By Xavier Mcelrath-Bey  

August 23, 2014

As a youth justice advocate, I give lots of speeches and presentations to elected officials, the heads of national organizations, judges and attorneys. I talk about why children should never be sentenced to life without parole and other extreme sentences.

I also helped launch the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network, or ICAN, which brings together people who went to prison as children and are now working to end violence in their communities. But before I did any of this, I was a victim of racist police brutality.

As protests continue following the death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown at the hands of a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer, I can’t help reflecting on my own experiences. I certainly am not comparing them to Brown’s death. I do believe, however, that both reflect a horrifying pattern in which too many police officers unleash their rage and frustrations onto African-American and Latino boys and young men. This extends to the courts, where black youths are sentenced to life without parole at 10 times the per capita rate of white youths.

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