Our summer interns have been busy working on a variety of projects. We are pleased to share their experiences with you.
Frances Snellings, Bates College, Class of 2018
I am a sociology major interested in both racial and juvenile justice. My internship at SFY this summer has allowed me to explore both of these areas by conducting research and gathering hard data on the ways in which we can build trust between communities and police.
In July, I had the pleasure of accompanying Lisa to Lewiston, Maine to create a juvenile justice jeopardy game for immigrants and refugees in the community. In preparation for this trip, I conducted extensive research on the Somali experience in Lewiston, with a specific focus on the experience of Somali youth in the juvenile justice system there.
From our interviews with parents, it is obvious there is a lack of understanding between different cultures in Lewiston. Unfortunately, and to their parents' dismay, much of the “American” education that immigrant children receive comes from the media and other forms of popular culture that glorifies sex and violence, youth autonomy and independence and material consumption. Not surprisingly, this exposure leads already vulnerable children into dangerous situations and into conflict with their parents. I came to understand that so many Somali parents have no real understanding of the technological and cultural terrain in which their children inhabit. Thus, they often do not know how to intervene, explain, contextualize or denounce aspects of the popular culture being consumed by their kids. By introducing Juvenile Justice Jeopardy to both parents and youth in the Lewiston community, we hope to break down some of these barriers and help the immigrant community better understand and navigate the American institutions in which their children must interact and manage.
Leigh Yartz, Wooster College, Class of 2018
This summer I have had the unique opportunity to research the use of conducted electrical weapons (CEW) on youth across the U.S. I have been able to research what CEWs are, how they operate, the training that one must go through to be legally eligible to use one, along with the legal and legislative efforts that have been made to circumscribe the use of CEWs on youth.
Through this research I have become aware of the growing gaps and inconsistencies in policies regarding CEW use on children. For example, I discovered that manufacturers of conducted electrical weapons often delegate to police the responsibility to formulate a use-of-force policy for CEWs. This has led to vast discrepancies among jurisdictions in policies across the country, and a profound lack of clarity and understanding of how CEWs should be appropriately and safely used. I have encountered several cases of children being subjected to excessive use-of-force via conducted electrical weapons due to these variations in policies across departments. It is apparent that something must be done to alleviate and ameliorate this issue because the data is alarming and the number of incidents of youth being shocked by CEWs is increasing rapidly. I now believe that the only solution is to redraft and elucidate policies, apply them consistently, and train police officers accordingly.
This research has brought to light the importance of the work that Strategies for Youth does in the lives of children and law enforcement officers. I have read about cases where children are shocked by a conducted electrical weapon by municipal police officers and school resource officers for minor school infractions. By using these weapons unnecessarily, law enforcement officers are traumatizing students and causing some life-long injuries. Some of the injuries I have read about could have been avoided if both parties, the officers and the minors, were educated on how to deescalate the situation. Strategies for Youth does exactly that. This organization strives to train officers and children about how to calm down confrontations that have historically yielded tension and animosity, and to recultivate the relationship between youth and those tasked with protecting them.
Zoe Rankin, Wooster College, Class of 2018
Over the past month I have been researching the use of CEWs (Conducted Electrical Weapons) on children, specifically, the medical and psychological harm that they can cause. Through this research I have learned why it is necessary for Strategies for Youth to continue to strengthen the relationships between police and youth. I have come to the conclusion that many police officers do not have the training required to interact with youth. Police are not the only ones who are not educated: within the legal system, children are often non-existent and laws are not there to protect them. I have approached this research through medical and psychological databases and by review of cases. In between reading about studies of the impacts of electrical weapons, I have read countless news articles about children being shocked in schools. Before starting this internship, I had no idea how extensive the use of CEWs on children is in school settings. That relationship and problem was new and quite disturbing to read about.
So far, this research experience has underscored the desperate need for more research and knowledge in this area. There is one serious problem in my work: the medical and psychological research is devoid of studies about youth. The conclusion of most CEW studies is: more research must be conducted in this field. Only a few of the case studies or medical studies published pertain to children or teenagers. I have researched about various health complications that can arise from the use of a CEW on an adult but the research about its use on a child simply does not exist. The use of CEWs on children needs to be addressed in several ways: from training and active case law to medical and psychological studies. Gaps and poor training within the system are evident. CEWs need to be addressed urgently and education must be enforced about such weapons because children are simply being left out of the system, which often times, results in great harm to them.
Kellie Ware-Sebron, NEU School of Law, 2018
As a rising second year law student, I sought out an internship at Strategies for Youth in order to both further develop my legal research skills, and put them to use in the real world. I spent the summer researching a topic that is very much in the news these days—the excessive use of force by police officers against youths under the age of 18. Specifically, I looked at the question of how federal courts determine whether a police action constitutes excessive force in different jurisdictions. I also identified the variety of interpretations and applications by state courts of the 2011 US Supreme Court's decision in JDB v. North Carolina
that established the need to consider a youth’s age when deciding whether to issue a Miranda
The research that I conducted has opened my eyes to the need for a multi-pronged approach to eliminate police use of force on kids. I discovered that the definition of “excessive use of force” can vary dramatically, depending upon the region of the country and the outlook of the judges there. For example, federal courts in California find pointing a gun at an unarmed juvenile to constitute excessive force while Nebraska courts require that the gun be used as a deadly weapon (discharged or used in a pistol-whipping) in order to be considered excessive. I also learned that interpretations of the law vary greatly between jurisdictions on the use of Tasers on juveniles, I also learned that interpretations of the law vary greatly between jurisdictions.
When comparing regional applications of J.D.B. v. North Carolina
, I came to understand that even a Supreme Court ruling which forces consideration of certain factors can be limited in its effectiveness when a lower court claims to have considered the matter despite ruling against J.D.B
These regional differences in interpretations of the law have convinced me that we need to establish nationwide parameters on acceptable uses of force by police against youths. I also think it is critical that police policies and state laws permitting what a layperson would consider to be excessive force must be revised to more closely align with community expectations.
One of the most gratifying aspects of my internship is the fact that my research is being put to use immediately. I am helping to write a memorandum to the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Litigation, and a white paper on Conducted Electrical Weapons (CEWs such as Tasers) on youth. I was also able to participate in a video-conference with community stakeholders in the Cleveland area who are creating a policy for the police department to use when interacting with youth. As a result of my experience this summer, I now recognize that this type of collaborative police and community decision-making is essential if we are to alleviate many of the systemic causes of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers against youth.
Thank you for your support!
Lisa H. Thurau,
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