Category: Youth incarceration

Mar 16 2014

Louder Than A Bomb 2014: Chicago Youth Have Their Say…

The voices blared from loud speakers as hundreds listened raptly at the Cadillac Palace last night. It was the team finals of the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival and I was a judge. Young men incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) were reading from the zine “The PIC Is” created by my organization.

The prison industrial complex tears families apart,” one voice shared. “The prison industrial complex is where you spend your ‘best years’ just trying to survive,” said another.

Some young men tripped over their words; it didn’t matter. The audience was attentive, sporadically interjecting with appreciative sounds and fingersnaps. The stage was empty except for the DJ tucked in a corner and four microphone stands. I heard the experience described as “haunting.”

Louder than A Bomb stage as JTDC youth audio played (3/15/14)

Louder than A Bomb stage as JTDC youth audio played (photo by Nick Weaver, 3/15/14)

The disembodied voices cascaded over the crowd, emphasizing that the young people who were speaking the words were absent. I swallowed past the lump in my throat and surreptitiously dabbed by eyes. I was trying to contain my rage.

Perhaps the stark contrast between the empty stage and the voices that we were listening to was haunting. But it was also a reminder that the mostly black & brown young people who had graced the stage for most of the night prior to the JTDC performance could easily have been on the other side of the wall. The membrane that divides those performing on stage and the ones speaking through the loud speakers while caged behind bars is porous. The capriciousness and unfairness of the injustice system are a cruel reality. So I was furious.

Before and after the JTDC spoken word piece, young people took to the stage to share stories and experiences of racial & gender discrimination, adultism, addiction, family strife, suicide, gun violence, capitalist greed, and political corruption. Such large scale gatherings organized to simply listen to the truths and lived experiences of black and brown youth in Chicago are rare. I tried to take in the moment. I listened as young people of color buried the pernicious lie that they are disposable and challenged the world to “see” and “hear” them. ‘We are not who you say we are.’ ‘To those who fear and malign us, we are not violent and depraved predators and to those who say they care for us, we are not child soldiers.’ ‘We are human and we matter.’ These were, to my mind, some of the overarching statements of the night. And last night, the voices of the young people on both sides of the wall were indeed ‘louder than a bomb.’

Note: You can support the Free Write Jail Arts Program that works with incarcerated youth at the JTDC here and Louder Than A Bomb here.

Mar 03 2014

Still Torturing Children…

New York is banning solitary confinement of children under 18 along with implementing other reforms. But as the Center on Investigative Reporting points out:

“…the rule does not apply to city and county jails, like New York City’s Rikers Island, which houses hundreds of minors as young as 16. Although most of them have not been convicted, they still can be punished as adults for breaking jail rules. That often means weeks or months in solitary confinement.”

Some of you reading this might be surprised that any state would use such a practice at all. A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a wrenching report about the scope and impact(s) of solitary on children. Basically, they reaffirmed that the practice amounts to physical and psychological torture. HRW produced the video below to accompany the report.

Solitary confinement or what many prisoners call “the hole” can only accurately be considered torture. Charles Dickens recognized as much in the 19th century. Too often, however, the practice is either ignored or discussed euphemistically. America has ALWAYS been pro-torture of certain people. I offer as exhibit A the spectacle lynching of black people in the U.S. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the fact that we still torture so many people in prison through the use of solitary as well as other forms of physical, psychological, and emotional brutality. CIR produced an excellent animated video to illustrate how solitary confinement is experienced by children. I recommend that everyone watch it.

We should end solitary confinement in general as a practice in our prisons. We should abolish prisons.

Feb 25 2014

Calls to Action for Today: Support SB 2793/Oppose HB 4775

Sen Hutchinson- SB 2793

Amends the School Code. As part of the annual school report card, requires every school to provide (i) data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency status, length of exclusion, reason for exclusion, and whether alternative educational options were provided; (ii) data on the use of arrests or criminal citations, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and alleged criminal offense; and (iii) data on student retention during and between academic years, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and the reason for the student’s departure. Sets forth requirements and exemptions concerning the data, including requiring the State Board of Education to analyze the data on an annual basis and determine the top quartile of school districts for specified metrics. Requires certain districts identified by the State Board to submit a school discipline improvement plan identifying the strategies it will implement to reduce the use of harsh disciplinary practices or reduce the disproportionality evident in its disciplinary practices; sets forth other requirements.

Please file a witness slip in SUPPORT HERE.

1. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
2. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
3. In Section III, select the “Proponent” button.
4. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
5. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
6. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tonight at midnight, February 25

HB 4775 – Being called a NO-BRAINER BILL:

This bill permits students to be “pushed out” from the traditional school setting for a mere arrest. A basic tenet of the U.S. justice system is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. In essence, it disregards due process protections any accused individual is guaranteed.

This violation may result in an expulsion lasting to 2 calendar years at the discretion of individual school administration.

Discretionary application of school discipline code has been found —and continues to be observed — to have disparate impact on youth of color.

Amends the School Code. Allows a school board to suspend or authorize the superintendent of the district or the principal, assistant principal, or dean of students of a school to suspend a student for a period not to exceed 10 school days or to expel a student for a definite period of time not to exceed 2 calendar years, as determined on a case-by-case basis, if the student has been charged with a violent felony and the charges are pending or if the student has been convicted of a violent felony. Defines “violent felony”. Effective immediately.

Please file a witness slips in OPPOSITION to HB 4775 HERE.

1. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
2. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
3. In Section III, select the “Opponent” button.
4. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
5. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
6. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, February 26 at midnight

Feb 17 2014

Call to Action: Please Support SB 2760 and SB 2793 TODAY – Addressing School to Prison Pipeline

It’s that time of year again. This time, I am asking that you support two Senate bills that are intended to address school discipline issues in various ways. One focuses on school-based policing and the other on data transparency.

Sen Lightford- SB 2760 — FILE A WITNESS SLIP IN SUPPORT TODAY HERE.

Amends the School Code. Provides that (i) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed of the right not to answer any question or to make any statement in the presence of a police officer; (ii) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed of the right to have a parent, a guardian, or an attorney present during such questioning or request for a statement; (iii) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed that any information given in the presence of a police officer may result in an arrest and in the issuing of a summons and may be used in school discipline and in criminal prosecution; (iv) prior to the presence of a police officer during the questioning of a student or of a request for a statement, the school principal shall approve the presence of the police officer during the questioning of or while making a request for any statement from the student; and (v) prior to the presence of a police officer during the questioning of or while making a request for any statement from a student, a parent or guardian of the student must be given notification of the opportunity to be present during the questioning. Sets forth provisions concerning the notification, school principal and police officer consultation, and tracking and reporting data. Effective July 1, 2014.

Sen Hutchinson- SB 2793 Please file a witness slip in SUPPORT HERE.

Amends the School Code. As part of the annual school report card, requires every school to provide (i) data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency status, length of exclusion, reason for exclusion, and whether alternative educational options were provided; (ii) data on the use of arrests or criminal citations, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and alleged criminal offense; and (iii) data on student retention during and between academic years, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and the reason for the student’s departure. Sets forth requirements and exemptions concerning the data, including requiring the State Board of Education to analyze the data on an annual basis and determine the top quartile of school districts for specified metrics. Requires certain districts identified by the State Board to submit a school discipline improvement plan identifying the strategies it will implement to reduce the use of harsh disciplinary practices or reduce the disproportionality evident in its disciplinary practices; sets forth other requirements.

If you’ve never filed a witness slip before, it’s simple and only takes two minutes:
1. Go to the House Judiciary Hearing website HERE
2. Click on the right icon under the “Witness Slips” column for SB 2760 and 2793 to create witness slips.
3. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
4. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
5. In Section III, select the “Proponent” button.
6. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
7. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
8. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, February 18 at 12:30 p.m.

Jan 04 2014

Poem of the Day: Some Things Actually Just Kill You…

Some
Things
Do
Not
Make
You
Stronger…
They
Just
Make
You
DEAD.

- For Tyshawn Carter.

Dec 28 2013

10 Creative Ways That Chicagoans Addressed Violence in 2013

** This is my final recap of 2013…

Chicago has been in the spotlight over the past few years as the epitome of urban violence. The city has been dubbed the “murder capital of the U.S.” even though this is actually untrue. I’ve written and will continue to write about the various organizing and advocacy efforts by Chicagoans to address interpersonal and structural/systemic violence. Lots of people in this city are working to address violence; many in very creative ways.

Today, I want to focus on some of the creative interventions to address violence in Chicago that I’ve either been part of or have otherwise come to my attention in 2013. Thousands of people were engaged through these projects. There were of course many other efforts that I left off this list. I invite you to submit your suggestions in the comments section. Think about how you can contribute to ending violence in your own communities and then get to work!

