What’s It Gonna Take? Judge Lucy Wieland Is Dead Right

April 16, 2011 in Politics and Funding, Public Policy by Mike Tikkanen

Today’s Star Tribune article by Hennepin County District Judge Lucy Wieland reinforces a powerful message delivered by MN Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz a few years ago; “it is time to put away our rosy view of Minnesota as a land of opportunity and grapple with the ugly reality of racial disparity”.

I grew up in Nordeast Minneapolis in the 1950’s and a number of my friend’s fathers were firemen, postmen, policemen and city / state highway workers. There were no women or black men in these jobs back then. I will never forget the phoney qualifications testing that kept these jobs for white men only, nor the social policy changing *war that occurred to end this discrimination.

The unrest of the 60’s & the vicious attacks by policemen & dogs and firemen on nonviolent protesters (Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connors/Selma Alabama) was not that long ago—I’m not that old.

Many of my friend’s fathers were outspoken bigots afraid of being forced to share their good paying jobs with other people.

I had few liberal childhood friends in my neighborhood and I had no healthy understanding of racial issues until I was in college. I remember one black student in junior high school and none from my senior high school (and I was an inner city kid).

Today, too many of my friends and business associates talk the same talk (minus certain words) that I heard back then. Blaming people that have very little, never had much, and most likely will never have more than subsistence (no matter what they do), along with teachers and social workers as the root of our nation’s problems.

Blaming and hating people solved nothing in the 50’s and it is not working today (if it were, we could simply elect Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh to run the nation).

We know that public institutions are imperfect and require ongoing attention and improvement to function well.

We can denounce poor performance but if we want results we need to make an effort to find the problem and fix it, not just dump on the people doing the hard work of dealing with our nations severe social problems (3 million children a year are reported to child protection services).

Blaming police workers for increased crime (since 1981 MN prison population has tripled) makes no sense, nor does blaming social workers when a baby is found in a dumpster.

When I wrote the book INVISIBLE CHILDREN in 2005 I interviewed educators and included stories about teachers of the children I had come to know through my volunteer work in child protection.

**My 12 year old state ward kicked his teacher so hard she needed medical care. He stabbed a student with a pencil. An eleven year old girl could not be restrained from sneaking out and having sex with adults during the school day (and the high school staff made huge efforts to track her by the minute while she was in school). I have many stories and I was only one of about 500 guardian ad-Litems that year watching thousands of state ward children impact our schools and communities.

It’s impossible to teach children or even manage a classroom with uncontrollable (and often dangerous) children in the room. There is no ignoring the quantities of psychotropic medications being used on grade school children in our communities today. Severe mental health issues are evident even in America’s day care systems today.

The sheer quantity of psychotropic medications being used on very young children today is sad and stunning. Judge Heidi Schellhas provided me with the statistics from her courtroom over a one year period & I have watched seven and nine year olds impacted by these drugs without the necessary mental health therapy that might have facilitated their adjustment into normal society.

Educating uncontrollable and often dangerous children is not so much teaching as it is public safety control. Keeping the other children safe is becoming a full time job in many schools. 86% of American Indian students, 76% of Hispanic students, & 63% of black students don’t graduate. Children in child protection in MN are mostly of color.

Crime among youth without a high school education is extremely high. 90% of the youth locked up in Hennepin County detention are children of color. The data is compelling. The stories are heart rending. Hating, blaming, and abandoning children is wrong and no religion in the world would promote it.

A growing number of us are blaming teachers and giving up on American institutions along with those who are born into poverty and dysfunctional families. Instead, we focus on more & bigger prisons, dumping our support for public education, and letting a growing number of Americans live in high crime & under-resourced inner cities.

It is asocial reptilian behavior that allows a community to abandon poor children born into violent dysfunctional homes to a life of almost guaranteed failure.

It is not economically viable, nor is it socially prudent to foster prison growth and personal failure instead of early childhood programs that can insure a fair start and at least a chance of leading a normal life.

Judges Blatz, Schellhas, and Wieland have a particular insight into how our community fails the poorest and weakest among us and I am grateful that they have stepped forward to make these statements.

The other industrialized nations have discovered that healthy children are the key to a healthy community. These nations have supported early childhood programs and poor families to insure that hundreds of thousands of dysfunctional children do not enter their school systems and force educators to manage mental health issues instead of educating children.

These nations have also recognized the residual benefit of not building thousands of prisons to house millions of criminals that have committed trillions of dollars worth of damage and tragic criminal activity. The U.S. now has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of its prison population. Minneapolis arrested 44% of its adult male population in 2001 (no duplicate arrests). There were 13 million prison and jail releases in our nation last year. The racial disparity in Minneapolis for unemployment is now worse than any other city in America.

