How Would You Change the Criminal Justice System?
These Honorable Mention Winners Imagined Creative Solutions.
In response to the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that followed, our organization teamed up with the Star Tribune Opinion, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Minnesota Lynx to co-sponsor our Creative Criminal Justice Contest. We invited students ages 10-18 across the nation to submit their best ideas about how our communities can continue the hard work of responding to racial injustice in the criminal justice system.
Our MNUDL board judged the first round of essays and creative submissions and sent just 3 middle school and 5 high school entries to the final round of VIP Panel judging. Finalists were previously announced on the Star Tribune Opinion online and in print. Find the full list of winners online.
There were many outstanding entries. These five entries were the highest non-advancing scorers, and we want to share their creative ideas with you. They are our Honorable Mentions in the Creative Criminal Justice Contest:
High School Honorable Mentions:
Libby Johnson, Rockford, MN
Saachi Baldwa, Fremont, CA
Middle School Honorable Mentions:
Amilia Pham, Bloomington, MN
Kairavi Chandra, Roseville, MN
Lucy Slipka, Prior Lake, MN
Read and watch their excellent entries below:
Libby Johnson: Honorable Mention in the High School Category
Libby Johnson is a student from Rockford, Minnesota. Libby wrote an essay arguing for a two-part plan to reduce racial biases in our culture and address violence within the policing system. Read Libby’s full essay below:
At the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, a crowd of people gather around the memorial dedicated to George Floyd. These people come from all walks of life, and they make up parts of every race, religion, and gender. Some of the people are young and some are old. Some are talking quietly amongst themselves, others are silent. Some hold signs that read “Black Lives Matter”, or “I Can’t Breath”. Some are crying. But they are all standing together for the same reason: to pay their respects to George Floyd, and to protest the hundreds of years of racial inequality within this country.
Today, nearly three months after the killing of George Floyd, his memorial is still standing tall and attracting visitors from all over the country. However, there are no longer daily protests, Congress has not passed any substantial bill relating to racial justice, and the news media has begun to focus their attention on other issues. We cannot let this moment pass without putting forward legislation that inspires real change. Banning chokeholds is not enough. What America needs now is an action plan that will prevent racial prejudice within law enforcement and put an end to police brutality. I am proposing a plan composed of two parts, which will address both pre-existing racial bias and the violence embedded within our policing system.
The first part of this plan will accomplish the goal of cancelling out racial bias, and it is quite simple in concept: hire more black teachers. I have been attending public school for twelve years and I have never once had a black teacher. My own experience in the classroom encapsulates how much of a problem the lack of diversity among our teachers truly is. If students have a positive black role model, such as a teacher, in their lives, they will be less inclined to harbor racial prejudices later in their lives. In order to increase the number of black teachers, the government will need to provide funds for a scholarship program, similar to the program used to encourage teachers to apply for jobs in low-income school districts. If the government pays off the student debt of black students studying to be teachers, more people will be willing to fill that role. However, we will need a way to pay for the scholarship program, which ties in to the second part of my racial justice reform plan.
In addition to providing a way to fund hiring teachers of color in schools, the second part of this plan also acts as a way to diminish the occurrences of police brutality by reducing the responsibilities of law enforcement officers. Additionally, some government funding would be reallocated to the departments that would pick up those responsibilities, and the rest would be used to help hire teachers of color. Right now, police officers are expected to respond to many kinds of emergencies that would be better handled by different types of officials. For example, a social worker would be better suited to respond to a mental health crisis than a police officer. If police officers themselves were only responsible for responding to violent or dangerous situations, it would greatly reduce the number of police shootings. Although defunding the police has grown to be a very controversial topic, there needs to be a fundamental change to the way law enforcement is run, otherwise nothing will improve.
In summary, my plan will support a partial defunding and reallocation of responsibilities within the police in order to fund hiring more teachers of color. What our country so greatly needs right now is change. We cannot let future generations experience the same pain and inequities that have become the driving force behind world-wide protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Ten years from now, I do not want to look back and realize that these protests did not cause any significant changes to the way this country is run. I want to look back and see the beginning of a new path to equality and racial justice.
Saachi Baldwa: Honorable Mention in the High School Category
Saachi Baldwa is a student from Fremont, California. Saachi wrote a powerful speech arguing for reform of the for-profit prison system. Watch Saachi’s full speech on our YouTube channel:
Amilia Pham: Honorable Mention in the Middle School Category
Amilia is a student from Bloomington, MN. Amilia’s thoughtful essay advocated for ways to reduce bias in our society as a whole. Read Amilia’s full essay below:
I believe two changes the nation can make to reduce racial inequities and injustices in the criminal justice system are more introduction of other races and ideals at an early age through school and more public awareness in the community.
