“Justice is not a legal matter, it's a human matter.”
What do you think about when you consider our justice system?
Is it prisons? Is it police? Is it judges? The answer could be any of the above or none of the above. The justice system is a set of legal institutions for enforcing actions deemed illegal under local, state, and federal criminal laws. The institutions that enforce those laws are the police/sheriff, prosecutor’s offices, courts, prisons, and parole offices.
The greater question may be, “What is justice?” Justice is the principle that people will receive what they deserve without favor towards any one person or groups of people. While we hope that our system of justice is blind and fair, there are many who believe that since its inception, our justice system has not been fair; it is biased against persons that are not affluent, and favors persons of Western European descent, i.e. white Americans.
Did you know?
- Nationwide, Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences. (Source: The Sentencing Project)
- Black adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated as whites, and 1 in 3 Black men are likely to go to prison in their lifetime compared to 1 in 17 white men. (Source: The Sentencing Project)
- Black adults make up 13 percent of the U.S. adult population, yet they account for 30 percent of those on probation or parole. (Source: The Pew Research Center)
So, is it a systemic issue or a personal issue? Several research studies suggest that the issue is much bigger than the individual. For example, a study by Stanford University analyzed millions of police stops in the top 100 U.S. cities. They found that police stops and searches suffered from “persistent racial bias” and that Black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset when a ‘veil of darkness’ masks the color of skin, suggesting bias in police stops. There are several other studies that have analyzed the racial bias and disparities in jury selection, sentencing, the death penalty, school suspensions, etc.
Even in Iowa, the fairness of our justice system has been called into question. Although Black people make up only 3.5 percent of Iowa’s population compared to white’s 90 percent, they are 11 times more likely than white people to be arrested and imprisoned. According to the ACLU, Iowa ranks 5th-worst in the nation for racial disparities in marijuana arrests. The ACLU study shows that a Black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely to be arrested than a white person for marijuana possession, even though both groups use marijuana at about the same rate. Is that justice?
"Slavery didn't end in 1865, it just evolved”
- Bryan Stevenson
There is an undeniable historical link between racial injustice and our criminal justice system. Considering everything happening in our country regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest, now is the perfect time to reimagine the kind of criminal justice system we want for our community. Neutral policies will not address systemic problems. Systemic problems require systemic solutions and because a system is comprised of people, we all have a role to play in making it fairer for everyone. Racism did not happen by accident so it will never disappear on its own. The only solution is to be proactive with equitable laws, policies, and practices that eradicate racism at its socio-economic core.
Check out the links below to learn about our criminal justice system and think about the role you can play in making a system that is fairer and just for all.
TODAY’S CHALLENGE: Do one or more of the following…
Watch The Origins of Law Enforcement in America. Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Chenjerai Kumanyika explain how American policing grew out of efforts to control the labor of poor and enslaved people in the 19th century and beyond. (7:03)
Read A Better Way: 50+ Action Items to Fight Against Racism In Your Community by Joshua V. Barr. After reading the article, what option(s) do you believe you can undertake with others to create a more just local community?
Listen to Justice in America: Episode 28: School to Prison Pipeline. Josie Duffy Rice and Derecka Purnell talk to Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, about the school to prison pipeline, and how it is especially affecting non-white children across America. (1:11:10)
Watch A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System. In this searching TED Talk, Adam Foss, a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office in Boston, makes his case for a reformed justice system that replaces wrath with opportunity. (15:49)
The 13th is an award-winning American documentary film from 2016 that explores the intersection of race, justice, slavery, and mass incarceration in the United States. Check out the trailer (2:19) or the feature film is available for free (1:40:02).
CONVERSATION PIECE: Art Addressing Equity
Title: Everyone is Served: Celebrating New Life for the Edna Griffin Building
Iowa Architectural Foundation
Concept - Executive Director, Claudia Cackler
Creative Director and Collaborating Organization:
Tiffany Johnson, Artistic Producing Director
Pyramid Theatre Company
State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs - specifically Michael Morain, Dan Bolsem and Paula Mohr.
Dartanyan Brown, George Davis - Sumpin Doo, Gilbert Davis Sr. - Sumpin Doo, Abena Imhotep, Aaron Smith - Scooter Krunch, Rebecca Davis, Dionna Langford, DeShana Langford, AJ Young, Poni Lejukole, Madison Ray, Ryan Ar'jye Collier - I/O Productions. Words & Melody Taylor and family, Kaleb Nichols of Movement 515, Kyle Gowin, Emmett Phillips and youth of Homes of Oakridge, Alexis Davis, Pyramid Theatre Company.
Mark Antonio Smith - Known Labs
Kofi Manteaw – assistant videographer, Blue Vine Media
Date of piece: June 13, 2020
Link: Video File (Google Drive)
Description: Artistic Video Piece commemorating Edna Griffin featuring local black artists, performers and film makers
"This inspiring video expresses so beautifully, through artistic performance, everything we wanted to say in the larger virtual event that celebrated the life of civil rights activist, Edna Griffin, and the rehabilitation of the building that bears her name.
Iowa Architectural Foundation
Thank you to the members of BRAVO Greater Des Moines for curating the Equity Challenge Gallery, a collection of art in various media that speaks to the issues of equity in our society.