No other industrialized nations routinely charge 11 year olds in adult courts, or makes a practice of using Ritalin, Prozac, and other psychotropic medications on five, seven, and nine year olds (without adequate mental health services) in their child protection services.

***When I study the quality of life indices from the other industrialized nations around the world I find that the U.S.suffers the highest pre teen pregnancy rates, child mortality rates, and sexually transmitted disease rates. To really prove the point compare Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, etc – where children are on par with children from third world nations.

What’s it gonna take to treat American children as well as the rest of the industrialized world treats its children?

What we do to our children they will do to society” Pliny, 2500 years ago.

*perspective; Minnesotans will pay 60 billion dollars as their share of the Iraq/Afghan wars over the next two years, yet we do not have 6 billion dollars for our schools, infrastructure and safety net.

**As a long time volunteer guardian ad-Litem and forever Minnesota resident, I have experienced the impact of bad public policy on hundreds of children and their families. I have come to know the judges, social workers, educators, and policy makers that work with poor and dysfunctional families and how impossible their job is made without public commitment to good public policy.

***Voting for political figures trying to destroy our most basic social structures (education/health care/child protection) guarantees us a solid place at the bottom of the world’s quality of life indices and more dangerous and unhappy communities.

Judge Lucy Wieland’s article from the Star Tribune 4.16.11

I’ve been a Hennepin County judge for almost 21 years, in juvenile court for the last three.

I’m aware of the racial disparity we see daily in our courts, especially in juvenile court, where the majority of the children and families we see are nonwhite.

I’m also cochair of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which works to reduce the unnecessary detention of juveniles. While we’ve had success at reducing detention rates, we’ve been unsuccessful at reducing the disparity in our detention center.

Right now, 90 percent of the juveniles locked up in the Hennepin County Detention Center are juveniles of color. This is an ugly fact — but it’s not the only ugly fact about race in this community.

The Star Tribune recently ran a front-page story exposing the fact that Minnesota has the largest gap in unemployment between blacks and whites of the 18 largest metro areas in the country.

We are No. 1 — worse than New York, Memphis or Detroit. The article added that experts attribute this to two main factors: education and criminal records.

Both have alarming disparity rates between whites and blacks in this state.

The education achievement gap in Minnesota between white children and children of color is widely recognized. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently noted that Minnesota’s achievement gap is one of the largest in the country.

Graduation rates for students of color are half that of white students. In Hennepin County, 63 percent of black students, 76 percent of Hispanic students and 86 percent of Native American students don’t graduate from high school.

This education gap is even more concerning when you take into account recent census reports estimating that currently 25 to 30 percent of Minnesota children under the age of 5 are African, African-American, Latino, Asian or American Indian.

This is our next generation. If we want our state to be competitive and productive, we must provide our next generation with an education.

The criminal-record problem is equally profound. Since 1981, the prison population in Minnesota has tripled, and 47 percent of inmates are now men and women of color.

The disparity between whites and blacks with criminal records is four times higher in Minnesota than the national average.

This gap is even worse in Hennepin County’s juvenile-justice system, where 56 percent of all juvenile-delinquency cases are brought against children of color.

Once youths are locked up, they are more likely to be charged — and more likely to be negatively affected in other areas such as employment and education.

The other disturbing fact is that juvenile court is no longer private. The juvenile record of any youth 16 and older is now a public record.

That means that even a petty theft charge brought against a 16-year-old will be accessible by anyone doing a criminal-record check. We have penalized our young people in a way that will haunt them in the workplace for years to come.

It is appealing for us white Minnesotans to view this as an issue of personal responsibility and choice.

People of color should make better choices and pull themselves up by the bootstraps. In my experience, children of color don’t have that option when, as third-graders, only 50 percent of them meet reading standards, compared with 90 percent of their white peers.

By 10th grade, less than 30 percent meet the standards, compared with 80 percent of their white peers.

Our children of color aren’t being educated, are being arrested and locked up disproportionately, and by the time they are 18, many of them are already out of choices.

Minnesota has tolerated a cycle of racial disparity in this state for many years, and as a result it has some of the worst gaps in employment, education and juvenile detention in the nation.

If we don’t do something as a state about these gaps, and do something soon, we are going to have a large percentage of our population uneducated, unemployed and in jail.

Not only is that wrong, but it is not cost-effective.

We need politicians, educators, businesspeople, police, prosecutors and judges to demand that we make the dramatic changes necessary to eliminate the “gaps.”

We need changes in criminal-record laws, in policies around arrest and charging of juveniles, in employment opportunities, and, most of all, in education services.

It is time we put away our rosy view of Minnesota as a land of opportunity and grapple with the ugly reality of racial disparity.

Lucy Wieland is a Hennepin County district judge.