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(Photos and videos by Don Rojas and Kenneth Braswell)
Overcoming the “New Jim Crow”
Challenges and Opportunities for Drug and Criminal Justice Reform
March 20 – 22, 2014
Sojourner-Douglass College, Baltimore
Synopsis of Proceedings
Based on feed-back from Participants, the IBW Retreat on drug and criminal justice policy reform was productive and inspiring. It was characterized by very informative, thought provoking and instructive presentations, a rich exchange of views on important issues, networking/bonding, and discussions of strategies for change/reform at the local, state and national levels. Respect for “Black humanity,” healing Black family and communities, and compassion for people were themes that permeated the deliberations. A foundation and basis for more extensive and sustained collaboration between key Participants at the Table was a major outcome of the Retreat.
Recommendations and Action Items
■ Atty. Jessyln McCurdy and Atty. Nkechi Taifa agreed to provide talking points for organizations and agencies committed to undertaking education and advocacy in support of the Smart Sentencing Act –Senate Bill S1410 and House Bill 3382 and other significant pieces of reform legislation [see addenda]. The information will be posted on IBW’s web site.
■ Yolande Cadore stressed the need to combat local and state initiatives that can adversely impact Black families, e.g., drug testing as a requirement to receive food stamps and other benefits or removing children from parents based on drug tests to “prevent harm” to them. Participants should also be pro-active in supporting measures that lessen the destructive impact of the “War on Drugs” like decriminalization of Marijuana. The inability to pay bail bonds was cited as another problem which has a disparate impact on Blacks. Advocacy to remedy this problem is also important.
■ It was suggested that there be a “Boot Camp” to provide training in education and advocacy for Justice Collaborative participants. In the absence of funding for this kind of training, a request could be made to DPA to underwrite the cost of one of their staff persons to visit the Collaboratives to conduct training sessions. Jesslyn McCurdy and Nkechi Taifa agreed to offer training in education and advocacy at the federal level. In addition, IBW may plan a session with Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau.
■Black Psychiatrist of America, Association of Black Psychologists, All Healers Mental Health Alliance and National Association of Black Social Workers agreed to develop a standard, culturally relevant definition of “harm” that can be used to counter the rationale for removing Black children from parents on the basis of drug tests.
■In light of the changing political climate regarding mandatory sentencing, disparities in sentencing, prosecutorial abuse and constructive changes advocated by the Obama administration via Attorney General Eric Holder, the June 21, 2014, “Free Her Rally” being mobilized/organized by Atty. Andrea James/Justice is Healing has emerged as a strategically significant event. It will serve as a major focal point for intensifying education/public awareness around the plight of Black women in prison and the granting of pardons, commutations and clemency as interim remedies to ameliorate the damage of unjust sentencing policies. Therefore, IBW continues to encourage maximum support for this vital Initiative.
■IBW will approach Congressman John Conyers to propose that his Judiciary Brainstrust at the 2014 Congressional Black Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. Annual Legislative Conference include an Issues Forum on Reparations to repair the damage of the War on Drugs and racially biased criminal justice policies on Black people. IBW will reach out to Michele Alexander to assess her interest in participating in this session.
■After a presentation about the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD) in Seattle, there was extensive discussion about the merits of this model as an alternative to arrest and incarceration in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Implementation of LEAD will require buy-in by the offices of the Mayor, Police Commissioner and Prosecutor as well as key community stakeholders. It will also require substantial private and/or public funding to provide the wrap-around services on-demand that are key to the success of the model. There was some skepticism about whether city officials and funding agencies will buy-in and commit resources to a LEAD type program in predominantly Black areas where White residents are not directly affected. Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. are exploring creating a LEAD type program adapted to the needs of specific neighborhoods.
■Based on the intense interest in healing Black families and communities and the experience and skill of Participants at the Table, it was proposed that IBW explore the creation of Father or Family Healing Circles in a select number of cities as a cooperative effort between Black Family Summit Participants like Fathers, Inc., Mothers in Charge, Black Psychiatrists of America, Association of Black Psychologists, All Healers Mental Heal Alliance, National Association of Black Social Workers and Justice Collaboratives in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Utilizing the collective experience of the participating organizations, a multifaceted, holistic approach would be devised to provide healing for fathers and sons in terms of the stresses, strains and traumas resulting from racism in its many manifestations; parenting skills; mediation/conflict resolution; counseling for formerly incarcerated persons/returning citizens; intergenerational dialogues; entrepreneurship and economic development; leadership development and organizer training, and civic engagement for social justice/change.
■There was a discussion on the need to stop seeing the police as the “first responders” to crises in Black communities in cases where internal resources can be utilized to mediate disputes and resolve conflicts. Kenny Braswell cited examples of organizations that fulfill this function in New York and Chicago. He volunteered to send the names of these models to IBW so they can be studied for replication. Nana Pat Newton revealed that a Council of Elders has been quietly responding to appeals to mediate conflicts in Baltimore. Several arrests have been averted as a result of their interventions.
