Methods: We used purposive sampling to conduct a series of longitudinal interviews with Black and Latinx young adults who were reentering their community from jail. The interviews took place from June 2020 to May 2021, allowing us to capture participants’ perspectives at various stages of COVID-19 pandemic, as well as their views on racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd. A sample of 9 young adults were recruited for a series of up to 9 monthly interviews. The sample’s average age was 21 years old and included 7 men who were Black (n = 7) or Latinx (n = 2). On average, participants completed 6 interviews. We used inductive thematic analysis to identify core patterns of responses concerning participants’ views of racial injustice in the criminal legal system and the relevance of the BLM movement in addressing racial inequities.
Findings: Overall, these young adults held a negative view of law enforcement and felt that police officers used their power to harm Black people. Based on their personal experiences, many believed that the criminal legal system, including police officers and judges, were racially biased. Though there was agreement among the young adults that racial injustice occurs within the criminal legal system, they indicated different views on the specific tactics and strategies utilized during the 2020 BLM protests. While some participants expressed support for the BLM protests; others doubted the protests as a tactic to inflict real change in addressing racial injustice. Even those who supported the protests still described doubt that the protests would lead to visible systemic changes in the criminal legal system and society as a whole.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings demonstrate the depth of legal cynicism and distance from the movement of racial justice for justice-involved Black and Latinx young adults. The absence of optimism regarding true systemic change may impede civic engagement and activism. The BLM movement centers those who face racial injustice within the criminal legal system yet, our findings demonstrate that young adults within this population feel removed from the movement itself. More research can flesh out how social movements can incorporate the voices of marginalized young adults, and thus boost their optimism and participation in civic engagement.