Saying Black youth are not “inherently valued” by the American justice system, the Rutland chapter of the NAACP has taken issue with the decision by a Vermont state’s attorney to charge a 14-year-old murder suspect as an adult.

Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office Eva Vekos says she intends to charge Hussein Mohamed as an adult in the October 30 shooting death of Madden Gouveia.

Read the full statement from the NAACP

In a statement posted to its website, the Rutland NAACP extended its “heartfelt sympathy” to Gouvenia’s family and said it is “deeply pained by the tragic loss of life as the result of gun violence.”

But, the group said, “As complex and painful as this situation is, we also know that the life of the 14-year-old child that found himself with a gun matters as well.”

According to court documents, Mohamed and Gouveia were sitting in a vehicle parked outside a home on North Street in Bristol with two other people. Gouveia had a .9mm Smith & Wesson handgun and was passing it around to the others, who waved the gun around and loaded and unloaded it.

Mohamed was holding the gun when it fired, striking Gouveia in the back.

“Charging a 14-year-old as an adult and subjecting them to the possibility of a life sentence in prison for what seems to be a mistake is an instinctive response driven by the desire to find accountability through punitive actions,” the NAACP said.

The group said its statement is “a call for analysis and reflection” by Vekos and her decision to charge Mohamed as an adult.

The NAACP said statistics show that young people of color are disproportionately represented in juvenile cases sent to adult court. And it said that evidence has shown that the brains of teenagers are not fully developed “and therefore, unless there is an extreme circumstance, should not be treated as adults.”

Youth sentenced as adults, the NAACP says, “have far worse outcomes and are more susceptible to being victims of physical and sexual abuse, as well as death by suicide.”

Under Vermont law, second-degree murder carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison. Mohamed has also been charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault.

The group said it plans to speak with Vekos about “the potential for bias” in her decision.

“While we don’t know all of the evidence in this particular case, we do know the history and present day reality of bias in our criminal justice system,” the statement said. “We know that boys like this 14-year-old Black child are not inherently valued by a system and dominant culture that will determine the fate of his humanity.”