Criminal Justice

When the Spirit Says Go

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, when I first began writing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, I was taking a leap of faith—trusting that people of faith and conscience would have the same awakening I did, if they had access to the history and facts about the drug war and the myriad laws authorizing discrimination against people released from prison. I trusted people would begin to see the connections between slavery, Jim Crow, and the rise of mass incarceration in America. I clung to the belief that people could and would rise to the challenge presented by this paradoxical moment in U.S. history—a time when there are more African-American men under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850, and yet a black man is president.

I prayed, literally down on my knees, that if I could just finish the book, a seed would be planted next to the many other seeds of hope and justice; that people would begin to water these seeds; and that a vibrant, multi-ethnic movement for racial and social justice would emerge—a movement that would end not only mass incarceration but the cycle of caste creation in America.

Many people, including a few of my closest mentors, called this foolishness. I was told I was “ruining my career” as a law professor, that I should stick to writing traditional law review articles and not marginalize myself as “some kind of radical.”

I must admit that, after a while, I tried to quit writing the book. Writing it was so much more difficult than I had imagined; I started to think it wasn’t worth the effort. But the Spirit was working in my life in ways that I did not fully understand.

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More Religion, Less Juvenile Crime

From 1985 to 1994, the rates at which 14- to 17-year-old males committed murder doubled for whites and tripled for blacks. Juveniles carried out about 137,000 more violent crimes in 1994 than they had in 1985. A 1996 report issued by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), “Combating Violence and Delinquency,” warned that “juvenile arrest rates for violent crimes will more than double by the year 2010.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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Cities Light Up for Life

In November, 1,150 cities around the world—including 60 capitals—lit up public buildings to support an end to the death penalty. The “Cities for Life—Cities Against the Death Penalty” campaign was started by the Rome-based Catholic Sant’Egidio Community in 2002. The most recent event resulted in a special evening lighting of the Coliseum in Rome, Cathedral Square in Barcelona, and St. James Cathedral in Toronto.

Art Laffin, a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C., attended the Cities for Life event in Maputo, Mozambique. “My brother Paul was murdered 10 years ago and it was only my faith that carried me through that unspeakable tragedy,” Laffin told Sojourners. “In Maputo, I told that story but I also spoke about Dennis Soutar, the mentally ill homeless man that fell through the cracks of U.S. society and ended up killing Paul. I asked them to pray for Dennis. Mercy and forgiveness are the only ways to break the cycle of violence. That’s why the death penalty should be abolished.”
 
In 2007 and 2008, the U.N. General Assembly adopted two resolutions calling for the worldwide moratorium on executions. In the last three years, three states in the U.S. have abandoned the death penalty, bringing the total to 15.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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