Frequent Marijuana Use Among Teens is Up

A joint. JJIE file photo. Ryan Schill / JJIE.orgHeavy marijuana use among teens has increased drastically in recent years, with nearly one in 10 sparking up 20 times or more each month, according to a new survey of young Americans released this morning.

The findings represent nearly an 80 percent increase in past-month heavy marijuana use among high school aged youth since 2008.

Overall, the rate of marijuana use among teens has increased. Past month marijuana users, or teens that have used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, increased 42 percent, to 27 percent of teens, compared to 2008 findings. Past-year and lifetime use also increased, but not as drastically, at 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Marijuana use has not been this widespread among American teens since 1998, when the past-month usage rate hovered around 27 percent, according the survey conducted by The Partnership at and the MetLife Foundation.

“Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at, said in a press release. “Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

The use of marijuana is becoming normalized among teens, too, according to the survey of 3,322 teen-aged students in grades 9-12 and 821 parents. Seventy-one percent of teens said they have friends who use the drug, up 64 percent from 2008, and only 26 percent agreed with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana.”

Still, while the number of teens who have used marijuana in their lifetime is on the rise, less than half of high school aged students have actually used the drug. The rate of teens who disapproved of their peer’s use of the drug remained unchanged since 2008, with more than 60 percent disapproving of the practice – and 41 percent who said they “strongly disapprove.”

Heavy users  are drastically more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, compared to their peers who reported not using marijuana in the past year, the report found.

Teen boys, especially Hispanic males, have led the increase in the past year. Heavy usage by teen boys usage increased at nearly twice the rate of their female counterparts. Hispanic high school males are more likely to have used marijuana in the past year compared to their peers. Fifty percent reported using the drug in the past year, compared to 40 percent of black and 35 percent of white teens.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, who contributed to the report. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”

The findings are part of the 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, a yearly gauge of teens’ and parents’ attitudes toward issues that affect their lives.


Photo credit: Ryan Schill/JJIE

Poll Shows Young People Fear Country is on Wrong Track, But Still Support Obama by Wide Margin

Only one in five young people believe the United States is heading in the right direction, yet more are still likely to vote for President Barack Obama in the next election, according to a recent poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

The national poll of 3,096 millennials – the term sometimes used to refer to people between the ages of 18 and 29 – found that nearly twice as many young people thought the country is “on the wrong track” than those who said it is heading in the right direction, while 36 percent weren’t sure.

But those figures don’t necessarily paint a positive picture for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Obama’s approval ratings among those polled improved to 52 percent, up six points from a previous low in late 2011, bringing his lead over Romney to a strong 17 percentage points.

“Over the last several months, we have seen more of the millennial vote begin to solidify around President Obama and Democrats in Congress,” Harvard Institute of Politics Director Trey Grayson said in a press release. “At the same time, there has been effectively no change in their support for Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress.”

Winning the millennial vote is important to President Obama who was helped to victory by the young voters in 2008. But the poll suggests the same enthusiasm for this year’s presidential election may be lacking.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed didn’t consider themselves politically engaged. Even with the bump in support for the president around the issues they said concerned them most – jobs and the economy, mainly – the outlook among millennials remains gloomy as the presidential candidates head into the general election.

“Although this generation is not as supportive of President Obama and Democrats as they may have been in the historic 2008 campaign, this in no way implies that the Republican Party has successfully captured the hearts, minds and votes of millennials,” Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe said in the same press release. “Instead, Millenials have clearly shown that they are a generation that cares deeply about our country, their role in it -- and feel that the political system as represented by both parties has not effectively engaged them on the issues that will shape their and our nation’s future.”

The Myth of Suburban Gangs: A Changing Demographic

Westside Norteno 14 in Cobb County.  Picture Confiscated during arrest, Sept. 20, 2003.
A photo of Westside Norteno 14 in Cobb County, Ga. Photo confiscated by Cobb County CAGE Unit, Sept. 20, 2003. Courtesy of Rebecca Petersen.

