Racial Justice Position Paper
November 9, 2017
Current events demand that our organization and our country confront racism boldly and openly and take action to correct its evils. Rev. Traci Blackmon put it perfectly at our annual meeting in May. 2017: “You must not be complicit in your silence.”
We believe in the values of equality and justice for all. We recognize that institutionalized racism is pervasive throughout our culture. We condemn racism in all forms and in all places, including the highest levels of government.
We are committed to working with other individuals, organizations and communities to dismantle racism in all forms and in all institutions in our country.
This paper focuses on important issues that must be addressed in challenging institutionalized racism against black people, one of our largest and most badly treated minority groups. We affirm our belief that racism against all minority groups must be challenged, whenever, wherever and however it occurs.
PART 1. PERVASIVE ISSUES EVERYWHERE
We believe our federal and state criminal justice systems need major reform if we are ever to achieve unbiased criminal justice that does not discriminate against anyone because of race, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.
Based on U.S. Department of Justice findings of bias in policing, we support annual anti-bias policing training for officers, training in de-escalation of potentially violent situations, creating partnerships between the community and police to build trust and understanding, use of police body cameras, and requiring police departments to record and preserve all evidence of bias in the speech and actions of police officers for use in evaluating their conduct. In addition, civilian oversight boards established to review police practices must be given the subpoena power so they can independently investigate police conduct.
Racism is pervasive. Racial discrimination corrupts every stage of our federal and state court systems, including prosecutors’ discretion, an inadequate public defender system, biased jury selection and discriminatory sentencing.
The death penalty. We believe it is reprehensible to permit imposition of the death penalty in our justice system, which favors the wealthy, discriminates against people of color, and denies legal representation to the poor. Forty-three percent of people executed since 1976 have been people of color. Multiple studies have found pervasive racial prejudice in imposition of the death penalty. Use of DNA evidence in the 1990s exposed dozens of wrongful convictions, and it is likely that wrongful convictions have taken the lives of many other innocent people. Based on this kind of information, the governor of Illinois commuted the death sentences of all 167 people on death row in 2001. That was 16 years ago. More actions of this type are needed.
The practice of mass incarceration. The United States incarceration rate is now six to ten times that of other industrialized countries.
Mass incarceration began in the 1980s, with the politically motivated War on Drugs. Although the majority of drug users and dealers nationwide are white, mass incarceration disproportionately affects blacks and Latinos. For example:
- 75 percent of those imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.
- black men are more than five times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
- black people make up 13.3 percent of the U.S. population and 37.8 percent of federal prison inmates; the average proportion in state prisons is about the same.
The cost of mass incarceration. State and federal governments spend $80 billion on mass incarceration annually. Notwithstanding the high cost of imprisonment, many prisons provide substandard living conditions and lack rehabilitation programs. Reduction of prison populations would permit federal and state prison systems to improve living conditions and rehabilitation efforts.
Prisons for profit. Many states have turned to for-profit prisons. As a result, business interests that profit from prison construction and operation lobby state legislators to increase their populations by expanding the use of incarceration to address societal and health problems such as drug addiction and mental disability and to block sentencing reforms. The efforts to phase out federal for-profit prisons should be continued and adopted at the state level.
Treatment after incarceration. The criminal justice system’s policies prohibit felons who have been released from prison after completing their sentences or satisfying their sentencing stipulations from returning to mainstream society. Many state laws bar felons, regardless of the time served, from voting or receiving benefits. Convicted felons also face discrimination in employment, housing, and education.
We believe in equal education opportunities through strong, well-funded public schools available to all children, regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, economic level or place of residence. We need school curricula that address directly our country’s history of racism, and we support access to higher education regardless of the ability to pay. We denounce the present pipeline for black youth that begins with school suspension and expulsion, and often leads to juvenile detention and ends in prison.
We believe access to affordable health care is a right of all people. We call for a health system that eliminates disparities that result in shorter life expectancy, higher mortality and morbidity rates, and greater infant mortality for minorities and the poor.