■Tyrone Parker, Charles Thornton and Courtney Stewart pressed the point that it is imperative that the Healing Circle Initiative target young Black men who are at-risk for committing crimes or being victimized by crime because of various negative circumstances in their lives, e.g., parents in the criminal justice system, one or more parents afflicted by drug addiction, chronic joblessness. Rudy Johnson noted that the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network had a program directed to rescuing young Black men who were likely to be murdered or likely to commit murder. The Alliance of Concerned Men has long been engaged in working with this population in D.C. Kenny Braswell noted that there are numerous such models around the country but they are severely underfunded. It was agreed that there is a need to compile a list of these types of programs because they have a proven record of success. The goal is to advocate for greater funding for these kinds of programs.
The IBW Agenda
■As a follow-up to the 2013 Day of Direct Action (DODA) in Washington, D.C., IBW would like to focus attention on the issue of prison-labor as a super-exploitative modern quasi “convict lease” system. This is an issue which may also be of interest to organized labor. Rev. Dr. Willie Wilson, Pastor, Union Temple Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., is deeply concerned about this issue and addressed it at the DODA. IBW will approach him about providing leadership on this issue.
■Adaptation of the LEAD Program for implementation in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. is a high priority for IBW as an alternative to arrest and incarceration. IBW will also explore interest in adapting LEAD in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
■June 17, on the occasion of the anniversary of the “War on Drugs,” IBW will convene a Drug and Criminal Justice Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. The goal of the Summit is to present updates on the status of policy reform and discuss investment in America’s “dark ghettos.” A broad range of Black civil rights, faith, labor, civic, fraternal and political organizations will be invited to participate. Marc Morial, President/CEO, National Urban League has agreed to attend the Summit to address issues of jobs and economic development as an integral part of the re-entry process. IBW is requesting that he extend an invitation to the African American Leaders Convening (AALC) to attend/participate in the Summit. AALC is the umbrella organization which recently presented President Obama with the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom which includes a Section entitled: Achieve Comprehensive Reform of the Criminal Justice System. Black Family Summit affiliated organizations will also be invited to attend the Summit.
■IBW will continue to support the June 21st Free Her Rally to maximize turn-out and impact as it relates to the vital issue of incarcerated Black women.
■IBW is supporting the Philadelphia Regional Justice Collaborative’s effort to convene a Town Hall Meeting and Mini-Conference on Violence and Fratricide in the Black Community. IBW has an interest in convening a National Summit of groups working on the issue of violence and fratricide as a component of the Conference. The National Summit may be an opportunity to bring together organizations and agencies to discuss the formulation and implementation of the Fatherhood Healing Circles concept discussed at the Retreat.
IBW RETREAT SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
Note: This Document is more detailed session by session presentation of important points.
Thursday, March 20, 2014 Opening Session
■Dr. Ron Daniels placed the Retreat in context. Why we do this? Our vision and mission requires us to do so. At this critical moment in our history, we must remain steadfast to this mission. What is IBW?
1) IBW is Progressive. The race factor is always an impediment to our progress, but we must also understand the nature of class exploitation within America’s capitalist political economy. We must strive to end racial oppression, economic exploitation, gender inequality and to eradicate all of the “phobias” and “isms.”
2) IBW is African-Centered. Historic traditions constitute a vital essence of who we are as a race and this is undergirded by our sense of spirituality. Culture is the essence of what makes people survive and thrive. Africans in America were subjected to “cultural aggression” i.e. the systematic effort to rob us of our culture/heritage.
3) IBW is a Resource Center. What are the most important things we can do as Black people? Network, collaborate, and learn from each other. IBW is a good faith facilitator, which brings people together to promote information-sharing, collaboration and joint work.
4) IBW is “of the race and for the race.” Liberation of African people to end racial oppression is our first priority. However, we stand for the liberation of all oppressed people.
■ We live in a society where there are “two Black Americas,” separate and unequal. Those who have benefited from the civil rights movement have moved on and forgotten those still struggling in the “dark ghettos” in urban-inner city neighborhoods. There is a “State of Emergency” in these communities, e.g., the level of joblessness, crime, violence/fratricide, and mass incarceration is staggering. The pain and trauma suffered because of these conditions must be addressed with effective policies and programs.
■ A white backlash against the “gains” of the civil rights movement led to the dismantling of social programs perceived to be beneficial to Black people and massive disinvestment in urban areas where large numbers of Blacks reside. The drug traffic became the new employer in town. What the Black community got was the “War on Drugs,” a calculated strategy/policy, which targeted Black communities – this is the “New Jim Crow.”
