This week, I got together with a coalition of other concerned citizens and met at the steps of the county courthouse. We then marched around the jail to fight for the rights of two people of color, Chuniece Patterson and Raul Pinet, both of whom recently died while in police custody.
The march and the reasons behind it led me down a path of self-discovery when it comes to understanding the impact that the criminal justice system has on our community and our children.
The first person to feel the brunt of my thinking was a young woman I spoke with who has two young sons. Both of the boys are between three and five years old. Like many other black boys their age, they are learning about the world, and starting to emulate what they see. They imitate rappers they see on BET, and they are hypnotized by athletes like LeBron James and Carmello Anthony. Also like many other black boys across America, one of them has already been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Their mother wasn’t aware that black boys are over five times more likely than white ones to be diagnosed as having a learning disability. In some cases, the diagnoses are legitimate, but in others, they are an excuse to keep the child from being properly educated. I was diagnosed in the same way as a child, and my mother told the teacher to shove that medicine where the sun will never shine. Had she not intervened, I would not be where I am today. I might really have ADD, but I’ve apparently learned to survive it without psychiatric medication.
Pretty soon, the young woman’s sons will be going to school with teachers who expect them to become thugs instead of scholars. They’ll be thrust into a world where they’ll learn to dribble a basketball before they learn how to read. An inferior education will likely be accompanied by an early exposure to the criminal justice system and a black male unemployment rate that is more than double the rate for white Americans. All of this creates the standard black male recipe of unemployment, incarceration and a lack of education. At least that’s the script that’s been written for them.
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I told the mother of these boys that their life’s plan is already in place. Society has a schedule for the black male that is usually not going to lead to productive and positive outcomes. I urged the mother to realize that by understanding the system, she can change the course of her sons’ lives, saving herself from the heartache of prison visits, sudden funerals and expensive legal fees. I certainly hope she listened.
We all know that our economic, educational and criminal justice systems have significant problems. In few places do the issues show up more clearly than in the outcomes of the African American male. We have a black man in the White House and another black man (Eric Holder) serving as Attorney General. Perhaps their ascension can serve as a catalyst for all of us to empower ourselves to confront these matters accordingly. Such a confrontation might even require us to challenge Obama and Holder themselves, but I hope this is not the case.
When it comes to your own children, make sure that you educate yourself on how society works. Secondly, ensure that your kids are on a different path from other black boys in America, who are effectively being treated like rodents being led to poisonous food. We are fed a healthy diet of hip hop, sports and criminal activity, which can define the boundaries of who we think we can become. Then, when we end up as 25-year old, unemployed ex-athletes with a fifth grade reading level, we are not properly positioned to be good husbands and fathers in our communities. This recipe for destruction is affecting us all, and it’s time that we get both educated and empowered to fix it.
As far as the rally that we held here in Syracuse, we are sure our voices were heard. But this is just the first of many stops I plan to make in the future, for the job is far from over. In fact, it might be time for a movement.