When most people think of gangs and the criminal activity often associated with them problems of the inner-city may come to mind -– issues that are far from their manicured suburban lawns, something that could never touch their lives directly.

But the demographic makeup and geographic location of gangs are changing, according to Rebecca Petersen, author of Understanding Contemporary Gangs in America and a Criminal Justice Professor at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta*.

“We have seen this trend of gangs moving out of the city and into the suburbs for 20 years now,” Petersen said. “We don’t associate the suburbs with people being poor or homeless, but it’s one of the fastest growing populations [in the suburbs].”

While gangs are not exclusively comprised of low-income members, the correlation between harsh economic conditions and the proliferation of gang activity has been documented in communities around the country since at least the late 1980s.

In the decade leading up to 2010, the suburban poor in major-metropolitan suburbs grew by 53 percent, compared to an increase of 23 percent within the cities, according to the Census Bureau. As a result, the majority of the traditionally urban poor population now resides in suburban communities throughout the United States. In 2010, suburbs housed about a third of the nation’s poor, outranking major urban centers that accounted for about 28 percent of the impoverished population.

Part of the problem, Petersen noted, is that many suburbs and outlying towns don’t have well developed social support systems or infrastructure to deal with the influx.

A number of factors contribute to the shift of population to the suburbs, including immigration, availability of affordable and subsidized housing and economic stagnation. According to a 2009 study by the National Youth Gang Center, quality of life issues, such as employment or educational opportunities, were the most significant factors in gang member migration, and not the expansion of existing criminal activity.

“More often than not it’s not a gang migration, but an individual migration,” said George Knox, Director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, adding that family ties and economic opportunities usually underpin the relocation of gang members. “It’s not as if [a gang] suddenly got together and took a vote on whether to move.”

Nationally, gangs have been migrating from the inner city to suburban communities for more than three decades, starting slowly in the 1970’s and becoming “entrenched in many suburban communities across the nation” during the 1990s, according to the "Attorney General's Report to Congress on the Growth of Violent Street Gangs in Suburban Areas" in 2008. According to the same report, suburban gang migration also contributed to an increase in violent crime, including homicide, within a number of the suburban communities they moved to.

For example, in 2007 law enforcement officials in Irvington, N.J., a Newark suburb, reported 23 homicides for the year – 20 of which were gang related.

“The suburbs just aren’t geared for this type of issue,” Knox said. “Usually [the suburbs are] more vulnerable, and gang members know this.”

According to Petersen, most gang-related violent crime was directed at rival gang members, while a variety of less-serious offenses made up the majority of overall gang criminal activity.

Looking at arrests in Cobb County, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, Petersen found that about 60 percent of gang member arrests were for misdemeanor offenses. The most common crimes included property damage, drug possession, theft and burglary – along with arrests for robbery, aggravated assault and statutory rape.


From Atlanta, a closer look:

In metro Atlanta, gangs have long been seen as a largely black, inner-city problem. But when Peterson moved to the city in 2002 she was “shocked” to learn that the majority of gangs were of Hispanic origin and mostly operated away from the city center.

“Immigrants are moving to the suburbs as their first step when arriving here in the United States,” Petersen said, “where before they would typically go to the cities, and then the suburbs.”

In Cobb County, Ga., the focus of Petersen’s recent research, Hispanics account for about 74 percent of the known gang population – a demographic trend that is mirrored in national data.

“All you have to do is drive up and down the highway in Atlanta to see the evidence of gang migration,” Knox said.” There’s MS 13 (a notorious Hispanic street gang) markings prominently displayed everywhere.”

Unlike in the past, many of these gangs don’t claim “turf,” or a given geographic area with strict boundaries, as their own, Petersen said. Instead, members can be scattered across a wide area and often travel outside their own neighborhood to commit criminal activity.

Gang recruitment, especially among Hispanics, largely takes place in middle school where kids are still impressionable and have a stronger desire to fit in than older teens, Petersen said. For law enforcement, it’s also a time to drive home the dangers and consequences associated with gang life.

