During Black History Month, we stop to consider not only the progress we have made towards equality in this country, but also the ongoing issues facing our Black youth every day.
Historically, young Black males are incarcerated at a higher rate than others. While about 8 percent of the school-age population in Suffolk is African American, Black men currently comprise approximately 41 percent of the inmates under 21 years old in the county jails.
Recent statistics on our youth are even more troubling. We are seeing young people turn to a life of crime at alarming rates, and, without support, they often are unable to get out. A recent report by the nonprofit New York City Criminal Justice Agency found that 48 percent of the 16-year-olds arrested since the Raise the Age law took effect in October 2018 had been rearrested for new crimes by January 2020. These are horrifying statistics that I seek to change.
My motto as Suffolk County sheriff has always been, “I want to get to the kids before they get to me.”
Growing up as a young Black boy in the Bronx, my parents showed my brother and I that anything was possible. It is thanks to them that I had the grit and nerve to get me to where I am today: Suffolk’s highest-ranking law enforcement official and a two-time cancer survivor. I strongly believe that our Black youth need that same solid support system and role models.
President Biden recently visited NYC to address the spike in crime and violence, highlighting after-school courses and job training initiatives as potential solutions to help reduce criminal activity.
I’m behind this plan. We’ve been providing intervention programs like these since I began my first term in 2018. Prior to the pandemic, I visited multiple Suffolk County schools each week to talk to students about the issues they were confronted with every day. These discussions help us bring them programming and solutions to tackle these issues head-on.
G.R.E.A.T.: We provide the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program to schools with an aim to prevent bullying, youth crime, violence, drug use, and gang involvement.
My Brother’s Keeper Mentoring Program: This program helps young men of color achieve better academic and social outcomes through mentoring, leadership development, and college awareness.
Y.E.S. Jail Tours: (Youth Enlightenment Seminars) By giving kids a realistic view of what lies ahead if they cross the line, we hope that it will leave a strong impact in their minds to stop them from engaging in criminal acts.
Drug Recognition and Informational Seminars: Drugs and crime share a strong link, especially in our minority communities. Using educational programs and resources for youths and adults alike helps to tackle this epidemic head on before it becomes an issue.
Sandy Hook Promise: During my first year in office we formed an important partnership with the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation –teaching programs with the goal of creating a more inclusive environment in our schools. These programs encourage students to be socially inclusive and to speak with a trusted adult when they observe the signs of a person who is at-risk of hurting themselves or others.
My work with Suffolk’s youth is especially close to my heart. Many young Black boys and girls in Suffolk face countless challenges and barriers before they can achieve success. It often seems easier to quit. I, too, have faced similar difficulties in my own life. During my battles with cancer I faced setbacks and learned resiliency, giving me the strength to face the obstacles thrown my way.
I strongly believe that by lifting up our young Black youth and offering them the education, mentoring, and services they need, we can work to break the prison pipeline and put them on the road to success. My hope is that each one of them can work to write the next pages of Black history and boast of their own success.