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Youth March for "Respect" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 12 December 2013 05:48

About 40 Young Men And Women Start A 50-Mile Walk In Sylmar To Advocate For Incarcerated Youth

A. Garcia / SFVS

Karla Fuentes was only 13-years-old when she landed in the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

"I took the blame for stabbing a girl in a fight," recalled Fuentes, now 17 and living in Watts.

Her three days at the Sylmar juvenile detention center, before heading to a youth camp where she served a nine-month sentence, left its mark on her.

"It was nasty, smelled like pee. It's cold. The light is horrible fake light," she said, describing the Sylmar facility.

But the youth camp was not much better.

"I was jumped by seven girls there. I had to grow up fast," said Fuentes who works for the Youth Justice Coalition, the group behind the "March For Respect" to advocate for less prison time for juveniles and more resources and jobs for them.

That is the message Fuentes and about 40 other young men and women planned to push as they began a 50-mile walk from Sylmar to Downey this week. They started in front of the Sylmar juvenile hall, and walked southeast through Sylmar, San Fernando, Pacoima, Sunland and Sun Valley on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon, Dec. 8, after a native and Catholic blessing.

Father Michael Kennedy, who has visited incarcerated youths for the past 25 years, said the march was an important show of faith.

"Your walking has made a big difference. It shows the elected officials kids of color deserve a second chance," Kennedy said. "There is a lot of 'orgullo' (pride) and 'esperanza' (hope) in this walk."

During four straight days, the participants walked about between 10 and 15 miles each day, before heading home and returning the next day to begin where they ended the day before.

Along the way, they held rallies in front of the Los Angeles Police Station to protest a new gang injunction in Echo Park, a vigil at Los Angeles City Hall, a "speak out" in front of the LAPD Headquarters, and a stop at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall where they read poetry in front of the Probation Headquarters in Downey.

The marchers want officials to divert one percent of the law enforcement budget (about $100 million) to create 50 new youth centers, hire 500 counselors and gang intervention workers and create 25,000 youth summer jobs instead of "criminalizing the youth," said Julio Marquez, 21, another participant.

"We're marching for the folks behind this wall," said Marquez, pointing to the juvenile hall.

For Alexis Reinier, 17, taking part in her first 50-mile walk was about highlighting the kinds of problems and issues minority youths face every day in low-income communities.

"We get a lot of police brutality and disrespect. We're viewed as the 'enemy' instead of someone of value," said the South Central Los Angeles resident who attends Gardena High School, calling it the school known "for having the most school police" in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"We want to see a change," she said. "We would like no more school police, more counselors, no tardy sweeps, no pushing us out of schools. And more youth centers, places where we can be safe and learn things."

José Solis, 22, supported Reinier's position.

A veteran of the 50-mile walk with five under his belt, Solis said he was involved, in part, "to honor those we've lost on the streets due to gun violence and police brutality" and to show the need for more resources for youth instead of criminalization.

"We do make mistakes, but our minds are not fully developed and we need a second opportunity. You can't throw away the key forever," he said, noting that youth who commit offenses can receive long sentences for taking part in infractions that they may have been too young to realize the consequences.

"You're taking away a chance for that person to be somebody. You never know what that young man or woman could have been, maybe a doctor or someone important," said Solis, a South Los Angeles resident who works at LAX and at the Youth Justice Coalition.

He said the incarceration of youth affects the family as a whole.

"We need to bring the youth back home. It disrupts the family. You have guys who've never seen their little brothers because they've been in jail so long that they don't know their families anymore."