It has become an all-too familiar scenario in inner cities across America–young black men who have been senselessly gunned down in the streets. More often than not, the crime goes unpunished.
In response to the growing problem that continues to decimate many communities, the NAACP has called for a ‘state of emergency’ due to increase in reports of violence and overly aggressive prosecution against African American youth.
“The NAACP is denouncing overly aggressive handling of black youth by law enforcement entities, a blatant disregard toward investigating hate crimes and racially discriminatory utilization of prosecutorial discretion,” said former interim NAACP President and CEO Dennis Courtland Hayes. “We demand that the criminal justice system live up to its constitutional obligations to serve and protect all Americans with dignity and fairness irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, religious faith and other differences. Violence and intimidation of our young people is not acceptable, is against the law and must end now.”
In the past several years, the NAACP has sought fairness for a number of youths who are facing the justice system. They include 15-year of Shelwanda Riley, who was thrown around, punched and pepper sprayed by a Ft. Pierce, Fla. police officer; 14-year-old DeOnte’ Rawlings, who was fatally shot by an off duty police officer in Washington, D. C., 17-year-old Isiah Simmons III, who lost consciousness and died after being restrained in a face down prone position for over two hours by seven adult staff of the Bowling Brook Prepatory School. The NAACP also played an instrumental role in freeing the Jena 6, six teens who have faced overly aggressive prosecution and extended incarceration for conflict with white students.
Spokesmen for the NAACP said there have been numerous incidents around the country that support national reports and statistical data illustrating the criminal justice system’s disparate treatment of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority young people.
FBI data as well as data from the U. S. Department of Justice and other organizations pointed out that although minority youth are one-third of the adolescent population, they comprise two-thirds of the more than 100,000 young people confined in local detention and state correctional systems. The findings were commissioned by the Building Blocks for Youth initiative and released in a report entitled “And Justice for Some.”
A disturbing trend unveils that when a white youth and a minority youth were charged with the same offenses, African American youth with no prior convictions were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth with the same background. Latino youth were three times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated.
Also disturbing is that youth cases moved into the adult court system involve African American defendants at least 50 percent of the time; but when the case involves drugs, that number rises to 63 percent.
Nationally, custody rates were five times greater for African American youth than for white youth.
“The problem of racially disparate treatment in our criminal justice system against black youth must be addressed at every level of governance, from our towns, counties and hamlets to our major metropolitan cities,” said NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton. “Law enforcement recognizes that in order to be effective at preventing and solving crimes, police officers must have the trust of the communities they serve. Until this scourge of abuse has been justly addressed they cannot be effective in racial and ethnic minority communities.”
The NAACP has called for hearings not only in Congress but also in every community around the nation in order to clearly understand the scope of this problem and seek viable solutions.