Response to the Death of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman
Statement by Exalt Youth (exalt) on the Safety of our Children
"Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?"
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
New York, NY - On June 20, 2018, a Bronx teenager Lesandro "Junior" Guzman was dragged from a local bodega on East 183rd Street and tragically killed by a group of young men said to be serving "street justice" for the alleged sexual assault of one of the killer's "cousins." Thing is, the killers tagged the wrong person-as if taking the law into one's own hands could ever be the right choice. That night, we lost Junior, and as a collective community our writhing hearts broke (and remain broken). But we also lost at least seven or eight other young men of color who face a different type of death behind prison bars.
Tragedies like these call us to think deeply about our culpability and accountability: What role do our communities and our organizations like exalt have in ending threats to our children's lives? How might we provide supportive structures that can protect them from both the epidemic of violence and the spate of mass incarceration? Indeed, a gang of boys threw fists and waved machetes bitterly and brutally in the night stomping out Junior's life. But where did these young men learn to devalue life (as opposed to recognizing its worth)? Where did they lose the common care that we must commit to each other, as both neighbors and as humans? Junior's life and his heartbreaking loss must force us to thoroughly and honestly consider our responsibilities to one another and to our community.
The unfortunate loss of Junior's life reminds us of our collective responsibility to provide our people alternatives to the despair at the root of such violence, should we truly wish to prevent such violent acts in the future. Indeed, the multiple systemic failures and injustices associated with the circumstances of his death - our education systems, crime processing structures, joblessness, housing precariousness, etc. - illuminate the dire need for healing and peace in our communities.
At exalt, we view our interventions as investments - both in the lives of court-involved youth, and in the project of disrupting the system that leads to the kinds of dehumanization that make tragedies like Junior's murder possible in the first place. We view this kind of work as not only a social obligation but also a moral imperative. As we continue to grow our impact and serve more youth, we also recognize that at the deepest levels, we must work unapologetically to humanize all our youth in the face of a system and society that consistently deprives them of opportunities to live free of fear, violence, and oppression. For this reason, it becomes vital that even in the face of a horrific loss - i.e., the loss of Junior - we must continue to catalyze participation in offering our young people - especially those who we find most vulnerable - opportunities that free their minds, provide them hope, and allow them to discern a path through pain and desperation to a better future.
The tragic killing of Junior has shaken the people of our city and country. Justice demands that we heed the call to confront the violence that afflicts our communities, so that we may begin the process of healing. There is no real expression of consolation at this time. For now, we have only questions that we must soon address because "the child's sob curseth deeper in the silence/Than the strong man in his wrath!"