St. Thomas Law Review

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Meek Mill, in his intimate autobiographical tracks of Trauma, Oodles O’Noodles Babies, and Otherside of America, describes experiencing not just several instances of childhood trauma as identified by the CDC-Kaiser Permanente study, but as a teenager, he suffered additional cruel trauma at the hands of U.S. police and a criminal justice system that wrongly imprisoned and unfairly positioned him in a revolving door between probation and prison. The data tells us that the trauma Meek experienced as a child and teenager statistically predicts a poorer life expectancy for him than those individuals that experienced no trauma or little trauma as a child and youth. Because of the anti-Black culture of policing in America, and because of the deep systemic racism that permeates the criminal justice system, simple exposure to U.S. policing and its courts should qualify as an Adverse Childhood Experience for Black and minority children—one that contributes to harmful adult outcomes, including a shortened life expectancy. Mill’s personal childhood trauma as described in his music carefully extrapolates the ways that American policing and the criminal justice system literally traumatized and endangered his young Black life, as it does so many Black children. This article begins in Section I by providing an in-depth examination of ACEs research, including how the groundbreaking original ACE study discovered the direct link between high ACE scores and poor health outcomes and the prevalence of ACEs in the Black community. It then turns, in Section II, to a brief discussion of the broad ACE category of social disadvantage, and how a child growing up in an environment built on a foundation of poverty and violence will inevitably have more trauma, more ACEs, and be harmed through his or her experience of toxic stress. Section III will provide an overview of anti-Black policing and how law enforcement, as currently constituted, traumatizes minority communities and youth. Section IV explains how criminal charging, jailing, and sentencing traditions have disproportionately targeted Black men, contributing to the trauma that their children and families experience with the loss of a loved one to death or incarceration. The article next argues that minority youth exposure to U.S. law enforcement agents and the justice system at large functions as an ACE for youth of color in a way that is simply not present for non-minority youth and, as such, should be added to the list of ACEs that are formally recognized by public health officials. Finally, the article concludes with how Meek Mill himself is seeking to reform a system rife with debilitating trauma. Throughout each section, Meek Mill, and the raw lyrics from some of his most personal tracks, will serve as an illustration, and example, of how social disadvantage, police misconduct and brutality, and the American criminal justice system at large, cause harmful and lifelong trauma for Black Americans.