with erect penises;

 — photos of boys in their underwear pointing to their crotches;

 — photos in which boys struck poses requested by Cruz such as showing their bare feet or flexing their muscles;

 — “thumbs up” selfies of non naked boys.

Apparently, there were 30 photos on Cruz’s computer of teenage boys posing nude. It appears that Cruz will be sentenced to more than ten years. This for possessing 30 photos on his computer of boys posing nude, not engaging in sex acts. (Cruz did occasionally discuss sexual acts with the boys over the Internet, but this did not go any further.)

 

 

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Cruz was charged with, and convicted of, “producing child pornography.” I can see no common sense foundation or basis for such a charge. He did not even take the photos of the boys.

Setting aside for a moment the legal or criminal aspects of the case—I am repeating myself, I realize; but I can’t help asking the question again — what nefarious behavior is Cruz guilty of, what abhorrent things has he done?

–he trolled and, undeniably — to a limited extent — preyed upon teenage boys under age eighteen;

 — he did not force them to comply, but he talked them into sending him photos, which he offered to (and did) pay for;

— he did not produce kiddie porn, nor view (insofar as what is alleged in the criminal complaint) or disseminate such pornography, with the exception of the 30 photos of teenage boys found on his computer, not all of which were pornographic.

In practice (leaving aside legal questions for a moment), what damage or harm has his criminal activity caused?

— an offense to public morals and common decency, compounded by the fact that he was a high school teacher working daily with students (he was not, however, changed with criminal activity involving his students);

 — psychological damage that may have and probably did occur, to a greater or lesser degree, in some of the incidents in which Cruz procured the photos, since he was, using a fake identity, encouraging the boys to engage in questionable and illegal activity with him — specifically, sending him the photos — when they were under age, quite possibly not certain and perhaps confused about their sexuality, and who, because of this, could therefore experience psychological damage or impairment from such activity, activity not initiated by them.

This is questionable behavior. If I were the principal or administrator at Cruz’s school, I would be concerned. If I were the parent of one of the affected boys, I would be more than just concerned.

 

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You know what I think should be done which such offenders? (I realize that few will agree with me.)  They should be required to undergo counseling.

In the press (e.g., the New York Daily News), Cruz was referred to as the “perv,” the “pervy teacher” and the “twisted” teacher.

Granted his behavior was not admirable; nor was it healthy for those concerned, including Cruz himself, I would aver. But, when it comes to perversions, I would bet that many people are or have been subject to thoughts and urges that, if made public, they would be ashamed of, which Walt Whitman had the prescience to point out a century and a half ago.

We should not crucify people for perversions. We should try to help them.

Though the majority would find Cruz’s sexual desires and curiosity perhaps abnormal, strange, or offputting, and though he went about it in a devious fashion, I would imagine that, from a gay perspective, his desires would be considered normal. He did get to the point where he could not control his urges and manage them, and got himself in trouble.

For this, I repeat, I think he would have benefited from counseling.

“I just want to say to my family and friends and former students who are here that I am very, very sorry,” Cruz stated in court on September 23, 2016 when he pleaded guilty.

 

 

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The fact is that punishments for what is considered deviant behavior have varied over time, as mores have evolved. In colonial times, rape, sodomy, bestiality, buggery, adultery, and incest were all capital crimes.

Consider the case of Newton Arvin, the so called Scarlet Professor. Arvin (1900-1963) taught at Smith College for 38 years and won numerous awards for literary scholarship. He was forced into retirement in 1960 after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the possession of pictures of semi-nude males that the law deemed pornographic. Nowadays, possessing such photos (of adult males) would not be considered criminal.

Arvin pleaded guilty, paid fines of $1,200, was given a one-year suspended sentence, and was placed on probation. Smith College suspended Arvin from teaching. Shortly after his arrest, Arvin spent some time in Northampton State Hospital, where he was admitted for suicidal depression.

 

 

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Jon Cruz’s proposed sentence is far too severe. He had much good to offer society and his students. It is a shame to see his life destroyed by behavior of his that did violate the letter of the law and which was not admirable, but which is being made out to be far worse than it actually was. There are remedies other than a long period of incarceration which will last until he is well into middle age. He should have been sentenced lightly, and I would say, what he and many nonviolent offenders like him should get is treatment.

The mother of a recent Bronx High School of Science student said in a letter to the court that she did not condone what Jon Cruz was accused of doing but that he was “not a monster,” and that he had helped many young people grow and flourish.

It is sad to contemplate that few people exhibit a like degree of wisdom, good judgment, and humanity.

Cannot we see the goodness in people as well as their failings?

“[T]he law is a ass–a idiot” (Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Chapter 51).

 

— Roger W. Smith

     October 2016

 

 

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Addendum:

John Cruz was sentenced to seven years in prison on July 20, 2017. See

“Bronx Science Coach Sentenced to 7 Years in Child Pornography Case,” The New York Times, July 20, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

See also:

“Bronx Science Teacher in Child Pornography Case Told Students ‘You’re a Big Deal’,” The New York Times, March 27, 2015

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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