Susan McCarter has spent the last 20 years researching and talking about disproportionate minority contacts (DMC), or the over-representation of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

She readily acknowledges that even the official name for her work tends to make people defensive. “The word ‘disproportionality’ has taken on a bad connotation, but it only means that things are out of whack mathematically,” explained McCarter. “It simply means when a phenomenon doesn’t reflect the population at the time.”

She uses the example of baking chocolate chip cookies to make the concept more palatable. If the baker puts in more of an ingredient than the recipe calls for, the cookies will be out-of-balance. However, when she’s referring to disparate treatment and outcomes as it relates to race and ethnicity, many people find the topic simply too difficult to discuss.

The recent deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte at the hands of white police officers have made McCarter the go-to person on the issue and put her leadership role with Race Matters for Juvenile Justice (RMJJ) in the spotlight.

RMJJ is a consortium of community and systems experts who use institutional organizing and workplace development to reduce disproportionality and disparate outcomes for children and families of color. Working closely with the group since its infancy, she leads workshops, speaks at conferences and uses her research to make the case for its necessity. McCarter also advises the Children’s Alliance, Council for Children’s Rights and Teen Health Connection.

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