Editor’s Note: Nine national juvenile justice advocacy organizations collaborated on the statement below in response to the Ferguson, Mo., grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown.
We stand in solidarity with Michael Brown and his family and their supporters in Ferguson, Mo., and across the nation. Michael Brown’s fate — killed by a police officer and denied justice — is yet another example that black and brown children are not always protected by our nation’s laws and that the justice system works differently for different people. We fully understand how some communities have lost faith in the system.
In both Ferguson and other communities, we have failed our youth of color in profound ways. As a society, we accept high dropout rates, high youth unemployment, substandard housing, community violence, high incarceration rates and police brutality. Our nation invests far more in law enforcement and incarceration than in communities and neighborhood-based programs that enhance opportunity for education, jobs, decent housing for young people in our poorest neighborhoods.
At the very least, one would hope that our criminal justice system would be fair and unbiased. Instead, our system has forfeited large numbers of youth of color, allowing the dehumanization of black and brown boys to determine whether and how we help youth in need and punish those who have harmed their communities. The decision in Ferguson demonstrates that in too many places, we do not value the lives of black and brown boys.
The same night that we learned Ferguson would not indict Officer Darren Wilson, 70,000 youth slept in an American youth jail or prison. More than 7,000, including a 10-year-old boy in Pennsylvania, are in adult prisons, some in solitary confinement in an effort to “protect” them. Sixty-eight percent of these youth are youth of color. Studies show that when whites and people of color engage in the same illegal activities, people of color are more likely to be arrested, found guilty and receive harsher sentences.
Our organizations are concerned with the well-being of youth and young people in the juvenile and criminal justice, child welfare, behavioral health and educational systems. We advocate for system-involved young people to be treated fairly and equitably, to get their needs met so they can lead productive lives as young adults safely and in their own communities. We advocate for their families to be respected as equal partners in helping their children achieve well-being.
We stand united for a better solution, one that respects all youth, families and communities, regardless of race or ethnicity, and that prioritizes child well-being. We are united for a solution that recognizes that our youth need stronger communities and better support for their families. We need safe and sound strategies that redirect resources from incarceration to communities. We must also encourage and support community-driven efforts to acknowledge and overcome biases and provide justice for all. We also call on the United States Department of Justice to redouble its efforts to investigate racial and ethnic disparities, civil and human rights abuses of youth by the justice system in Missouri and other states.
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
Campaign for Youth Justice
Justice for Families
Justice Policy Institute
Juvenile Law Center
National Juvenile Justice Network
Youth Advocate Programs Policy and Advocacy Center
Youth First! Initiative
W. Haywood Burns Institute