1. 500campaign

From NBC 5 Chicago:

After the murder totals in Chicago started racking up after January of this year, South Side native Bryant Cross decided he’d seen enough.

The 28-year-old speech communications professor started thinking of effective ways to spread an anti-violence message and came up with the 500campaign, head shots of Chicagoans with the slogan “Angry Because Over 500 Youth Were Murdered in Chicago.”

**Note: The 500 youth number cited is not at annual number. Over the course of 5 years about 500 young people under 20 years old were victims of homicide in Chicago. One is too many but it’s important to be clear about what these numbers represent.

500campaign (2013)

500campaign (2013)

See more photos on pinterest or instagram.

Below is the founder of the 500campaign, Bryant Cross, talking about his campaign:

2. How Long Will I Cry? A Play and A Book

According to the Steppenwolf Theatre website:

“Woven together from interviews gathered by journalist Miles Harvey and his students at DePaul University, How Long Will I Cry? provides raw, truthful insight into the problem of youth violence. By giving voice to those who know the tragic consequences of violence first-hand—families of the victims, residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods and especially young people—How Long Will I Cry? inspires all of us to join together in search of a solution.”

The play was performed for a month earlier this year and the stories have now been compiled into a book that is available for free to Chicagoans.

“The book contains interviews with 35 people, told in Studs Terkel-style first person: current and former gang members, parents and siblings of young people who have been killed, and cops, lawyers, nurses, and community activists who are working to stop the violence.”

How Long Will I Cry – Book Trailer from Big Shoulders Books on Vimeo.

3. Uproar Chicago: A Community-Curated Audio Collage About Chicago Violence

I initiated this project and solicited support and help from friends to execute it. We asked Chicagoans to summarize their feelings about violence in one sentence. We used a central hotline to gather responses from people across Chicago. The responses were assembled into audio collages. In late April, community members gathered to listen to the audio collage and to participate in a peace circle where we could discuss our experiences and the impacts of violence in our lives.

I talk more about the project here. Below is the main audio collage.

Visit Soundcloud to listen to all of the audio from this project.

Read more »

Dec 27 2013

10 Things To Know About Juvenile Justice & Youth Criminalization in 2013

Last week, I offered a summary of some of the key issues related to the prison industrial complex in 2013. Since the main focus of my work is actually juvenile justice & youth criminalization, I decided to make another list that addresses some key 2013 developments in those areas.

1. The U.S. youth incarceration rate continues to decline but we still lock up too many children.

One of the most heartening trends over the past decade has been the steady decrease in the use of incarceration to address youth crime and misbehavior.

youthincarceration

According to a new report:

“For the 2001-to-2011 ten-year period, the number of confined youth declined by 41% nationwide, or an annual average decline of 4.1% — a dramatic drop since 2000, when a record-setting 108,802 youth were held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S. The nationwide decline in 2011 (from 70,793 to 61,423 youth) continues the trend from the previous year (the latest for which data is available), which showed youth confinement was reduced by 32% nationwide from 2001-2010.”

Unfortunately, poor black children remain disportionately targeted.

youthprisonbyrace

Since all credible research shows that incarceration and detention don’t work, many jurisdictions are relying more regularly on alternatives to youth incarceration.

2. School closings in urban centers overwhelmingly impacted youth of color (black children in particular)..

Victor Hugo has written that: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” It stands to reason that the reverse is also true: “He who closes a school door, opens a prison.” Chicago roiled in 2013 with grassroots opposition to the proposed closures of over 50 schools. Opponents contended that these school closings were racist as they would disproportionately target black students and increase the likelihood that they would be pushed out of school. Some background resources about Chicago’s school closings can be found here.

colorschoolclosures

Some of the most vocal opponents of school closures in Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C. etc… were students themselves. 9 year old Asean Johnson became a household name when he spoke out forcefully against Rahm Emanuel at a rally that I attended.

Students at Williams Elementary organized a sit-in to protest their school’s proposed closing.

Williams Elementary School Protest (2013)

Williams Elementary School Protest (2013)

In the end, Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board shut down nearly 50 schools. This was the largest mass school closing in the U.S.

