Miss. teens rally for juvenile justice on MLK day

Published 11:24 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mississippi residents honored Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights legacy on Monday with skits, poetry and calls for change in the way black teenagers are treated by the courts and in schools.

About 200 people rallied on the state Capitol steps in Jackson to call for changes in Mississippi’s juvenile justice system. Activists said the system disproportionately punishes black youngsters.

Young people performed skits showing obstacles they face in schools — teachers who treat them like gang members if they dress the same as their friends, adults who ignore or discount what young people have to say.

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Tymeka Hunter, a 14-year-old from Jones County, recited a poem she wrote about “cruel, disrespectful people.”

“I can be brown, purple, green or white. It doesn’t matter. I’m in God’s sight,” she said. “I see you and you see me. Then why do you treat me differently? I am a person. You are the people. So why discriminate? Just treat me equal.”

Brad Franklin, a Jackson-based rapper who uses the stage name Kamikaze, said too many young black people are being “railroaded” into jail. He said teachers, parents and other adults need to listen to teenagers who say they feel ostracized because of the way they dress or they friends they have.

“These poems and these things that they were talking about here today, they have a lot of wisdom inside of them,” Franklin said. “And inside of these words are these kids crying out for older people to understand and to listen to what it is that they’re saying.”

On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, several speakers at the rally expressed pride in Obama’s becoming the first black U.S. president. Joyce Parker, an activist with a group called Citizens for a Better Greenville, said she hopes Obama will bring positive change to the nation.

“Obama cannot do it by himself,” Parker said. “And guess what? He’s telling us that he can’t do it by himself. He is not trying to do it by himself because that’s what? That’s the old way.”

Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said Mississippi schools need to end corporal punishment, which she said is used more often on black students than white ones.

“We want to get police out of schools,” Lambright said. “We want more education, not incarceration.”