Mariah Charles’ Arrest Is Yet More Proof of Injustices Against Youth of Color

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Surveillance video from local business

Last Wednesday, we ran a story that began, “Mariah Charles woke up on Tuesday faced with a difficult decision. Does she take a plea to a crime she didn’t commit or go to trial — face the two officers who slammed her to the ground, arresting her on her way to school — and risk losing.”

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She decided to take it to trial, backed up by a surveillance video (above) that showed two New York Police Department officers taking a brutal policing approach after they stopped her, demanding she show her ID, which she didn’t have.

The story went viral with help from Reddit and early tweets from Errol Louis of NY1 News and the New York Daily News. Nearly 200,000 people read our exclusive JJIE story and saw the video of the two cops forcing Charles to the ground, handcuffing her and then literally throwing her head first into their police car. The story and video generated more than 5,800 comments on Reddit and our own JJIE site. Some were passionate, some very thoughtful, asking the bigger questions that we as journalists have to continue covering. (See a small sampling of those comments at bottom or the full Reddit list here.)  

Clarissa Sosin, who broke the story via our New York City bureau at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Daryl Khan, the bureau chief, will continue covering this story and address the concerns of our readers.

Sosin’s story tells how Charles decided not to accept an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) that would stain her record but save her from going to trial, which could have resulted in her going to jail. The judge set the trial date for July 9.   

Sosin wrote, “Critics of ACDs say it incentivizes defendants to take a plea, even if they feel they are innocent. Going to trial opens the possibility of a conviction and a stiff sentence, so it is common for defense attorneys to recommend taking an ACD.

“‘It’s the DA’s go-to sweep it under the rug move,’ said Jason Del Aguila, a community justice organizer.

In other words, Charles took a very gutsy stand that of course had to cause internal emotional turmoil.  Two days after our story went viral, the Brooklyn District Attorney formally dismissed the case.  

There are solutions and we — via our solutions-oriented journalism approach — will be writing about them too. The National Juvenile Justice Network released a white paper last year, “Creating Meaningful Police and Youth of Color Relationships,” that has a long list of better policing suggestions.

Now, in the age of citizen videos, what communities of colors have been saying about police responses is harder for the rest of society to deny. But that is just the start of the problems. Once the youth are arrested, they face Kafka-like choices. Either get a small stain on your record that has real-world consequences when you apply for a job or have another encounter with the police — or risk going to jail, maybe for a long time. These choices often stem from unwarranted, unnecessary arrests.  

Thanks to the diligence of Sosin and Khan, we were able to shine a spotlight on this issue and pull it out of the shadows. However, our mission is not to just tell one horrific story and then move on. It is to keep investigating all the issues at hand, seen very clearly in this case, that stack the deck against youth of color. It has to stop.

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What Reddit users are saying about Charles' arrest

"When the solution to the problem of a clogged judicial system is to persuade more people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, you have to wonder if the clog is the real problem with the judicial system." —Cardenjs

"... There isn't much recourse to be had for the average person without the time/disposable income to pursue a lengthy/expensive process that isn't even a guaranteed success. This is similar to why many people take plea deals. They can't afford two days off of work, much less the potentially months it will take to get a court date and argue their case. So they plead guilty to a crime they did not commit, just to get back to their lives."—Dogeatswaffles

"... The guy slamming teenagers into a wall to turn out their pockets gets tons of arrests, lots of praise, and keeps moving up through the ranks. The guy investigating property crimes has to do interview's and collect evidence and work a case for days or weeks to make one arrest. The guy doing actual police work gets passed over and languishes at the bottom of the hierarchy or leaves, while the the one making dozens of drug arrests keeps getting promoted. This goes on long enough and you have entire departments from top to bottom who have no idea how to actually investigate crimes." —GhostofMarat

"... The problem is bad and/or militarized police. I 100% want good community members policing me and my neighbors." —frozen_tuna

“Biggest issues in my opinion:

—Police arrest/conviction quotas

—Prosecutors working so closely with police that no one has the balls to prosecute the police for anything, even blatant.

—A prevalent "us vs them" mentality within police departments which encourages LEOs to sweep things under the rug for their buddies when needed, instead of reporting/documenting it.

Overall, here's the thing I don't get. I'm a medical professional. If someone in my profession fucks up, I'll be the first to publicly say that yeah maybe that situation wasn't the best, but that person unequivocally fucked up. I don't ever see any law enforcement figures denounce another LEO when they've unequivocally fucked up.

Additionally, if the medical community at large recognizes an institutional problem (like the opioid crisis), our institutions are expected to recognize and start implementing changes/policies to combat it, and I'm expected to do my part to implement those changes. I don't see any public momentum within the broader law enforcement community to make changes, but it could be just me.” —Sotaskimmer

That should be part of the job as a policeman. You should act differently depending on who you're talking to and adjust your style accordingly. If you're dealing with a teenager, you should be aware that they may be acting out of inexperience rather than defiance. The issue was that the officers were just looking for an excuse to arrest this girl. If they really cared about truancy and the community they served, they wouldn't have been acting like that.” —Reckoningrekoner

Leonard Witt is the executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University and publisher of the JJIE.

This column has been updated.


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