Youth Voice: How Mass Incarceration Imprisons the Black Community

By Zarea Boyde

What is the biggest issue facing your community and what should be done about it? This is the question select Dunbar High students answered in a two-minute "Project Soapbox" speech in participation with the Mikva Challenge, an organization that develops youth to be empowered, informed, and active citizens.

This story is an edited version of 10th grader Zarea Boyde’s speech. Boyde was a finalist at Mikva Challenge D.C.'s citywide Project Soapbox competition in December.

Even though we make up only 12 percent of the population, 40 percent of the black community is imprisoned today, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. That means two out of every five black people are incarcerated.

Not only is this a violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on unjust detainment, arrest, or exile, it also diminishes the black community as a whole. Our communities are already dealing with the after effects of our past—slavery, segregation, and other atrocities—and mass incarceration ruins the future for many young people within our community.

For example, if the person you look up to, like your father, brother, cousin, or uncle, is removed from the community and placed in prison or jail, it makes it harder on those left to fend for themselves.

A main cause of this issue is the corruption within our nation’s police force. Let’s be real—many police officers are white males, and many of them work within the inner city or ghettos throughout our nation. Many don’t live in the areas they serve and are fearful of African Americans because they don’t understand or can’t relate to us.

Another big issue is the privatization of prisons. Many prisons see their prisoners as a paycheck. This causes more people to be funneled into prisons, raising their imprisonment rate so they can expand the amount of money they make, or profit.

It truly is all about the dollar bill to them, not even thinking of the families and communities they wreck. This in turn may cause police officers to profile and imprison African Americans.

As a community—no, as a people—we need to stop being silent about injustice within the African American community and speak out. The criminal justice system should be overhauled to reflect the times of today. We should lobby our local, state, and national officials to make this happen.

For our law enforcement community, cultural sensitivity training would be useful as well as just getting to know those in the community in which they serve, or community policing.

A little can really go a long way. Having more opportunities to talk in a structured setting would be beneficial for enforcement and community leaders so that we can see we are more alike than not. America, we have a lot of work to do, but we can do it.

Zarea Boyde is a 10th grade Law and Public Policy student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington D.C.

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