Navigating the Judicial System For Latino Youth

Posted on November 28, 2010
by FeliciaOctocog

I have proudly called myself a feminist, coming of age in the 60’s with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinham as my guides. I remember going around my new neighborhood on the North Shore after we bought our first house, raising money for the nascent HAWC, proud to be able to support a safe haven for abused women.  I stood and applauded the new legislation on domestic abuse as it got tougher due to the efforts of our citizens and legislators. And, like so many, I cry every New Years when the Boston Globe prints the list of women (and some men) who have died at the hands of their domestic partners.  Yet no laws are perfect and those appointed to enforce them are not perfect so sometimes an innocent person, a good person, gets caught up in all the well-intentioned laws and the ever increasing formulaic criminal justice system, and that good person gets hurt.  When you look at this in the abstract, from afar, you can say that the good far outweighs the bad, until… is someone you know and care about who is the one who gets hurt.

At Salem CyberSpace, we have had to intervene on behalf of our students when they get caught up in the judicial system. Fortunately, this does not happen frequently.  What has struck me is that these students who do not have the social capital or the financial capital to even begin to work their way through the judicial system run an extremely high risk of getting lost in it.  In the two instances we had to intervene, it was staff at Salem CyberSpace reaching out to contacts in the police, probation, and legal offices to get representation, to understand the process, to explain it in Spanish to the family, to raise the money, and to provide emotional support to family so confused and scared by what is happening.  And, even that sometimes is not enough. I have a Masters degree and it took me 4 phone calls with various attorneys to make sense of what was happening, and what will happen next and I am still not sure I get it.

And, so was the case with one of our students accused by his girlfriend of domestic abuse. For the sake of privacy I will not go into the details here, but suffice it to say, there was an argument which led to a call to the police. For good reason, the police and DA’s office take these complaints seriously. In this instance, the girlfriend wanted to teach him a lesson, cool him off, and send a message.  She did not want him landed in jail, forced to withdraw from college, lose his income and possibly his financial aid. And, most of all, she did not want him to lose his self-respect, his reach for the American Dream and his place in the community. How many people lay down the accusation of abuse, bullying, harassment, to send a message not realizing the ramifications of those accusations?  Is there anyway to protect good people from this or is this just an acceptable casualty for a much-needed protection?

One way is clearly to do more in educating both men and women not only about abusive relationships and how to avoid them but also to make sure we teach the ramifications of making the accusation, how the judicial system reacts to it and how to better make the decision when to involve the police and turn to other available resources.

I am so low right now thinking about this young man. We, at Salem CyberSpace are fired up to help him and I still trust in our system and the amazing capacity of this young man to survive and eventually reach his dream but this adds one more obstacle that, frankly, he does not need.