excerpt from the book (2)

The reality is that the majority of direct-file cases involve poor Black and brown children. In California in 2013, for every white teenager who experienced direct file, 2.4 Latino youth and 4.5 Black youth confronted the same process. By 2014, 3.3 Latino youth and 11.3 Black youth faced direct file for every white juvenile.[i] These minors are being funneled into the adult system even as it becomes ever more obvious that treating children like adults in the criminal justice system is not in the best interest of the children or of the community as a whole.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, on any given day in America, ten thousand children are housed in adult jails, where they are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than if they were in juvenile detention. In a 2009 report, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission found that youth who were incarcerated with adults were more likely than any other group to have the highest risk of sexual abuse. They are also thirty-six times more likely to commit suicide.

 

Nationwide, three thousand children are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.[ii]

These disparities are not surprising given our nation’s historic treatment of Black and brown people. This history influences how youth of color are perceived to be inherently more violent and deserving of harsher and more punitive treatment.[iii] And Black teenagers are not committing more crimes than white teenagers. As NPR reported, white youths were found more likely to “carry weapons, drink alcohol and do harder drugs, while Black youths are more likely to get into fights, smoke marijuana and handle drugs on school property.” Yet Black youths make up 44 percent of those behind bars.[iv]

Human Rights Watch also discredited the theory that the “crimes of Black boys are more serious than those of white boys” by looking into Florida’s direct-file transfer rates for different categories of crime. Their report found that “while for some crimes the transfer rates are similar, for others there is a marked disparity, particularly in certain judicial circuits.”[v] This has given rise to the term “justice by geography.”[vi] The Thirteenth Circuit in Hillsborough County, Florida, for example, where Blacks make up less than 17 percent of the population, “transferred 8.8 percent of white youths arrested for drug felonies to adult court; for Black youth arrested for the same crimes, that figure was 30.1 percent, more than three times higher.” More than twelve thousand children in Florida were moved from the juvenile to the adult court system between 2008 and 2013, though more than half of these children were charged with nonviolent crimes.[vii]

This inherent bias is not limited to Florida. A study in California found that of all fifty-eight district attorneys in the state, the twenty-seven Republican DAs used direct filing in 6.4 percent of all felony arrests (the vast majority of arrests are of course adults). And the nineteen Democratic district attorneys used direct filing in 2.6 percent of all their similar cases. Another trend was discovered where Republican DAs were more likely to use the direct-file option against Black and brown youth. “That’s not too surprising given the overrepresentation of Black and brown youth in the criminal justice system nationally.”[viii]

An overwhelming disparity correlating to racialization pervades the system that channels young defendants into the adult criminal justice system. Some of these minority children are not old enough to drive a car, smoke or drink alcohol, but they are old enough to be sentenced as adults.

Our society claims to value its children, minority and otherwise. It says they are worthy of protection. It enacted child labor laws on their behalf. It requires them to attend school and be inoculated against disease. It shields them from abusive parents. Yet children as young as fourteen are increasingly prosecuted as adults, bearing the label “felon” and all the consequences that come along with that for the rest of their lives. The statistics are staggering and rising, and the evidence incontrovertible. So many of our young Black and brown boys, who make up the next generation of men, are losing their future, and often their very lives, in jail, as they are caught up in the legal system and direct-filed into adult prisons. In view of these irreversible and rising numbers of our incarcerated children, we will soon be faced, as a people, with what is amounting to the legalized genocide of the next generation.

As a result of what I have personally experienced with the young Black boys in my life, including my nephew Marcus, I felt compelled to compose something that can be said every day, every morning, by the young boys and men in our lives who face grave dangers in the streets in the Land of the Free. Marcus and I would say this every morning before we left the house. I share it with you with the hopes that it too will offer solace and encourage courage, resolve, and pride.

The Black Pledge of Allegiance

Good Morning:

Today is another day in the struggle for the Liberation of Black People.

This Liberation demands Revolution. The Revolution lives within me.

For I am the hope of the Slave, the antagonist of the White-Supremacy conclave;

I am the definition of Ebony, a dense black, hard, heavy, durable wood

that safeguards everything in my neighborhood.

I digest the delicious history of the African Diaspora

with my Caribbean cousins like breakfast Molasses,

for I’m a descendant of the Nubian Kings and Queens

and those who survived the chains of the Middle Passage.

You can try to incarcerate my body

by convicting me of some trumped-up crime, 

but my will is derived from the visions in Harriet Tubman’s mind.

We both know that your justice is profane,

and you and your legal system have no disdain

for how Crispus Attucks’s children are constantly being slain.

So I stay alert and sharp

like Thurgood Marshall’s Brown v. the Board professors,

because I will make sure that my children

are more intelligent than their oppressors.

You can’t kill this Revolution with no Federal Marcus Garvey CoInTelPro plot,

for Benjamin Banneker’s DNA, almanac, and watch serve as my internal clock.

And if you kill me, I leave you with this warning:

My tenacious pups will wake up even more vigilant the next day and say,

Good Morning:

Today is another day in the struggle for the Liberation of Black People.

This Liberation demands Revolution. The Revolution lives within me.

 

[i] Sarah Burr, “Several States Look to Keep Teenagers Out of Criminal Court,” Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, June 23, 2016, http://jjie.org/several-states-look-to-keep-teenagers-out-of-criminal-court/267821.

[ii] “Children in Adult Prisons,” Equal Justice Initiative, https://www.eji.org/children-prison/children-adult-prisons.

[iii] Burr, “Several States Look to Keep.”

[iv] Jose Olivares, “Fewer Youths Incarcerated, But Gap Between Blacks and Whites Worsens,” NPR, 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/09/27/551864016/fewer-youths-incarcerated-but-gap-between-blacks-and-whites-worsens.

[v] “Branded for Life: Florida’s Prosecution of Children as Adults Under its ‘Direct File’ Statute,” Human Rights Watch, April 10, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/04/10/branded-life/floridas-prosecution-children-adults-under-its-direct-file-statute.

[vi] An explanation and case study can be found at http://www.cjcj.org/Policy-analysis/Justice-by-Geography.html.

[vii] “Branded for Life,” Human Rights Watch.

[viii] Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, “Treating Young Offenders like Adults Is Bad Parenting,” The Atlantic, September 9, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/direct-file-in-california-and-prop-57/498641.

Attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and more, argues in Open Season that there is a genocide happening in America. He breaks down several memorable cases of unarmed black men being killed to expose injustices in the country’s judicial system, explaining that persistent racism is leading to more people dying — and fewer people noticing.

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