Today was the 57th year anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, “I have a dream” speech. In Washington D.C. protestors had a protest today to honor the anniversary and to look at how close we have come to meeting the goals that Dr. Martin Luther King set 57 years ago. Unfortunately, it appears we have not made a great deal of progress when it comes time to racial equality. Statistics show this fact and I hear it every day in my office from the teenagers that I work with who come from minority backgrounds. Many of these teens and children are telling me that they do not feel safe in the United States.
One thing that many people ignore is that this generation of teenagers are actively involved in politics and very aware of what is occurring politically in our Country. Teenagers today have smartphones which give them access to everything that is going on in the world and our Country and they are paying attention. They are also very concerned about the possibility that Trump could be re-elected President. They feel if he is re-elected the progress which has been made regarding racism will be erased by Trump. They have a right to feel this way. Trump criticizes sport stars for not standing during the national anthem. He claims they are disrespectful to the United States. However, Trump wants to protect statues of Confederate soldiers. These soldiers did away with the United States Flag and were committing treason against the United States and wanted to keep slavery. Trump wants to honor these soldiers. If I was a black teenager, I would be worried about what Trump might do to my rights if he is elected for a second term. Teenagers are telling me about these fears.
Looking back after Trump was elected it became apparent to me how Trump was making teens and kids anxious and afraid. I had many children who were Hispanic and from other minority backgrounds asking me if they were safe in the U.S. They had heard what the President had been saying about deporting people, they were very afraid that their families would be deported. However, all the kids and their families were American citizens so they could not be deported. However, due to what they were hearing and seeing the President do, they were very afraid for their safety.
This past week provides another example to children and teenagers to worry about their safety. A few weeks ago we witnessed George Floyd, a black man, being murdered by the police. Many of us hoped that this incident would be the trigger for all of us to look at the institutional racism in our Country. However, we were wrong about this being the trigger to make changes in our Country. This last week Jacob Blake was shot seven times in his back and the police officer had the gun in Jacob’s back as he shot. The President never addressed the shooting and we have heard little from the police. However, a white, 17 year old male from Illinois felt it was his duty to go to Wisconsin to protect people. He shot and killed two people and walked down the middle of the street with his gun and the police did nothing. In fact, we are hearing he may have done nothing wrong because he was acting in self defense. However, he doesn’t live in the city and had no reason to take a gun, a gun he had no legal right to own, and go to Wisconsin to protect people. I may be wrong, but I thought that was the job of the police not a 17 year old Caucasian boy. It seems like the two men were treated differently due to their color.
The black adolescent boys all tell me they need to be careful when they are out so they don’t get arrested. Looking at the above example and the statistic that black teenagers are 15 times more likely to be arrested than Caucasian teenagers (DOJ, 2018) helps me to understand why they are so concerned. Also from my own experience working with teenagers on probation, I see the discrimination. I have had white teenage boys violate their probation numerous times and nothing is done. However, a black teen I was working with who was on home arrest had to go back to Juvenile Hall for a month for a probation violation. The reason was there was a power outage on the way home from his appointment with me. Because there was no power the monitor turned off and he was unable to call in because the phones were down. Probation decided he violated probation because the monitor went off and he did not call probation. The probation officer knew the power was off, but charged him with a violation anyway. Why? I also had some black teenagers tell me that at there high school students were using the “N” word and someone left and hanging noose on campus. The black students were assured that the incident would be addressed, but it never was addressed.
I have mentioned before that suicide is now at an epidemic rate and has been increasing every year for the past 20 years now so now it is the second leading cause of death for teenagers (CDC). However, Black teenagers are five times more likely than Caucasian teenagers to commit or attempt suicide. The reasons why the rate is higher for black teenagers seem to be racism and feeling like no matter how hard they try they feel they cannot succeed due to institutional racism (CDC). When I hear how many of the black teenagers I work with are being followed when they go to stores or if they say they want to be a physician or get their doctorate degree that their high school counselors discuss being plumbers or electricians with them instead. These teens are very bright and this must be very discouraging. I was told the same thing in college because I have a neurological disability. I share my story with these teenagers and encourage them to go for their dreams.
57 years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr disgust a dream where racism was not an issue and we were all treated equally. However, if we look at our society, we are very far from Dr. King’s dream. The teenagers who are speaking out and protesting are telling the truth and we need to listen to them. Many people criticize them for protesting during a pandemic, however no one says anything to President Trump about not wearing a mask and holding campaign rallies that violate all the safety guidelines regarding the pandemic. Again a white man is getting a way with exposing thousands of us to the pandemic, yet the protestors who wear masks and try to social distance are criticize. Stop and think about that point.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3. or listen to his podcasts on Apple or Spotify.