Community Engagement Racial Disparities January 17, 2022
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but the commitment of the Safety and Justice Challenge to improving racial equity in the jail system runs year-round.
With that in mind, here are a dozen blogs on racial justice written by members of the effort and featured over the last year.
- Exploring the Difference Between Racial Equality and Racial Equity. Christopher James with the Haywood Burns Institute defined the terms of the debate: “To start treating, say, the Black community ‘the same as everyone else’ at this point in history will not go far enough in terms of achieving true equality,” he wrote.
- The Catalyzing Impact of George Floyd’s Death on Criminal Justice Reform. A year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we asked how community leaders, organizers and activists have continued to champion criminal justice reform and call for an end to police violence.
- Here’s Why Jails Need Better Emergency Planning. Ronald Simpson Bey from Just Leadership USA reflected on the racial disparities in the jail system, and how they have impacted Black and Brown people, particularly through COVID. “We show that Black and Brown people are disposable in the United States when we fail to plan for emergencies,” he wrote.
- How Prisons and Jails Might Function if Addressing Trauma Was a First Priority. Nneka Jones Tapia with the Square One Project focused on healing the trauma of over-policing in Black and Brown communities, a topic rooted in the experience of seeing her father arrested for marijuana possession when she was growing up as a child in North Carolina. “As a child, you never forget the experience of police officers hauling your father off,” she wrote. “You do not forget having to interact with your father through a piece of glass. They are links in the chain of trauma that lie embedded within a person. And it radiates through communities.”
- Failing to Track Ethnicity Accurately. Troublingly, many jails across the United States are still failing to adequately track race and ethnicity, particularly of Latino people, says Nancy Rodriguez, a Professor at the University of California, Irvine.
- Overrepresentation of Indigenous People in Jails. We also spoke with Indigenous people about their experience with the jail system. “Systemic biases in America’s government and legal systems are rooted in historic genocide perpetrated against Native people,” said Dr. Selso Villegas. “We’re invisible to people because that’s the way many in society want it,” he said.
- Meaningfully Engaging People with Lived Experience. Aminah Elster is an SJC Fellow and Campaign and Policy Coordinator at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. She wrote a piece about efforts by the District Attorney’s office in San Francisco to meaningfully incorporate people with direct experience of the criminal justice system in the office’s decision-making. She wrote, “efforts by criminal legal system leaders to engage community members with lived experiences of incarceration are often brief, centered on one-way, top-down information exchange or focused on asking for general input.”
- Pathways to Collective Healing: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve. Aviva Kurash with the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote about a four-year Collective Healing initiative led by the association to focus on how police agencies can build and maintain trust and legitimacy with the communities they serve.
- Asking Ourselves: “Who’s Not Here in the Room?” Gwen Whiting is Director of Training and Leadership Development at Everyday Democracy. She’s worked with several cities and counties participating in SJC to embed racial equity, often through better community engagement. In this piece, she shares a key lesson for those across the country looking to do the same.
- Local Communities Are Better Placed Than Governments to Determine Public Safety. Renita Francois with the City of New York focused on community-centered design principles. She wrote about the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety and its work in Brownsville, Brooklyn, home to the most densely concentrated area of public housing in the United States. Its work included offering a community poetry night called Poetic Justice, a roller-skating event called Swervin; an employment expo for residents; and a performance of “King Lear” followed by an interactive, guided conversation about caregiving and death.
- From the Barbershop to the Bakery, What Makes You Feel Safe? Emily Rhodes, a member of the Community Advisory Group in New Orleans, focused on community art projects designed to get residents discussing what they understand as public safety.
- A Twitter Chat on Reducing Racial Disparities. Marshall Project Staff Writer Jamiles Lartey hosted a Twitter chat on strategies for addressing racial equity in our criminal justice system as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge’s commemoration of Black History Month. From ending cash bail to empowering impacted communities in criminal justice reform, to replacing police with community response models for crimes better handled without a law enforcement response, the conversation emphasized ways to hold the system more accountable for racial disparities.