Where are our priorities: How can we make black lives matter?
On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, about 40 protesters led by Reverend Jamal Bryant temporarily halted traffic entering the city on I-395 which is a major thoroughfare coming into the city of Baltimore. The demonstration was in opposition to Governor Larry Hogan’s recent decision to allocate $30 million to a new youth prison instead of public schooling. The new prison is meant to provide a separate detention center for youth charged as adults, who are mainly black youth, instead of a shared facility with incarcerated adults.
Proponents of Hogan’s decision say that positive programs and opportunities would be available to youth in the new center. Mark Vernarelli of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services states, “the department is committed to housing juveniles charged as adults in a new building that will include classrooms, program space, and medical and recreation areas. It’s a facility that’s vastly superior to the current location.”
Governor Larry Hogan’s decision only addresses a long standing complaint that youth offenders are sentenced to prison with adults. While that is certainly a problem, putting youth in very dangerous situations, it does not tackle the systemic problems that impact our society. It does not interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline which sends youth of color into the criminal justice system in the first place. This is an example where black lives do not matter in the eyes of the system. They do not matter enough to provide education instead of incarceration.
It would be easy to make Larry Hogan a target, and blame him for these problems, but they are long standing. His decision reflects a legislature and a larger society that does not demand broader solutions to the problem of youth offenders, when the youth are people of color. The protests today bring attention to Hogan’s decision and raise awareness of the misplaced funds. The inconvenience of stopped traffic during rush hour is nothing compared to the problems faced by young people of color whose educational futures get derailed as they enter the criminal justice system.
Simply listening to the demands made today will indicate what youth of color need: education funding, summer jobs, and recreation. If they have to stop traffic get people to wake up to that need, then businesses should be on alert: People will be late to work this summer!
To learn more, please visit the provided links within the text and below, and follow activists on Twitter like @jamalhbryant.