At the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, we feel revulsion and disgust at the violence on January 6 and the lawless efforts to deny the will of the voters. Every day more videos show the horrific violence in the Capitol building by goons and rioters bent on overturning the lawful election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. There are multiple Investigations into the astonishing failure of police and federal agencies to prevent and control the chaos.
The foundation of our democracy is respect for the rule of law, and we condemn those individuals – public officials as well as rioters – who have worked so actively to undermine that foundation. We hope that young people will see that violence is dangerous, harmful, and wrong.
But we fear that young people will get a different message from these events – a message about who we fear and who we favor.
Last summer as police and federal agencies prepared for demonstrations in Washington, DC following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others at the hands of police, the prevention and control measures were dramatic. Although the vast majority of protests across the country by those seeking racial and social justice had been peaceful, federal and local officials responded with an overwhelming military presence.
Yet last month when a mob of racist white supremacist insurrectionists made plans to invade the city, declare war, and commit savagery, the authorities provided minimal protection of the Capitol, and some law enforcement officers openly supported the rioters.
In the youth justice system, as in every other aspect of American life, racism is an omnipresent evil. The plans for a strong Black presence in the Capital to call for an end to police killings prompted a wall of military might. In comparison, the plans by white seditionists to invade the Capitol and violently overthrow the work of Congress led authorities to put up what amounted to a picket fence, easily scaled or pushed out of the way. This contrast shows how deep racism and white supremacy are ingrained in American power structures and institutions, including law enforcement.
What message does this send to our children about who we fear and who we favor? The youth justice system denigrates young people of color in a hundred different ways every day. The message they get about themselves is that they are dangerous, disruptive, and need to be controlled by overwhelming force. At CCLP, we have seen this in police encounters, juvenile detention centers, state commitment facilities, courtrooms, and probation offices. Law enforcement authorities in the District of Columbia have now reinforced that message. That is not acceptable to us at CCLP, nor should it be to anyone.
We are humbled to work alongside advocates, community members, and young people who share the goal of dismantling the elements of white supremacy that pervade the youth justice system – and we will continue the fight.