At Break the Binds, Sarah Lawton shared about the importance of expungement and provided us all with some important historical context. Here is the full transcript of her speech:
“Good Evening everyone, my name is Sarah Lawton and I am a Youth Organizer at “I Have A Future”, an Uphams Corner community organization who fights for youth economic and social justice.
I would like to thank law enforcement, teen organizers, elected officials and their staff for attending Teen empowerment and I have a Future “Break the Binds” event.
I would like to begin with a quote from 19th Century Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Boston’s past has shown in the previous timeline interactive, that underneath certain forms of legislation and policy are underlying forms of institutional racism. As a Dorchester native and teen advocate, I encourage our City not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.
Flashing back to the 1990’s, Boston was faced with a tension between police officers and members of the community. Poor communications, lack of dialog and a “ stop and frisk “ policy in far too many cases indiscriminately applied. With gang violence and murder rates increasing monthly Boston was spiraling down rapidly. Noticing an epidemic of violence, in 1995 originally known as the Boston Gun Project “Operation Ceasefire” was implemented in 1996.
Boston police, neighborhood organizations and clergy members trying to stop gang violence united to make the working group. Operation ceasefire had multiple strategies. Increasing the police presences in communities where violence was the highest. Specifically Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan predominantly communities of color. With a high police presence, their intentions were to target and remove guns from the streets, dismantle gang operations. While also arresting teens who had committed minor crimes. The ideology, of showing teens who were involved in gangs, firing a gun or committing misdemeanor offenses that if they were caught doing the crime they will do the time.
Some could interpret this message was fierce enough to make teens re-think their action before they do something that can land them in jail. In an effort to mitigate the growing crisis many young people with minor crimes were grouped together with major felons. They were all incarcerated together. Teens were now placed in jail. Handcuffed and incarcerated. All at a young age.
During 1996 operation ceasefire was deemed a success after youth gun violence being to decrease dramatically. However, that success was short lived when youth gun violence began to spike to an all time high between 1997 and 2000. Some believed the residual effects of incarceration and the release of the individuals coincided with the spike.
While it gave us short-term relief it left a life-long impact for those who were now permanently labeled with a criminal record. Which now limited them from getting loans, finding a job and pursuing education. The failures of operation ceasefire are failures we should not repeat.
18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant stated that “reality creates its owns structures” those were old structures relying on locking the problem up. The new reality should include rehabilitation and assimilation into society. By locking people up they’re off the streets for short term relief. The consequence of this, more people in jail. Once released from jail there are now more damaged people the community. Who are now tied into the system destined for permanent poverty.
This summer teens at I have a future were given a daily task of collecting signatures. We wander around Boston hitting Dudley station to downtown near the Commons asking people to support the expungement bill currently passing through the judiciary committee.
With the expungement bill introduced by Senator Karen. E Spilka and other members of the senate. Any person under the age of 21, who has committed a non violent misdemeanor crime would receive the chance to have their record expunged.
Records of their past mistakes could no longer be viewed for the public to see, it’s as if the incident never happened. By having this second chance the opportunity to further their education, find a job, or receive loans is now an open door. If the bill succeeds it can change the lives of people who without it could be labeled as a criminal for the rest of their life.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to give credit to how much we have grown as a community before I end.
I would like to point out that Teens are showing a prominent role in discussions around problems in our city. And also recognizing problems that were made in past that impacted so many young people. By using our teen voice we are using our power. But we need direction, which is why I call upon every adult in this room. If you have heard a teen organizer state something you agree with please don’t let the conversation end when we leave this room tonight. Further the talk get involved, be involved that’s how we will all be better.