Since Cobb County’s inception of the Cobb Anti-Gang Enforcement (CAGE) Unit in 2002, the operation has documented more than 53 different gangs with more than 600 known members. Petersen said the actual number of gang members is likely three times that of known members.

Gang involvement declined throughout the late 90S until hitting an all-time low in 2003. Since then, the number of gangs around the country has slowly crept back up, but still hasn’t hit previous highs. Gang activity continues to be largely centered around major metropolitan areas, with two-thirds of all gangs residing, the National Gang Center reports.


*This is a publication of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University.

Ohio Juvenile Sex Offender Ruling Spotlights National Policy

Screen shot from "A Snapshot of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws: A Survey of the United States" 2011.
Juvenile sex offender registration varies widely by state, despite federal legislation aimed at standardizing requirements.

Juvenile sex offenders in Ohio will no longer be required to register as sex offenders for life, the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week. The 5-2 decision ruled the lifetime requirement is cruel and unusual punishment, reigniting a national debate on how young people convicted of certain sexual offenses should fare under the criminal justice system.

The majority opinion found certain parts of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act enacted in 2008 unconstitutional. Many states expanded laws pertaining to juvenile sex offenders following federal legislation in 2006 that sought to standardize how young sex offenders were classified and registered across the nation.

“Registration and notification requirements frustrate two of the fundamental elements of juvenile rehabilitation: confidentiality and the avoidance of stigma,” Ohio Justice Paul Pfiefer wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “Confidentiality promotes rehabilitation by allowing the juvenile to move into adulthood without the baggage of youthful mistakes.”

As a population, juveniles convicted of sexual offenses reoffend at a lower rate than their adult counterparts and juveniles charged with other delinquent behavior, according to the National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth. About 5 percent to 14 percent of juvenile sex offenders reoffend recidivate by committing some form of criminal offense, compared to 40 percent of convicted adults and anywhere from 8 percent to 58 percent of juveniles who participate in other delinquent behavior.

Ohio was among the first to comply with near identical state-level laws, Pfiefer noted, yet since then many states have refused to follow suit – based largely on opposition to lifetime registration and notification requirements.

In 2011, the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder modified guidelines to the federal law, Title I of the Adam Walsh Act, also known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), removing the requirement that lower jurisdictions publicly disclose juvenile sex offender information following adjudication and making it optional for states to provide the same information to sex offender websites, schools and other specified groups.

That same year, the first comprehensive survey looking at state laws for juvenile sex offender registration was published. Among the findings in “A Snapshot of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws: A Survey of the United States:”

  • Juveniles are subject to sex offender registration and notification requirements in 35 states.
  • Seventeen of the states requiring registration of juveniles adjudicated delinquent do not subject them to adult registration requirements.
  • Juveniles are subject to lifetime registration in seven states.

“It feels like almost every state objects to the cost and the juvenile [privacy] issues,” Human Rights Watch Researcher and author of the snapshot, Nicole Pittman, said – adding that only three states (New York, California and Texas) have officially refused to comply. “Law enforcement does not feel it’s necessary to track kids like they do adult predators, and it’s taking away valuable resources.”

“It’s not an effective tool.”

Despite efforts to regulate the classification and handling of juvenile sex offenders across the nation, the study found that state registration requirements varied widely more than five years after the federal legislation went into effect.

The range of state laws is due, in part, to varying interpretations of SORNA, Pittman said.

Zimmerman Charged with Second-Degree Murder in Shooting Death of Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012. Clay Duda/JJIE

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin in February, turned himself into authorities late yesterday after prosecutors announced he would face second-degree murder charges in a case that has sparked protests around the nation.

The announcement by state prosecutors came 46 days after local Sanford law enforcement decided not to charge Zimmerman in the shooting, citing Florida’s “stand your ground law.

His attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Zimmerman would plead not guilty to the charge, the Washington Post reported. If convicted, Zimmerman could face a maximum sentence of life in prison under Florida law.

Martin’s parents applauded the arrest.

