Florida A&M representatives from the Dream Defenders spearheaded a rally for juvenile justice at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
Dream Defenders is an organization directed by black and brown youth who confront systemic inequality by building their collective power.
The Florida juvenile justice campaign is an initiative to reform the state’s juvenile justice and school discipline systems.
Elijah Armstrong, a senior political science student and president of the FAMU Dream Defenders chapter, highlighted the increasing number of minority youth who are arrested.
“Today, we are marching for justice,” Armstrong said. “A lot of children in Florida are arrested for misdemeanor offenses and are at risk for serious abuse while locked up.”
Students from Florida State University and FAMU marched with the Dream Defenders to raise awareness for the cause. Organizations involved included Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
Evan Bailey, FAMU Student Government Association vice president-elect and member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said he enjoyed working with the Dream Defenders, AKAs and student body to fight for disenfranchised youth.
“We are going to continue to fight this issue until we see changes,” Bailey said. “I think it’s important that our generation realizes the amount of power that we have to change the policies that affect our lives.”
The campaign began March 5 with the State of the State address.
Melanie Andrade, a Dream Defenders member, said the group has been actively trying to bring attention to the injustices against black and brown youth.
“We have been lobbying every week with families all over Florida who also feel that it is an injustice for children to be treated like adults and arrested for first-time offenses,” Andrade said.
In 2012, the Orlando Sentinel reported, more than 12,000 of Florida’s students were arrested in the public school system. Black students made up 46 percent of those arrested.
According to the juvenile justice campaign, Florida’s overall arrest rate is 40 percent higher than the national average. More than 30,000 children were arrested for a misdemeanor in 2012.
Milonda Houston, a third-year biology and pre-dentistry FAMU student, said she is disappointed in the treatment of today’s minority children and teens.
“It’s really sad how children are being treated,” Houston said. “The fact that you can say juveniles in prison is something that shouldn’t sit well with any representative. So I am doing my part to be the voice of children not heard.”
David Utter, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, supports lobbying for the bills to get passed.
“It’s sad to say the majority of children that are being locked up for these misdemeanor crimes don’t look like me,” Utter said. “They are mostly black or brown.”
The Youth in Solitary Confinement Reduction Act, Expand Civil Citation, Reform School Zero-Tolerance policies and the Juvenile Detention Standards Bill have been developed to help protect youth and make school communities safer.
Dream Defenders members said they would continue lobbying for the legislation until the government does more to protect the youth.