Nicholas Heyward Sr., 58, remembers the night. It was a warm Tuesday in 1994 and the sun had yet to set. Neighborhood children trickled into the Gowanus Houses, the Brooklyn housing project where he lived, answering their parents’ calls, while others stayed outside to enjoy the remainder of a beautiful fall day.
About two dozen activists rallied outside the downtown office of District Attorney Ken Thompson today to urge him to revisit the case of 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr., who was fatally shot by a police officer 22 years ago.
Twenty-two years seems like an awfully short time to already be talking about redemption. But the young man sitting on the velvet couch in the splendor of the Omni Parker House Hotel’s mezzanine is living proof that for someone who has survived the juvenile justice system in America, there is a fine line between ending your life and turning it around.
Adolphus Graves, the chief probation officer of Fulton County Juvenile Court in Atlanta, was driven to transform his juvenile justice system by the mistakes he made as a young probation officer.
“I was a little wayward and misguided as a probation officer,” he said. “Knowing my times as a probation officer, and how many things I did horribly, or how many children that I irresponsibly, or sometimes just ignorantly, subjected to detention because I had no other tools. ... The recurring theme consistently has been the lack of knowledge, of understanding what’s going on, the depth of what’s going on in a child’s life.”
“We want to know what does a world look like where 10-year-olds aren’t being arrested,” said the woman who trained Bronx young people to survey their peers and write a report about how juveniles are treated when they're arrested.
Boots stomped rhythmically on the ground. Angry voices pulsed through the air. A capella voices pounded like a heartbeat, growing steadily faster and louder. The escalating cacophony was directed at the man sitting on the edge of the cot. He held his hands to his head.
Marilyn Reyes-Scales, 53, remembers family time in her parents’ living room as a small child, when her aunt and uncles sat with her parents, discussing the views of political candidates and debating each one’s merits. Her parents had moved from Puerto Rico to New York for the opportunity to have a better life, and they took voting seriously.