It’s hard to fault opinion writer James Gill for sharing the Orleans Parish district attorney’s claims about juvenile crime in his recent column. We should be able to trust our elected officials to give us accurate data, and who better to talk about crime than the city’s top prosecutor?
Unfortunately, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro is misleading the media and his constituents, and not for the first time. Just as he used fake subpoenas to scare witnesses into testifying, he is using inaccurate data to scare the public into supporting his “lock ‘em up” policies. His target this time: children.
Cannizzaro claims that violent juvenile crime has hit record levels when, in fact, it has been steadily declining for the past two decades. Just recently, the city’s public safety analyst reported that children charged with violent offenses made up just 1.6 percent of all arrests last year. While we must take every incident of violence seriously, children are hardly “the biggest crime problem of 2019,” as the DA claims.
This fear-mongering is likely meant to justify the DA’s severe treatment of young people, including his practice of prosecuting children as adults. Research shows that these policies don’t make us safer. In fact, incarcerating youth — especially in adult jails and prisons — makes them more likely to commit crimes in the future.
There are other consequences, however unintended, of the DA’s rhetoric. In a city where 95 percent of children arrested are black, his exaggerated claims about juvenile crime perpetuate the stereotype that black youth are inherently dangerous. This stereotype is one reason why black youth are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted as adults, and incarcerated. It’s also why black children are more likely to be killed by law enforcement.
Cannizzaro must stop vilifying young people and start doing what actually works to make us safer. Even when children do cause serious harm, we must hold them accountable in ways that are proven to reduce crime and get kids on the right track. To do that, we need policies based in facts, not fear.
policy director, Louisiana Center for Children's Rights