Opinion: Rolling back Raise the Age isn’t the answer

Raise the age
Raise the age
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Raise the age

Opinion: Rolling back Raise the Age isn’t the answer

Lawmakers can’t pursue strategies that dilute effective reforms and fail to get at the root causes of violence through short-sighted legislative roll-backs.
January 18, 2022

In 2022, our leaders in Albany must remain committed to the task of creating a fairer youth justice system which requires steadfast support of the Raise the Age law. At the same time, we cannot ignore the troubling increase in gun violence that our New York City neighborhoods are experiencing, which has many feeling justifiably afraid. Everyone deserves to be safe. The question is how to responsibly and justly respond in ways that best ensure the public safety of our fellow community members, especially those in marginalized communities who are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.

In non-COVID times, communities like ours in Harlem have long-suffered from the tragedy and trauma of gun violence. Sadly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increased levels of gun violence in Harlem and other communities around the country. Let us resolve to meet this moment with a firm commitment to sufficiently and holistically address the root causes of gun violence along with the attributing COVID factors that are driving violence in marginalized neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Gun violence is a poverty issue. 

Communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence need high-quality education and vocational programs, accessible and culturally competent mental health services, youth engagement programs, living wage jobs, green spaces, safe and affordable housing, and programs like Cure Violence that strengthen anti-violence social norms and peer relationships.

It is not the time to retreat from Raise the Age, the law which, prior to the pandemic, was part of historic reductions in youth arrests and improved community safety. The data speaks for itself: during the first 18 months the law was in effect, shootings in New York City remained the lowest they have been in decades.

Despite this evidence, critics claim that the law needs to be changed to prosecute adolescents charged with gun possession in adult criminal court, but that’s not the case. Under the current law, a judge can keep cases like these in the adult court where they find that the youth is not amenable to services, has a history of repeated offenses or any other number of factors. 

Yes, we must act, but we can’t pursue strategies that dilute effective reforms and fail to get at the root causes of violence through short-sighted legislative roll-backs. To address youth gun violence, we need a public health, anti-poverty response. Governor Hochul’s recent announcements on strengthening state investments in community-based gun violence intervention programs are the right next steps—and we can keep building on them. 

Supporting youth means building better and safer communities. Our leaders in Albany must continue to support Raise the Age and commit to investing in resources that will reach young people who need them most.

Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr. is Senior Pastor of Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church Harlem and Kercena A. Dozier is Executive Director of Children's Defense Fund-New York.

 

Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr., and Kercena A. Dozier
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