Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

Gang bill unfairly targets youth of color, doesn’t solve safety issues

Christina 02/01/11

 

A so-called “gang bill” put forth in the state legislature this year, House Bill 1126, is not really a gang bill. Rather, it’s a bill that allows law enforcement to racially profile youth of color and suspect them of gang-related activity based on where they are, how they dress, and who they’re with.

Children’s Alliance opposes this bill, standing strong with dozens of organizations, communities of color and coalitions against it. We believe that H.B. 1126 unfairly targets youth of color already overrepresented in the juvenile detention and prison systems and further damages vulnerable families in historically blighted communities.

The bill allows law enforcement officials to send young people to court based on what they’re wearing, who they’re with, and where they are. If officials know that a gang exists in a poorer neighborhood where minors live and hang out, they don’t need for a specific young person to commit a crime to get a court order. Once in court, a judge can issue the juvenile an injunction that subjects them to curfews and distance rules from certain community centers or landmarks.

The young person is automatically classified as dangerous, has no right to be appointed an attorney, and may be banned from being in an area altogether. If he or she returns to the area or oversteps a boundary accidentally and is charged with a crime, they will be cut off from where family, jobs, sports, school and other lifelines are, and can be sent to adult prison.

Rather than reduce gang activity, H.B. 1126 would ensure targeted youth of color are cut off from the very preventive measures known to reverse patterns of juvenile delinquency.

Let’s turn the clock back to when an incarcerated adult was a child. Was he or she safe, fed, supported and healthy? Children’s Alliance knows that these indicators of child well-being show troubling disparities by race, which are often created and maintained inadvertently through public policies and practices.

We also know that inequity begins in the crib, when struggling, young parents who work hard to support their children still cannot afford the basics, including food, quality child care and health care proven to help children become successful adults.

Once enrolled in the K-12 school system, children of color – especially Latino and black children – are punished disproportionately in the classroom without the supports they need to succeed. This creates a pipeline for poor kids into the juvenile justice system, where the same racial profiling happens to much larger punitive consequences.

Dorry Elias-Garcia, executive director of Minority Executive Directors Coalition (MEDC), spoke against the bill, saying:

“What we need is to get kids out of gangs and to prevent them from getting into gangs in the first place.”

We couldn’t agree more. All young people deserve a fair start in life. H.B. 1126 robs them of this opportunity. Rather than punishing specific populations for threatening public safety, we should enact our Washington values by equipping families with child care assistance, health coverage and food assistance they need to climb out of poverty.

Let’s stand strong with Washington’s families and offer them a future where prison is no longer on the horizon for our most vulnerable children. Sign this e-petition to tell legislators you disapprove of this racial profiling bill. View this clip of Juan Ramirez from El Comite Pro-Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social, as he shares how this bill will further damage him and his Latino community.