“We wanted nothing more, nothing less, we just wanted an arrest – and we got it,” Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “And I say thank you. Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus."

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.


Related articles:

- OPINION:The Tragic Case of Trayvon Martin and the Danger of Stereotyping
- OPINION:The Myth of the Young, Black Male: A More Subtle Racism

From Graffiti to Fine Art: KAWS at the High

KAWS installation of 27 circular paintings at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. March, 2012.

KAWS tryptic installation at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. March 2012.Kaws "DOWN TIME" at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. March, 2012.KAWS "DOWN TIME" exhibit at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. March 2012.KAWS "DOWN TIME" exhibit at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. March 2012. When a Jersey City teenager started tagging and defacing public advertisements back in the early 1990’s, he had no clue it would turn into a lucrative art career. But that’s the story of Brian Donnelly, better known as “KAWS,” that has led him to a multi-sight exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.

Perched on the top floor above the High’s Picasso to Warhol exhibit, KAWS’ installment “DOWN TIME” seems to bring the Modernism housed in the levels below into the modern times they helped create.

His work is strange, yet strikingly familiar, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s essentially a commentary on pop-culture, drawn from pop culture and stamped on pop culture -– it has become pop culture. KAWS has taken on the manipulation (or perhaps re-imagination) of such iconic characters as Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons and Sponge Bob Square Paints. His street-art style dots urban encampments around the globe and offers imagery virtually every culture can relate to.

The High exhibition features a number of these icons, including a 16-foot tall sculpture of Mickey Mouse-like sculpture dubbed “Companion” in the museum’s piazza. A florescent color palette and tight cropped compositions of cartoonish features make a gridded install of 27 round paintings pop off the wall with a questioning familiarity. The images appear as if part of a larger story and narrative unfolding just out of frame (or on your TV screen at home) as you go on about your life, from advertisement to advertisement.

As the young artist gained popularity back in the ‘90s, his subversive images -- scrawled on billboards, bus stops and phone booths -- became hot commodities. Eventually, this work would prove to be a precursor to actual collaboration with commercial photographers and brands.

When KAWS met British photographer David Sims, who happened to have shot a number of the ad campaigns KAWS had worked on top of, a few years back it was the start of a series that would find its way to the walls of the High. KAWS took his acrylic paints to Sims’s actual photos, producing a unique infusion of two rival forms of accepted popular culture that constituted a sizable portion of his installment at the High.

Since the early days, KAWS has also branched out from graffiti -– far out. He doesn’t even do graffiti anymore, at least not on city walls, but the elements of his youth are unmistakable and irreplaceable in his work. Simply put, KAWS has his hands in everything from limited-edition vinyl toys and t-shirt design to fine art painting and sculpting. That also puts him at the crossroads of a variety of different worlds. For toy collectors he’s the toy maker, for graffiti artists he’s the street artist, for art aficionados he’s the painter.

Yet somehow his work finds a strange continuity between distinct groups with unique tastes, in the United States and abroad. In this ever more interconnected world it’s entirely possible, more than anything else, that KAWS’ work illustrates we’re all part of a global culture, transversing borders and long standing notions of what individuality and uniqueness actually are.

KAWS: DOWN TIME” will be on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta until May 20, 2012.

iPhoneography credits: Clay Duda/JJIE.

Related articles:

KAWS "Companion," 16-feet tall sculpture at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. March 2012.

Outgoing Board Chairman Looks at Past, Present and Future of Georgia’s DJJ

Georgia DJJ Board members, 2010. Photo: Ga. DJJ
Georgia's Department of Juvenile Justice Board, 2010. Ed Risler (front, third from left) served on Georgia's DJJ Board for more than a decade, most recently as chairman.
Ed Risler After more than a decade of service, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Board Chairman Ed Risler stepped down from his post earlier this month following the expiration of his term in the summer.Risler outlasted many Ga. DJJ senior staff members, working with five commissioners over the years. He's seen the Department undergo a number of changes -- from federal mandates to the accreditation of the DJJ school system -- and remains optimistic about the future, despite budgetary constraints.A longtime professor at the University of Georgia, Risler is a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist. His research and teaching focuses on juvenile justice, poverty, international social work and a number of related areas.JJIE caught up with Risler last week to get his take on the past, present and future of the agency charged with overseeing and rehabilitating juveniles offenders throughout the state.


