Senator Jesse Hamilton and the rest of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) members need to decide which side of history they want to be on.
The IDC, a conference of eight Democrats, are in a coalition with the Senate Republicans. Not only does their coalition contribute to the Republican Majority in the Senate, but it has emboldened the rhetoric of Republican Senators, giving them the platform to project blatant racism.
Last week, some Republican Senators took to social media to spew racist rants against the Raise the Age proposal that would keep our 16 and 17 year olds out of the adult criminal justice system. Senate Republican Tom Croci claimed that those fighting towards a progressive raise the age legislation — including IDC members — “care more about keeping teenage drug gang members, murderers and rapists out of jail…which will lead to our communities being less safe in the face of violent criminal drug gangs who slaughter our kids in cold blood.”
New York is one of just two states in the entire nation — the other is North Carolina — that have not passed legislation to stop prosecuting minors as adults, and that can send 16 year olds to maximum security adult prisons.
Advocates like myself are fighting not only to Raise the Age, but also for funding for public schools. Making sure children are not cohabitating jail cells with adults is a no brainer. Ensuring that the state complies with the level of funding the State Education Department has deemed necessary for children is also a no brainer. It is morally the right thing to do.
Senator Hamilton and the IDC pay lip service to raising the age of criminal liability, giving the impression they are fighting for our communities. But it is the IDC and Senator Hamilton that enable the Senate Republicans to block the very principles they claim to support. The IDC grants the Republicans the power in the Senate to block school funding and passing Raising the Age legislation. By joining a coalition with the Republicans, the weight of Senator Hamilton’s real vote is behind Republican policies designed to undermine his own principles.
Sitting in the State Senate chamber this week, it was notable how Senator Hamilton and his IDC colleagues were in lock step with Senate Republicans. I wondered which part of this process is about bringing resources and justice to our community. With our democratic principles being challenged federally, this is not the time for the IDC to break away from their own party and the very ideals that got them elected.
Senator Hamilton was right when he said, “communities deserve better.” We deserve representatives that will really fight for our community, not sell us out for higher pay and a bigger office. It is up to us — the parents, advocates, and community members — to hold legislators accountable and stand up for our communities in a real and meaningful way. So far Senator Hamilton and the IDC have only misrepresented the ideals that Democratic voters thought they were getting. The IDC should end its coalition with the Senate Republicans and their racist policies that only harm their own communities — or Senator Hamilton needs to quit the IDC.
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