Who Deserves a Second Chance?

In February 1999, I was present as my father and others were feted at an awards banquet sponsored by the Bethel AME Church of Amityville, New York. The featured speaker that evening was the infamous Rev. Al Sharpton. Contrary to the way he is usually shown in the media, this Sharpton was erudite and specific about concerns of the black community and what was needed to address those concerns.

He then told a rapt audience about an impending dinner meeting with former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch. The audience was stunned. Ed Koch is seen in much of the African-American community as a mayor who had been indifferent to blacks of the city at best and downright hostile at worst. Koch, in fact, had Sharpton jailed in 1978 for leading a sit-in at city hall. Some folks in the audience yelled for Sharpton to "watch his back." Sharpton responded that he was empowered by God to meet with Koch and hear what he had to say. "He has prepared a table for me in the presence of mine enemies!" he thundered. It turns out that Koch wanted Sharpton’s help with promoting a proposal for a program he has dubbed the Second Chance.

On its surface the Second Chance proposal is extremely uncomplicated. Once they have completed their sentences, nonviolent drug offenders convicted of felonies could enroll in the program and receive drug treatment, job training, and various educational opportunities. After completing the program—provided they stay away from further trouble for five years—they would have the opportunity to receive executive pardons and have their records expunged.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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