On March 13, Real Change screened Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th.” In the film, DuVernay shows how a loophole in our constitution strips away the rights of people who are perceived as criminals or convicted of a crime. Of those targeted, a disproportionate number of individuals are people of color and often poor. Our showing of the film sold out a week before the viewing. Once the movie was over, many people stayed late into the evening to discuss what to do next and how the Seattle community can push back on the racist and classist systems that disenfranchise such a large segment of our population.
I often feel disheartened after watching movies like “13th.” We have so much further to go in order to breakdown racist and classist structures that currently hold up our way of life. It is during my lowest moments that I try to remember that there are real heroes in our own community who are fighting back. It is important that I do the same.
I am especially appreciative of community-led organizations, such as Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), which have been fighting since 2012 to stop the construction of a youth detention facility that will cost millions of dollars to build (Real Change has endorsed the campaign).
I agree with community members when they assert that we can stop the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown children only by implementing community-based, community-led anti-racist solutions instead of youth incarceration.
There is another discussion in our community going on right now concerning the youth jail that also has my attention, a quieter but important conversation happening in King County Council chambers about a kid’s right to speak with an attorney before talking to a law enforcement officer.
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove has proposed legislation that would require kids in detention speak to an attorney before they talk to law enforcement.
Currently kids in detention can decide for themselves if they want to talk to the police without representation.
Anita Khandelwal, policy director at the Department of Public Defense, shared with me a story of a kid who was interrogated while in detention. A detention guard told him that he had a visitor. It wasn’t until the child walked into the meeting room that he realized that the visitor was in fact two police officers wanting to question him. As Anita told me this story, I tried to picture a child feeling comfortable and informed enough to stop a conversation that they were unprepared for at a time and a place where they felt like they had the least amount of power. And I thought about how different that same situation would be if it involved a White, middle-class kid — a kid whose parents undoubtedly would have paid for an attorney.
We are asking too much of our children if we expect them to stand up for themselves while they are alone and without anyone who will back them up. There is no way that a kid should be placed in that kind of situation. This is why I support Upthegrove’s motion.
To me, a child being pressured to waive their rights while in detention echoes the injustices in the documentary “13th.” The further these children go into the system, the less likely that they are able to participate as full citizens in their community.
These systems increase the likelihood of homelessness and disproportionately impact people of color.
Upthegrove’s motion is an easy decision that stops kids from potentially being sucked in further into the criminal justice system. If you agree please contact your King County Council member (or show up to a hearing on April 11) and let them know you that you support Upthegrove’s proposal that would forbid law enforcement from questioning a young person detained at the county’s Youth Services Center without an attorney present. Kids are counting on you to speak up on their behalf.
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