JJIE: You’ve served on the DJJ Board for more than a decade. From your perspective, what are some the things, past and present, that have changed or been accomplished over the years?

Risler: “One of the major things was getting out from under the oversight from the federal government with the memorandum of agreement. Those were some tough times. They were tough in the sense that we had to change and meet these standards – there was 150 of them I believe – that covered a number of areas: mental health, protection from harm, education, and all these sorts of things. But it was good because we had a lot of the resources we needed to have funding wise to comply with those things.

We did real good in doing that and I think one of the cornerstone achievements of that is the fact our academic programs in all our institutions are accredited. They’re accredited by SACS and Correctional Education Association, which was a result of a lot of the hard work of a number of people that were there and saw that stuff go through.

So essentially, the education our kids were getting was as good an education as they were getting at any public school in the state, if not better, I would argue. The commissioners involved in that were really good. When we got through with that Albert Murray was the commissioner, which was really good.

The ironic thing was right after we did that and we celebrated, I think the economy tanked and times of austerity kicked in and things got kind of tough. We had to get to our core function.

Putting it this way, we ended up going from a $300 million budget to a $200 million budget, and you cannot maintain – it’s no fault of anybody’s it’s just the economy.

It wasn’t anybody's fault. I think people were doing the best they could, but we just had to make some cuts and when you make the cuts that were as traumatic as that there’s no way you could maintain the level of services.

So I think we’ve really done our best to really do the best we can in spite of that fact. Commissioners that have come in have tried to do that.

You know, it’s not the warm-and-fuzzy kind of thing. It’s a public safety issue, and it’s a tough thing. What we do to try and help kids often times doesn’t come into fruition until later on, so you can’t sort of see the benefits of what we do.

I do believe we help a lot of kids and I believe everybody who works in the Department is committed to trying to do that. Anybody who works for the Department of Juvenile Justice certainly is not doing it for the money – because they don’t get paid a whole lot – but they’re there doing the things day in and day out to… it’s a double edged sword is some respects: to try to protect the community but also to try to rehabilitate the kids that are in our care.

I think it’s in good hands with commissioner Buckner. I think she’s fabulous. I think Governor Deal made a good choice in appointing her. I like what he has done in prioritizing and recognizing that that sort of investment in what the Department does is a good thing for the state of Georgia as a whole.


JJIE: What are some of the challenges GA DJJ faces moving forward?

Risler: “Pragmatically, I think it’s not the biggest department. In terms of competing in a practical sense with other departments for what the Department needs is sometimes difficult. That’s a hard thing to do when you’re going after a piece of the pie, so to speak.

The other thing I think is a challenge is that the mission is two fold. On one hand we’re about public safety. There’s a reality about public safety. We have children that are confined because they have done some things that aren’t real good.

On the other hand, and this is the other side of the double-edged sword, is the fact that we are mandated or charged with trying to rehabilitate them and make them productive members of society. And there are times those things run counter to one another, and that’s a hard thing to do.

What happens sometimes is the Department is really an easy target for criticism. Day in and day out we deal with some challenging youth, and there’s no getting around that, that’s just part of what we do. And in spite of our best efforts there are times where things happen even though we have everything in place and every kind of policy you can imagine that would address every situation.

Sometimes, unfortunately, some stuff may happen. That’s sort of a difficult challenge we have to overcome.

Fortunately, if you look at the big picture of all the kids the Department serves everyday you’d have to say it does an excellent job. When you think about all the kids we serve and all the kids in confinement you would think there might be a lot more [negative things] going on, but there’s not.

I wouldn’t have served as long as I did if I didn’t think it was a worthy thing to do.

