Building the Movement to End The New Jim Crow
General Assembly 2013 Event 4033
Speakers: Rev. Jacqueline Duhart, Rev. Eric Meter, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Paula Cole Jones
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (Unitarian Universalist Association Common Read) exposes the new racial caste system built on mass incarceration of people of color. From awareness comes action, grounded in faith and partnership. Unitarian Universalist leaders share strategies and practices engaging congregations and communities in a new movement of liberation and transformation.
SUSAN LESLIE: Number 4033, Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow. First of all, I really appreciate you all being here. I know it's the last workshop slot. And it shows your dedication to this cause that you're here.
My name's Susan Leslie. I'm congregational advocacy and witness director at the UUA. And last year we brought Dr. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow to Justice GA. And there were over 600 people in the room. It was actually the largest workshop at Justice GA.
Following that, her book was chosen as the UUA Common Read. And we know that hundreds of congregations are participating in that. Now people are looking for ways to actually build this movement to end mass incarceration and to create a new movement for liberation and transformation. Today we're going to hear from UU clergy and leaders who will show how our faith is grounded in this movement, as well as concrete strategies and practices for creating partnerships with those most affected by the new Jim Crow and for engaging our own communities.
Now before I introduce the speakers, I just have to tell you that Reverend Jacqueline Duhart from our Oakland congregation had to send her regrets and she sends her love. She just couldn't get to GA after all this year. But take a look at the Ella Baker Center website. And you'll see their program Books Not Bars. Oakland has a partnership with them. And it's going to be taken national soon.
The speakers we have with us today are Paula Cole Jones who's the racial justice and social justice director for the Joseph Priestley district and a consultant to congregations, clusters, and districts on building anti-racist, multicultural partnerships and this movement. We also have Reverend Marlin Lavanhar who is senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Marlin wrote the first UU sermon that I know of on the new Jim Crow. And his congregation has been part of building the movement to end it. Marlin was also in on a strategy session with Michelle Alexander at last year's Justice GA. And we also have Reverend Eric Meter, associate minister of First UU Church of Columbus and a leader of an interfaith congregation-based community organization called Bread that's organizing to stop the school-to-prison pipeline.
We will be taking questions after the panel, but not in between. So you may want to jot down any thoughts you have as we are going to be getting a lot of information here. We are recording and filming this session so that it will be available to people who weren't able to be here to find out what they can do. And so when we do get to Q&A, you'll need to use the mics.
So thank you very much. And we're going to start with our first speaker, Paula Cole Jones.
PAULA COLE JONES: Good evening, right? It's no longer afternoon. And I am going to try to go paperless today, which is not my norm. Hold on one second. [INAUDIBLE]. All right.
So I have a lot to say in the time that I have. And pardon me if I just kind of push through. First, I'd like to thank Susan Leslie for the invitation to be a part of this panel on the New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness.
And I also want to acknowledge two people who I know in UU churches who are doing this work and helped to encourage me to get on board early. One is David Slavin, who is sitting right here in front of me. And he's been working hard in Atlanta, Georgia. And then also Sharon Kyle, who has been working hard in Los Angeles. And some of you may have read or seen her online newspaper, the LA Times.
It's important where we ground our understanding of the work. Wherever we begin a story, that helps to shape our perspective. I like to ground my work in the new Jim Crow in something that I read in Randall Robinson's book The Reckoning, which was published in 2002.
He tells the story of a small town in upstate New York, a rural town. First of all, Randall Robinson is the founder and past president of TransAfrica. But he tells the story of Malone, New York, a small all-white town with the exception of one person.
And this town was in economic decline. Businesses had left. Hotels, businesses were closing. The dairy industry had collapsed. The transportation, the rail system was pretty much non-operable.
And he describes it as "a shadow of defeat had draped like a pall upon the town." And these are words from this book, "shortly before, lawmakers had begun to criminalize nonviolent drug use." This is before 1986, I think was the year. But they had begun to criminalize nonviolent drug use, "the politicians' veiled deliberations and unarticulated plan to resuscitate the moribund economies of rural hamlets like Malone."
And in New York State, under the Rockefeller drug laws, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender would be sentenced to 15 years in a state prison. He says the "lawmakers, state and local, had written the tedious language with devilish care and meticulous foresight." They "knew their markets well enough." They set up the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. And he said, "when the dragnet brought home its harvest, not surprisingly, the ensnared, newly marketable chattel turned up overwhelmingly black and brown."
"In 1980, New York State had 33 prisons. And during the next 20 years, it would build 38 more," almost all in rural areas. Three of those were built in Malone. And along with the building of those prisons, the economy begins to flourish again.
With the prisons came 1,600 well-paying jobs—and this is all from his chapter there—18 new holes for the golf course. The prison population tripled in a few years. And 5,000 inmates added to Malone's census count, qualifying them for additional federal dollars.
He included a quote from Calvin Beale, who was a senior demographer at the US Department of Agriculture. And it says, "if you have a prison come in with 1,400 prisoners, you're probably going to get 400 jobs out of that. And in a rural setting, that's a lot of jobs."
So that's where I ground the conversation, because whether the drug laws, the war on drugs came first or this strategy to revitalize these dying economies in rural white America came first, is probably as much a debate as anything else. I believe that the strategy to revitalize the towns and the economies came first. And I can remember when all of the vying was taking place for who would get prisons.
In the book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander uses the analogy of the bird cage. How many of you remember that? Fantastic analogy.
And she says, if we look at an individual bar, we do not see the cage. It's only when the bars are connected that we can see them. And her book helps us to connect many of the bars that then make this industrial prison complex visible to us.
She informs us that we have been sleeping through a revolution, a counter-revolution working against us, as a new system of racial and social control has been constructed. There were about 300,000 people in US prisons in the '70s and '80s. And by 2004, the count was up to 2.2 million.
Ms. Alexander, Dr. Alexander, says that the stats show that the crime rates were independent of the rate of incarceration. And it was the war on drugs that accounts for the increase in the prison population as people were being funneled into the system. So if part of the purpose was to revitalize these economies with globalization and businesses leaving rural America, if the goal was to revitalize, then you need a way to make it happen. There was a plan to build 200 prisons across the United States. And the war on drugs then becomes part of the means for how you fill those prisons and make them profitable.
