Monday, August 21, 2006

DC Youth Speak Out Against the Mayor’s Emergency Crime Bill

By: Jose Andrade, age 19, Nancy Cruz, age 16, Adriana Reynoso, age 18, Victor Benitez, age 16, Jacinta Wood, age 18, and Tiffany Jones, age 17

This emergency crime bill that the mayor passed was a shock. Why was a crime emergency called after someone was murdered in Georgetown? Not that it was good that someone was killed, but people in other D.C. neighborhoods deal with friends and family being killed every day and it’s not considered a crime emergency.

To us, it seems like only youth were blamed for what D.C. police are calling a sharp increase in crime when it is mostly adults who commit violent crime in D.C. Only one youth has been charged with homicide in D.C. this year. We feel, it’s easy to blame youth and put all these rules on us because we can’t vote. Besides, the things they put into place aren’t going to work. They haven’t yet; it’s almost been 30 days and people are still being killed in D.C.

What has happened is more stereotyping of youth. The curfew of 10 pm wrongly punishes all youth. Young people who are out on the streets late at night and doing wrong are going to be out even if there is a curfew. The youth the curfew affects the most are the majority of us that are not out doing wrong.

Here’s an example. One of us was stopped by the police a week before the curfew went into effect. It wasn’t even 10 yet, she knows because she was coming back from a community meeting we had all been to as part of work at YARG. The cop car pulled over and the cop shined his lights in her eyes. He asked her what she was doing out so late. After she told him, he asked if she knew that there was going to be a new curfew of 10 pm. She said no. He said that it would start the next week and then he let her go.

She was stopped for no reason when she was minding her business and trying to go home. This causes youth not to trust police because they just assume that if you are a youth that you are doing wrong. A 10 pm curfew means that we can’t go to an 8 o’clock movie without adult supervision. We are on lock down in our own city.

The cameras that the crime bill calls for also make no sense. Why is the city going to spend millions of dollars on a strategy that is not supported by research and has not been proven to work in other cities? A lot of people in D.C. neighborhoods have been saying that cameras are going to work and that they want them in their neighborhoods. They probably wouldn’t think that if D.C. Council members told them how well they have worked in other cities.

The other thing that the crime bill does is make it so that cops can look into youth’s records and hold them without bond. Cops can also tell principals about a youth’s suspected involvement in a crime and they can be expelled from school. That is the last thing that is going to help youth stay out of trouble. Isn’t our justice system supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? This crime bill makes it so that all youth in D.C. are considered guilty until they or their lawyers prove them innocent.

If D.C. wants to help keep us safe and out of trouble, what we really need is the city to invest more in us instead of in locking us up. D.C. spends $150,000 dollars per youth they lock up at Oak Hill, D.C.’s juvenile detention center; and only $12,000 per youth trying to get an education in DC public schools. The crime bill spends $2 million on cameras and $8 million to pay cops for overtime.

All this money is going for ‘crime prevention’ strategies that don’t work even in the short term, when it could be better spent on long term strategies that we know help youth, like making sure we get a good education at schools that aren’t falling apart and have no air conditioning in 80 degree weather and job training programs that prepare us to have good paying jobs in D.C. when we are older.

This Wednesday, August 23, 2006 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Freedom Plaza, D.C. youth will have a rally to speak out against the Mayor’s Emergency Crime Bill and talk about what youth think are real solutions to youth violence. Come out to our rally and learn more about what youth think are solutions to crime in D.C. and what we are doing address youth violence. We are not criminals.

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