You cannot see what the Department does for kids until five or 10 years down the road when they’re adults and they’re okay. The Department doesn’t get to see the fruit that it bears for a long time down the road, so it’s hard to recognize that or see it in that context.

I’m actually a product of that. I was a kid who had gotten into trouble. I was a high school dropout. I went through the system in Florida, but not up here, and so that’s one of the reasons I got into the business I was in and focused my area of research as well.

I think people see the kids that we serve as if they’re something else, but they’re like every other kid. The only thing that makes a juvenile delinquent is he’s the kid that got caught. Everybody else didn’t get caught.

Everybody has done something when they were young that if they had gotten caught they would have in trouble. Now people don’t necessarily want to admit that, but that’s the only real difference. You’ve got some kids that get caught and some that don’t. But unfortunately, sometimes, they get characterized as if they’re something different, like they’re not like anybody else, but that’s not necessarily true.

Part of the stigma of the type of kid we deal with, sometimes, is a challenge to overcome. You don’t get a lot of sympathy at times from people.


JJIE: What do you see as the best path forward for the DJJ?

Risler: “I think if we maintain our focus on what we’re doing – to me it appears the economy is improving – particularly this year I’m pleased with the recommendations made by the governor.

I mean, the last three years we’ve had significant cuts and had to close facilities. It’s very difficult when you talk about laying people off because you’re affecting people’s lives, which we had to do.

Now it seems things are stable and we’re not just reacting to a financial crisis. I think there’s some stability that’s come in and we’re able to kind of get back to our focus and our goals and move in a direction that’s positive, that will help kids that have a lot of needs. I’m good about that, that’s the way we’re going.

We focus on education, which is a good thing.

If there’s one thing we can do, that’s consistently shown in the research, is the development of one’s human capital. If you can teach somebody a skill and they walk out of our facility with something in their hand they have a greater chance of not returning into the criminal justice system. I think we’ll keep our focus going. Up to this point we’ve really had to react to budget cuts, although that’s no fault of anybody’s but just the situation and how it was.


JJIE: So what does the future hold for you?

Risler: "Well, I’m a full professor at the University of Georgia. I teach in the School of Social Work.

Being on the Board is something I’ve been committed to doing as part of my service commitment to the University. The University of Georgia is a land grant university, which is the idea that we do things that instill in the citizenry of Georgia to help them out – and that was kind of my goal in [serving on the Board]. Fortunately enough, I was allowed the ability to do that.

So now I’m back, still doing what I was doing before at the University: teaching and doing research. A lot of my research is in the area of juvenile justice.

I had an op ed in the AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) about a year ago. It recognized that our educational programs are accredited. At the time, I didn’t know of another state in the Union that had state-operated correctional facilities with educational programs that are accredited. I think that was something noteworthy of tooting the horn about. I mean, that’s phenomenal.

People always hear when something bad happens at the DJJ. Part of the challenge is overcoming that misperception of what we do, and that’s unfortunate, but that’s like any other agency I guess.

I’d like to say one more thing: I’m very confident in Commissioner Buckner’s vision and style of management and the direction she’s moving in. I feel real good about that. I feel real good about all the members of the Board. They help support and guide the vision for the Department.

I think it’s going to be fine."

Students, Community Members Gather in Atlanta to Protest Trayvon Martin Shooting

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012

ATLANTA -- Hundreds of Trayvon Martin supporters gathered to chants of “I am Trayvon” in Downtown Atlanta on Monday, exactly one month after the Florida teen was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in an Orlando suburb.

Bands of student demonstrators, mainly organized by student groups from nearby universities, joined activists, community members and a long list of organizers on the steps of the state capital to call for the arrest of George Zimmerman – the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who claimed to have shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.

“It’s a general issue of justice,” said Richard Hunter, 42, who attended the rally with his nine-year-old son, Matt.

“I think we’ve seen that when we get involved things can change,” Hunter said about the importance of getting young people involved in justice issues. “A lot of people sit back and act like nothing is going to happen instead of showing up. So I decided to show up.”