Michelle Alexander says we have allowed a human rights nightmare to occur on our watch. And that reminds me of the 2001 Ware lecture, who remembers James Forbes, Reverend James Forbes, who spoke to us. And he called on us to help build a human rights movement. So I think we are still lining up to respond to that call.
We're fortunate that The New Jim Crow has become a Common Read. This book is like our anti-racism training. It's an important resource. Both the book and the training give us a common language and a common analysis so that we can talk with each other and we can enter into a larger national movement. They help us to be more effective as we work to build solidarity with other people who are working on these issues.
The Common Read is a starting place. But we must get engaged with communities. And we must build collaborations with people of color or we will miss a critical opportunity to learn what it means to put our years of anti-racism work, social justice, and our UU values into practice.
So I want to share with you a few things that took place last year in the Joseph Priestley District, where I work part-time on the staff. All the things that I'll mention to you are also available in an electronic form. So I will get those links to Susan so you can go to one place and hopefully find them easily if you want to follow up.
Reverend Carlton Elliott Smith served for the last few years as the consulting minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, Virginia. His ministry took an innovative approach to the Common Read by hosting eight sessions of an online radio blog. He reached out to ministers in the district and got them to agree to lead or participate in each of the sessions.
And all of that is recorded. So you can go back and listen. But that was one way that the book itself was processed chapter by chapter.
I participated in the final session, in which we spoke about going beyond the book and what did it mean to engage in activism and to work in partnership in the communities. Our discussion featured three congregational community efforts. And I want to share those with you if I can do that quickly.
First was the Prince George's County, Maryland, People's Coalition. I was outraged by the murder of Trayvon Martin, as I'm sure many people here were. I attended a community meeting.
It was a gathering of a coalition of people who had previously worked together against police brutality in Prince George's County. The group had some success in organizing in the 1990s, which led to the US Department of Justice coming in and calling for a higher level, requiring a higher level of accountability from the police department in Prince George's County. You can hear more about that if you want to on the radio blog.
But this was a group of core leaders. They already had a network. They were seasoned activists. And I knew I was in the right place when one person, Rod Green, who was an economist, passed around a paper he had written and it was about mass incarceration. I was like, yes. This is where I want to be.
We met on Sunday evenings to build community and to determine which steps we would take next. Some of the members there were from Occupy DC. And we joined with the Occupy DC Racial Injustice Committee to protest against Wells Fargo Bank for their investment in the privatization of prisons. How many of you are familiar with that? OK. Ooh. OK.
So we went out and we leafleted. We were informing people. And we were also getting people who were interested in the issue.
Let me just give you a few points from a 2012 report from the National People's Action Public Accountability issue. Wells This was in 2012. Wells Fargo is a major lender to Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, acting as the syndication agent and issuing lender with this corporation, $785 million line of credit.
They were also a major investor in the Geo Group, with a $95.5 million investment. And also they served as the trustee for $300 million in the company's corporate debt. And they said also that the records did not show that any other major bank had as strong ties to these top private prison companies.
A USA Today article stated that the Corrections Corporation of America sent a $250 million proposal to 48 states offering to buy the state prisons, if—get this, if the state could guarantee a 90% occupancy rate for 20 years. OK. So you see the system that we're caught in. And if we don't see it, it will operate. And if we're not careful it'll start sweeping your children up too, if it hasn't already.
Our small coalition organized a teach-in. And then eager to bring more UU churches and people from Washington, DC, into the work, we also held another teach-in at my home congregation in All Souls Church. We planted more seeds.
Currently we're organizing our annual racial justice conference. This will be our ninth conference in the Joseph Priestley District. And on the Sunday—it'll be the first weekend in November if you're interested. On the Sunday after the conference we will have a teach-in. And Decarcerate Pennsylvania is one of the groups that will be participating. And this teach-in will reach out to the community, not just to UUs.
There's a good model in Wilmington, Delaware. We have a minister, Paula Mariano, who is a community minister. She works with a nonprofit that helps people who have been incarcerated reenter into their communities. And they formed a partnership to read the book over a six-, seven-week period, Mother Africa Union Church and the First UU Church of Wilmington.
They said, do not read this by yourself. Partner. Join with another church. Join with an organization in your community. Meet cross-racially as you do this work, because there are things that we have to learn.
Their next phase of organizing is to train, they're doing this now, training facilitators who will then lead those kinds of partners in their 12 congregations in their interface network that have lined up to do this. They have a planning group. They used a study planning action model. They have a planning group. And they're hoping that out of the new reads, more people will join. That's one that you should pay attention to. It's a good model.
And let me close with was just a few statements. The new Jim Crow and the issue of mass incarceration really should be an important study for us in systemic racial injustice and in white privilege. Class privilege is also part of the dynamic.
But if we do not understand how white privilege plays out in this system, we will miss learning what can possibly transform some of our congregations and potentially our association. While we are making some progress, I think the more work that I do, the more I'm coming to realize that the chasm between white people in this country and people of color and in particular African Americans, that chasm is greater than I ever realized. And so it's important that we just continue to move forward.
I want to close with one important insight that I gained last year. Give me a minute and I'll be through. And I hope that what I'm about to say to you will stay with when you leave General Assembly, so listen closely.
We must transform our understanding of leadership. In the dominant culture, we understand a leader as someone who has been exposed to a body of knowledge, has gained a certain set of skills and competencies that enable them to direct or instruct programs or people. In other words, they have finished—we have finished, in dominant culture, our apprenticeship. We are then considered a leader and are worthy of being role models or being emulated by others. Right?
When we enter into multicultural or cross-cultural coalitions or collaborations, especially at the community level, our understanding of leadership must shift. Our apprenticeship—we still can see ourselves as leaders, but we have to change how we understand that our apprenticeship begins when we enter into those multicultural collaborations. If we go in with the same stance that we're able to operate with in spaces like this, we are going to miss very important learnings. We're going to miss the opportunity to build trusting, long-lasting, transformative relationships.
