Durham News: Opinion

Wanda Boone: Do our drug and alcohol policies value all children?

By Wanda Boone

Wanda Boone
Wanda Boone

The neighborhood streets and parks in my hometown were safe day and night. Teachers behaved maturely and fairly. Local officials, religious leaders, community members and parents set aside personal feelings about race and came together to create policies and standards to protect all children.

This was my environment as a black child. I was allowed to be a child. I grew up in an environment where children were valued.

So I ask, Durham, N.C., do we value all children?

Juvenile arrest data years from 2011-14 reveal that 783 black, 98 Hispanic and 72 white children between ages 6-15 were arrested, totaling 968 children. The top five offenses were larceny, simple assault, burglary, vandalism and drug violations.

Among teens 16 and 17 years old, 961 black, 145 Hispanic and 91 white children were arrested totaling 1,173 children. The top five offenses were larceny, drug violations, simple assault, burglary and weapons violations.

Consider this scenario: A black male student arrives at school intoxicated. He has more alcohol in a water bottle hidden in his backpack. In his condition he poses a potential danger to other students or staff. He has violated the school’s anti-drug policy and the law.

Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent

Phillip Atiba Goff

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” says author Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”

The student in the scenario above was 6 years old.

Consider his point of view. Perhaps he wanted to feel better or just wanted access to this “drink” that tasted like fruit juice but offered him a sense of calm. The little boy did not have the capacity to consider or understand legality, school policy, or health risks. To his young mind this drink was just another tasty beverage available and accessible to him. The flavored alcohol might even have been in the refrigerator, right next to the milk.

Please note the increase in drug violations among children 6 to 15 years old and those 16 or 17 years old. We have a window of opportunity to change this. Prevention is key. Let’s act together to form a protective shield around all children.

Together for Resilient Youth (TRY) helps prevent access to alcohol by encouraging parents to monitor and/or lock up alcohol through the “Talk it Up! Lock it Up!” campaign. Parents can learn to help prevent substance use with five questions (see DurhamTRY.org/Parent for details).

Other TRY initiatives include Bands Against Destructive Decisions (BADD) and College TRY. Youth reach peers and parents with monthly health tips. TRY’s Good Neighbor Business Network members support community health and safety. Community members learn how to take action by choosing to participate in one or more of the Seven Strategies for Community Change.

TRY does not act alone! We are proud to partner with the Governor’s Task Force on Substance Use and Gangs, NC Preventing Underage Drinking Initiative, the Poverty Reduction Initiative Public Safety and Health Subcommittees, the Misdemeanor Diversion Program, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People’s Public Safety and Health Subcommittees, the City-Wide PAC, Project Safe Neighborhoods and others.

Wanda Boone is the founder of Together for Resilient Youth. Contact her at wanda.durhamtry@gmail.com.