Like most people watching the unrest unfold in Baltimore on the night of April 27, we felt dismay and hoped that no one would be seriously injured or killed. We regretted the violence and looting, and worried that it might undermine the cause of those protesting the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the long history of police brutality in Baltimore.

But there we parted ways with many commentators — especially leaders at the local and national levels, who used dehumanizing language to stigmatize the youth involved in the unrest. These leaders referred to the teens and young adults engaged in the city’s protests as “criminals” and “thugs.” By doing so, they invoked harmful narratives about the young people involved, the motives behind their actions and the kinds of solutions that are needed.

Several commentators have already weighed in on this issue. As people who lead national organizations working to ensure that our children are recognized and treated as youth — and not little adults — when they get into trouble, we believe it is important that we weigh in, as well.

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By Grace Bauer, James Bell, Sarah Bryer, Jody Kent Lavy, Marcy Mistrett, Marc Schindler and Marie Williams May 8, 2015