Black Lives Matter is one of the more recent trending social media hashtags that has been at the forefront of current events, social medial, clothing and apparel. It is a topic that has made a sensitive subject more tolerable for mass America to broach. As evidenced by nationwide statistics of incarceration and arrests, the uneven scales do not tip in the favor of economically disadvantaged African-American youth.
As the mother of a child who has been directly impacted by these uneven scales via the incarceration of his father, there is a deep scar. This scar is not individualized. It is something that has been felt by a community that is most affected. It is a topic that is discussed within the communities, and historically it did not illicit change.
Although some may say that the “Black Lives Matter” hash tag has possibly run its course, it has not and will not ever run its course until something noteworthy and historically occurs. This topic, which some would potentially just like to brush under the rug, has now become real due to technological advances. The blind eye can no longer be turned. The issue of juvenile justice, for most, has long-lasting effects. Furthermore, it is a systemic issue that must be addressed to make it clear that as a nation, it is our wholehearted intent to lower incarceration and recidivism rates.
In a review of 2014’s final report of the Governor’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice, an overall summary of the report is that New York has to make immediate measures to overhaul its juvenile justice laws. One important initiative is taking steps to raise the age that juveniles can be treated as an adult in criminal proceedings. There is a direct connection to a child being treated as an adult and being put in an adult facility, and being given a sentence for an adult.
In New York, youth of color (Black and Hispanic) represent 33 percent of youth ages 16 and 17. Despite the low representation number in their age category, youth of color represent 72 percent of arrests and 77 percent of felony arrests statewide. Of the youth who are arrested, 82 percent have been treated as adults through the whole criminal proceeding process and were sentenced to serve their sentence in an adult prison. This quick view of the statistics makes it clear as to the reason why the Black community has stood behind the belief that Black lives did not matter. These statistics are just a very brief glimpse for mass America as to why the emotional scars are so deep.
In 1990, the book “Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison,” published by Jeffrey Reiman, highlighted the injustices of the justice system and how your outcome ultimately depends on socio-economic status. Thirty years ago the book was published, yet the book still rings true to our current society, where the system appears to have been an acceptable modus operandi.
For some families, this has been a generational issue. That poses the question of when will the root of the injustice be addressed? As a nation, we have appallingly borne witness to the way in which law enforcement has acted. President Barack Obama’s criminal justice reform is commendable, but as a nation, we need to charge those in office with helping to reform the inequities between the different socio-economic classes and a system that doesn’t favor people of color, which is clear through statistics.
Cesare Robinson is a University of Southern California Virtual Academic Classroom Masters of Social Work candidate.