We need to have the humility to see ourselves as partners and to understand what that means in the particular setting. We have to learn to recognize and respect the people's understanding and learn to see them as leaders and as resources. This kind of shift is like Paulo Freire's book that was titled The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It was the pedagogy of the oppressed, not for the oppressed. We're not going to save the day. But we are going to learn and to expand, because all of our freedom is tied up together.
I've found my apprenticeship. Will you find yours?
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Thank you all for being here tonight. I want to just to reiterate. I know probably everybody knows the understanding of the new Jim Crow, but this idea that once somebody has a felony in our country, then in most states that means that they can't vote. It means that they can be legally discriminated against for jobs, housing, and public assistance.
So all of a sudden, we have this disproportionate number particularly of African Americans being arrested and getting felonies. And therefore, we now have this legal system where we can now legally discriminate against them for voting. Their voting rights are gone, like in the Jim Crow era. And then also public assistance, housing, and jobs, they can be legally discriminated against without rights and recourse.
AUDIENCE: Educational opportunities.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Educational opportunities and all kinds of things. So I just want—in Oklahoma, where I come from, if you're an African American adult male, the rate of felonies is 1 in every 2.7, not 1 in 4, not 1 in 3, but one in every 2.7 African American adult males can't vote in our elections. Not to mention all the other things that are stripped from them legally because of the system.
So I want to talk a little bit about what we're doing in Oklahoma. But first, I wanted to offer a little bit of theological grounding, which is one of the things I was asked to do here. Obviously—oh. Let me go back to say also that it's very clear that drug use, which is the major cause of these felonies, is the same in all studies across socioeconomic and racial lines. So there's something going on when we have such a disproportionate number of African Americans being swept into the system. So that's kind of the grounding.
So why should we do anything about it in our churches? Theologically, we talk about freedom and justice for all, compassion and equity in human relations, and all those things that ground what we do. How could we stand by and watch this happen, a new Jim Crow system once we understand it, continue to stay in place and not try to be leaders and leverage our power and influence in the society to try to change it?
Krister Stendhal, a Lutheran theologian, he used to say, now if Jesus Christ were to come back today and get to the Oval Office or wherever he would office and bring his advisors around, what would be the first question that he would ask? Would he ask, what are the numbers? What are the numbers? How are we doing? How many souls have we saved since I've been gone?
Or would he say, how much closer are we to building the kingdom of heaven here on earth? Our response historically from our Christian roots is we would say that his first question would be, how much closer are we to building the kingdom of heaven here on earth? And that's what this is about. It's about our role in helping to build that kind of beloved community here on earth.
And I wanted to say a few of the things that we're working on. Oh—and kingdom of heaven. I like also some new language that I heard at Reverend Cathey Edwards' ordination recently. The pastor who preached said, or we could call it the kindom of heaven, the brotherhood and sisterhood of heaven.
So here's what we're doing in Tulsa to try to respond. There's some programmatic things that I think any church could do in their own area in some ways. And then there's some bigger systemic ways that we're trying to tackle that. So I just want to share a few those to get the questions flowing. And I'll sit down and we'll hear from Eric. And then we'll have some dialogue, I hope.
We have a minister who's on our staff. He's been a student minister. He's coming on as a community minister. His name is Randy Lewis. He's African American, a former Baptist minister.
And he is working particularly overseeing—this is his primary focus is around prison ministry and issues related to the new Jim Crow. So he started—he had a class this last spring on—what did he call it? He called it the broken system, mass incarceration in Oklahoma.
And he brought in people who are working with women in recovery. He brought in police officers. He brought in a panel of attorneys. He brought in juvenile court judges and the county commissioner to come talk to us. So we've been having programs where we're bringing these folks in to ask them questions about why the system like this and how can we make a difference.
He is starting worship and classes in the male prison in Hominy, Oklahoma. I should say about the prisons in Oklahoma, we have a lot of private prisons. And the president of the Department of Corrections last week quit because he said, this is unethical. They were pushing and pushing and pushing him to fill those prisons. There's a profit motive to this that is significant.
And so he resigned. He said his Christian values were part of what caused him to resign. I see a hand up. I'm going to wait until questions, so please, if you don't mind. And if you need to correct me, you can during the questions, all right?
So during Black History Month, we're working on a program to link black history and the new Jim Crow through a major focus on recidivism rates and some other things that are going on in our community. But let me say some things about sort of looking at the larger system. Maybe your churches are doing some of the same things.
We partner with three different schools in our community that are underserved schools. And we do a lot of work with those kids in mentoring. And we partnered with an organization called 100 Black Men of Tulsa to do a reading program. They told us—and this is part of what Paula was saying, partnering with and apprenticing with. They said, if we can capture these kids—if we don't capture them by sixth grade, they get into gang activity and it's too late.
And so they said, we're going to make sure these kids can read at grade level in sixth grade, by sixth grade. And so they've been doing reading and mentoring with these young kids in sixth grade. We started a camp in the summer with the kids. And we have an addiction recovery program, so we have one of the largest in Tulsa, that meets in our church, an AA program.
And so I was invited to be on the mayor's Police in Action community coalition in Tulsa. So I meet with the chief of police and the mayor once a month. I've been doing this now for four years. And that was part of my—because I was the president of our interfaith organization in Tulsa. And so in that role, I was asked to be a part of this group of community leaders, meeting with them to talk about issues as they relate to the community. And so I've been able to continue to stay involved with that. But that allows me to have sort of a systemic approach.
And then when I preached on the topic of the new Jim Crow, it turned out to be, that Sunday was the Sunday directly following Trayvon Martin being shot and killed in Florida. It just happened to be it happened a couple days before. So I switched up my sermon a little bit but talked about that. But then the sermon went viral throughout the Tulsa area among clergy and other folks, particularly in African American community, but throughout the community at large.
And then they asked me—there was a large memorial service at one of the Baptist churches, African American Baptist churches, in town and they asked me to do the keynote talk at this memorial, citywide memorial for Trayvon Martin. It was a huge honor to be asked. But it was all based on the fact that I had done that sermon. They said, he gets it. He gets what's going on.
