As an educator I see a recurrent problem that troubles me deeply—Youth, specifically young men, missing school to appear at court; Youth, specifically young men, missing out on an education because they are locked up. Can the intelligent, likable young man that sits at his desk, ready to learn, really be such a menace to society? Such a threat to our community’s safety?
Many politicians are quick to campaign on the promise that by locking up the “bad guys” they will keep our community safe. It’s not uncommon to hear our elected officials tell us we will be safer because the blue light just went up on our block, or because there are more police patrolling our streets. Are we really safer or are drug exchanges just pushed to another block that doesn’t have a blue light and what we have are more police readily available to harass our youth on our streets?
The most destructive effect of these “safety” initiatives is more people in our community are being incarcerated. It’s become very easy (and convenient) for our political leaders to equate success with the number of “criminals” they send to prison. In an extremely dehumanizing process the “criminals” are sent off to jail in a far away, isolated place at which point, for the self-righteous leader, they become “out of sight, out of mind.”
But for our community and communities of color throughout the nation it is our loved ones – fathers, sons, cousins, brothers, uncles and students – who are out of sight (out of reach), but never ever out of mind.
In a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice for all,” why are more citizens incarcerated here than in any other country in the world? In a country where “all men are created equal” why are black men six times more likely to be locked up than whites and Latinos almost three times as likely? (source: www.burnsinstitute.org)
These are questions we all need to take time to reflect upon. These are questions we must take to our community leaders.
Recently a group of local community members (a group I was a part of) discussed this grave issue facing our community and brainstormed on how we can work to address it. We talked about educating our community on their legal rights when dealing with the police; documenting how our youth are affected by police harassment and their experiences in jail through testimonials; and interviewing police on their practices.
We have been successful in carrying out at least one of our ideas with the help and organizing initiative of the ¡Humboldt Park NO SE VENDE! campaign in collaboration with Lawyers from the First Defense Legal Aid and Professor Xavier Perez of Saint Xavier University. On September 18 a free educational workshop “Policing Practices and Gentrification” was held at Batey Urbano. Discussion centered on the connection between gentrification and police practices as well as identifying what rights we have when in police custody.
In a short time Chicago will choose a new mayor and as that moment approaches, I encourage you to ask yourself just one thing before you choose a candidate: “Is this going to be the leader that will lock my brother up and throw away the key? Or is this the leader who will open doors to resources and opportunities my community needs to be self-empowered and truly safe?”