District Attorney Faith Johnson's silence on her decision to try six teens charged for armed robbery as adults is drawing criticism from organizers working to end mass incarceration.
The six teens, all between the ages of 13 and 16, allegedly stole a black Chevy Malibu at gunpoint in the early morning hours of July 22 at the 900 block of Elsbeth Avenue, according to a report by WFAA.
After the robbery, the teens targeted a couple walking their dog near their home in Oak Cliff and later robbed a Domino’s Pizza employee. The night ended with them crashing into a fence, being arrested and put in juvenile detention.
The story of their spree has been polarizing from the start, with news reports using words like “gang” to describe the black teenagers, but the politicization of the incident became apparent when the Oak Cliff couple who were robbed at gunpoint began advocating for them to be tried as adults.
The couple’s campaign helped them garner over 2,000 signatures on a change.org petition that was passed along to the District Attorney’s Office.
It worked. Johnson sought for the teenagers to be tried as adults, and the public hasn’t really heard much about it from her since.
Organizers and nonprofits focused on issues of mass incarceration and criminal justice got to work on strategies of their own. Brianna Brown from Texas Organizing Project said ending mass incarceration cannot come to fruition without making sure kids are tried as kids.
“We think everyone deserves an opportunity for justice and that includes victims of crime,” Brown said. “We also believe people should have a chance to rehabilitate.”
Scott Roberts, senior campaign director for Color of Change said, “What’s really concerning is that the DA is really breaking from typical practice, which is trying juveniles as juveniles.”
In the last year, Johnson’s office has pursued charges against more than 200 children for similar crimes and has brought 73 similar charges, according to Brown.
A petition asking Johnson to reconsider her decision and “stop vigilante justice against black children” had about 17,000 signatures when organizers delivered it to the DA’s office on Oct. 9 and has garnered more than 26,000 signatures since. But Color of Change, Texas Organizing Project and local organizers have yet to hear back from her.
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“She wouldn’t even see us. She sent her people out to take the petition from us,” said Olinka Green, an organizer who has been on the ground since the beginning. “A lot of people in Dallas are not happy with her, and I think she doesn’t care.”
Green said she feels sorry for the victims and thinks they deserve justice, but that justice should look like rehabilitation or access to social services for the accused.
“They are growing children. They can still be saved, and they don’t deserve the harshest sentence the court has to offer,” Green said.
Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.