Mass Incarceration. The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander these phrases are now intimately linked in the minds of social justice advocates and faith leaders as we begin a critical struggle for fairness, justice and human rights in the criminal courts, police precincts and prisons of America. The Next Movement is convinced that America can do better, and that the majority of Americans would want us to do better, if they knew the truth. The truth about systemic incarceration, structural second class status, completely uneven law enforcement practices, oppressive and selectively enforced laws that is filling the prisons of America.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

It is Darkest Before the Dawn . . .


For me, the Ferguson grand jury decision not to charge police officer Darren Wilson with a crime in the shooting of Michael Brown, was not a surprise. I may have been surprised at the ineptitude of the prosecutor, or the clumsy way they announced it, or the attempt to explain away the racist overtones, but I never expected justice.

The killing of Eric Garner was different. Here there was a video of the police choking this man to death . . . of Mr. Garner repeating over and over, "I can't breath." (CAUTION, the video is painful to view. You can view by clicking here.) How in the world can a grand jury not even think the case deserved to go to trial? 

Well, in the midst of my revulsion, as I'm distracted and less productive than I should be, Asha Bandele (Director, Advocacy Grants Program at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)) sends out a note to the many partners of DPA regarding the decision. She has graciously allowed me to reprint it here:

Dearest Partners,

In May of 1857, having just heard of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case (for those of us thinking of Travyon Martin today, ironically it was filed as Dred Scott v Sandford), which in effect validated the existence of slavery and seemed to ensure its continuance, the great abolitionist, orator and ex-slave, Frederick Douglass, said: 
In one view the slaveholders have a decided advantage over all opposition. It is well to notice this advantage…(but)  This is one view….there is another, and a brighter view. David, you know, looked small and insignificant when going to meet Goliath, but looked larger when he had slain his foe….Thus hath it ever been. Oppression, organized as ours is, will appear invincible up to the very hour of its fall….Take this fact—for it is a fact—the anti-slavery movement has, from first to last, suffered no abatement. It has gone forth in all directions, and is now felt in the remotest extremities of the Republic. 
It started small, and was without capital either in men or money. The odds were all against it. It literally had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. There was ignorance to be enlightened, error to be combatted, conscience to be awakened, prejudice to be overcome, apathy to be aroused, the right of speech to be secured, mob violence to be subdued, and a deep, radical change to be inwrought in the mind and heart of the whole nation. This great work, under God, has gone on, and gone on gloriously…Our strength is in the growth of [our] conviction, and this has never halted. 
In less than six years after he made that statement, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

And so as the progeny of people who traversed mountains higher and more rocky than ours, and with far fewer resources, we continue.  And we do it with all the care, compassion and strategic brilliance that has defined us every day leading up to this day.  We do it as allies, we do it as colleagues, we do it as organizers and friends.  We do it as partners in this work.

The horrific decisions out of Ferguson and now, New York, have this moment. We acknowledge that. But knitting ourselves together I know this: we will write the final and beautiful chapter in history.

With a powerful belief in justice and in each of you,


We will indeed write the final AND beautiful chapter in history. The fight to end mass incarceration in America, to end this War on Drugs that is stripping resources from our education systems, our health care systems, our infrastructure (spelled JOBS), will be won! Because this is where justice resides. Every injustice like in Ferguson, or in New York, feeds fresh warriors into our campaigns.

For now, let's keep Galatians 6:9 in our thoughts:

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."     
 A luta Continua,