We are Losing our Black Youth in New Orleans, and it’s a Crisis – The Advocate

EVA Issues in the News

Ernest Johnson (fourth from the left) and fellow members of the Ubuntu Village NOLA team.

In an op-ed for The Advocate (Baton Rouge), Equal Voice Action Board Member and Ubuntu Village Director Ernest Johnson calls for compassionate, community-based systems reform in New Orleans, where Black youth face a crisis of criminalization, over-policing, and mass incarceration. Click through to read the full op-ed, highlighting Ubuntu’s family-led work to counter this crisis, and learn more about the Ubuntu + EVA partnership here.

What does it mean to love and protect all the children in our community?

Recently, New Orleans Police Department officers opened fire at teens who were pulling on car door handles and driving a stolen vehicle. This is against NOPD’s own policy: “Officers shall not discharge a firearm from or at a moving vehicle unless the occupants of the vehicle are using deadly force other than the vehicle itself against the officer or another person, and such action is necessary for self-defense or to protect another person.” The gunfire resulted in four schools being put on lockdown, terrorizing the students left inside as well as their parents and teachers.

What is the appropriate response to teens attempting to burglarize vehicles? We argue that it isn’t death by police shooting or even incarceration, but rather rehabilitative programming and services that will help these young people get back on track. We would hope that the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges, who are entrusted with the nuanced job of both ensuring public safety and dealing compassionately with the dangerous and illegal behaviors of traumatized children, would agree.

Instead, the judges sent out a memo on announcing that they had passed a resolution imposing an automatic hold on all youth with current open cases. Though the memo gives lip service to the importance of “innovative” interventions instead of incarceration, the judges’ action demonstrates the continuation of “tough on crime” policies that have been proven ineffective time and time again, especially with juveniles.

Most disturbingly, the memo states: “The judges believe that this action will send a message to citizens of their commitment to public safety and help rid the community of youth who pose a danger to the community.” When we begin to see other people’s children as disposable, as problems to get rid of, we have truly turned away from compassion and rehabilitation.

Such language also obscures the reality that juvenile crime is on the decline in New Orleans. Yet with 28 new youth beds set to open at the re-branded Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, there is renewed pressure to arrest young people. The expansion of the youth detention center was part of a deal advocates made to end the sheriff’s dangerous policy of holding child offenders at the adult prison, but by increasing the city’s capacity for imprisoned children by 40%, we risk criminalizing even more young people. Once the beds are built, they will be filled.

Left unsaid in the judges’ memo is any information about long-term solutions to help teens who commit crimes and their families. What are these “innovative” programs and “flexible intervention strategies” the judges reference? Have they been tested? Are they effective? Can families struggling with a troubled child enroll them in the programs before they become court-involved?

Read the full article via The Advocate.

This post is brought to you by The Village Project, a partnership between Equal Voice Action and Ubuntu Village. Equal Voice Action partners with Ubuntu Village through The Village Project to help parents and families support their young family members involved in the court system, access resources and opportunities, and advance family-led systems reform. Read more about the Ubuntu Village + EVA partnership here.

Issues in the News highlights news items focusing on key issues for poor and low-income families, from fair work and access to health care to family economic security, criminal justice reform, voting rights, and more.

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