Over-Policing Black Children and Youth Won’t Solve Violence

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January 18, 2023
Blog Post

Families across the District are reeling and demanding answers after the murder of 13-year-old Karon Blake by a still unnamed resident on the morning of January 7. The police have been slow to release details, but we know that the man allegedly confronted Karon, accused him of breaking into cars, and shot him after an altercation. It should not have to be said, but a child’s life is infinitely more valuable than any amount of property, and Karon, his family, and our communities deserve justice.

This murder is the latest example of Black children and youth being seen as older and less innocent than their white peers. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Use of Force data from 2021 shows nearly 600 incidents involving children and youth ages 24 and younger. A quarter were children seventeen and younger. The data tells us that 565 out of 586 incidents in which police used force, were with Black children and youth.

The most common incidents in which police used force involved them pointing a firearm.

In 2021, there were 76 incidents in which police pointed firearms at children under eighteen. Seventy of those children were Black. There were 124 incidents with youth ages 18-24, all Black.

Police also searched Black youth under 18 far more often than their white peers: 707 compared to just seven. Black young people under 18 were stopped at more than 10 times the rate of their white peers in 2021, with an even greater disparity for Black versus white boys.

There are points of progress and accountability worth noting, but they only underscore the work left to do. A couple of weeks ago, the District made history by charging and convicting an on-duty police officer of murder for the first time. The victim, Karon Hylton-Brown, was twenty years old.

Some argue that heavy policing is necessary to respond to the District’s gun violence. Indeed, children should never have to deal with that violence. Yet 16 District children (seventeen and younger) were killed in 2022, 12 in 2021, 11 in 2020, and 14 in 2019. Another 522 children were non-fatally shot in 2019 and 2020 alone (we don’t have data on non-fatal shootings by age for 2021 and 2022). We have a long way to go to ensure our young people are safe.

But the District’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Office of Gun Violence Prevention don’t recommend overall increases in policing to address gun violence. They support identifying and providing intervention services to the small number of District residents – many of whom are youth – at the highest risk of continuing cycles of violence. And they endorse investing more in the most historically underserved communities. They say that those intervention services could include educational support, family financial support, mental health support, and mentoring. After all, we know that many District children and youth – particularly those of color – face barriers to educational and economic opportunity.

The District’s youth deserve better than what the current approach has offered them. We will be supporting our young people today as cosponsor of the DC Girls Coalition’s Youth Summit, where we’ll get a chance to hear from some of them about their experiences in school and the community. Hopefully, we adults can better understand and be more motivated to address ways our systems can better ensure that all kids have the opportunity to reach their full potential.