Letter from the Director

gina

October 31, 2014

Dear Parents, Friends, Supporters, and Youth,

As we reflect on Halloween, and the holidays around the corner, it is important that we consider how we are taking care of ourselves and our community. If a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, we should look at the lives of the children around us. Today we celebrate the life and mourn the loss of 15-year-old activist George Carter who was shot and killed here in New Orleans. He is the second 15-year-old to die by gunfire in under two weeks. We must protect our children.

And protecting them from violence also means shielding them from state violence. October is Youth Justice Awareness Month and FFLIC is honored to be participating. The Campaign for Youth Justice, who helps facilitate this national event, is fighting to stop the practice of youth being tried as adults. According to their report, each year over 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, and incarcerated as adults across the United States.

We designate children “juveniles” because we acknowledge that children cannot be held responsible for their actions in the same way that adults are. We acknowledge that they shouldn’t be voting, drinking, or gambling because their brains aren’t fully formed and they lack impulse control. They are more vulnerable than adults. We should be protecting them.

Indeed, that is the whole justification for the juvenile justice system. We recognize that children should be given second chances to grow up and to mature. We show mercy and compassion and acknowledge that their actions are often dictated by circumstances beyond their control. We see that they should be taught and nurtured, not brutally punished.

This is why it is especially important that we do not make exceptions. No matter the severity of the crime, the perpetrator is still a child: still malleable, still impressionable. Chances are, that child has already experienced far more suffering and trauma than we would expect any person to reasonably endure. What they need from us, and from society, is structure, love, compassion, re-direction, and help. What they do not need from us is to be sent to fend for themselves in an adult cell.

Here in New Orleans, it is especially important that we don’t allow youth to be sent to Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), a site known for its violence, corruption, and rampant mismanagement. Just this week, NOLA.com reported that many inmate deaths at the prison go unreported. We do not even know the scale of the danger we are putting people into when we send them to live in those 6-foot cells—especially if they are children. Equally importantly, do we expect them to find hope and rehabilitation inside those walls?

We are judged by how well we take care of our brothers and our sisters, our children and our parents. We are judged by the depth of the compassion we can show. We must protect our 15-year-olds on the streets and our 14-year-olds behind bars. We must save the children who one day find themselves on one side of a gun or the other.

Yours in Solidarity,

Gina Womack