Jurists, advocates, educators, and everyday New Yorkers testified at our “Raise the Age” Hearing earlier this year. We heard from witnesses possessing a great deal of experience, from practicing criminal law before our courts, to sitting judges who administer innovate programs that help young people, to youth directly impacted by New York’s deeply flawed system. One story stood out. A young man treated as an adult by our justice system while still a teenager, Lywan Reed shared his experience with us – his experience of being treated as an adult while still a child, his experience of terror in our prisons, his experience of solitary confinement. Those experiences call into question whether we can say we have a justice system at all.
Now, several years later, Reed is working to get his life on the right track, pursue and education and contribute to our community. Reed and every young person who has been brutalized by New York’s justice system, their families, and our communities deserve better. Kalief Browder and the memories of those who died due to this unjust system deserve better. That’s why I will not vote for a state budget that does not Raise the Age.
That’s why my seven colleagues in the IDC have agreed to that same commitment. New Yorkers need us to pursue a justice system that has the twice blessed quality of mercy, instead of a justice system with too little compassion, too little forgiveness, and too little wisdom to see that children should not be treated the same as adults.
My personal journey, growing up in public housing in the Bronx to becoming a state Senator today, has given me some perspective into the difference surviving and making a living. It feels like a world of living with institutions not built for you, not welcoming your participation, and not celebrating your successes. I do not want my daughter, my son, or any child, any New Yorker to be overcome by such feelings – along that path lay despair.
Instead, I want a world where my son can walk the streets confident that police will protect and serve him alongside every other New Yorker. I want a world where my daughter does not have to cope with the crisis of missing black girls in our nation’s capital. Even in the face of these challenges, as someone who has worked in my community for more than two decades, I know despair is never the answer.
I appreciate the role advocates have continued to play in building that better world for all our children, in holding my colleagues and me accountable as policymakers. In addition to the critical work of raising awareness and taking a stand, we need to get Raise the Age through the entire legislature and onto the statute books. Senate math is unyielding, one must obtain at least 32 votes to succeed.
Everyone must undertake the work of building consensus, reaching out to members whose districts are leafy green suburbs or quiet farming communities with more cows than people, those senators too must be convinced of the many merits of Raise the Age. That’s why Lywan sharing his story, the continued voices of activists, and the range of expertise presented at our hearing are critical to our cause.
Even were we to get 100% of our demands on Raise the Age, our efforts can not end there. We must continue on the road of advancing criminal justice reform, and still further continually pushing that project of social justice forward including health justice, environmental justice, economic justice, justice for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, justice for our immigrant communities, and much more beyond.
This push for justice we are collectively engaged in is not a one-off. There is no single moment when of triumph and thereafter we can rest on our laurels. As policymakers, as advocates, as New Yorkers, we must be constantly engage with the struggle, we too must continue to strive. Strive for better workplace safety like the car wash workers with our carwasheros fair wage movement. Strive for quality education for students in Brownsville where I helped found “the Campus,” the first tech and wellness hub at a public housing site in the United States. And strive for better police-community confidence as with the campaign to end broken windows policing, reform policing, and rebuild strained relations.
How we meet these challenges will determine whether we can say we truly affirm the human dignity of all our fellow New Yorkers.