WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-year-old Edward Ward, a sophomore on the honor roll at DePaul University, tried to describe to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), the only senators left in the room by the time he spoke on Capitol Hill Wednesday, what it was like to grow up in his neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. “When I was 18, I witnessed a complete stranger’s killing mere feet from me in a neighborhood restaurant,” Ward said before the Senate subcommittee. “I was stopped by the police a few years ago. I saw them train their guns on me until I could show them the item in my hand was only a cell phone.”
Things didn’t get much better at high school, Ward said.
Within a year, what is now a mound of red Georgia clay will be home to the new Clayton County Youth Development & Justice Center. County leaders officially broke ground Thursday on the 65,000 square foot facility that bears a $15 million dollar price tag. It’s set to be completed within 12 months. The facility, south of Atlanta, which will be built adjacent to the existing Harold R. Banke Justice Center on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, will house Clayton County Juvenile and community resource organizations. “Every other metropolitan county [in Georgia] has gotten another juvenile justice center: DeKalb, Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas and now it’s Clayton County’s turn,” says Clayton’s Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court Van Banke, who is set to retire in two weeks.
The state juvenile code rewrite and a bill proposing an end to the practice of overmedicating foster children topped the agenda Tuesday as advocates from JUSTGeorgia and the Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program gathered at the capitol for their annual lobby day. More than 300 supporters from across the state turned out to meet with legislators about what they say are two top critical policy issues affecting children this session. “We’re all here trying to do right for the children of Georgia,” says Georgia CASA Executive Director Duaine Hathaway. “We are here to inspire Georgia legislators and get them to act on behalf of Georgia’s children.”
JUSTGeorgia Project Manager Julia Neighbors says the event is as an opportunity for the network of volunteers and supporters to reconnect with seasoned lawmakers, while raising awareness among the 45 new legislators who have taken office this year. “This is also just a good opportunity for JUSTGeorgia to work with CASA,” she says.
I met him after only a few weeks on the bench. His name was Johnny and he was thirteen. He had been detained for disorderly conduct and disruption of school charges. He mouthed off at a teacher using what we call in the legal arena “abusive, profane, and opprobrious” words. In other words, he said “F— you.”
Johnny was of average stature for his age. He didn’t smile, but then again who does while shackled sitting in a courtroom? I was new at this and still trying to get a grasp on this judging thing.
Looking back 40 years and recalling the blood flowing profusely from my mouth, I now understand why my Mom frowned every time I asked her for a Daisy BB gun. I often think of this moment, and several others in my childhood, when sitting on the bench or deciding diversion and informal adjustment policies for the court. I look back and I am convinced that adolescents are wired to do stupid things, and I did plenty of stupid things as a teenager – but I was never arrested or referred to juvenile court. Why is it that most of the cases referred to my court are kids who make us mad, the kids who were never arrested or referred in my day, and not the kids who scare us? I was ten years old and I was relentless about a BB gun.