It’s been a while since I worked through the topic of Racial Reconciliation in this space. Then on Friday I attended our City Library’s second installment of a book club series on Candid Conversations. The first session met to discuss “Between the World & Me.” This time we talked through “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
And, whew. It was a significant discussion. I of course do not know the beliefs of the 20 that attended, but I know what we talked through matters to God. I’m grateful that our city is tackling this pressing issue in both a civic and spiritual dimension. Because there is no distinction for those of us who want to love God and love people. If unjust practices are being waged on our citizens from the top down – almost exclusively on our brothers and sisters of color – then it is an affront to God and shows us an area in which we can focus our love.
But I should probably back up. I wrote before on this topic after watching the popular Netflix documentary “13th.” And while this video was an incredibly eye-opening starting point, I cannot recommend highly enough the thorough, well-researched book itself. And I still have 100 pages to go. But I am not letting that stop me from bringing this conversation into this space even now. It affects too many people and those of us it doesn’t seem to directly affect are too unaware.
It is impossible to do the research justice in a blog post, but the basic premise is how, beginning in the 1980’s, a War on Drugs was declared. In order to fight this “war,” billions of dollars in federal funding were pumped into the police force across the country, offering perks and bonuses to those who bought into this militaristic regime. Not coincidentally, funding for government programs such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Education were cut during this same time.
Then came the increasingly lenient procedures on who police may stop and frisk – and how. Whereas before a warrant was required to search a person’s property, now anyone a policeman subjectively deems “suspicious” is game. And the courts have held up officers’ rights to this, all the way up to the Supreme Court, in order to fight this war.
As you can imagine, certain types of people have been deemed suspicious by police. This is called profiling. And if you follow someone long enough, eventually they will not come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign or not leave their blinker on long enough when changing lanes or have a taillight go out – which requires being pulled over. And searched. And even though the vast majority of people pulled over will have nothing on them, eventually you will find those who do.
And although they are likely not committing any violent crimes, but in order to wage war on drugs, they will almost always do disproportionately long prison time with “tough on crime” mandatory sentences. Like 5-10 years for a first time, nonviolent offense. This happens to those of all races, of course, but it happens mostly to young men of color. Unfortunately, unless an officer is careless enough to say, “I suspected him because of his skin color,” there is almost never any legal push back for the reasoning.
And this is how African Americans are only 13% of the U.S. population but can somehow represent 40% of our prison population.
Unfortunately, this is all just the beginning of the vicious loop in the War on Drugs. When time is served and nonviolent drug offenders are back at it trying to get on with their lives, the deck is overwhelmingly stacked against them. Now that they are labeled a felon, it is difficult to get a decent job, and often their driver’s license is revoked, making finding any job difficult. They can be disqualified from federal housing assistance and even food stamps. As you can imagine, it’s tough to get your life back when you owe debt for legal fees and can’t find gainful employment. Many give up and get swept back into the system.
Here is where people like me need to be reminded of some important things: Our struggle is never against flesh and blood, but against evil that animates systems such as these. I have no doubt that most in authority seek to serve those they lead. The facilitator of our discussion Friday night has served in both county commissioner and legislative seats of government and sought for juvenile justice reform – and she pointed out inaccuracies when they came up.
But, friends, if ever there was a time to pray, I think we have seen that it is now. We are divided and often confused and need some serious discernment for this day in which we live. Will you pray with me? Actions to be taken can only flow rightly as our hearts break for what breaks His and as we wage war in the heavenlies for justice.