Op-Ed: An Open Letter to Dow Constantine

by European Dissent

Dear Dow Constantine and Friends of Dow:

The nation has woken up to a federal administration that plans on exacerbating racial disparities and threatening the civil liberties of all in this country and the people are fighting back! Martin Luther King Jr. County is no exception.

The tide has publicly turned against your $225 million dollar new youth jail that will cage black & brown children for the next 50 years. Because of the transformational leadership, movement-building and anti-racist organizing led by People of Color, in particular Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), it is impossible for us to ignore your role in upholding the racist roots of the new youth jail project. It is time to follow the lead of the anti-racist, organized & directly-impacted youth of color who have intimately experienced the consequences of imprisonment and who have created solutions alongside their communities. If we don’t seize this moment of change together, you will continue to knowingly construct racist systems and we, your community, will have to hold you responsible.

You recently released a statement, timed to coincide with a statement from Councilmembers Harrell and Dembowski. They demonstrated humility and strength in their ability to admit that the promises of the “Children and Family Justice Center” now “ring hollow,” while calling for Martin Luther King Jr. County to “reset.” While this statement is not complete and has yet to be supported with real action, we see politicians moving outside of their conventional roles to dream of co-creating a new status quo.

In your statement, we hear your values of justice and desire to move Martin Luther King Jr. County towards Zero Youth Detention. In contrast, your lawyers filed a successful Motion to Dismiss to prevent an appeal of the permitting process for the jail, filed by over 60 community organizations.  You used the backing of your institution to deny the community its day in court. How is this moving towards zero youth detention?

As a collective of white anti-racist organizers in an accountable relationship with EPIC and YUIR, we know white progressive politics often uphold racism and economic exploitation with the superficial veneer of gradual and systems-led change. In this moment of reckoning, we ask: Are you ready to be transparent about how this project has already exploited and harmed communities of color? Are you ready to follow the lead of those same communities that are providing vision and healing in Martin Luther King Jr. County?

All of the recent statements about the jail blatantly ignore the fact that the only reason we have come to this moment of moral reckoning is because of the focused, strategic anti-racist labor of EPIC and YUIR, not through any work or thinking done by you or any other politician.  With the erasure of this focused, strategic organizing led by youth of color, you co-opt their labor for your own political gain.

You erase the No New Youth Jail campaign’s context too; this campaign is part of a larger strategy to build community power and reclaim humanity lost at the hands of racism. If we ignore this history and the history of racist oppression, we will inevitably replicate systems of oppression in new ways even when we finally overturn the jail project.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander says, “challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system.” And here we are. Do not be fooled into equating overturning the jail on your own terms with racial justice. While your committees and programs were able to reduce the overall number of youth in jail, they still caused skyrocketing racial disproportionality. When racism is not addressed, it prevails. We are calling on you to acknowledge this and show that you value the labor of the community organizers who developed the vision you are now calling policy.

Dow, you have the power to stop the jail. It’s not too late for you to change your mind and take some real action. As you can see from the online change.org petition there are over 10,000 people – and over 60 organizations – who will make sure you are known as the gubernatorial candidate who wants to lock up Black and Brown children. Listen to the community and organizers of color. Stop the jail.

European Dissent is a group of white anti-racist organizers in solidarity with People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, Black Prisoners Caucus, Black Out Washington and other organizations lead by people of color. In this growing movement to dismantle white supremacy and build racially just communities, we must take responsibility, while taking direction from those most affected by racism.


One thought on “Op-Ed: An Open Letter to Dow Constantine”

  1. Instead of better, new or more jails for the youth, I prefer to concentrate on the county using funds to build a great rehab center. The children who were born from addicted mothers and dads did not have a chance. Once these children experimented with drugs, their brain cells opened and they would be an addict for life. I prefer closing a few libraries, we have other places to use for information, Use that tax dollar to help children who did not know what hit them when they began to experiment with drugs. Goal: The best youth rehab center in the nation…..