Another Life Lost, Another Shattering Verdict

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by Wokie Weah, President of Youthprise
This post originally appeared on youthprise.org

Another not-guilty verdict

The air in Minnesota is as heavy as my heart. As we say in Liberia “my heart is not satisfied”. My heart definitely is not satisfied with the verdict in the Philando Castile case. As a Minnesotan, a mother, a grandmother and the president of a youth-centered organization, I am grieving with communities across Minnesota.

This is no accident

My thoughts go out to the family of Philando Castile, and the families of every person who experiences violence at the hands of our justice system. I was in my hotel room in Little Rock Arkansas where I was taking my 18-year-old daughter to enroll in a summer college program. Frankly I was stunned when I heard not guilty on all counts. Then I remembered the system had worked as it was intentionally designed to work. This is no accident. The tragedy of what happened is a problem created by a fundamentally flawed justice system that views people of color as threats that are worthy of the harshest forms of government force and punishment. I have written about my own fears as the mother of an African American son before. Minnesota’s future prosperity is tied to the success of young people of color and they are losing faith in our institutions and systems.

Data

2014 data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety regarding statewide racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system indicate that youth of color continue to make up a disproportionate number of youth involved in the justice system compared to white youth.  In fact, youth of color are arrested at nearly three times the rate of white youth and alarmingly African American youth are arrested at five and half times the rate of white youth.  These disparities occur at nearly every stage of the juvenile justice system and impact all minority racial groups.  The system as it currently operates provides easy on ramps for youth of color to enter while making an exit difficult and less speedy than for white youth.  Probation data illustrates the difficulties youth of color experience exiting the system as it indicates that African American youth are offered probation at half the rate of white youth and Native American youth are offered probation at three quarters of the rate of white youth.  The data from Ramsey County where Philando Castile was stopped by the St. Anthony Police Department is even more stark.  Youth of color are arrested at nearly four times the rate of white youth which is primarily driven by the fact that African American youth are arrested at nine times the rate of white youth.  Both the current juvenile and adult justice systems operate in ways that make it easy for people of color to enter, treats them harsher than their white neighbors once in, makes it difficult for them to exit, and leaves them with an array of collateral consequences that impact them long after their involvement with the system ends.  We need to ask ourselves is this what justice should look like in Minnesota?  If you don’t believe that this is justice, the next question to ask is what can I or my organization or my community do to change the current system?

Time to follow young people’s lead

At Youthprise, we believe that young people who are the most impacted by the issues are the ones who hold the most impactful solutions. When I heard the heartbreaking verdict announced last Friday, it was young people who came to my mind. I thought of the young people who actively engage in systems to disrupt and change them, the young people who fight for their communities and whose ingenuity uplifts all of Minnesota. I thought of the young people who take their voices to the streets and march against injustice with signs in their hands and hope in their hearts. It is time to follow young people’s leads.

Action

As a hero of mine, Nelson Mandela, once said, “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” Now is not the time to rest. Now is the time for action. In this spirit, here are five calls to action for all of stakeholders. Please join Youthprise in taking action.

To the philanthropic community:

The true role of philanthropy is to take calculated risks in support of the community vision. Invest. Now is the time to be bold and to invest in communities that are already doing the work to dismantle systems of oppression. In light of the recent events, Youthprise isinvesting $10,000 in the Philando Castile Scholarship Fund and $15,000 to an organization involved in the critical work of dismantling racism and disrupting systems.Join us in supporting the scholarship fund and supporting a non-profit involved in dismantling racism.

To communities involved in challenging systems:

We hear you, we see you, and we’ve got your back. The role of community is to challenge the status quo and support the next generation in bringing about much needed change. Thank you for showing up again and again. Continue to hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire. Urge your friends and family to show up and vote, not just in Presidential elections. Insist that schools and the educational system include their histories and perspectives. We all must take action.

To elected officials:

The role of elected officials is to represent the communities you serve. Be more courageous in implementing a racial equity agenda. Listen to the needs of your diverse constituents. You are working for the young people of Minnesota. Invest in them. Listen to them. Minnesota is losing ground as a state in terms of investments in our young people. Now more than ever we have to support the next generation of Minnesotans.

To the media:

One of the fundamental responsibilities of the media is to ensure the general welfare of the public through timely and accurate information. Do not produce superficial reporting that reproduces stereotypes; instead publish positive stories that reflect Minnesota’s diverse communities. In the past we relied on the media to keep us informed. Social media has changed all of that. Young people and community members use social media to tell stories that reflect their experiences. There is power in digital storytelling that shifts the narrative. This fall, we will be building the capacity of young people to use digital media at our annual summit hosted in partnership with Intermedia Arts and GLITCH.

To young people:

The role of young people is to step into leadership roles that disrupt existing systems. You have the power to change systems. You are already leading the charge to dismantle systems of oppression and you are already taking leadership in your communities. Continue to acquire the tools and the skillsets to work within systems that impact your lives. Unless young people engage in the systems that impact their lives, those systems will not work for young people.

To everyone:

Invest in young people and begin by investing in the Philando Castile Scholarship Fund. This fund is about honoring Philando’s legacy by supporting our state’s commitment to educating youth and giving them the tools to thrive in this world. You can read about the first scholarship recipient here. Youthprise will continue to prioritize young people. Preparing youth to lead in philanthropy, research and policy is key to real systems change.

Our work doesn’t stop at the end of a march, we will continue to call for justice and dismantle systems of oppression as long as they exist. As local artist and organizer Ricardo Levins Morales often quotes Aboriginal rights activists in Queensland, Australia:

“If you have come to help me you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

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