And so let's let him be the voice, to have a white ally saying some of the things that these pastors have been saying a long time to their people. But to hear it from me made a difference. They said it makes a difference hearing it from you. So that was something I was invited to do.
And then the week later we had two gentlemen in a truck, described as two white gentleman in a truck, went around and shot five African Americans in the predominantly black part of North Tulsa. And three were shot dead and left—just randomly went through and were shooting people. And so as soon as that happened, they called an emergency meeting that evening, the NAACP leaders. And they called me and they asked me to come down and be there. I was the only Caucasian person in this assembly of folks.
And it was a very intense—you can imagine how intense it was that evening trying to figure out what to do, because they were still at large. And this was Good Friday. With Easter coming up, people were scared on Saturday to even leave their homes, African Americans that live in that part of town, because these killers were still at large.
So they appointed me to be part of a response team. And then I ended up inviting my entire congregation to come down to a vigil, a prayer vigil with the families who had lost loved ones and two of the victims who had survived on Easter Sunday at 1 o'clock. And so in my Easter sermon, I changed that up to talk about what was happening. And I invited my congregation to come down to this church, African American Baptist church in a part of town where a lot of my congregation don't go into that part of Tulsa typically. And a whole bunch of folks went down and we had a fantastic connection with folks.
So it's about building the relationships with folks. And folks were so moved to see that this was not something that was just the African American community being scared and praying together, but that they had white allies from the Unitarian Church in town coming to be with them, even on Easter Sunday. So it's been just getting into this work working on the new Jim Crow has built so many really positive relationships for our congregation within our city. And it's giving us the relationships that we need to continue hopefully to be effective and certainly to be allies in this work.
And so now, we were approached by a judge, someone who wants to run from our congregation to be a judge in the criminal justice system, and who has said, I want to run on the issue of recidivism rates. Maybe the Church can help put together some programs to heighten the idea of what's going on with regard to the recidivism rates in our community.
And so it's a way that our church can then become a vehicle to raise awareness about an issue that could potentially allow a particular judge to get elected so that we have judges who understand the new Jim Crow and understand what's going on in the system so that we can start to change the system. So this is what I mean about the systemic piece, getting involved with the mayor and the chief of police, getting involved in the school system, and then getting involved with trying to not just bring judges and lawyers and other folks to speak to us, but also letting them know that we're a resource for them and others as they're trying to get elected on issues that relate to the prison industrial complex and the war on drugs and all of those things.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
ERIC METER: Marlin, no one should ever have to follow you. Your presence and your stories are always that compelling. The story I have to tell you may be a little less dramatic from Columbus, Ohio, where I'm from. But I don't think it's any less important.
And it relates to a phrase that Susan mentioned earlier. It's one of the ugliest phrases I know, the school-to-prison pipeline. And if there's anyone here who doesn't think that is an absolutely ugly phrase, I really need to know what your thinking is, because I don't get it.
Another phrase I like, and I'm paraphrasing the sociologist Robert Bellah, democracy begins with paying attention. Well, in Columbus, Ohio, folks are organized and have been paying attention. In Columbus, the First Unitarian Universalist Church was one of the founding members of a congregationally-based community organizing group called BREAD, Building Responsibility Equality And Dignity. At this time, there are over 50 faith communities coming together to tackle a new issue every year that affects not just one church, not just a region, but the entire metropolitan community.
I've been at the Columbus church for five years now. And three and a half years ago, I was asked to be part of BREAD's Keeping Kids in School committee. Now, many of you may have known of that phrase, school-to-prison pipeline. But that's when I first learned about it.
And I said, no. That can't be. That's not right. I was a white guy from a very good public school system. Little did I know how wrong I was.
Each year in BREAD we take an issue. And the issue that came out three and a half years ago was truancy and that the schools weren't doing everything in their power to keep our students in school where they belonged. Now, the school has a policy, the Columbus city schools, of not giving out the punishment of out-of-school suspensions for truancy or for an undefined category called disruptive behavior. But the schools were doing that in the case of truancy over 4,200 times a year.
Now if you remember your youth, if you are sent away from school for not going to school, that's not a punishment. That's a reward. And the incidence of out-of-school suspensions for whatever they mean by disruptive behavior, that happened over 15,000 times on average in the last several school years.
Let me put this in context. Five years ago, the Columbus city schools had 52,000 students. This last year, it was 47,000. So that's nearly one out of every three students being suspended for either of those two problems.
So we brought this to the school board superintendent, Dr. Gene Harris, her attention. And she said, yes, she would work with us. So for the last several years, we've been meeting with her quarterly.
I'm able to tell you that during those meetings, she has greeted us graciously. And the number of out-of-school suspensions for truancy has decreased from over 4,000 to just under 1,000 now. And she seems happy with that.
We're not. And we still have much work to do with all of those out-of-school suspensions for what's called disruptive behavior. During the last several years, I have had many productive and challenging conversations with teachers in my congregation.
And I suspect there are probably a teacher or two either current or former here in this room. If you are or have been a teacher, would you please raise your hand? Wow. [APPLAUSE] Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Number one, number two, number three. Thank you.
But when I read Michelle Alexander's book—and I have to say this work with this committee on BREAD happened before the book came out. At least we hadn't received it yet. It underlined how important the work we were doing was, because when kids aren't in school, they're on the streets getting in trouble.
And once you get into that juvenile system, like you were saying about sixth grade reading, you're gone. It is so hard to get out of that system. And so what we're doing is a preventive measure, nothing more, nothing less.
I want to say in the efforts that we're doing with the school system, there are other important partners. The Columbus Police Department is making neighborhood truancy sweeps. During school hours, 10 officers are committed to this. They tell us they're doing this citywide. I doubt that's true. I think they're coalescing their efforts in low income areas.
I also want to let you know that we've had great success with the county prosecutor's office, who not only fund folks going into the schools being truancy intervention specialists, but also 2,000 times a year, a letter goes out to families whose kids are becoming more and more truant. I wouldn't have expected that from any county prosecutor's office. So we're making some inroads there among people we might not have thought would have been allies from the beginning.
