By Mokah Jasmine Johnson
Did you know one out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison, compared to 1 out of 6 Latino boys; 1 out of 17 White boys? Reported by Sentencing Project. That’s 33% of black boys compared to less than 6 % of white boys expected to serve time behind bars. And unfortunately, under the new “Georgia Criminal Street Gang Law” the pathway to incarceration became easier for three or more individuals who allegedly broke the law.
Over the past several years, many Black mothers and fathers within Athens Clarke County have lost their children to gun violence, drug overdose, and mainly to incarceration. And the unfortunate news is that if we don’t figure out how to work together as a community to protect our youth, we will continue to lose many more black and brown boys and girls, ages 16-27, to mass incarceration and gangs.
Last year, Governor Kemp signed into law the “Criminal Street Gang Act,” which holds a 10-year sentence if any organization or group of three or more persons associated, whether formal or informal, engages in alleged criminal gang activity. And parents must understand that If their child is associated with a common name or common identifying signs, symbols, tattoos, graffiti, attire, or other distinguishing characteristics, it can be used against them in a court of law. For example, if a dance team of three or more persons wearing the same attire, gets into a group fight in some public place they can be charged under the “Criminal Street Gang Law.
We want to keep our children and community safe but we must ask, is this the solution to reducing gang violence? It’s obvious Georgia State laws are not designed to give our children a second chance. This new law will be a pathway to incarcerating a large number of young people of color for more extended periods of time, whether formal or informally, being a part of a gang. These Gang-related charges can carry decades-long sentences if convicted, regardless if they have no prior criminal infractions. The truth is the Georgia Criminal Street Gang Law gives more teeth to why our children can be locked up.
Cassandra Jones is a mother very familiar with the impact of this law, her 17 1/2 year old son is now facing 40 plus years prison time and before it’s too late, she wants to urge other parents to have an honest conversation with their children about Georgia State Juvenile laws, and the legal repercussions that can occur as a result of their decisions and the friends they choose to keep.
Now that school is back in session, parents should take the time review not only Georgia State Juvenile Laws but also review the school code of conduct and talk to their children. Create a village to help raise your child and get them involved in positive activities, because the reality is the justice system has no mercy.
Mokah Jasmine Johnson is an educator, activist, entrepreneur, and co-founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement.