Civil Rights Group Encouraged by Obama Administration’s Commitment to Addressing Racial Inequality

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                         

February 27, 2014                                                                                        

Contact: Jennifer Farmer, 202.487.0967



Statement from Advancement Project

Civil Rights Group Encouraged by Obama Administration’s Commitment to Addressing Racial Inequality

Today President Barack Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative aimed at improving the lives of boys and young men of color through new federal efforts to expand opportunities to them through education and employment. The announcement follows the recent release of guidance, from the Departments of Education and Justice, addressing racial disparities in school discipline. Additionally, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on February 11 his support for restoring the voting rights of people with felony convictions. The civil rights organization Advancement Project – which for more than a decade has worked on ending the school-to-prison pipeline, advancing educational equity, restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions, and preventing community violence – released the following statement in response:

“It is momentous that in the first 60 days of this year, both President Obama and Attorney General Holder have addressed barriers to opportunity that are facing people of color, especially young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “These major policy initiatives are possible due to the work of grassroots advocates across the country, who have been elevating these issues.

“We are pleased that the Obama Administration will focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline caused by overuse of suspensions and arrests, pushing young people off of an academic track and onto a track to prison.  Our national discipline crisis requires immediate attention.  All too often, Black and Latino youth are punished more severely than their White peers for minor misbehavior, ultimately cutting off educational opportunities. Yet the most effective ways to create safe, nurturing environments for young people include investing in counselors, fostering stronger adult-student relationships, and proven programs to help young people manage conflict, like restorative justice.

“It is not lost on us that the president’s announcement comes weeks after the Department of Education and the Justice Department released guidance about racial disparities in school discipline. While President Obama has spoken often about supporting young people of color, we are heartened by his willingness to address racial inequities not only through words, but through tangible actions.”

“We are encouraged to see President Obama use his platform to specifically support boys and young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Constance L. Rice. “From our work in the city of Los Angeles’ gang violence hot zones, we know that community safety is of paramount importance to this demographic, with young Black men 10 times more likely and young Latino men three times more likely to be killed by guns than young White men. We need a comprehensive, public health-based community safety strategy to reverse this trend.

“There is also a need for improved relationships between law enforcement and communities of color, as police play a big role in why Black and Latino youth are disproportionately and unnecessarily tracked into the juvenile justice system. For example, individual law enforcement personnel have significant discretion in how they handle each contact with youth – they can choose to cite and bring them into the juvenile justice system, or they can engage and divert them to alternatives. Changing the way police interact with young people, through training and policy reform, can dramatically impact whether youth enter the juvenile justice system. 

And while too many young men of color enter the justice system, too few also graduate and enter college, derailing their access to opportunity. It is our hope that the president’s new initiative will additionally take on policies to ensure that school resources are appropriately allocated to communities that need it the most – not just those who advocate for it loudest.

We are excited that this administration sees the importance of addressing the many ways in which young men of color are tracked into the justice system, and we look forward to having that commitment translated into policies that will foster equal opportunities for all Americans.”

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