The hodge-podge of protestors also challenged Georgia’s own “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly-force if you fear your life is in danger.

Zimmerman admitted to shooting the teen, but claimed self-defense under a similar Florida law and has not been arrested.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Morehouse student Jonathon Howard said to a cheering crowd, delivering a still powerful quote more than half a century after it was first penned by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012 KIPP Atlanta Collegiate
Students from KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, a local school, join the protests at the Ga. State Capital. March 26, 2012.

Many protestors carried bags of Skittles and wore hooded sweatshirts adorned with the “I am Trayvon” slogan despite temperatures in the 80s. Martin was wearing a hoody and carrying a bag of Skittles when he was shot and killed returning from a local 7-Eleven in Sanford, Fla. He was unarmed.

Demonstrations in more than half a dozen major cities around the country marked the anniversary. Seventy-three percent of Americans said they felt Zimmerman should be arrested and face charges for the death, according to a recent CNN poll.

In Florida, a special prosecutor has been assigned to investigate the case. A grand jury is scheduled to begin deliberation on the case April 10.

Earlier in the day, Sanford officials confirmed an altercation ensued between Martin and Zimmerman prior to the fatal shot. Signs of the scuffle appeared in the original police reports, but had not been confirmed by law enforcement. City officials also announced a replacement for the Sanford Police Chief who stepped down, at least temporarily, last week amid community outrage over the department’s handling of the case.

Longtime civil rights activists Rev Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Martin’s parents and supporters for a rally in Sanford.

“It’s justice for someone who hasn’t gotten any,” Joanna Carter, 23, said back in Atlanta. “If you let it continue this just ain’t right, no matter the color.”

Photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE

Trayvon Martin Rally Georgia State Capital March 26 2012

Commissioner Announces New Chairman to Head Georgia’s DJJ Board

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice logo. Clay Duda/JJIEGeorgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner confirmed the Board’s election of Avery Niles to head the state’s DJJ Board. Niles fills the Chairman post formerly held by long-time Board member Ed Risler, who stepped down earlier this week following the expiration of his term last summer.

Niles, a 23-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department and current warden of the Hall County Correctional Institution, was appointed to the Board by Gov. Deal in July 2011. As Chairman, Niles will “help guide Board Members as they serve in their advisory capacity to DJJ, providing leadership and counsel to the Commissioner to help improve Georgia’s juvenile justice system,” according to a DJJ release.

“I am honored to serve in this capacity,” Niles said. “I want to thank the Board for their confidence and I will work diligently to maintain their trust.”

Representing the 9th Congressional district, Niles will hold the position for at least the next two years, at which time he will be eligible for re-election by the Board.

The Board is made up of 15 members representing each of the Congressional districts around the state. Appointments are made by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

“The Georgia Juvenile Justice mission is to protect and serve the citizens of Georgia by holding young offenders accountable for their actions so they can become contributing members of society,” DJJ Commissioner Buckner said, congratulating Niles on the appointment. “We look forward to making real changes in the lives of our young offenders with help from a smooth transition of Board leadership ahead.”

A resident of Clermont, Ga., Niles is a graduate of Leadership Hall County, the Georgia Police Academy and the FBI National Academy. He serves as a deacon at Antioch Baptist Church and is currently pursuing a Bachelors degree in mortuary science while attending the Georgia law enforcement Command College in Columbus, Ga.

During the routine Board meeting on Thursday, Buckner also confirmed Gov. Deal’s appointments of two new members to the Board: Willie Bolton, representing the 10th Congressional District, and Frank Rozier from the 1st Congressional District.

Bolton fills the seat of former Chairman Ed Risler.

“We admire the professionalism Chairman Risler brought to this task,” Buckner said at the meeting, expressing appreciation for Risler’s more than 10-years of service on the Board. “And we wish all the best for our new appointees who are about to face the many challenges that lie ahead for the Department of Juvenile Justice.”

The Board seat for the 1st Congressional District was vacant before Rozier’s appointment.

Photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE