Last Friday, SMART Youth continued our Hot Topics series with a meeting called “Where is the Justice?” where we discussed how crime and punishment can vary depending on who is accused or where you live. This can lead to different legal outcomes.
Our youth brought up many examples of how violence is perceived based on who you are. In the case of Ray Rice, the NFL player who was caught on camera assaulting his the fiancée in an elevator, his violence was seen much differently than when Solange Knowles (Beyonce’s sister) was caught on camera assaulting Jay-Z in an elevator. Because of the gender differences, Ray Rice’s situation became a very serious matter (as it should have been), yet Solange’s situation was generally laughed off.
Sometimes, these differences also lead to discriminatory outcomes for those accused of crimes. An example of this is how there are racial and class differences in the way students are disciplined in schools. Students of color are more likely to be seen as disruptive in school and more likely to be suspended or expelled. This discrimination contributes to higher rates of students of color getting left back or not completing school.
Who is responsible for serving justice? In the many examples that were talked about, the punishments were given by groups not traditionally seen as enforcers. For instance, the NFL suspended Ray Rice indefinitely for the assault. Some feel that this was the right move by the NFL, but others feel that it is not the organization’s responsibility to punish their players for criminal offenses; that it should only be the responsibility of law enforcement.
For sexual assault on school campuses, campus disciplinary boards are the ones deliberating these cases instead of law enforcement. Part of the reason why these groups are seen as responsible is because law enforcement often fails to hold perpetrators accountable for offenses like domestic violence and sexual assault. On the flip side, school discipline has moved from the hands of school administrators to law enforcement, which many feel is excessive because it exposes children to the justice system instead of dealing with discipline in-house. This also has negative effects on children.
Our justice system is far from perfect, something that our youth have talked about regarding multiple circumstances, including HIV Criminalization. We as youth should be committed to advocating for those who are unfairly treated by the system in the hopes that it will be practiced fairly for everyone in the near future.