For Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, this week’s arrest of a 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed, of Texas, with his Muslim background and dark skin, is more proof the U.S. criminal justice system needs to be rebuilt in order to ensure equal treatment for people of color and whites.
Clay adds that special attention needs to be paid to how inappropriate discipline, as early as pre-school, can leave a lasting impact and set a child on a path toward prison.
“There should not be two systems that treat a set of white children one way, and a set of black children another way, but that’s what we’ve had in St. Louis County,” Clay said. “The data show us that they are not treated the same and that young kids of color are suspended as early as preschool and kindergarten. Well, that’s ridiculous.”
Clay spoke with St. Louis Public Radio Thursday shortly before leading a panel discussion on Halting the Criminalization of Adolescence, at this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference.
“Ahmed was stereotyped and profiled by law enforcement, which is something that our kids encounter on a regular basis,” and it's why, Clay says, law enforcement needs more training on how to deescalate situations and not engage in profiling. Clay says had the school officials and police officers in Texas been properly trained, they would have reached out to Mohamed’s engineering teacher to understand that his homemade digital clock did not pose a threat.
“Young kids are impressionable and for you to profile them at such a young age, that has lasting effects on individuals and it does damage - real damage.”
Clay says “reforming” the criminal justice system will take more than legislation. He says such a change in perspective will require effort at all levels of society.
This is the second straight year that Clay has led a panel discussion on issues stemming from the shooting death of Michael Brown. Last year, he talked about the unrest in Ferguson and the divide between local law enforcement and minority communities across the U.S.