Bontemps Elementary by Bill Healy (WBEZ)

Bontemps Elementary by Bill Healy (WBEZ)

Read more »

Dec 26 2013

2013 in Review: 10 Ways Chicago Youth Organize(d) to Dismantle the Carceral State

One of the many reasons that I love living in Chicago is because of the wonderfully inspiring young people who I am privileged to work with and to know. In 2013, I was as encouraged as ever by their activism and organizing. Below are just a few of the actions and campaigns that I have followed and/or supported in some way. This is not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of youth activism and organizing that has taken place in Chicago this year. For example, many young people protested and organized against ALEC when they came to Chicago for their annual conference in August. Listen to Asha, a young organizer, discuss the group’s problematic nature here. Please feel free to offer your examples in the comments section.

1. Chicago Students Opposing School Closures, High Stakes Testing, and Budget Cuts

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/15/13) - Vigil to Stop School Closings

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/15/13) – Vigil to Stop School Closings

Young people were fully engaged in the struggle against school closings. You can find some of the posts that I wrote about their activism and organizing here, here, here, and here.

At the forefront of the student mobilization were the young people of Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS).

Despite the fact that 50 schools were closed, students are not deterred. They have joined together to launch the Chicago Student Union insisting that their voices be included & heard in any educational decision-making. Chicago student activism hasn’t ebbed as they continue to protest budget cuts, high stakes testing, the school-to-prison pipeline, and education privatization.

2. Trauma Center Campaign: Fearless Leading by the Youth and Rise Chicago

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/20/13)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (11/20/13)

I started writing about the youth-led campaign to bring a level-1 trauma center for people ages 16 and over to the Southside of Chicago a couple of years ago. This year kicked off with a violent police assault against peaceful protesters (including several youth and adults who I know). There were arrests and eventual acquittals for some of the adult protesters. This event galvanized more people to join in the effort spearheaded by the youth of FLY three years ago to bring an adult trauma center to the Southside.

You can read an update about the campaign (which is ongoing) here. You can read some of my posts here, here, here, and here.

Read more »

Dec 03 2013

Sometimes We Win: SB 1342 Will Not Be Called for A Vote…

Designed by Suey Park

Designed by Suey Park


I’m happy to announce that SB 1342, Rahm Emanuel’s mandatory minimum gun bill, will not be brought up for a vote during this special December session of the General Assembly. After almost a year of consistent opposition from hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations, SB 1342 will not become Illinois law in 2013.

Legislators are promising to discuss a comprehensive approach to address violence in the Spring session. Proponents of SB 1342 are sure to offer their bill again as a part of the ‘solution’ to violence. Those of us who oppose mandatory minimums should remain vigilant but for today we deserve to exhale and to embrace this development as a win against further criminalization of black & brown young people (in particular). There are and will be other bills and policies to resist but for now SB 1342 won’t be one of them.

It’s difficult for me to express my feelings today. As an organizer, too often, I dwell on the losses while skirting over the wins. Yet it is the wins that make it possible to keep moving forward. It is the wins (no matter how small or ephemeral) that provide the reserves for continued struggle.

I don’t spend most of time standing in the doorway saying ‘no.’ I prefer to work on building the world that I want to live in. But there are times, and SB 1342 was one of those times, when it’s important to stand up and push back against an injustice. Sometimes it’s important to just say ‘no.’

To all of the people who said NO TO HB 2265/SB 1342 over the past year, my profound appreciation. These words by Alice Walker express how I feel about the importance of taking action in the world. I offer them to all of you who acted against SB 1342 with gratitude.

“I have learned to accept the fact that we risk disappointment, disillusionment, even despair, every time we act. Every time we decide to believe the world can be better. Every time we decide to trust others to be as noble as we think they are. And that there might be years during which our grief is equal to, or even greater than, our hope. The alternative, however, not to act, and therefore to miss experiencing other people at their best, reaching toward their fullness, has never appealed to me.”

La lucha continua! But for today I’m just going to say…

excitedmaya

and also DANCE!!

Oct 19 2013

Children’s Art About Jail or Prison…

Village Leadership Academy Student

Village Leadership Academy Student

My organization was invited to speak to students (K-7th grade) at Village Leadership Academy about our work. One of our volunteers, Bianca Diaz who is an artist, kindly agreed to speak to the students. She incorporated art in her presentation by asking students to respond to the following question visually: “What do you think it would be like to be in jail or prison?” Bianca uploaded some of the student created art HERE. I’ve included a few examples of their art below. If you are in Chicago on November 9, join us for a conversation about how to explain prison & jail to children with incarcerated loved ones. Details are HERE.

Read more »