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Calling for Criminal Justice Reform in my Community

Calling for Criminal Justice Reform in my Community

As president of NFTY I have had the unique privilege of traveling across the U.S and internationally to address issues of social injustice and push for young adult voices to be heard loud and strong.

When I hear Adrienne's gut wrenching story, the story of having her future stolen away, I feel sick. Sick to know that as I travel the globe, deep injustices happen only miles from my home in Shaker Heights. Sick to know that at the age of 18, I stand here with the freedom to address my anger, while Adrienne at this exact same age was locked in a prison cell, silenced with hers.  Sick to know that the criminal justice system is so inherently unjust.

When I think about her story I ask myself…Would the police have ever broken down my friends’ door looking for drugs during a party and arrested me without a second thought? Would the prosecutor have tried to bully me into taking a plea deal? Would I have done a year in prison for being at that party?  My experience, our experience, and my conscience, says no.

About a year ago, I watched from my front porch in Shaker Heights as two of my close friends were handcuffed and put in the back of a police car.  They had driven down the street, parked, and smoked marijuana.  A police cruiser happened to drive by and caught them.  As they were being taken away, I was worried that my friends’ lives might be over before they had really started.  I had learned about the War on Drugs; about people spending decades behind bars for minor drug offenses.  

However, my friends were not young, black, or from Cleveland.  My friends were not Adrienne Anderson.  My friends were white, affluent, and lived in the suburbs.

They were able to afford private attorneys and were charged with low-level misdemeanors; they were referred to treatment.  They never came close to seeing the inside of a jail cell.  They were given a second chance, right away.  I’m grateful that my friends were treated humanely because it would have been senseless to lock them away.  They moved on with their lives and are now freshmen in college. Their futures still remain bright.

The reality is that our justice system treats black lives and white lives differently. From my experience at Shaker High School, I can tell you, drugs are an issue. But an issue of both black and white. Both rich and poor. How is this possible? And how can we let this continue?

I not will turn a blind eye to this injustice. I care deeply about what happens in Cleveland, and I care deeply about justice for all people in our region. Through my leadership with NFTY and GCC, I’m willing to fight to make that justice a reality.  

I’m 18 years-old; the upcoming election will be my first time voting for county prosecutor.  Any elected official who wants to receive my support, and our support, must recognize that our criminal justice system is broken and biased. And any elected official who wants to receive my support, and our support, must do what it takes to reform it. Because Adrienne’s life has the same inherent value as mine.

And until our criminal justice system views it that way, let the trial continue!

 

Jeremy Cronig is a member of Temple Emanu El and the President of NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth. 

Published: 2/17/2016