American towns must correct disproportionate share of ‘justice’ heaped on minority youth
Canadian Hip Hop musician Drake has a song titled “Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here” — and we are — in Ferguson, Missouri. A city under siege; a city under the microscope. Where is “here,” and how could we still be “here”?
According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which provides federal oversight of the criminal system for our children, we’ve been here for a while, at a serious juncture with an ambiguous label — Disproportionate Minority Contact. In another millennium it would have been called apartheid.
For more than a decade, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has been a leader in efforts to reduce the over-representation of minority youth in the nation’s juvenile justice system and has spearheaded the Disproportionate Minority Contact Act, which mandates programs for every state. How does Missouri stack up? How does West Virginia stack up?
According to the Sentencing Project and Bureau of Justice Statistics Data, in Missouri, and West Virginia the ratio of incarceration of blacks to whites is 5.2 to 1 and 5.6 to 1, respectively. Missouri and West Virginia hover around the national median, where 25 states have higher disproportions and many are at a level 12 times higher for blacks than whites.
So, where is “here”? If it were another country, what would we call it?
Hopefully, the Disproportionate Minority Contact coordinator for Missouri and every other state will be invited to participate in reforms to define “here” as a place of opportunity and justice which includes community policing strategies, unconscious bias assessments and law enforcement decision point mapping and analysis.
In Ferguson and those suffering outside of the national spotlight, efforts to educate and empower young minorities should be ramped up with street law workshops, teen governing initiatives, and career counseling through the act and our tax dollars. Included in the resources that the OJJDP already offers on its website ojjdp.gov/dmc is the Disproportionate Minority Contact Technical Assistance Manual which provides detailed guidance on identification, monitoring, assessment, intervention and evaluation. It is intended for juvenile justice specialists, members of state planning agencies, DMC researchers and consultants and policymakers. That’s a great place for police chiefs to reform.
The manual’s companion publication, Reducing Disproportionate Minority Contact: Preparation at the Local Level, describes strategies that states and communities can use to reduce disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system and its first contact, “the po-po.” It includes useful “how to” information and important background on the context in which local preparation takes place, including media coverage and public attitudes about crime, race, and youth. These tools can offer guidance for community and educational leaders who want to transform their “here.” Our tax dollars are working to create tools and collect national data depicting the obvious reality for many in Ferguson, or on the West Side of Charleston. It boils down to decision points where law enforcement and prosecutors can use wide discretion.
Overall incarceration rates of adult offenders compiled by the Prison Policy Initiatives demonstrate that the contact in the juvenile system can set up segments of the population for lifetime reverberations.
So, where is “here”?
An overgeneralized scan of the last 50 years suggests that question has no easy answer. From the ’60s on, historical context changed and civil liberties improved, but by the ’80s much of our national awe was drawn to the plights of a flattened world through the rise of technology. We globalized with the Internet, capitalized with Wall Street Ponzi schemes and anesthetized with drugs and media, while the efforts of the ’60s and ’70s for civil rights in our backyards seemed to stagnate.
By the ’90s, as our attention moved to places like Cape Town, South Africa, and skirmishes in the Gulf (of Saudi Arabia) instead of Hometown, America, many of us were heard to mutter that we never got the “We have overcome,” memo from Coretta Scott King which gave us the liberty to abandon our own struggles for those abroad.
Yet, resting on our laurels, the nation waged war against external threats like drug cartels, immigrants, and the axis of evil which managed the economic dominance we would squander through the sub-prime mortgages of the 3 percent. We measured carbon footprints and regulated emissions in Brazil and China while our car companies built gas-guzzling shrines and stoked coal fires with hot air. We are the world. Yet in terms of power, leadership and equity issues in places leading to Ferguson, we suffered the outrages of Rodney King, Abner Diallo, Trayvon Martin, and now Michael Brown at the hands of those entrusted as civil or community servants to protect them. We’re still “here.”
We are infuriated that the democratic process alone didn’t take care of itself in Ferguson and other places and institutions like it. Like other fledgling democracies in Egypt or elsewhere, it takes vigilance. America’s experiment in cultural inclusiveness is flawed in many ways, but one reality is that dominant groups are as determined to preserve a sense of order in the experience created by their dominance, as those waiting for their turn.
For those waiting, being shut out of the experience and insight is the “Catch 22.” Obviously many in positions of power are most comfortable with passing to those who share their experience. It would seem that passing the torch is easier if you don’t have to bend too much. And although many, if not the majority, of those belonging to the dominant culture in America want a more perfect union, they may not want to abdicate the seats of power to achieve it. Theoretical egalitarians have families to feed, too. That may be one reason we are still “here.” It is how unjust, nepotist systems are perpetuated — in law enforcement, in schools, at universities, in boardrooms, in politics in places like Ferguson or Dade County or Charleston.
Drake finishes his song with, “Story stayed the same through the money and the fame, but started from the bottom, Now we’re here.”
Let’s change this story. The organization mothers of color america is open to those who take their role as “MOCA,” seriously and as paramount to the success of their children. Our children are not part of the dominant culture of America based on historical race strata, or historical legacy inheritance, or historical religious affiliation. However, our inherent dominance within MOCA is based on the vigilance we share. A vigilance that’s required to help develop this nation into a more perfect union for our children. A vigilance that’s required to prevent the blood of our children to cry out on the streets ... we’re here! Ever again. We’ll start, and hopefully finish, with words leading to enlightenment, and actual egalitarianism. Our perfect democracy is a work progressing and our nation’s president and his cabinet attest to that. But the disenfranchisement and marginalization of the majority of people of color, and in poverty can’t be abated by the success of a few. Nor should it be. But it’s a place to start, if we are vigilant about breaking the cycles of dominance which stand in the way of progress and unity
How can we keep our youth out of the justice system?
mothers of diversity AMERICA:
MODA-stay socially distant, never emotionally or spiritually!
