Thank you so much for engaging in conversation around racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. I am a member of the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Task Force on Racial Disparities, also known as Da FORCE. Reflect and Strengthen, a young working class women’s collective out of Dorchester, started this organizing group almost three years ago to respond to the crisis of overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.
We have supported legislation for more complete data, engaged in reform efforts such as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and created innovative curriculum for young people around juvenile justice and racial disparities.
Addressing racial disparities in the juvenile justice system is an urgent matter in Massachusetts. Data from our state shows that black youth are six times more likely to be held in secure detention post-arraignment than white youth, and over seven times more likely to be committed to the Department of Youth Services than white youth.
These disparities are NOT because youth are committing crimes at different rates. Disparities are a result of racism. There are solutions if we organize and demand better data, non-bias decision making tools, well funded alternatives to detention and community engagement and oversight.
We have to organize because detention is harmful to young people and racial disparities have a destructive impact on our communities.
In these tough times President Barack Obama is praised for little and blamed for much, especially by his detractors who lay the housing and unemployment crises at his door. Moreover, this is happening with the backdrop of flooding rivers in the Midwest and South while forest fires consume large areas in the West.
Two lines from a 1910 hymn by Charles H. Gabriel and Harvard alumnus, Walter Stillman Martin, seem so à propos.
The hymn is “My Heav’nly Father Watches Over Me” and the lines are: “Through praise or blame, through flood or flame, My Heav’nly Father Watches Over Me.”
The president is a man of faith; hence, I hope he is aware of and finds comfort in these lines.