America is in the midst of an emergency that can not be cured by police officers. In many cases, officers are seen as perpetrators. From criminal justice to English education, change is needed.
“It’s okay, Mama. I’m right here with you,” a small child’s voice said while Diamond Reynolds sat in handcuffs, moments after watching her boyfriend, Philando Castile, be shot and killed by police.
Hours before, Alton Sterling’s fifteen-year-old son cried for his daddy during his mother’s press conference.
The most devastating effects of the increasingly dangerous sociopolitical climate are felt by the youngest Americans. Black girls and boys and raised to trust the system and call police officers in case of emergency.
However, America is in the midst of an emergency that can not be cured by police officers. In many cases, officers are seen as perpetrators. From criminal justice to English education, change is needed. It is time to raise a generation that sees fragments of their ancestors stitched into their beings and the cure to social injustice within themselves.
Do You Speak American?
The transatlantic slave trade was not a study abroad program or an English immersion trip. African tongues were blended with already-existing pidgins and the English spoken by Bristol-born sailors, creating a vernacular that is still spoken today within the African American community. The sailors spoke idiosyncratically; lingo was picked up along the Mediterranean and in the New World from indigenous languages. The conglomeration of dialects that took place on slave ships developed into what is now known as African American Vernacular English, or Ebonics.
In 1996, a resolution was passed in Oakland, California to recognize Ebonics as the official language of its African American students. At the time, a large percentage of those students had been placed in special education programs, not because of mental disabilities but because of poor English education. Unlike the Oakland School District, most schools do not treat Ebonics speakers as bilingual students. Thus, students struggle with learning and using Standard English throughout their educational careers, and black students are consistently outperformed on literacy exams.
A student not reading on grade level by the end of his or her third grade year is four times more likely to drop out out of high school, and a high school dropout is over sixty times more likely to be incarcerated. In a country where the mother tongue of blacks is not standard, yet not nurtured, it’s hard to believe that young children are not marked for a certain destiny years before they can comprehend history’s effects on their futures.
Excessive punishment of children
On December 18, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, abolishing slavery — or so we are taught.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The system is not rigged, crooked, or broken. It is working flawlessly according to how it was created. Slavery in America was never fully eradicated; it only evolved. From shackles to handcuffs, the remnants of slavery have developed into America’s criminal justice system.
Nearly three thousand American children have been sentenced to life in prison without parole, and until a recent Supreme Court decision declared it unconstitutional, children as young as 13 were sentenced to spend the entirety of their lives in prison for non-homicide crimes. Whether it be from racism or inability to afford legal representation, African American children are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.
Fourteen states in the United States do not have a minimum age requirement for trying children in adult courts, meaning that any child can be placed in an adult prison. Those children lack the ability to fully comprehend what they are experiencing, and children prosecuted as adults are at an elevated risk to be victims of sexual abuse and suffer from untreated mental illness.
A Message to Self-Proclaimed Activists
One of the driving forces of the Civil Rights Movement was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a group of young people with the desire to propagate justice and equality. The current generation clearly sees society’s flaws but lacks the organization, unity, and tenacity necessary to cause change.
In situations reflecting America’s continued struggle with social injustice and racism, the #BlackLivesMatter movement resurfaces. The alarming issue is that many self-proclaimed activists do not even understand the message behind the hashtag. The goal is to affirm the lives of all blacks, regardless of gender, criminal history, sexual orientation, disability, or age, not just those who lose their lives as a result of police brutality.
What will make the movement successful is persistence, education, unified and strategic action, and most of all, compassion and love. The #BlackLivesMatter movement starts with convincing black lives that they matter, an affirmation that has to be instilled from early childhood.
What can be done to positively influence the lives of African American children when the oppression and injustice they face is Constitutionally backed and supported by educational systems?
Copyright: Laurin Rinder