It was chilly when we were dropped off at the entrance of the Santa Barbara court house the day of the protest. I didn’t bring anything to protest with, only my body and my voice. A little blue-eyed boy held in his small 6-year old hands a sign that read, “Would you try me as an adult?” I was taken aback by all the protesters there. There were college students, teachers, high school students, activists, and even representatives from a restorative justice group based in Santa Barbara. All of us had gathered to protest the court’s decision to try Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez as an adult for the murder of Luis Angel Linares.
There was no set agenda when we arrived, it grew quite organically. Ricky’s friends read powerful pieces. They talked about the gang infested neighborhoods they came from, the lack of resources and community activities, the suffering, the anger, the dysfunction plaguing their lives. A fresh female face found the courage to read an entire letter through a bullhorn directed towards the courthouse. She spoke about the prison industrial complex and the people of color mercilessly being thrown into the penitentiary. As I was projecting my voice towards the people who were in control of this boy’s fate, it hit me like a bag of bricks – same shit, different flies.
It was the same shit that reeked when I was a child growing up in low-income government housing. The same shit that attracted armed policemen, the endless sound of thumping helicopter blades, the sirens piercing our ears, and our trauma stained eyes. Years later I find myself in a safer place because of the settlement money of a dead brother. A twist of fate helped pull my family out from the tight grip of crime and poverty. It was just enough to move us out of the projects, enroll us in better schools, and allow us access to resources that would help us deal positively with issues affecting our well being. Most people are not as fortunate. In fact, many people live in impoverished areas and experience economic oppression on a daily basis-even in cities as wealthy as Santa Barbara.
A lot of these people are our very own people of color. If Ricky is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the murder of Luis Angel Linares, it goes without saying that he should suffer the consequences of his actions as an adolescent, not as an adult. There are significant psychological differences between adolescents and adults which should be taken into account. Ricardo Juarez turned fourteen a mere month before he committed the crime. Throwing Ricky into prison for the rest of his life fails to address the problem, let alone give anyone on either side justice. I feel a cold breeze within when I think of a society punishing children as adults. It makes me wonder, what kind of message are we sending to our youth?