More than 50 people turned out Sunday at an alternative bookstore on the West Side to launch a grassroots effort aimed at keeping kids out of prison.
Buffalo’s first Day of Action Against Incarcerating Youth began with a screening of “The Jena 6,” a documentary chronicling the arrest and prosecution of six African-American teenaged boys who beat up a white classmate in 2006 outside their high school in Jena, La.
The white district attorney, Reed Walters, charged the youths with attempted murder and promised to seek a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison, stirring outrage in the black community.
The screening inside Burning Books on Connecticut Street was followed by a spirited “community speak out,” in which several speakers discussed a so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” that is ruining the lives of many of the nation’s young people.
“Many of these youth are not criminals,” said one man who identified himself as Malik. “They’re in jail for drugs. They’re stressed and depressed. … To criminalize a child, a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old child, is criminal.”
Statistics discussed at the event told a grim tale: 250,000 young people are prosecuted as adults each year in New York State; nationwide, six times more tax dollars are spent on prisons than are spent on kindergarten through 12th-grade education; and more than three-quarters of the state’s prisoners are black or Hispanic.
Sunday’s event was one of about 25 across the country, said Morgan Dunbar, an organizer.
“The criminalization of our youth, it’s happening all over the place,” said Dunbar. “We should not give up on anyone.”
Locally, Dunbar said she was interested in focusing on the youth detention facility in Buffalo.
“It needs public attention,” she said. “Right now, I’m not sure it’s getting enough.”
Save the Kids, a national grassroots group, started the Global Day of Action Against Incarcerating Youth, choosing May 19 because it is close to the time when students are getting out of school for the summer and because it is the birthday of Malcolm X, the slain civil rights and black liberation leader.