Criminal Justice Reform Ain’t That Simple – The Truth About Responsibility, Restoration and Redemption

This past month I was exposed to two headlines – “Phoenix man feared family was about to be ‘executed’ by police over stolen doll” and “A second chance squandered — cracks in metro Atlanta justice system exposed.” It presents two ways in which we view criminality. We see in one instance, a police officer on the verge of taking justice into his own hands based off of criminal suspicion. On the other hand, we see a Black man who continued to commit criminal activity after being given chance after chance. We are often presented these two dueling narratives in a competitive format to reductively dismiss one action for the other with little room for both to exist. Both can be true and evidence of a failed system that needs reform and, more importantly, room to reform.

From all ideological perspectives, criminal justice reform is taking root in American’s psyche. Those ideological perspectives can range from those who view criminal justice reform from a purely humanitarian perspective to a purely financial perspective. (It’s not cost-effective to lock people up.) And there are those whose perception of criminal justice reform is more complex than what many activist or advocates are aware of. For instance, Black people are more concerned than white people about violent crime (75 percent to 46 percent). Yet, in the same study, 84 percent of Black people surveyed say the police treat them unfairly. Both can be true. You can need policing in your community and be concerned about the negative effects of increased policing in your community.

Although many would ideological identify me as a left-leaning liberal, a progressive (or whatever else self-proclaimed “social justice warriors” call themselves), I’m driven by pragmatism—envisioning an ideal future but balancing it with what is possible now. This means my views on criminal justice reform are more nuanced than #AbolishPrisons. (Yes, break up prisons as much as possible. In addition, let’s reconsider how prisons are built.) Also, I’m no criminal justice reform expert, advocate or activist. Therefore, my perception of reform is completely from the perspective of an everyday citizen. This nuance is often missing from the conversation because of the narratives people (often the Left) buy into, positioning Black people as victims that need saving. (Guess who are the ones that see themselves as captain save a negro?)

But self-righteousness will only move the needle on real criminal justice reform so far. Yes, we have the First Step Act. Yes, a president can pardon federal nonviolent offenders. And yes, we can legalize weed and expunge those records. Yet, none of these things will lead to substantial criminal justice reform. We need to have a conversation about punishment and restoration, which is often missing from the narrative of criminal justice reform. Some things we, including myself, haven’t completely reckoned with. The majority of those incarcerated are violent criminals. Violent Criminals have low recidivism rates and should be eventually released. (Receipt.)

I can remember watching a story on 60 minutes where Oprah interviewed people in solitary confinement. She was asked if she feels sorry for them. “No,” she curtly said. No one should feel sorry (or be forced to feel sorry) for a criminal. Yet, at the same time, one can see how ineffective and inhumane solitary confinement is. I may feel sorry for that the system, society and the people in his or her life have failed them. But that person also failed him- or herself. We have to accept that as true too. And even in my own limited scope of empathy, I know that in a productive society, there must be room for responsibility, restoration and redemption. Within that same scope, I completely understand the power of racism within the system that can cause the police to take the life of an innocent Black man and that can lock-up five innocent Black boys for crimes they did not commit, even when DNA proves so. Both truths can exist.

How we talk about criminal justice is overly simplified. As election season comes around and people start jockeying for support, we’ll start hearing more about candidates’ “Black agenda,” which often begins with criminal justice reform (even though our top polling issues often lead with racism, healthcare, jobs and education.) So, let’s reframe the conversation. Let’s talk about responsibility, restoration and redemption. I too bought into the myth that exonerating victims of the “war on drugs” would reduce mass incarceration. I too thought the federal government had more power to end mass incarceration than local elected officials. Narratives we are all guilty of buying into. But to get real about the issue of criminal justice reform, we must be honest and that honesty entails understanding the full scope and limitations of responsibility, restoration and redemption.  

What Is the Black Agenda?

What is the Black Agenda?

When the subject of a “Black agenda” comes up, it’s often presented as an ask rather than an explicit demand. Asking politicians what’s their agenda for Black America is totally different from proposing an agenda and asking politicians how do they plan to get it done. I recently visited the Museum of Civil & Human Rights in Atlanta, and there was something that stuck out the most. At the March on Washington exhibit, their demands were specific and immediate. Here’s a highlight of them:

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A Lack of Trust In Dying Black Media

“…we tend to turn to the publications we trust more when news become more difficult to trust. And if those are the publications that we trust, it should look like the people whose trust we are asking for.” -Tressie McMillan Cottom on the Daily Show

The history of Black media has been rooted in the need for trust between the communicator and the reader. The Freedom’s Journal was a newspaper produced by free Black men, becoming a declaration against slavery. During this period, Black people were not only facing slavery but were also in search of a path forward after freedom. Distrust in the coverage of Black people by white-owned media during this period pushed two free Black men to create their own form of communication. Now, Black people are facing familiar and unique challenges via population shifts, climate change and workforce automation. Simultaneously, Black-owned and operated news platforms are becoming scarce. Where do our stories fit into these changing narratives? And who should we trust to tell these stories?

