By Aaliyah Lannerd
Image by Alyssa Castro
Last month, I attended the Merced Organizing Project’s Live Free Community Summit at Sacred Heart church. It was an attempt by organizers to educate community members, and young people like myself, about mass incarceration and police accountability, issues we rarely discuss in Merced.
While it was a wonderful event, I was disappointed that you were not in attendance.
My message to you: Thank you for not coming and failing us, once again.
I understand officials have lives of their own or may have pre-scheduled events, but notifying the community of your absence would be the respectful thing to do, especially when you claim to want to be transparent with the community.
I was more disappointed when I found out the event started being planned in the summer. Organizers contacted you and invited multiple officials including Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke, District Attorney Larry Morse, and the Merced Chief of Police Norm Andrade. None of of you top-ranking law enforcement officials showed.
The summit shed light on the criminalization of young people in my community and the rising incarceration rates among Blacks and Latinos. I was informed Black people are four times more likely to be incarcerated than any other group in Merced.
Shocked by these statistics, I realized how important it is to stop criminalizing young people of color and help keep them out of prison.
As I sat in my chair absorbing what I learned, I looked over at the empty row of reserved seats. Names of the absent officials were clearly visible. It was a very powerful statement.
We had waited a few minutes to begin the event, assuming you were just running late, but our hopes were crushed when you never arrived.
As a young person, I took this very personal.
This is why I, and many other youth, believe the City of Merced does not care about us. Time after time, you have proved this through your actions and your inability to improve police and community relations.
I wish I could ask you why you did not attend. Was it because you simply do not care? Did you have something else to do? Or did you just forget? I would really like to know, yet I may never find out.
But the tides are beginning to turn. Being continuously ignored is fueling my peers and I. We are beginning to rise, our voices will be heard, and we will hold you accountable.
Remember OUR SEATS will never be empty.
Sixteen-year-old Aaliyah Lannerd joined We’Ced because of her passion for writing. She believes everyone has a powerful story and is inspired to become a great story-teller. In the future, she also hopes to get more involved in her community, and one day, attend UC, Berkeley.