Bridging the Gap Between Community and Systems 

Crossposted from the Zero Youth Detention blog 

Willard Jimerson, Jr. grew up in Seattle’s historically African American Central District neighborhood. Raised by a loving grandmother and grandfather, young Will could never have predicted that just six weeks after his 13th birthday he’d become a ward of the state and spend the rest of his childhood in America’s adult prison system. 

One fatal and catastrophic moment on a late night in 1994 changed everything. The kid who once fancied himself a charming and mischievous prankster, who loved playing arcade games and pick-up football, was gone. 

Will grew up in a time when many Black families and children were reeling from the impacts of redlining, concentrated poverty, strict drug laws, and unfair sentencing practices that overwhelmed inner-city communities. Meanwhile, academic and political leaders alike pushed racist rhetoric that painted children as domestic terrorists and unjustly justified America going to war against it’s self-imposed “Underclass” and their inhumane “Superpredator” offspring. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed in 1994, legalizing the inequitable and inhumane treatment of Black and Brown people in the judicial system. 

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