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Aretha Franklin — A Queen With Sage Advice & A Sharp Rebuke

Since the news of Aretha Franklin passing on to Glory, I’ve been listening to a lot of her music. I don’t know what it is about musicians passing away that immediately gets me to listen to their records nonstop, like it’s the last time I’ll ever hear it again. I know it sounds selfish, but it’s probably because I’ll never get a chance to hear that artist’s musical gifts again on a new joint. So, listening to a captured version of that person’s gifts from the past makes me cherish the time I had experiencing their gift.

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Democrats, Where Is Our Thurgood Marshall?

Image result for thurgood marshall supreme court sworn in

Democrats are in a pickle, to say the least. It is an election year, and there’s much debate, particularly surrounding red state Democrats. Will they, or won’t they? Will they appeal to their base? Or do they believe their base will be with them no matter what? Should they show some concession to those who are not in their “base”? After all, they represent all of their constituents not just the ones that voted for them. All of this debate centered around the judicial branch of government—the part of the government that should be politically neutral. But we know that these lifetime appointments have a substantial impact, especially for Black people. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall represented that impact.

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Voter Suppression – It Be Your Own People

The New Form Of Voter Suppression -- Misinformation

Source: Daily Trojan

Let me tell you a story. The barbershop is the place where ideas swarm, from the hotep-ian and bizarre work of Tariq Pee-Peed to the great philosophical work of Big Neitzsche (no Larry Hover). Ideas vary from the purely foolish to the very necessary. Normally, I try my best to keep my opinions to myself, especially while in the chair. (You never know what the outcome will be. You can end up on with a 1999 Boosie fade or in a fist fight.) So, after waiting for Bibby, my barber, to get my fade tight, he tries to spark conversation. “It’s Martin Luther King weekend. You have any plans for the weekend,” he asked. “Nah, I’m resting.” He then yelled, “Martin Luther King is a BIIIIITTTTCCCHHH!” The remaining hairs on my neck rose as I tried to stay calm. “How the fizzuck are you in living the birthplace of Martin Luther King disrespecting the man’s legacy while you benefit from it?” He went on talking about how George Soros wrote MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and how he set his people up by leading them into a “burning house,” a misconstrued interpretation of Dr. King’s last days. I left without giving a tip. And I spent the whole night contemplating. Should I continue to patronize his business? If I tried a new barber, I’d probably end up in the same circumstance. But worse—with a jacked-up fade.

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Dear Tom Steyer, Can You Not?

Associated Press


Dear Tom Steyer,

I see your billion-dollar ads for impeachment, and I’m intrigued. What’s your motive? I know that you’re a smart business man and an environmental activist. Sure, there are other billionaires whose motives range from pure to illumanatic. And avoiding the George Soros conspiracy theories, you’ve taken a front-facing approach with a crystal-clear motive – impeachment. But why?

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Things Black People Should Be Doing Politically Under Trump

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We live in a world of fabricated-fake outrage that is only appeased with more fabricated news or conciliatory prizes. The current president can tweet just about anything. Pocahontas is kneeling while burning a flag. Roy Moore isn’t as bad as R. Kelly. Tiffany Trump is my favorite child. All tall tales that suck us into Trump’s vortex of lies and deceit. And if we’re not distracted by a tweet, we’re distracted by the ongoing Russian investigation wishing, hoping, praying and conducting a séance, summoning the ancestors for any sign of impeachment. Yet, as always Black people find ourselves playing defense instead of offence with a strong strategy. And what are we left with? Temporary progress.

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Ta Nehisi Coates – Pimping White Guilt At The Expense of Building Black Apathy, A Success Story

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Full disclosure. I probably should read at least one Ta Nehisi Coates book. To the best of my knowledge, my first introduction to him was through Very Smart Brothers, as they delicately “dissected” him for being pretentiously loquacious in his writings. And like Panama Jackson, I have no desire to pay my money to read about something I already know.

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Jay-Z vs. Killer Mike: What They Both Get Wrong About Black Capitalism

Still nigga. Black people and capitalism has always and will probably forever have a tainted relationship. Our existence in America is the foundation for what makes capitalism great and what makes it a sin. Our ancestors were brought to this land because of free labor and production. It was the same motivation for why Africans sold us. As humans became barter for trade, this was the beginning of capitalism. (A painful history many of us want to ignore.) However, the color of our skin wasn’t the motivation for why our African owners chose to sale us as human capital. Race became an issue to justify and separate people of European descent from Black people and to further dehumanize us. Capitalism didn’t start racism. It fueled racism. But can capitalism end racism?

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