Thursday, October 25, 2007

"It's not just Jena": a message from NAACP Interim President Dennis Courtland Hayes

NAACP Interim President & CEO
Dennis Courtland Hayes

Dear Community Supporters,

Just a few weeks ago now, hundreds of thousands of supporters like you banded together to call for justice for the Jena 6. Because of our outcry, all eyes are on Jena. These six young men still face prosecution by a DA who has taken it on himself to administer two systems of justice - one for blacks and one for whites. The legal battle there is clearly far from over, but the NAACP will be there all the way.

And while the situation in Jena has captured the country's attention, it is by no means an isolated incident. The case reflects a disturbing national trend involving disparate, and often violent, treatment of African American youth in the criminal justice system.

In Tallahasee, Florida 14-year old Martin Lee Anderson died while in the custody at the Bay County Boot Camp last year. On October 12 an all white jury acquitted deputies and a nurse who participated in the videotaped violent abuse that resulted in his death...

...15- year old Shelwanda Riley was thrown around, punched and pepper sprayed by a Ft. Pierce, Florida police officer, a man roughly twice her size, as he tried to arrest her for a non-violent curfew violation...

...Isaiah Simmons, 17, died after struggling with five adult staff of the Bowling Brook Preparatory School, a privately run residential program under contract with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. Witnesses said the staffers sat on the boy's limbs, chest and head. He was then restrained for three hours. The state medical examiner ruled his death a homicide...

...Videotape showed Donovan Jackson-Chavis, 16, being slammed to the ground, tossed into the air, bounced on the hood of a squad car and choked by police as they handcuffed him for supposedly not dropping a bag of potato chips at a convenience store in Inglewood, California.

When the very people who are the caretakers of America's criminal justice system don't believe that all are equal under the law, it sends a message that racism and hate are acceptable. They are not. With your support, the NAACP will aggressively pursue these and hundreds of other cases of police misconduct and discrimination targeting African American youth.

We are calling on local and state authorities as well as Congress to investigate these and other incidents of abuse, and the Attorney General to mandate federal prosecution of hate crimes.
This month NAACP units across the country are holding hearings, town hall meetings, rallies and marches in their own communities to demand that African American youth are treated with the dignity and fairness that they deserve under the law.

This wave of violence and intimidation against our youth is unacceptable, it's against the law and it must end now. With your help, we'll shine a light on those who hide their racist acts behind our criminal justice system.

Dennis Courtland Hayes

NAACP Interim President and CEO

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