CHANGE THE LEGACY OF THE CONFEDERACY
Across the Unites States south are 188 public schools named after Confederate Heroes. This initiative was organized by white supremacist groups and The Daughters of the Confederacy to preserve the ideals they held so strongly that African Americans remain in slavery to support the economic vitality of the new country. Dubbed, 'The Massive Resistance,' this movement is a strong reminder then and now that there are citizens who are unwilling to accept the equality of all people and reminisce about the the good ole days.
West Virginia's position is especially ironic. Created from the civil strife primarily because the mountains of western Virginia had no potential for harvesting the plantation crops or managing slaves, West Virginia was born from their secession from Virginia and allegiance to the Republican Union. The name of Confederates upon public schools and buildings is not only a slap in the face to African American slaves and Union soldiers of all races, but also Confederates who fought to prevent its statehood.
The following opinion was published in the Charleston Gazette in 2011 when a tree fell on the lawn of what remains a school named after the most successful general of the Confederacy. Ironically and sadly, it happens to educate the highest number of African American middle school students in the State of WV. This is a new preface to start a new conversation:
"Four years ago a tree fell to protest the ill conceived ideals of a racist regime. This opinion was written to honor the lives of millions of African American victims of that regime & the life of the tree that spoke in protest. What will it take for Charleston WV to recognize the tacit acceptance of a way of life that relied on the dehumanization & degradation of others?Hopefully, not in the wake of a tragedy that it took for Charleston SC ."
Originally Published: Thursday, September 08, 2011
The Tree Has Spoken
Byline: GREGG FERGUSON MCALLISTER
ONE of my favorite poems is "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer: "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.
"A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
"A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray. ..."
How majestic - trees as a personification of grace and patience and spirituality. Are they watching the world around them with feelings, perhaps sadness, joy, anger?
Hmmm, it seems the tree has spoken.
As I rode past the toppled pin oak on Washington Street, I thought, "It couldn't take it anymore." It came crashing down and took with it the sign that stood in its shadow for as long as it lived. "Stonewall Jackson."
The tree said to the state of West Virginia what I was cautioned not to. It's time to move on. It's time to be sensitive. It's time to be politically correct. It's time to pass the torch to a new and more perfect ideology - a new and more perfect Union, that was saved by the war in which Stonewall Jackson fought as a confederate general.
He fought and lost. The country, still torn by segregation and Jim Crow, named an all white public school after the gentleman who is boasted to have wanted his personal slaves to learn to read and write - as though it erased the sad truth that he fought for the wrong cause.
Even though it was wrapped up in "the right for state governance," he fought so that other slave owners could make that same decision, or not, for African-American human beings. I'm sure their feelings were hurt by the state of their lives. I wonder what his name meant to them?
The school sits on what was the hilly bastion of white supremacy in Charleston, amidst the plantations and Big Houses of Glenwood and Littlepaige that overlooked the flats which housed the poor whites, some freed blacks, and many of the slave quarters of those working in the salt mines and as constructors of the new Capitol. It was integrated in the 1950s with armed National Guardsmen escorting an entourage of brave African-American teens, just like in Topeka.
My aunt heard them hurling the slurs with the eggs and rocks as she walked up that hill from the bus stop. It hurt their feelings, but didn't break their spirits. A school named after Stonewall Jackson, Confederate general. I wonder what his name meant to them?
The neighborhood changed, those in the hills of Edgewood sent their children to Charleston Catholic and GW, as the West Side took an economic hit. The diversion of friendly, yet passionate, rivalry with Charleston High kept spirits high and his name became disassociated with what he'd done to earn his fame, and more with how many football championships they won. West Virginia was not the target of the same scrutiny as many, more southern public schools.
Federal and state regulators were designing legislation that made public institutions respond to the sensitivities of all of their constituents, regardless of the local culture. Most state governments willingly changed the names of public institutions, and especially schools, which did not reflect cultural sensitivity. Most notably was the acceptance that slavery was wrong and that no public institution would glorify those that owned slaves or fought for others to own them. And although many eminent men and women have diverse resumes, some went so far as to strip presidents like George Washington and, even, Thomas Jefferson of the honor because they'd been slave owners despite their other accomplishments. Most Confederate names and the flag were removed from publicly owned buildings because they stood for an ideal that hurt most citizens' feelings.
Stonewall Jackson Middle School educates more African-American students than any other middle school in Charleston, if not Kanawha County, if not the region, if not the state. That they should lend their talents in the name of a Confederate general is astounding to me. It hurts my feelings. It's akin to Jewish children going to a school named after a notorious Nazi.
Where would those children be if the Nazis had won? Where would the African-American children on the West Side be if the Confederacy had won? Because he probably was a great man fighting for the wrong side, I think General Jackson would probably admit that if he could do it over, he would fight for a different legacy.
My feelings are hurt that those whose tax dollars pay for the school, should not question it, much less, all those paid to be at the forefront of cultural sensitivity like educators, and journalists, and counselors, and clergy, and elected officials.
I think that great pin oak had hurt feelings, too. It may have even gotten angry, the way it came crashing down on his name.
What Can We Rename the School?