The decision of the grand jury in Ferguson and the resulting state of unrest throughout surrounding communities are much on our minds today at Voices for Children. As concerned citizens, we hope and strive toward a society in which the rule of law protects the innocent, holds the guilty accountable, and guarantees equal protection for all. We may not ever know exactly what happened between Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, but here are some things we do know:
- Every child’s life matters. Every child’s life matters, without regard to the color of their skin. Every child’s life matters, without regard to the way they have been raised or the neighborhood from which they come. Every child’s life matters, without regard to their behaviors – even if they are making criminal choices. No child deserves to die on the street, because no child is beyond help. Our hearts break for the Brown family’s loss, and for all those who fear for their children’s safety.
- Disproportionate minority contact with law enforcement and the justice system is real, and cannot be explained away merely by socioeconomic factors. National research shows that this overrepresentation is often a product of decisions made at early points of contact with the juvenile justice system, and where racial differences are found to exist, they tend to accumulate as youth are processed deeper into the system. Nebraska is no exception. For instance, in 2012, African American children made up only 6% of the total youth population in Nebraska, but 19.3% of the youth population arrested, and 29% of the youth population held in detention centers statewide. They represented 50.7% of the youth population in the Douglas County Youth Center.
- The only way forward is through open dialogue about this issue. We must build trust in our schools, our officers, and our courts to serve, protect, and hold our children accountable with fairness, but to do so we have to be able to speak about the injustices that we perceive. Open dialogue is not accusation or blame-seeking; it is acknowledgment of our shared goal to do better, moving forward together. To that end, we are looking forward to our Race Matters conference next week. Our belief is that by putting race on the table, we can develop an action plan for our communities to take those steps forward in the years to come. We hope you can join us.
We wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and send our hopes for peace to all the people of Ferguson.