By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Rep. Charles Rangel said Afrika Owes, the 17-year-old former prep school student charged with carrying guns for a Harlem street gang should not be treated as a "hardened criminal."
"I do have a concern about this 17-year-old and I do intend to get more information to make certain that she is treated as a 17-year-old rather than a hardened criminal," Rangel said in an interview with DNAinfo.
Owes was a student at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts who is now accused of carrying guns for a street gang operating near 137th Street and Lenox Avenue that also allegedly sold drugs.
The Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church has been outspoken from the pulpit in support of Owes. Owes attended the church as a youngster and her mother is still a member.
Butts has said that Owes was "led astray," partially because she was in a romantic relationship with one of the alleged gang members. Butts also compared Owes to Patty Hearst.
"She should be released on her own recognizance and allowed to go back to school and then we will see how the trial unfolds," Butts said Wednesday night. "Right now, I don't think incarceration is doing her any good."
"Having been a former prosecutor I know how often it is that young people can get caught up in very very serious problems because of who they associate with," Rangel said.
"Any father that ever had a teenaged daughter or son for that matter has to be very sympathetic to a teenager. It's the worst years in anyone's life," he added.
Rangel said he wants to gather more information but is very interested in whether the case is processed in the criminal courts.
"I am not prepared to tell the district attorney what he should do," Rangel said. "I do know that his predecessor (Robert) Morgenthau, as well as Cy Vance, truly believe that if it can be avoided and it's for the best of the child and family and the future that we treat this in a way other than the criminal justice system."