When I started this work, I said, oh, out-of-school suspensions for truancy. That should be low-hanging fruit. We'll do this and we'll move on to something bigger.
I was wrong. This is difficult. This is difficult work. If you have paid attention, I doubt this has made the national news. But Columbus is one of several cities in Ohio that is being looked at very rigorously for—how should I say this? Cooking the school books on attendance records.
And so we take the information that we're given from the school district. This is what they report to the state. We have no other information to trust, except anecdotal information we hear from members of our congregations. And that is not positive generally.
When I was a young man in high school, my friends and I roamed, like many youth have roamed before and still roam. And we had this expression that I come back to again and again and again in this work. And that expression was, if you can't beat them, confuse them.
The numbers we're getting from the State will only confuse us. We have to stay with what we know. We have to stay the course.
It's not just me. It's members of Baptist congregations, of Lutheran congregations, of conservative synagogues. I wish I had a great success story to share with you. I do not. This is going to take years.
We were asking ourselves on this committee this last spring whether we were ready to say we've had success and bag it. And the answer was uniformly no. We're in for the long haul.
Our superintendent is resigning the end of this month. We are in a tricky period of finding an interim. Hopefully that's been done by now. But we need to keep the school board's and the school system's feet to the fire on this. And we're not going to let go. Thank you.
SUSAN LESLIE: Thank you so much to our panelists. And what Eric said is it is long haul work. Before we get to Q&A, I just want to make sure you know where to find resources. uua.org/thenewjimcrow. And I will be posting resources that Paula mentioned on there.
We also have a Facebook page, UUs Resisting New Jim Crow. Join the group. It's a Facebook group. People are sharing what they're doing in their congregations and the partnerships they're developing.
We have David Slavin's study guide here on the new Jim Crow. Standing on the Side of Love is also supporting this movement. We sent out an MLK message this year from Michelle Alexander. And we've been getting stories from people, so we want those for the blog. And if you want to know more about congregation-based community organizing that Eric was talking about, uua.org/cbco, congregation-based community organizing.
So with that, I'm going to open it up for questions. And this is the study guide that Dr. David Slavin developed. And he's at the--
AUDIENCE: That one's the new one.
SUSAN LESLIE: Oh, this is the new one? OK. All right.
PAULA COLE JONES: [INAUDIBLE] and you can order that online at no cost.
SUSAN LESLIE: Where online?
PAULA COLE JONES: Is it the Veterans for Hope project?
SUSAN LESLIE: Veterans of Hope project. Yes? Oh, and will people just say your first name at least and the congregation you're from?
MIKE LEBURKIEN: Hi. I'm Rabbi Mike LeBurkien. I have two congregations, First UU of Austin and San Gabriel of Georgetown, Texas. The question is, have we noticed how Jim Crow UUs are? Look at the white faces here. By not proselytizing, we are Jim Crow ourselves and Diego Crow, by not going out into the hoods.
We ask ourselves, why do we have not enough money? Then we are not even trying to get more people to join in the obvious areas. I mean, look at all the white faces here.
But getting back to more specifically what we've got here, NBC has talked about at great length today—I was trying to get at what the real cause of our problem is. The real cause, says NBC, and black commentators is that we incarcerate too many blacks. And an easy solution would be in part to legalize marijuana, because a huge percentage of black young men are in prison for very minor marijuana possession infractions.
SUSAN LESLIE: And so are you making a comment? Are you--
MIKE LEBURKIEN: This is a question. I want--
SUSAN LESLIE: I just want--
MIKE LEBURKIEN: They're all shaking their heads, so they understand.
SUSAN LESLIE: I get it. I just want—there's quite a few people.
MIKE LEBURKIEN: Right. I understand that. But they're shaking their heads. And we're not talking—we haven't talked about marijuana here and how small it is and how important it is. We should be trying to legalize it, as UUs.
And they also said that these young men who we are saying don't have enough education are marvelous entrepreneurs. They are marvelous capitalists, the ones who sell drugs. If we could give them another way of expressing their capitalistic entrepreneurs, we could solve the problem.
SUSAN LESLIE: And what would you like the panel—OK. Thank you for your comment. Thank you. Does anyone want to respond?
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Well, I certainly agree with you. Most of these drug offenses and most of the felonies and things are for nonviolent drug offenses. So you're absolutely right that that's a huge issue. The solution, whether it's legalization of marijuana, I'm not ready to speak to that exactly right now.
I think we've got a couple states that are trying that out. We'll get a chance to see how they do. And we'll see where that goes. But I certainly would agree that the police, it's clear that they're shaking down people.
I'll give you one example from Tulsa, because we do a ride along with the police every year as part of this mayor's police community coalition. And this didn't happen in my ride along, but it actually happened for a colleague of mine who's an African American woman. So this even makes the point even more, I think, is that the police went down into a predominantly African American part of town. They park their car facing a stop sign.
And he said to her, see, this is great, because almost everybody rolls past the stop sign before they stop. And the law is you're supposed to stop before the stop sign. He said, so we'll just wait here. And we'll watch people do that. And as soon as we see someone who looks like they may be suspicious of drugs, we'll pull them over.
It's perfectly legal. The Supreme Court has said this is legal. It's called—I forget the name, profiling for sure. There's a name for that kind of a stop that's not coming to me.
But they sat there and did that. And they pulled over—the first person they pulled over was a white person. The next person was Hispanic.
They asked them, can we search your car? Of course, a lot of people don't know their rights. They go in. They found some marijuana. He got arrested immediately.
The next people that—they watched a bunch of people go by, please understand. These are just the folks that they stopped. The next were two African American males. But they stopped before the stop sign.
So then the police officer said, oh, that's OK. Let's just follow them, because pretty soon they're going to make a mistake. It turned out they pulled into a parking lot and got out. What's that?
AUDIENCE: It's a pretext stop.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Yes. Thank you. It's a pretext stop.
SUSAN LESLIE: Pretext stop.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: It's perfectly legal in our system.
PAULA COLE JONES: So I agree with you. I don't know what—obviously the drug war was designed to, I think, was designed to just put people in the prisons to fill them up. The plan, I think, was already in place.