■ IBW remains committed to healing Black families in communities. Ending the “War on Drugs” and discriminatory criminal justice policies is necessary to achieve this objective. Current efforts have included convening Town Hall Meetings and organizing advocates and organizations in these cities to exchange ideas on how to end the “War on Drugs” and racially-biased criminal justice policies. This has resulted in the formation of Justice Collaboratives in Baltimore, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, and recently Philadelphia.
■ The IBW Black Family Summit (BFS) organizations continue to receive updates on the policies and programs related to the “War on Drugs” to pass on to their respective memberships. BFS is a huge asset in the effort to heal Black families and communities from the devastating impact of the “War on Drugs,” violence/fratricide and mass incarceration.
■ IBW is looking at alternative programs such as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) as a paradigm shift in drug and criminal justice policy reform.
■ This Retreat allows us to learn from each other, as we must lead the movement to heal our families and communities from the calculated damages and pain of racial oppression. As we meet and share this information, no one will be asked to surrender the sovereignty of his or her respective organizations.
■ In the final analysis, we must ask ourselves three questions as we seek to heal our families and communities:
- What can we do for ourselves to heal Black families and communities?
- What must we do to challenge private sector institutions to reinvest in our communities?
- What must we do to demand changes in public policy?
Address by Atty. Andrea James
■ “I do this work because the women that I left in prison waved white sheets as they stood on the inside of the prison walls on the day of my release and asked me not to forget them.”
■ She shared many stats on the current plight of women in prison.
■ She spoke of the collateral damage caused because of incarceration.
■ “As a country, we have criminalized poverty and because of mass incarceration, the safety net of having a family has been removed. One example is that 80% of women in prison were the primary care givers prior to their incarceration. 68% of the children who are counted as juveniles have one or more parents in prison. 85% of the women in prison have mental health diagnosis. Once released, they are completely exhausted and have to find a way to heal from their trauma. Gave person example of her own release and the time it took to adjust back to family and community life after serving only 2 years.”
■ Sentencing laws must be changed. Commutation of sentencing must be done. The June 21 Free Her Rally, in Washington DC, seeks to bring national attention to these issues.
FRIDAY, MARCH 21—Morning Session—Part 1
■ Atty. Nkechi Taifa showed her documentary on “Education or Incarceration: Racism in the Criminal Punishment System” and asked the question, “Is it “Justice or Just Us?”
■ Gave concrete examples of the profit incentive in the prison industry.
■ Atty. McCurdy referenced how the book, “The New Jim Crow”, by Michelle Alexander lays out the case for how injustice of mass incarceration as a result of the “war on drugs” has led to destruction in the Black community.
■ The faces of mass incarceration look like us and this is a direct result of public policies.
■ Mandatory minimums are driving this and the current effort of the Justice Dept., AG Holder is beginning to examine and address these policies.
■ Yolande Cadore of the Drug Policy Alliance addressed the issue of restoring Black humanity in how others treat us. We must have an ethics-of-care agenda at all times. We have a responsibility to redefine what this means and be reminded that after every major civil rights gain there was always a major backlash.
■ One example of a need for policy change is drug testing. This is a major human rights violation and is not cost effective. Another example is the number of bail abuses, which prevent persons from obtaining bail. In addition, there are policies that harm the child as a result of being viewed as drug endangered. Challenged the members of the Black Family Summit to help define what harm really means.
■ Have to begin to discuss the issue of reparations because of the “war on drugs.”
Morning Session—Part 2
■ Where do we go from here? Must maximize the conversation around the issue of mass incarceration and the need for clemency and commutation of sentences.
■ Support and push the US Dept. of Justice current efforts for policy reform by the way cases are being charged.
■ Support the fair Sentencing Act in congress, which deals with mandatory sentencing, will also allow first time low level non-violent drug offences to be treated with lesser sentences. Senate bill S1410 and House Bill 3382 must be supported.
■ Money saved must be reinvested.
■ Concept of cooperation with prosecutor to be assured of a lesser sentence seems by many who are arrested as the only way out and as such, a lot of false testimony is given up. If cooperation is lacking, the trial penalty is kicked in and more time is packed on to the sentence.
■ Current efforts for reform are looking at cases that involve life or near life sentences for non-violent offenses along with a statement from the judge in the case that the mandatory minimum sentencing was too long, can lead to commutation of sentences.
■ Any reform agenda must also include an examination of the social costs associated with mass incarceration.
■ There’s a need to engage persons who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration to build the movement for policy change.
■ LEAD program is an example of a promising alternative to incarceration.
■ Faith-based institutions should seek ways to create a community based bail fund.
■ Justice Collaborative reports and discussions from Pittsburg, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington DC. (Look out for “Collab News”, IBW’s e-newsletter with summary of activity reports.)
■ Black Family Summit (see video clip https://ibw21.org/retreat-314/videos/)
SATURDAY, MARCH 22, CLOSING SESSION
CARICOM update and Reparations report presented by Don Rojas.
