In Honor Of...
By Marcy Mistrett, CEO
Anniversaries can be moments of celebration or they can be reminders of our losses and short-comings. The exoneration and settlement awarded to of five young men charged with rape, assault, robbery , attempted murder, and rioting in NY in 2014 juxtaposed to the tragic suicide of Kalief Browder in 2015 underscores this fact.
Today is the 4th anniversary of Kalief Browder’s death; he was 22 years young when he took his life, after spending three years on Rikers Island in New York as a teenager, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. His story moved a nation—and the state of New York fundamentally changed the way it looked at 16 & 17 year olds in their justice system.
It’s likely no coincidence of Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” also was released this week. It’s the 30 year anniversary since Korey, Antron, Yusef, Raymond & Kevin were arrested in the highly racialized “Central Park 5” case in 1989. It is only five years since they received their settlement from the city for such a miscarriage of justice.
In the four years since the world lost Kalief—New York has changed. While we grieve the tragic and grossly unnecessary loss of his life; it jarred the state to action. New York has:
- Closed the Adolescent Unit of Rikers’ Island and moved all the youth charged as adults to a more age-appropriate setting at the Horizons Youth Center; the city is on target to close the other 9 jails on the Island.
- The number of youth charged as adults has dropped profoundly, from nearly 500 per day in 2014, to under 75 today in New York.
- The state no longer considers every 16 & 17 year old as adults in court; the state raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in 2016.
- New York has ended solitary confinement of youth since 2014.
- New York has invested heavily in community based alternatives to incarceration, investing money in families and communities over prisons.
- Crime rates continue to drop.
Five years ago this month, Korey, Antron, Yusef, Raymond and Kevin, after 11 years of pending lawsuits were finally awarded a $41million dollar settlement for their wrongful convictions in the case of the Central Park Jogger; a case that launched some of the most punitive responses to young people in our country’s history. The settlement was 25 years too late; but it did attempt to right the gross wrongs perpetrated against these men when they were children.
The case of the “Central Park Five” reminds us that, thirty years later, our children are still extremely vulnerable to experience false accusations leading them to long, mandatory sentences:
- Our justice system today is still extremely racialized, with nearly 80% of youth charged as adults being youth of color;
- District Attorneys yield incredible power—in 12 states and Washington D.C., prosecutors can decide which court (juvenile or criminal) to charge youth; there are still more than 75,000 youth/year charged as adults in this country and nearly 5000 children sleep in adult jails and prisons every night;
- That police behavior hasn’t changed in 30 years. Children (of color) are still interrogated, threatened, incarcerated, and mistreated by law enforcement across the country. Just last week the FOP in Baltimore referred to children as “criminals” and told Baltimore police “don't fall into the trap that they are only kids”;
- The media is still perpetuating fear about children of color—whether immigrants or adolescent citizens; and the U.S. population considers youth of color to be 4 years older, and therefore more culpable than white children.
So today, we call on all of us, to take a minute of silence. To remember the children who sleep in adult jails and prisons every night across the country. To celebrate those who have come home after years of claiming their innocence. To grieve those who couldn’t take the stress and took their own lives. And to deliver hope to those who remain behind bars because our reforms haven’t reached them yet. Today, we await your anniversaries of tomorrow.