On Friday, April 13 in Milledgeville, Georgia, police arrested 6-year-old Salecia Johnson in her kindergarten classroom, restraining her arms behind her back with steel handcuffs. Her crime: throwing a tantrum in class and knocking over a shelf. The Root has more on her story, and her parents have started a Change.org petition to end police involvement in discipline in their school. Perhaps the most tragic part of Salecia’s case is that she’s far from the first; the increased presence of police in schools and racialized zero-tolerance policies have made child incarceration a reality in communities of color across America.
One of the foremost people fighting to end this injustice is musician, actor and civil rights legend Harry Belafonte, who founded the Gathering for Justice, an intergenerational coalition with the goal of ending child incarceration. Back in 2010, right after the November elections, our publisher Rinku Sen interviewed Mr. Belafonte about his ongoing social justice work and his advice to today’s young activists. In light of last week’s headlines from Alabama, we revisited that interview and cut this new video from previously unpublished footage, in order to bring his much-needed voice into our current conversation. We also spoke with Carmen Perez, executive director of the Gathering for Justice, who served as a Santa Cruz probation officer before joining Belafonte.
In his conversation with Rinku, Belafonte spoke movingly and humbly about the shock he felt upon seeing the classroom arrest of five-year-old J’aiesha Scott in 2005.
“When I saw this,” says Belafonte, “I understood that something had eluded me. I thought my best bet at that point would be to go to the source itself—to go amongst young people, to listen to their voices.”
It’s a powerful reminder to all of us on what a lifelong commitment to justice looks like—and on the power of an open mind and heart. Our thanks, once again, to Harry Belafonte and to Carmen Perez for sharing their time with us.