Brothers James, Jerome, and Joseph Taafulisia are Asian Pacific Islander youth accused of the highly publicized Jungle Shooting. This 2016 shooting in a homeless encampment that ran along a stretch of Interstate 5, was touted as a one of the deadliest in Seattle. The incident has since been used by the city to justify anti-homelessness raids and policies under the pretext of public safety. Although this tragic event happened almost two years ago, the trial is just now underway. Joseph, 13 years old at the time, has already been sentenced to 8 years in juvenile detention. James and Jerome on the other hand, respectively 17 years old and 16 years old when this incident occurred, were charged as adults and are facing a lifetime of imprisonment if found guilty. Amidst the media fanfare, the misfortune of these youth have been conveniently disregarded. James, Jerome and Joseph, all legally children, have been vilified throughout this process and deemed for inevitable incarceration. All to satisfy the illusion that these youths’ lifetime imprisonment could address the rising anxieties around poverty, homelessness, and violence in this increasingly inequitable city.
What the general public needs to know is that James, Jerome and Joseph, are the products of the system that is now demonizing them. These three brothers knew violence long before this act was committed. James was 5 years old, Jerome was 4 years old, and Joseph was 6 months old, when they were removed from the care of family members and taken into the custody of the state’s Child Protective Services. The lives of these youths have been tumultuous and full of instability ever since. They have been in and out of foster care, homeless, and exposed to environments and activities no child should ever have to witness or experience. Accordingly, they have had many encounters with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the juvenile court system. In fact, at the time of the shooting, these three youth were wards of the state who were living together in a tent on the outskirts of the Jungle. The very system that claimed to support and protect them simply failed. As with many youth of color, the criminal justice system blames the youth for these failings and holds them fully accountable to the extent of criminal law. In contrast, there is no responsibility placed upon the state-sponsored systems that have traumatized and criminalized these youth. How these youth find themselves in such circumstances and the tragedy of the violence they committed, says a lot about who we are as a society.
The reality is, James, Jerome and Joseph are neither suspects or the accused, they are victims of a system that routinely and systemically harms youth of color. They are evidence of the ineffectiveness of these court-based jail systems that city leaders support by the allocation of resources. James, Jerome and Joseph are examples of how these systems fail our youth and why we must continue to organize towards finding community-based restorative alternatives. These youth and youth like them, need stable homes, family, community – love and healing, not jails. Indeed the long-term strategy is to advocate for alternative solutions that do not involve the continual jailing of kids. In the meantime, we can show up for these youth or any youth facing judgement from institutions of racism, by supporting them through these traumatizing court proceedings.
Keep in mind – we cannot just continue to talk about No New Youth Jail and forget about the youth that are actually being put into these racist institutions. The building is not more important than the youth going into it. Ultimately, just as a community is not a community without the individuals in it, a building is just a hollow space without members of our community in it. Part of our work is to do what is necessary to stop the kidnapping of our youth by these systems to fill these buildings. Too often the defendants in these proceedings stand alone against this system and its proxies. Occupying these courtrooms and holding probation officers, prosecutors, and judges accountable, is one way we can show up as a community. We cannot underestimate the value of our presence. We must bear witness and not allow them to prosecute our community in the name of protecting us. We cannot let public officials continue to use the prison industrial complex as a convenient solution to the issues of public safety. We must fight racism and stand with our youth.
Come out and support the youth if you are available. Exact dates, times, and location of James’ and Jerome’s hearings is detailed below. Also, look out for the dates, times, and locations of hearings of other youth in the future. Your support will not only be meaningful to the struggle against racism, but much more meaningful to the youth impacted by racism.
James & Jerome Taafulisia: Monday thru Friday, up until August 19th, in Judge’s Cheryl Carey’s, Courtroom #3F, at Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC), Kent, WA. Trial is ongoing from 9 AM to 2 PM daily.