mass incarceration

Weekly Wrap 10.2.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. 9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible

"After a few weeks of feeling confused and invisible, I decided that I just wasn't smart enough to be an activist."

2. WATCH: Obama Condemns 'Routine' of Mass Shootings, Says U.S. Has Become Numb

"As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough."

3. French Catholics Take in Refugee Family Seeking a 'Normal Life'

"The local effort is part of a national Catholic network that connects homeless asylum seekers with families willing to take them in."

The Urgent Hope of Ta-Nehisi Coates

Image via /Shutterstock

Ta-Nehisi Coates is at it again — this time in The Atlantic’s newly released October 2015 issue.

In “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” Coates wrestles with the dark underside of criminal justice in the United States. As he is apt to do, Coates effortlessly teases out the connections between our nation’s present situation — unimaginably high rates of incarceration, particularly among black Americans — and our historical plundering of the black community.  Conceptually nuanced, historically rigorous, and artfully crafted, “Family” is a success on every level. 

Yet soon after Coates’ piece was published, Thabiti Anyabwile issued a cogent response decrying Coates’ apparent hopelessness. Anyabwile’s response highlighted fundamental differences in the two writers’ worldviews. Physical bodies and the violence they endure, not theologies, are afforded primacy of place in Coates’ analyses.

In this sense, Anyabwile serves as an interesting counterweight to Coates. A pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and council member with The Gospel Coalition, Anyabwile is unabashedly Christian. The “comforting narrative of divine law,” eschewed so often by Coates, is one in which Christians like Anyabwile and myself regularly take solace.

PLUS: Poetry Written by Members of the Free Minds Book Club

Poet Ambassadors / Photo courtesy of Free Minds

The Forgiveness

By Steven

I forgive my dad for walking out on his only son
I forgive the people who think they get over
When they assume that I’m dumb
I forgive life for dealing me this hand
I forgive my inner boy for not becoming a man
I forgive the man who bumped me
Because he couldn’t see
I forgive ...
But I can’t forgive everything
Because I’ve yet to forgive me ...

Steven is an active member of the Free Minds Book Club.

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Weekly Wrap 7.31.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Death of a Young Black Journalist

“The most basic instinct of a local reporter is to take the importance of her neighbors as a given. In a community like Anacostia—where more than ninety per cent of residents are African-American, one in two kids lives below the poverty line, and incarceration and unemployment rates are among the nation’s highest—this is another way of saying that black lives matter.”

2. Dear NBC, BBC, CNN, and Others: Mugshots Are for Criminals, Not for Their Victims

“Using a mugshot that has no relevance to the circumstances in which Sam DuBose was killed—up against a fully-uniformed photo of his accused killer—suggests that DuBose did something criminal to instigate the cop in his shooting. As yesterday’s grand jury decision confirms, this is blatantly not true. It warps the real story: a cop who allegedly killed an innocent man for no good reason.”

3. We Need to Talk About Feminism and Vocal Fry

“The clash here is not between anti-feminists and feminists. At its heart, the conflict over vocal fry is a clashing of feminist ideologies. … Wolf suggests that young women’s voices aren’t authoritative enough, and implies that they’re somehow squandering all the hard feminist work that came before them. But what’s really happening is a generational shift, both in feminism and in the workplace.”

Born Suspect


ON A COOL NIGHT in spring 2006, I knelt with a half-dozen friends on the driveway of North Carolina’s maximum-security prison. When officers came to inform us we were trespassing, we asked if they would join us in prayer against the scheduled execution of Willie Brown. Though one officer thanked us for doing what he could not, we were arrested and carried off to the county jail. Willie Brown died early the next morning.

But this isn’t an article about the death penalty.

At the county jail that evening nearly a decade ago, I was fingerprinted, strip-searched, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, and processed into the general population of an overcrowded cell block. When I walked onto the block, I was greeted almost immediately by a 20-something African-American man who asked me, “What the hell are you doing here?” As I summarized the events of the previous evening that had led to my arrest, he decided I was teachable. “You wanna know how I knew you weren’t supposed to be here?” he asked. “’Cause everybody else in here I knew before they got here. We’re all from the same hood.”

“They only kill people like us,” my teacher at the county jail told me that day. “The train that ends at death row starts here.”

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Viral Art Video Painfully Depicts How Slavery Led to Mass Incarceration

Screenshot via Youtube

Screenshot via Youtube

A new video developed by artist Molly Crabapple and the Equal Justice Initiative shows exactly how slavery paved the way for our current system of mass incarceration.

In particular, the video highlights the horror of the domestic slave trade, tracing the development of an elaborate mythology of racial difference — a mythology that once perpetuated slavery and now sustains mass incarceration.  

“In many former slave states, slavery did not end. It simply evolved,” says narrator Bryan Stevenson, who directs the Equal Justice Initiative.

Molly Crabapple, known for her artistic contributions to Occupy Wall Street, creates videos combining the fast-paced style of dry-erase animation with the intricate watercolors of an award-winning artist.

Jim Crow Again: Lessons for Fighting this Giant

Photo via sakhorn /

Photo via sakhorn /

One in thirty-one. That’s how many Americans are in in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole. In the U.S., our incarceration rate is 10 times higher than that of other countries while our actual crime rate is lower than those same countries. Citing a 600% increase in the prison population since the 1960’s, with no correlating increase in crime, Michelle Alexander has called mass incarceration “the new Jim Crow.” When people of color represent 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of those incarcerated, we are in league with David, staring at a towering giant, armed with a prayer and a handful of stones.

While the work before us is daunting, people of faith are called to fight giants. The Spirit who we remember in Pentecost, the Spirit who set the world on fire, has trusted us with this work. We are giant slayers, by God’s grace. For this reason, it is fitting that we revisit the story of the first giant slayer, a young boy who tended sheep and fought off bears and lions.

What Are We Willing to Do?

modera761101 /

modera761101 /

When we discuss the gospel of Jesus Christ, we realize that it is a revolutionary message asking us to love our enemies, to do good to those who curse us, and even harder, to turn the other cheek. The gospel is going beyond that. It is asking us to receive, stand, advocate for the poor, incarcerated, and those living in the margins who have been pushed out by the institutions of our society. Jesus took many risks at times during his ministry, and when he started turning over tables and exposing the priests’ racket of selling sacrifices, it did not work out so well for him.

I’m not asking people to go and get themselves killed, but just ask yourself, “How much of the gospel am I willing to perform?”

Washing Clean: Germany, Ireland, and Our America



It was a devastating weekend for black people in America.

On Friday, a white police officer pulled his gun at a pool party and assaulted a 15-year old black girl who cried for her mom in McKinney, Texas. On Saturday, a young black man committed suicide in his parents’ home in the Bronx after being held without trial at Rikers Island for three years (nearly two in solitary confinement), accused of stealing a backpack — a charge that prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Sunday evening, hotel security officers profiled four young black organizers from Baltimore in the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel at the conclusion of The Justice Conference.