“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Pacific Juvenile Defender Center will not be silent. PJDC members are juvenile defense attorneys and advocates who are all too aware of the racial injustice infecting the juvenile justice system. PJDC is an organization committed to anti-racism advocacy.
Many of our clients are Black youth, and research has shown that often law enforcement does not view Black boys—even as young as young as 10—in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers. Instead, Black youth are treated as if they were adults, they are often assumed to be guilty, and they face police violence more than any other race. But it’s not just law enforcement that is the problem. Age-old stereotypes of Black youth as violent and aggressive have made the juvenile legal system what it is now: a system where Black youth overwhelmingly suffer greater punishment than any other youth, from detention to transfer to the adult system. To do juvenile defense work is to do racial justice work.
We are among the constant eyes and the front-line check against law enforcement. We catch the hidden moments where police commit vicious acts of violence against youth. We are vigilant, watching every second of body-worn camera footage, calling on police chiefs to act, and notifying internal affairs when police officers step out of bounds. Every day we are litigating, filing motions, and cross-examining officers to call them out on racist behavior. To be silent is to be complicit.
PJDC bears witness to the systemic anti-blackness that permeates this country. We stand in solidarity with the cries for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson and the countless other victims of state-sanctioned murder. Not only do Black people rightfully fear every interaction with police, but every movement into public space has the potential for an entitled and racist community member to question those movements. To be Black in America is a traumatic experience. Given the countless ways Black communities have been terrorized and over-policed, the current rebellion is understandable and justified. As allies, it is imperative to give a name to racial trauma. We mourn with the protesters, the community members, the victims of police brutality and their families.
We also stand with our Black PJDC members and extend our support and condolences. Education and accomplishments have never been a shield against the weaponization of Black skin. We recognize the sorrow our non-Black members feel at each news flash does not compare to the collective sense of loss and hopelessness felt by our Black members. We will not be silent. The time for change is now.
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