But growing populations in the prison are women, Latino immigrants, and juveniles. And so because this is a for-profit thing, I don't think that the corporations have hit their stride. And it's going to be a hungry, bottomless pit that will continue to find whatever demographic it needs for profit. So I think we need to look at that. But we need to look far beyond it as well.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Just a quick follow-up is that they're not doing that in my neighborhood in Tulsa. If they were doing that in my neighborhood in Tulsa, stopping at a stop sign and pulling over housewives who have Valium and a little marijuana and some of that stuff in just the same numbers as the folks in the neighborhoods where they are doing that, folks would get their lawyers and there would be outrage. And so they know that they can't do it in those neighborhoods, so they do it in the neighborhoods where the folks don't have the same access and same sense of how to work the system.
ERIC METER: Just briefly, while I think that in particular drug use is important, the system of incarceration is in place. And it almost doesn't matter what the behavior is. They're going to criminalize something and catch people for it. We've got to go to the structures.
PAULA COLE JONES: And what you're hearing here is why I said this is a study in privilege. So you have to be able to see how privilege operates and how it becomes a part of this system of exploitation and oppression. It's real important. We've got to get that piece.
SUSAN LESLIE: So I'm going to go to this mike now.
NANCY KOSSEFF: Hi. I'm Nancy Kosseff from Madison, Wisconsin First Unitarian Society. And I wanted to just put forward an initiative that members of our congregation have been involved in in Wisconsin. We're part of a faith-based community organizing a statewide network called WISDOM. And we're part of the local affiliate called MOSES.
Wisdom has a campaign currently to reduce the state prison population in half, from 22,000 by 11,000 by the end of 2015. And members of our congregation and other congregations throughout the state have been talking with every legislator in the state to educate them about these issues. We testified before our legislative joint finance committee about the importance of adequate funding to treatment and diversion programs as an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
We had a very modest success at the state level. We would need $75 million to go to the treatment and diversion programs to make an impact on decreasing our prison population. In the new biennial budget, we have been able to increase the funding for treatment and diversion from $1 million to $2.5 million, which is way short of what's needed. But given the current legislative environment in Wisconsin, it's somewhat of a success.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: That's fantastic. Incredibly inspiring. Thank you for your work.
SUSAN LESLIE: Yes, please.
ELAINE MCMILLAN: Thank you. I'm Elaine McMillan and I'm from the Unitarian Church in Westport. Sorry. Elaine McMillan, Unitarian Church in Westport. I didn't realize how close I had to be to the mike.
A couple things, and then I'll get to my question very quickly. The thing that always occurs to me is pay me now or pay me later. When people have difficulty in coming up with money for funding for education, OK, they don't have trouble coming up with funding for prisons.
There's a one-to-one correlation—I used to teach in a school district that was predominantly black and Hispanic. And as a teacher, in looking at the records I noticed there was a one-to-one correspondence between students who miss school for whatever reasons, their mother had them home babysitting, whatever, and failing that grade. And I know you have to start somewhere. And I commend you for trying to get kids on grade level by sixth grade.
But the research shows that they have to be on grade level by the end of second grade, otherwise they will never catch up. And even more than that is—I remember a fourth grader I had who had been held back twice. So he was at the age of a sixth grader. So if you have someone in sixth grade, they're the age—so I don't know if you can work it backwards and get your mentors and your people working with a younger group.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Thank you. I'll bring that back to our folks. I really appreciate that. That's disheartening but valuable information.
SUSAN LESLIE: Yes, please.
MARSHA SCHACHTEL: Hi. I'm Marsha Schachtel. I'm from the UU Church of Annapolis, Maryland. But I'm going to talk to you as somebody who has been working on economic development in the city of Baltimore for 35 years. And it used to be that in order to grow the economy, we were interested in all the usual stuff.
And now we know it's all about human capital. And Baltimore City is now 2/3 African American. And I would say to Ms. Cole I am still serving my apprenticeship of trying to understand what we're actually dealing with. But at the same time, and I commend all of you, I believe the best thing you can do to achieve widely-shared prosperity, which is what economic development is really about, is to start pre-birth.
But while we're doing that, while we're getting it right the first time, we have this huge population and you all have pointed this out, of men, particularly in a city like Baltimore, who cannot get work, who cannot get work. And so at the same time we're getting it right the first time, we have to think about what we are doing. And I'd love to hear some experiences from you and from others in this room. How do we try to address those whom we have failed when they're adults?
MARLIN LAVANHAR: We've been talking about trying to work particularly with folks who are getting out of prison with felonies around finding jobs. And there are some organizations doing this in the Tulsa area that we've been talking with.
MARSHA SCHACHTEL: Are they starting behind the gate, behind the wall, before--
MARLIN LAVANHAR: But in this case, they've already been—they're already a felon for one reason or another. And I'm assuming most people have read this book. But most of the felons are plea-bargained out.
And they're given the choice. You can go home right now with a felony on your record for the rest of your life or you could see whether a jury will let you off, will agree that you really weren't doing what you say you were doing. And so a lot of them just say, well, I'd rather just go home now. But they don't realize when they're doing that that they're being stripped of a lot of their rights for the rest of their lives. But I don't have any—maybe others have examples of ways to help people get jobs.
MARSHA SCHACHTEL: Well, I know my former colleagues at Johns Hopkins who specialize in this say the most effective things are to start community partnerships that start behind the gate, before people are released.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Oh, behind the gate. Oh, I got you.
PAULA COLE JONES: Someone has a comment. I was listening to one of Michelle Alexander's lectures online last night. In fact, this one was done in Portland, Oregon. I think I was last year.
And she was talking about we need to build an underground railroad for people who have already been into prison, because with all of their rights stripped away and because many have plea-bargained and can't even feed themselves or have a place to live, that we need to create safe spaces for them to come back in, so that we can help to reduce the recidivism rate and help folks to take care of themselves. So I don't know what the answers are either. But if we keep working together, we'll start to figure some things out.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: I just want to say I didn't understand what you meant by behind the gate. I have a note here from Randy, our community minister who's working on this. He's teaching a class in the county jail. He's calling it criminal thinking. He's working with folks who are in the jail, talking to them about the mindset and everything that can help—how they got there and how they can not be there in the future.