By constantly and continuously introducing people of different races and ideals, children are more likely to be more open to such perspectives. Schools can do this by constantly inviting people of different races, religions, and backgrounds to younger students, and by doing this, we teach them that all people are different and that it is normal to not act, talk, dress, or appear the same. It is vital that we teach this at a young age, with constant support. Healthychildren.org (with the American Academy of Pediatrics as a source) explains that “by ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.” And that “by age 12, many children become set in their beliefs”. These particular quotes are about teaching your children about racial biases and how to prevent it, but still has relevance to this point.
Basically, I’m saying that racial bias is learned at a young age, and it is best to teach them that it is okay to be different and that there is no need to shame anyone that might be that way through school and constant conversation with this issue.
The sooner we teach them that it is not bad to look different, speak differently, or dress differently– the better. Racial bias is not something children just believe in, it is learned from respected people. And it’s not always the parents’ fault. Bias can be learned from anyone, from siblings, friends, celebrities, and even other relatives.
Now, this is by no means an insult or accusation to anyone. I respect those that have different opinions than me and hope you do the same. But, I can not respect those who refuse to acknowledge that it is wrong to have someone killed, accidentally or not, by people who jumped too early at conclusions based on bias. Whether or not you agree with me, please at least admit that it is wrong for people to die or suffer because of the way they were born and raised. That is an unjustifiable bias to have, and having it hurts people. And it will continue doing so if we don’t do anything about it.
Now, if more people in the community were to speak up more about what they believed, in any shape or form, on any scale, other people will take initiative. The more people who know about this issue, the more likely other people are to talk about this more. If you’re a child, then bring it up around friends, teachers, parents. Write to the government! Congress! Our own Senates and Representatives! The president!
Even if you’re an adult you can do these things as well! Talk to your children! I’m sure they have opinions about these topics as well. Ask your friends what they think! I’d bet they have something to say.
Do as much or little as you want. If you don’t have the power to speak up about it, tell someone you know who will. Spread the information, and pass on what you believe is right! If we as a nation can finally accept this is a problem, then we can start fixing it!
Kairavi Chandra: Honorable Mention in the Middle School Category
Kairavi is a student from Roseville, MN. Kairavi wrote a thoughtful essay detailing solutions for improving police-community relations.
All over the nation, many police officers work in districts far from where they live. They may not know the citizens of those neighborhoods very well, and that can impact how they work. Many people are not comfortable around police because many misconceptions surround them. These issues are why I propose that police departments across the nation require their employees to be local and partake in community outreach.
Hiring local officers can help police departments become more caring and loyal to civilians. When you know the black man down the street, you are less likely to be inclined—even if unconsciously—to suspect him more than a white woman a block away. If you don’t know someone, it is easy to simply assume their morals and values based on stereotypes that are often untrue. But, as you get to know them, you can look past who they seem to be, and instead judge them on who they are. When you are part of a community, you become more protective and empathetic towards it. That can mean working harder, arresting people who are real threats, and not mistreating your subjects.
A challenge of keeping all officers local can be that there may not be enough qualified candidates available. A way to overcome this is by hiring police officers from nearby counties and regions. While they will not be very close to the people around them, community-building exercises can help bridge that gap. Employees who live in the area where they work will also participate in the activities to get to know the residents better.
Another benefit of community-building exercises is that the stigma and fear that often follows police officers can be decreased. Officers can run projects such as planting trees, picking up garbage in parks, neighborhood barbeques, and more. Not only will this create a bond between the police and citizens, but the community will also become closer.
At the same time, not all police may value their communities. To prevent this from becoming an issue, they can be evaluated on how they interact with community members. These evaluations will be performed randomly so that officers will not expect them or know that they are happening. If an officer is racist and/or demeaning, the aspect of being assessed at any time can force them to be on guard and be less discriminatory in public. Of course, being judged may not feel like a threat to some officers, but if they display aggressive or offensive behavior, they will likely be fired.
Bringing police and civilians together and making sure officers are local can make police departments much more sympathetic and caring. Community programs and events can build trust between citizens and officers, leading them to become friendlier. Knowing your community is an important part of being able to work effectively and properly, and public events and staying local prioritize that connection.
Lucy Slipka: Honorable Mention in the Middle School Category
Lucy Slipka is a student from Prior Lake, Minnesota. Lucy wrote a passionate speech advocating for school districts to diversify and amplify anti-racism in their reading materials. Watch Lucy’s full speech at our YouTube channel:
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