On Tuesday we listened at a forum that featured a deep panel of people engaged with issues of juvenile justice.
The police chief of Brooklyn Park, Mark Bruley, indicated he and his team can sadly predict with some accuracy who will be the next youth victim or shooter in the community. He said, yes, there are too many people with easy access to guns, but we also need to understand "the desire for a young man to get a gun, the power that he feels he possesses when he has that gun."
Bruley noted, "We've never seen police pursuits like we do now. It is a game that a small group of juveniles play — to steal a car, find a police officer, and get into a pursuit; even 12 year old girls are doing this. There is an unusual calling to be involved in this really risky behavior."
He indicated that regulations restrict cooperation between schools, hospital personnel, and law enforcement, so a team approach cannot yet be made to align resources into prevention and intervention for the small percentage of juvenile offenders.
Newly elected Hennepin County attorney general Mary Moriarty said this particular collaborative approach — with healthy-masculinity advocates, the Brooklyn Park mayor, violence prevention workers, a police chief, and the county attorney general together in a panel discussion — was unique. She said it brings her hope that new partnerships will actually be able to build a more effective system of public safety. She indicated, as did others on the panel, how transformative justice for youth can serve as a diversion from crime in a way that punishment alone does not.
Panelists included community advocates Kevin Reese, Jamil Jackson, and Tekoa Cochran
. They talked about the differences between the concepts of accountability and responsibility; the latter being attuned to what it means to be part of a community that looks out for each other, which feeds a need of many struggling youth.
Moriarty and Sasha Cotton, strategy director for the National Network for Safe Communities, indicated that punishment does not automatically help victims heal from violent crime. Moriarty said, "What does justice mean? For some people that means [seeing] a long prison sentence. For others, it doesn't. As county attorney, what I have to look at in every individual case is what we can do with this particular youth to keep the community safe. When we're talking about youth, [as another speaker indicated earlier], no matter what type of heinous act they commit, they are still youth and they have an opportunity to be rehabilitated."
Moriarty added that a 12-year-old in the system now is probably being sent to a program in Utah because we don't have anywhere local to put him — we still don't have the resources we need to deal effectively with prevention and intervention.
Cotton added that after she was the victim of a violent crime, and the perpetrator was given a long sentence, "it did not make me feel safe. What I learned about their histories was multiple child juvenile cases and traumas in their life. I don't even know if they are continuing to cause harm or if they have done some reduction [of harm] work because the system doesn't really give us an answer."
A deeper story will appear in our upcoming "Melanated Main Streets" series at womenspress.com, as will a story from Friday when a diverse cohort gathered in Brooklyn Center to learn more about conflict resolution as a step toward deep democracy.