MARSHA SCHACHTEL: But not preparing them for jobs.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Not necessarily for jobs.
SUSAN LESLIE: We're going to go over here now to this side of the room. Did you want to comment specifically on that? OK. Yes. My name is Doug McCusker and I'm with the Accotink UU Church in Virginia, in Burke, Virginia.
But I'm also a minister intern at River Road UU congregation in Bethesda, Maryland. And in that capacity, I'm starting a jail ministry with the congregation. What I don't have is the alliance with another church in the area, although I have tapped into the other pastors in various other churches. So there is a place to start.
DOUG MCCUSKER: And what we're preparing to launch in September is a two-pronged thing. We're working in the rehabilitation and re-entry services facility of Montgomery County, which has about 180 people there. And they are people who are nine months away from being released.
So we will go in and provide mentoring. It's a one year obligation. And we'll be partnering with Catholic Charities.
And the other half is the job coaching. And what we're really doing here, of course, is communicating on both sides of the bridge and not just providing these services but also opening the eyes to the people in the congregation. And then hopefully, if we ally with other churches to make this a larger thing—starting in Montgomery County, because it's quite progressive, but the state prison system is quite a mess in Maryland. So if we can start there and then ripple out.
But working with in job employment, really what we stand most of a chance is getting them entry-level jobs. And yes, that's better than nothing. But we want to work with the school system, the community college system, to get them something that is much more marketable than just a job at Wendy's.
SUSAN LESLIE: Thank you. Please keep me posted on that work.
PAULA COLE JONES: Yes. Susan, I have one more comment. Many of you are probably familiar with the Ban the Box initiative. And that's the box that people have to check when they're filling out a job application, whether or not they've been convicted of a felony.
And some cities have been successful. In fact, Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia have both eliminated at least the city's applicants for Ban the Box. So that's another piece that local communities partner, again with the people in the community. But that's a piece that could be taken on to help with people not being screened out of the job market just when they apply.
JOYCE MOORE: My name is Joyce Moore. And I'm from Waltham, Massachusetts. And I am profoundly disturbed. I too was disturbed by the schools-to-prison pipeline concept and reality. I am really disturbed by for-profit prisons. I come to General Assembly to be disturbed.
I am embarrassed that it was only last year and Michelle Alexander's book that made me aware of this. This is not new. But it's new to me. So I ask for resources from anyone, from you, from where that website is, for talking points so that I can go visit my mayors, my police chiefs, my school principals, and anybody else that will give me an appointment so that I can ask them, what are they doing about this?
I am one person. But I can ask questions. And for me, I think that's where our leverage is. For the panel, I want to know from each of you, what is our greatest leverage? These are huge, huge problems.
SUSAN LESLIE: And before the panelists talk, just on talking points go to standingonthesideoflove.org and search on Michelle Alexander and the blog she wrote for us. We'll do it for you.
PAULA COLE JONES: Also look at the American Civil Liberties Union, at what they have online.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: I think we all have to look at our own situation and see where is our best leverage point, because I'm sure there's probably judges in this room. There's probably politicians in this room. There's doctors in this room. There's obviously a lot of teachers in this room.
PAULA COLE JONES: Parents.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Parents. So we all have different sort of context. But we all have some ways that we can sort of leverage our power and privilege in order to help somebody who otherwise might not be able to help themselves because of the system.
ERIC METER: Marlin got involved because he was president of his interfaith association. I got involved because of the interfaith work the CBCO that we're a part of. Interfaith coalitions are extremely powerful. Use them.
SUSAN LESLIE: And I will just add my congregation, First Parish in Cambridge, Mass, we a part of an interfaith coalition that's called Church and the Prison System. And if you can believe it, in Massachusetts, a three-strikes law came up. And we worked with the interfaith coalition and UU Mass Action to stop that law. So I just really want to echo that sentiment. Yes?
RACHEL GARDINER: Hi. My name is Rachel Gardiner. I'm with the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. We are minutes away from Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. Currently I understand since we got to GA that the jury has been selected.
It is to our knowledge all white, mostly women. Some of the alternates are white men. There may be a Hispanic woman on the jury.
Of immediate interest to us is our church administrator was in the jury pool and had made the first cut. She is an African American. She was released after the first cut and she was told it was because our church had been aggressively supportive of Trayvon Martin's family. So my question to you is we're going home in a few days to that trial.
Obviously there are huge amounts of stories about what we did in the last year to be labeled aggressively supportive. I'm proud of that. But I don't know what to do when we get home? Do you have any suggestions?
ERIC METER: Be even more aggressively supportive.
ERIC METER: Really.
SUSAN LESLIE: Take the mike.
ERIC METER: Be even more aggressively supportive.
RACHEL GARDINER: In more ways than just showing up in our yellow shirts. I mean, we've written letters to the editor. We've done sermons.
We've been at every protest. We've been very visible. We've carried signs with the church's name on it. We've been interviewed by the television stations.
ERIC METER: Keep it up. And know that we're with you.
RACHEL GARDINER: Thank you.
SUSAN LESLIE: And find some partners too. Throw it.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: And pay attention to what happens and the response. And be ready.
PAULA COLE JONES: Excuse me, miss? Come and see me when this is over, OK? I want to give you a couple of names.
RACHEL GARDINER: Thank you.
PAULA COLE JONES: You're welcome.
SUSAN LESLIE: Yes, sir.
FRANK POTTER: Frank Potter, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Dubuque, Iowa. My suggestion is maybe very controversial but for the UUA to consider having a resolution that anyone who is 18 years or older and a citizen of the United States should be allowed to vote in a federal election.
Now you heard earlier that is not in the Constitution. The Constitution says every state decides who's going to vote in any election. So when we had our last election of a new governor in Iowa, who was a Republican, his highest priority, and he did this within 24 hours, was to take the vote away from felons and require an ID for voting. 24 hours. But as he points out, you can appeal to him if you pay off all your fines and he'll consider it. That was his highest priority.
Now the other thing to know, if you're a citizen in the country of Germany, you are required to vote.
