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Kids Are Not Adults

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She doesn’t send them every day. But most days, my aunt texts me a bible scripture.  She’s not my real aunt, but if I didn’t know that for sure, well…I wouldn’t know.  She knows that I am not religious, but I am sure it gives her peace. My aunt raised three children, two daughters and a grandson, her baby. He was 16 at the time of his crime. He’s now serving more time than he was alive at the time.

He was sentenced in Florida, which according to the 2017 case study, Lynching in America, has the highest rate of direct files for youth to adult courts in the nation. Although Black kids only make up 21% of the youth population, they are 67.7% of the state’s direct files. He will be released in 2042, I’m just hoping that my aunt will get to see it. They waited until his seventeenth birthday to arrest him; a teen club fight ended in tragedy. His mugshot, plastered all over the news because, of course, you can do that to minors who are considered adults, looks so intimidating if you don’t know him. But if you do, you know that was his best attempt at bravery. I’m sure if she could send him scriptures every day, she would. 

We lock Black boys away. 

They may not be old enough to serve this country without parental consent, but they are old enough to serve time. If Uncle Sam has his way, they will give their labor to this country in some form or fashion. In Wisconsin, Texas and Georgia, all 17-year-olds are charged as adults. In most states, 17-year-olds fall under a protected class. We acknowledge that they are too young to drink. Too young to choose their lawmakers. Too young to marry. Too young to even be parents, but somehow, they are old enough to be locked up and have the key thrown away.

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As much as they want to make this about justice for crimes, it isn’t, especially when Black children make up only 15% of the youth population, but 54% are tried as adults nationwide. Ten states and the District of Columbia allow prosecutors to file charges directly with adult courts and do not need the approval of the juvenile courts to do so. Recently, a 10-year-old shot his mother over a video game he wanted. Because the shooting occurred in Wisconsin, he will be tried as an adult.  It was reported that the child already exhibited dangerous behaviors.

Many online clamored for locking this kid up, even killing him.  Those things will not bring his mother back and probably wouldn’t bring her peace. Clearly, this is a mental health issue that throwing him in jail won’t solve and at the very least, will only add fuel to the fire.  In fact, according to the Justice Policy Institute, children tried as adults have higher rates of recidivism. Lionel Tate was convicted of first-degree murder for body-slamming a six-year-old girl who was in his mother’s care. He was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he committed at 12 years old. His sentence was later overturned in 2004 when he was 17. Tate was then given house arrest for a year and put on probation for 10 years.  He violated his probation at the age of 18 when he plead no contest to the armed robbery of a pizza delivery man. Tate was sentenced to 10 years for the robbery and a concurrent sentence of 30 years for his probation violation.

Tate never stood a chance. 

It is very much a race issue, but it is not just that. It is a human rights issue. I am not an advocate for just because they get away with something, we should too. Children should not be tried as adults, whether we agree with their crimes or not, because who is really agreeing with crime? 

Trying children as adults, especially in adult facilities, causes them irrevocable harm and puts them at greater risk for exploitation by older inmates. There are currently about 10,000 minors housed in adult facilities.  According to the National Inmate Survey 1.8% of 16- and 17-year-old inmates report being sexually assaulted, a number which is seen to be drastically underreported. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, youth who enter the adult system are also five times more likely to commit suicide. How is that justice? Children sentenced as adults are also more likely to re-offend. How is that any way about rehabilitation? The arrest and unlawful incarceration of people like Kalief Browder, who was arrested at 16 for the theft of a backpack that was never seen in his possession. He served three years in Rikers Island, and 700 of those days were spent in solitary confinement, which should not have happened. He was reportedly beaten by guards and inmates. He later committed suicide at the age of 22. 

The prison system allows those of us on the outside a sense of elitism, a place we could never go, around people we will never be until we remember that we probably know someone who is in prison. Especially since, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in four Blacks will serve at least one day in state or federal prison in their lifetimes. Many juveniles who commit crimes are often from broken homes and have had less than resourceful upbringings. We forget that they are not just people, but they are children, and at the end of the day, there is nothing that a child could do that will ever make them become an adult other than grow up.  

 While finishing this up…she texted me. 

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