In the aftermath of the tragic death of Michael Brown, LDF and Dignity in Schools call for an end to criminalization of youth. LDF is a federal liaison for the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) an umbrella for 84 organizations from 22 states dedicated to reforming overly punitive discipline practices that disproportionately push students of color out of school and into the juvenile justice system. 

Youth, parents, educators and advocates from the Dignity in Schools Campaign have come together in response to the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.

What happened in Ferguson 10 days ago has left all of us stunned, speechless and grieving. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with the family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors of Michael Brown and the entire Ferguson community.

News reports have shown us an incredibly tense yet powerful tight-knit community in Ferguson – one in which community members have stood up to call for justice in response to the unjust taking of the life of another young man of color by law enforcement.

Niaa Monee a recent graduate of North STL County Tech of St. Louis, Misssouri, and a leader at DSC member organization Missouri GSA Network, states, “I feel that we as young people really don’t have a say so in the world. It’s all about how the adults feel. Why can’t young people speak? Mike Brown didn’t deserve what happened to him, as well as all the other young people who this has happened to. Young people need to be heard, not shot. We are being criminalized and pushed out for being who we are.”

Janel George of DSC member organization NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. states, “Increased violence against unarmed African-American youth is an unfortunate manifestation of misguided attitudes and racial stereotypes that criminalize African-American youth.”

Our children need to learn, grow, and thrive in places where they feel safe, loved, encouraged, and welcomed. Yet many schools are turning to law enforcement in response to concerns about safety, even as tragedies such as this one demonstrate that for many young people, especially youth of color, police and other law enforcement threaten the sense of safety and security we want for all students in the school environment.

“It seems like the police are just targeting Black youth. What happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson is unfair and a sign of the increased criminalization of our communities.  This is not the first murder of an unarmed Black man at the hands of law enforcement. In Oakland I have lived through the Oscar Grant and Rahiem Brown murders. So I stand in solidarity with the community in Ferguson because my community has experienced the same trauma. Incidents like this is why my organization fights to keep police out of schools because no child wants to fear for their life while getting their education. We are students not suspects,” states Reginae Hightower, youth member of the Black Organizing Project in Oakland, a member of the DSC Bay-Area Chapter.

As a national coalition of groups that work for justice in our communities everyday, we are humbled by the strength and leadership shown by the protesters and organizers on the ground in Ferguson. We stand in support of the  demands issued by the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the national Hands Up Don’t Shoot Coalition

We must ensure that the response to this tragedy does not lead to greater criminalization of young people and communities. Furthermore, we cannot lose sight of the broader concerns this tragedy raises about the criminalization of youth of color. Please read the Statement by Youth of Color On School Safety and Gun Violence in America, which was generated by youth leaders and organizers from across the country–the real experts on how to reduce violence in our schools and communities. As we grieve, we must continue to support local efforts to bring peace to Ferguson and communities across the country that are fighting for justice. 

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