Carmen Perez Urges NY Legislators: Raise The Age RIGHT.

As the debate continues on “Raising the Age” of criminal responsibility, it’s a contentious time for advocates seeking justice in a broken system that continues to oppress our children by automatically trying and prosecuting them as adults.

While deals are being negotiated and agreements are being reached between the Independent Democratic Conference and Senate Republicans, we must not turn a blind eye to the political jockeying and divisive rhetoric that has turned this debate on its head.

On April 3rd, while speaking on the status of New York State’s budget during intense negotiations, Long Island Republican Senator Tom Croci used disparaging language to describe thousands of children who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system.

In a statement that was soon deleted from his Facebook page and website, Croci said, “The Governor and the Assembly Speaker care more about keeping teenage drug gang members, murderers and rapists out of jail than they do about funding our public schools, providing tax relief for our families and rebuilding our infrastructure.”

Senator Croci’s blanket statements are an assault on tens of thousands of Black and Brown children who are funneled through the adult prison system - whether or not they’ve committed a crime. Seventy-two percent are only charged with a misdemeanor - and the truth is, Raise The Age only applies to 16- and 17-year-olds who are charged with a nonviolent crime.

We can’t sit by idly while Republicans use fear to criminalize our youth in an attempt to appeal to conservative constituents and get trumped up policies passed. We must question their ethics and call them out for misleading the public with racist stereotypes and blatant falsehoods. Would the Senator use this rhetoric to describe his constituents’ children in suburban Long Island when they fall into the system? While it wasn’t explicitly stated, Croci had a particular group of people in mind when he made those comments, and he did it to target legislation known as “Raise The Age.” Conversely, the Senator showed exceptional compassion — with dollars to back it up — for the (mostly White) heroin and opioid drug users in his district.

New York State would have a Democratic majority, but eight Senators who ran as Democrats in our city essentially became voting Republicans once they showed up in Albany. The “Independent Democratic Conference” or IDC has flipped the majority in favor of Republicans like Tom Croci. Democrats like Senators Marisol Alcantara, Jose Peralta, Jesse Hamilton and others have sold out their constituents for the most base of reasons — a vanity title and a bigger office with a bigger budget. The lack of integrity is shocking.

They are the reason that New York State is about to pass a budget that will continue to funnel black and brown youth through the “school-to-prison pipeline”. At the beginning of the pipeline, this budget will continue under-funding public schools in order to give charter schools the advantage. At the other end, New York will likely “Raise the Age” while still charging black and brown youth with lengthy adult sentences and denying the chance at rehabilitation through the sealing of juvenile records.

Certainly New York’s children do not benefit from this budget. Neither do their families. The jails, prisons and other for-profit entities continue to economically thrive as the juggernaut and destructive force in our community. Where is the justice?

Governor Cuomo and the IDC must stop playing politics and do the right thing. When we treat our children like seasoned criminals, we strip them of their right to change and grow, and we knowingly put their safety and welfare at risk. If you want justice for our young people, if you want to end the school-to-prison pipeline, if you believe that children should be treated like children — then please demand from your state lawmakers that New York do better. We MUST Raise the Age RIGHT.

Carmen Perez, Executive Director, The Gathering for Justice / Founder Justice League NYC & CA / National Co-Chair, Women’s March on Washington