Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Where anger and fear have brought us

Darren Wilson made if very plain in his testimony before the grand jury that he was afraid of 16 year-old Michael Brown. As a matter of fact, his entire case is based on whether or not people believe that to be true. We also know that the officers who shot and killed 12 year-old Tamir Rice assumed he was about 20 years old.

This is all part of a pattern that was recently the subject of research published by the American Psychological Association.
Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the lead author.
Beyond the Michael Brown's and Tamir Rice's, those assumptions also lead to this:
Fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13. EJI believes that the adult prosecution of any child under age 14 for any crime should be banned.

Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities and face increased risk of suicide. EJI believes confinement of children with adults in jails and prisons is indefensible, cruel, and unusual, and it should be banned.
Whether they are being shot on the street, tried as adults, or locked up in adult prisons, Jonathan Capehart is right.
In America, black children are just that, children. It’s a damned shame people’s fears and prejudices blinds them to that fact. It’s a crying shame black kids must suffer because of it.
A lot of people are thinking that the one area where bipartisanship is possible in the next Congress is on criminal justice reform. But anything meaningful in that arena has to include the premise that children are children - no matter their race or ethnicity. A system that fails to treat them as such can never all itself "just."

The other day I suggested that one of the people we need to be listening to about this is Bryan Stevenson. He brings it all together for me when he says that these kinds of policies are the result of "a political vision that is fueled by fear and sustained by anger." In the end, he sounds an awful lot like President Obama when he says that we have to find a "voice of hopefulness to turn these things around."

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