Back in the bad old days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic—way, way back when people were still dropping like flies—it was commonplace for new HIV-prevention organizations to set the goal of ending the transmission of HIV. "We're going to stop HIV! No new HIV infections! We will end the epidemic!" That sounded nice but it was total bullshit. And that kind of rhetoric drove me up the wall—even when organizations I helped found went in for it (hey there, Gay City)—because we all knew it was bullshit. We weren't going to stop all new HIV infections. People were still going to get infected.
Every time a HIV/AIDS organization promised they were going to end the epidemic—"Hey, guys, this is the poster that's going to stop all new HIV infections!"—my eyes would roll so hard sparks would come out of my sockets. And my eyes rolled in a similar fashion when I read this on Slog earlier in the week...
King County voters approved the construction of a new juvenile detention center in 2012, and backers say a new juvie is necessary because the county is required by state law to have a juvie and because the current juvie is so decrepit it's unsafe (not to mention poorly equipped to serve struggling young people). Opponents want zero detention of youth, period, because they say juvenile detention is traumatizing and doesn't help young people escape the conditions that led them to commit crimes.
Zero detention of youth?
Officers seized a pistol and arrested five young teens after they robbed a man and a woman at gunpoint early Wednesday in a Capitol Hill park.... The victims told officers they had been sitting in the park when the group of suspects approached them and offered to sell them drugs. When the victims rebuffed their offer, the juveniles punched and kicked them and pointed a gun at the victims before fleeing with the man’s cell phone.
Seattle Police and King County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two teens and tracked down a stolen car Monday night after an armed carjacking in a Rainier View park... The passenger recounted that a teenage male had approached him as he sat in the car, pulled out a gun, and ordered him out of the vehicle. The suspect then hopped in the driver’s seat and sped away.
Police arrested five teens Monday in West Seattle for attacking a 55-year-old grocery store clerk, after he confronted them about an earlier shoplifting incident.... the [victim] confronted the teens about the theft, and warned them not to come back to the store. In response, a 19-year-old female in the group doused the victim in pepper spray, sending him tumbling to the ground. The rest of the teens punched and kicked the man as he lay on the concrete
I support confronting, addressing, and remedying the racial disparities that plague our criminal justice system. Absolutely. Systemic racism is real; the school-to-prisons pipeline is real (and it destroys lives, families, and communities); it's a fact that African American youth receive harsher punishments than white kids convicted of the exact same crimes. (It's also a fact that Tamir Rice was gunned down and this piece of shit was taken out for hamburgers.)
But just as there were always gonna be new HIV infections and we all fucking knew it, there are always gonna be youth out there committing serious crimes and we all fucking know it. Poverty, wealth, inequality, abuse, neglect, mental illness, drugs, alcohol, shitty schools, toxic masculinity: we can and should and must address the conditions that lead youth to commit crimes in the first place—absolutely—while reminding ourselves at every step that the overwhelming majority of people who grow up in poverty, attend crap schools, have shit parents, happen to be boys, etc., do not go on to commit violent crimes.
But a tiny percentage of youth are going to commit serious violent crimes. (Jeffrey Dahmer—who grew up solidly middle class, seems to have had loving parents, went to good schools, etc.—was a teenager the first time he murdered a young man. A dozen men of color, my friend Tony Hughes included, would still be alive today if Dahmer had been caught and sent to jail when he was a "youth.") Even if it were possible to create a society so just that no one under the age of 18 ever committed a crime again... that day is a long way off. In the meantime, in the years or decades between right now (when not all kids can escape the conditions that might lead some to commit crimes) and our utopian future (when all kids have escaped those conditions), what are we supposed to do with youth who commit serious violent crimes? What do we do with teenagers who rob, assault, rape, and kill?
We're going to need to detain them—and better to detain them in a new facility than a decrepit one.
Yes, we lock up too many people. Yes, we need alternatives to incarceration. But opponents of the new juvenile detention center say they want zero detention of youth. That sure sounds nice. But it's total bullshit.