childhood. justice youth incarceration

Eleven Years Old…and losing heart.

He was slight in body.  His eyes darted around the room and then settled on mine.  As we locked eyes, my heart seemed to stop for a moment — as if to acknowledge that what I was seeing with my own eyes demanded an end to business as usual — that I stop and take a breath – that I remember this moment.
He was eleven years old.
And he was incarcerated.
I don’t know why he was incarcerated. I don’t know what he did “wrong.” But the fact that he was incarcerated means that he – at eleven years old –  is being held accountable for whatever his wrong was determined to be.   Truth be told, there will be no real accountability, however, for the adults and the systems that did him wrong long before he did wrong.  
We — families, schools, churches, community institutions, child-serving agencies, fraternities, sororities — will just go on, business as usual until we are forced to come face to face with what we have thrown away with our policies of disinvestment, our denial of our “brother-keeping” responsibilities, our incredible toleration of community breakdown: another generation of children.  
(and mothers, systems, community, churches, people) 
do not provoke your children, 
or they may lose heart.”
Colossians 3:21
“God, what an indictment on us: children who have lost heart. We may be bold enough to ask You for forgiveness, because we’ve never seen You.  We’ve not had to lock eyes with You — so be in the eyes of our children. Grant that we would be courageous enough to not turn away. Send Your Spirit to arrest us and our practices of provocation. Give us yet another chance to get right with this generation, lest we all barrel down the road of no return.   Losing heart is not inevitable. You have promised that there would be “no breaching of the walls, no going into exile and no wailing in the public square.” Yet here we are — with few safe spaces for our children, with a generation exiled into poverty in the midst of such excess, and wailing, wailing, wailing.  Though we be, as the psalmist says, like a puff of wind and though our days be like a passing shadow, still You love us and have given us the power to sing a brand new song, to tell a story of hope. You have given us the power to repair the breach. Help us to use the power we already have for the sake of every eleven year old boy who is being held accountable for being an eleven year old boy.” Amen.

child abuse community justice Nixzmary Brown

Justice for Nixzmary Brown

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43: 2

Who is “I”?

Passing through stormy waters, moving through rivers that threaten to overwhelm…walking through fire unscathed and facing down flames unconsumed: “I” promises that because of the presence of “I,” one will not be consumed.

Here is one thing I know from working and loving young people: there are times when they feel so alone. There is nothing you can do or say to mitigate the loneliness. You can’t understand how they feel because while you may have been 15 years old once, you are not 15 years old right now in their context.

Today, the father of little Nixzmary Brown was acquitted of second degree murder. Instead he was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter for fatally beating her as punishment.

Nixzmary deserved better.

And by that, I don’t mean that justice wasn’t served because the man who killed her was not convicted of second degree murder. No — justice wasn’t served because the community she lived in let her down. I don’t think anything that could be done to her killer now would be “justice.” Focusing on her killer now means nothing to Nixzmary, who didn’t live past her 7th birthday. Wanting the harshest sentence possible for her killer may make some adults feel better — like we are getting justice for Nixzmary.

But that’s not justice.

It means nothing to other little Nixzmary’s. Her father’s sentence of punishment will not be the thought in another abuser’s mind as he raises his hand to hurt his child. Whatever is done to Nixzmary’s killer will not deter another abusive and ill-equipped parent from killing their own child.

But a community determined to be mindful, watchful, open-eared and open-eyed, ready, and questioning may deter the next killing. A community determined to look children in the eyes, a community populated by people who know how to convey to children that “I am a trusted adult, and you can tell me if someone is hurting you” is the most dangerous community in the world — for abusers. That’s justice for Nixzmary.

No abuser wants to live in a community filled with people who have decided that they will embody “I” and walk with children against fire and storm.

No child abuser wants to face a community that decides it will not leave children to face by themselves the overwhelming flood of the fear of the very adults who, by virtue of blood, are supposed to protect them.

No abuser wants to face a community that decides for itself that the worst thing a child among them should ever have to experience is the inevitable, normal, occasional, adolescent loneliness that comes with the natural course of growing up healthy.

No killer or abuser wants to live among people who say to themselves, “we will never see the righteous forsaken, nor the seed of God begging bread..” as long as we have breath in our bodies…

God is present in the presence of God’s people. Being present for the children in your community is justice.