■IBW was the only US-based NGO (non-governmental organization) invited to observe the discussions of the recent CARICOM summit meeting in St. Vincent, March 10 & 11th.
The summit received and adopted a comprehensive report from Sir Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, which called for the implementation of a 10-point plan for a reparatory justice program for the Caribbean region.
■The summit also mandated the formation of a CARICOM Marijuana Commission to further study drug policy reform in the region and the development of a medical marijuana industry in the Caribbean. Click here for more on the CARICOM Reparatory Justice Program (https://ibw21.org/commentary/caricom-reparations-ten-point-plan/).
■IBW will organize a major reparations rally on April 19th at the Chicago State University featuring a keynote address by current chairman of CARICOM Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and closing remarks by Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Roundtable Discussion: Commitments and Action Items
■ Distribute talking points on the Smart Sentencing Act to inform and mobilize community for support.
■ BFS members should collaborate on defining what harm means and IBW should share this with DPA and OSF.
■ Strategic importance of the June 21, Free Her Rally for public education and awareness re: the plight of Black women.
■ Discuss with Cong. Conyers the issue of damages caused by the “war on drugs” and the movement for reparations at the September CBC.
■ Explore the replication of LEAD in the JC collaborative cities.
■ Explore the creation of “Family Healing Circles” in targeted cities.
■ Examine the issue of prison labor and continue to work with Rev Willie Wilson on this issue. Consider engaging labor unions in this as well.
■ Expand the engagement of faith-based leaders in the Baltimore Justice Collaborative based on the recommendation from Bishop Tyson, Resurrection Community Church, in Phil.PA.
■ June 17, 2014 Summit on Drug and Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, DC.
■ June 12, 2014, support of Free Her Rally in Washington, DC.
■ November 2014, a Town Hall Meeting to be followed by a conference by the PRJC in Philadelphia on Youth violence and fratricide, to include a national component.
■ Educate and mobilize on strategies to forge policy change at all levels of government.
■ Engage young people in all aspects of our work and thus prepare for succession planning.
■ Need to rethink current methods for community organizing so that young media and social networks can be included.
BLACK FAMILY SUMMIT
- Dr. Daryl Rowe-President, The Association of Black Psychologists
- Dr. Nana Pat Newton, Past President Black Psychiatrists of America
- Dr. Lucy Perez, Past President, National Medical Association
- Annelle B. Primm M.D., M.P.H.-Chair, Board of Directors All Healers Mental Health Alliance (AHMHA)
- Joseph Benton, President, National Association of Black Social Workers
- Carlyle I. Holder- President, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice
- Kenneth Braswell, Founder, Executive Director, Fathers Incorporated
- Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder, Executive Director, Mothers In Charge
PITTSBURGH JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE
- Darcel Madkins, Co-Founder, African American Leadership Association
- Ronell Guy- Executive Director, North side Coalition for Fair Housing
- Brandi Fisher- President and CEO , Alliance for Police Accountability
- Dean Williams, Director, Formerly Incarcerated Citizens Project
WASHINGTON, DC JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE
- Courtney Stewart–Chairman, The Re-Entry Network for Returning Citizens, Washington, DC
- Tyrone Parker- President, Alliance of Concerned Men
- Charles Thornton- Director, Mayor’s office of returning Citizens
- Karen Garrison- Host, Mommie Activist Talk Show
- Dr. Taiwan Lovelace-Convener, DC Justice Collaborative
BALTIMORE, JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE
- Karem Aziz- Director, Institutional Research and Planning, Sojourner Douglas College
- Syieda Penn, Managing Principal, Crea8ive Complex
PHILADELPHIA REGION JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE
- Robert L. Ximines Jr. – Supervisor, Community Behavioral Health Services
- Rudy Johnson-Director of Programs, Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network
- Rev. Keith DJ Collins-Pastor, Church of the Overcomer
- Jesselyn McCurdy Esq.-Senior Legislative, Counsel.ACLU Washington Office
- Yolande Cadore- Director, Strategic Partnerships, Drug Policy Alliance
- Ron Hampton-Washington Representative, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America
- Andrea James, Founder and President, Families for Justice as Healing
- Nkechi Taifa -Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations
- Dr. Divine Pryor- Executive Director, Center for Nu Leadership ,on Urban Solutions
- Dr. Ron Daniels- Founder and President, IBW 21 Century
- Rick Adams- Chair, IBW Board of Directors
- Leonard G. Dunston- Convener, IBW Black Family summit
- Louis Romain, Community Activist
- Tyrone Palmer,Community Activist
- Maurice Mitchell, Community Activist
- G. Rosaline Preudhomme, Assistant to Dr. Ron Daniels
- Don Rojas, Director of Communications, IBW
- Mary France-Daniels, Secretary, IBW Board of Directors