We believe adequate, reliable, affordable public transportation is absolutely necessary to achieve racial justice; it is essential for obtaining work, health care, education, and nutritious food.
We believe all citizens have the right to vote and have their votes count. The fundamental right to vote that underpins our democracy has to be preserved and protected irrespective of party affiliations.
We applaud the 10 states and the District of Columbia that have enacted automatic voter registration. We encourage all states to adopt these measures and other measures that make it easier for voters to cast their ballots.
We oppose the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. We deplore the actions of some state legislatures to suppress the vote by gerrymandering, requiring photo identification, limiting poll locations, restricting voting hours and all other means.
The Black Lives Matter movement. We support the goals and methods of the Black Lives Matter movement. This organization affirms that all lives matter, but reminds us that black lives have not mattered enough, as evidenced by systemic racial bias throughout our culture. Black Lives Matter advocates nonviolent protest against racism, based on the teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and welcomes people of all races.
Confederate displays. Wherever possible, we call for removal from all public areas of Confederacy-related monuments, statues, names of buildings and streets, and the Confederate flag. These symbols honor the causes of slavery and white supremacy lost over 150 years ago in the Civil War. The monuments are offensive most of all to descendants of slaves and also to all who believe that glorification of slavery is immoral. Arguments that removing the monuments destroys our history are wrong; on the contrary, creation and preservation of the monuments glorifies the darkest side of our history.
PART 2: THE ST. LOUIS REGION/SPECIFIC ISSUES
Segregation in housing. Housing in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County is very much segregated according to race. Over a long period of time, housing covenants, patterns of lending by the federal government and other lending institutions, segregated-by-design public housing, high concentrations of low-income housing, destruction of minority neighborhoods in the name of urban planning, white flight and redlining have contributed to segregated neighborhoods, inequities in education opportunities and wealth accumulation and a dearth of jobs and commerce in the City. City residents experience fewer job opportunities, poor access to transportation to get to job locations, high crime levels, lack of safe, affordable housing and under-resourced schools. The City and county must work together to remedy these inequities.
Juvenile justice system. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that St. Louis County Family Court fails to provide constitutionally required due process to children and discriminates against African-American children. For example, black youth are 2½ times more likely than white youth to be held in pre-trial custody; almost three times as likely as whites to be committed to the Division of Youth Services, which often results in placement in a secure facility; and when found delinquent, more likely to be removed from their homes and placed in secure custody than whites. To force reforms, the U.S. Department of Justice and the St. Louis County Family Court have entered a consent decree specifying corrective actions. We support this decree and urge its prompt implementation.
Education. In Missouri, the state’s Foundation Formula for funding public education must be fully funded in order to achieve equal opportunity in education. The Missouri legislature has failed for years to allocate its statutorily required amount to education, resulting in racial injustice. For example, this deficit was $400 million in 2015. To fill the gap, schools turn to property taxes, but in districts in low-income areas with low property values, these taxes are completely inadequate. The result is unequal educational opportunities throughout the state, especially in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Infant mortality. St. Louis City infant mortality rates exceed the national average. In two zip codes, the infant mortality rate is almost three times the national average, and 260 babies die before age 1 each year. To improve this situation, the city must improve residents’ access to health care, affordable housing, affordable healthy food, transportation, and living-wage jobs. This access is crucial for pregnant women and new mothers and their babies.
Public transportation. St. Louis ranks 19th in the United States in population, and 68th in transit coverage and access to jobs by means of public transit. The lack of public transit affects poor and minority communities disproportionately. More than 23 percent of St. Louis African-American households do not have access to a car, compared to 5.2 percent of white households. Other critical transit needs include improved safety on public transit, more frequent routes on weekends, additional late evening routes, and more available medical transportation.
CONCLUSION: REPAIRING THE HARM, PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES
We repeat our opening statement: Current events demand that our organization and our country confront racism boldly and openly and take action to correct its evils. We need to take a holistic approach to evaluation and repair of the harm caused by our systemic racist policies and actions. As a country, we must implement policies that assure that victims of racism have real opportunity in all facets of life and work. It is time for our politicians and other leaders to open this discussion in the public forum.