SUSAN LESLIE: Could you use the mike please? We're recording this.
FRANK POTTER: If you live in Germany, you're required to vote in federal elections.
FRANK POTTER: So I think that we should consider next year in GA to have a resolution that if you're 18 years old and a citizen of the United States, you should be allowed to vote. And it would take a constitutional amendment, but at least it would get the dialogue going.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: All right. Spearhead it.
FRANK POTTER: And finally I realized if I was a black felon, that would not be my highest priority, getting a vote. That's realistic. But it's a place to start.
SUSAN LESLIE: Thank you. Voting rights.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Good.
SUSAN LESLIE: David.
DAVID SLAVIN: Hi. I'm David Slavin. I'm from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. And I'm also on the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee.
I think we really need a paradigm shift here. The relationship between racial privilege and benefits just doesn't exist. Privileges are not—racial privileges are not benefits. They are actually means to implement social control over working class people. That's their primary role in this country.
I want to give you an example from this. If we step back from the new Jim Crow just one step back, we could see that this whole system of war on drugs was put into place first rhetorically by Nixon, but primarily administratively as an institution by the Reagan administration at just the same time that the Reagan administration declared war on the labor unions in this country. Remember the PATCO strike, 1981, where Reagan fired 17,000 air traffic controllers and opened the gates for corporate assaults on the labor movement. Now, that was happening at exactly the same time as the war on drugs was beginning to sweep to this mass incarceration of particularly men, African American men of color. This was happening at a time that essentially broke the solidarity between—potential solidarity between these two racial groups.
Let me just make one second point, bringing right up to the present. In 2011, there was a tremendous uprising, a movement in Wisconsin. Just before that happened, there was a mass prison strike in Georgia that no one knows about. They were 57,000 prisoners in the state prison system in Georgia. They work for the Prison Industries Corporation, as it's called.
They work for nothing. They are paid nothing. So these are unpaid employees of the State of Georgia. And there was not a peep, not a word out of the Wisconsin uprising that talked about this.
SUSAN LESLIE: Thank you, David, for sharing that. We have five minutes left, so I want to just let a couple more voices get in. Sorry we're not going to get to everybody.
DAVID SLAVIN: All I wanted to say to you is that this question of solidarity is the critical one that we are missing, I think, in this conversation.
FRANCEY LIEFERT: Hi. I'm Francey Liefert, and I'm a member of the Namaqua Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Loveland, Colorado. I also lived in Oakland, California, for many years and taught in the school district there. And I'm wondering, Eric, why your interfaith coalition decided to target truancy rather than helping the school districts make school attendance more meaningful for the students who tend toward truancy.
ERIC METER: This is a really good question. And I'll be as brief as I can be. Several years earlier than—maybe seven years ago, truancy came up. We have what we call house meetings and one-on-ones with the member congregations—this is how CBCOs work—asking people what your deepest fears are and concerns and what you would like to see change to make life in your society better. And then three rise up. And the members vote.
Several years ago truancy became number one. A pilot project was begun at that time. People wanted to see three, four years ago if that could be expanded. So that's why we have done what we've done.
I have consistently talked to Gene Harris, our school superintendent, to say, this should be a win-win. What can we do to support you? Last fall, six schools who had shown marked decrease in out-of-school suspensions were honored at our celebration. We tried to get some press around that.
I'm not saying we're perfect. I'm just saying this is what we've done. We will be going to the whole school board before the start of school in August and saying, let's see what we can do together. This should be a win-win. We're not trying to target the school system as the enemy. We're trying to be partners in dialogue working forward.
FRANCEY LIEFERT: But I hope you're not just giving the students who are swept up by the police for being truant more experience of how to behave once they're in prison.
ERIC METER: No. We're getting them off into truancy centers, trying to work with them. We're visiting the homes, talking to the parents, things the school system doesn't have the staff or time to do. We're funding people from third party sources to provide the role I think the schools should be doing and they're not.
SUSAN LESLIE: So we're going to just sadly only have time for one more comment, question.
THERISSA LIBBY: Thank you. And I'll be brief. My name's Therissa Libby from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. I'm also the current chair of the Unitarian Universalist Addictions Ministry Team. There are a lot of levels at which we can have conversations about addiction and how our congregations and our movement can address addiction and recovery. And there's not enough that the team has focused on but would like to focus on in terms of the interaction of oppression and addiction and how this fits into the larger picture that we're discussing here. And so I'm making myself available to be part of that conversation.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: How do people get in touch with the UU Addiction Ministry?
THERISSA LIBBY: uuaddictionsministry.org. You can also search us on the UUA website or on Facebook. And we have a booth in the UUA Expressway. You can stop by and get information from me tomorrow.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: Fantastic.
SUSAN LESLIE: Excellent.
PAULA COLE JONES: Can I make one final comment, Susan?
SUSAN LESLIE: I'm going to let each of you make one quick comment if you need to, OK? So go ahead.
PAULA COLE JONES: OK. Thank you. Again, listening to Michelle Alexander online in Portland, Oregon, one of things she says is, we can't fix this by piecemeal, which is what we've been talking about. And that gets us at the—end the game. But she said we can't fix this by piecemeal. Nothing short of a social overhaul is going to resolve this issue, the situation that we're in.
MARLIN LAVANHAR: And I just think that Eboo Patel's talk last night is so important to do in this work. We need to have that mindset that he has, because some of the folks we're going to partner with on this work are not going to partner with us on marriage equality. They're not going to partner with us on women's right to choose and some other things possibly.
And we just have to be ready to say, hey. On this issue, we're going to work together. We're going to be friends. We're going to agree to disagree on these other issues. We'll take that up later.
And in my experience, when we build those relationships working on something we both care about in the end, in the long term, folks say, hey. That pastor's not so bad, or that person's not so bad. And he was gay or she was gay. He's open to that.
And it actually changes minds on other issues too. But being able to stay in a relationship with people who have very different values than us is really going to be essential to being successful in building a human rights effort like this.
ERIC METER: How else will we build the kingdom, the kindom of heaven? That's it. Right there.
SUSAN LESLIE: That's right. So I want to thank you all for coming. And I want to thank our panelists.