On July 6 and 7, 2016, the world witnessed the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, adding to the growing list of African-Americans who have been killed by excessive and unnecessary force at the hands of law enforcement. Their names have also been added to the growing list of African-Americans whose deaths have been captured by cell phone video and shared across the globe via social media. For many, these macabre videos provide a never-before seen glimpse into the ways in which our justice system has unfairly treated members of the Black community. For others, these videos serve as an all too familiar reminder of a long history of the justice system mistreating and destabilizing people of color.
The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) has stood and will continue to stand by these communities — our communities. It is important to understand that the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the most extreme behaviors of a system that has deliberately victimized low-income communities and communities of color.
Since the death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, stories of young Black men and women killed because they were unnecessarily deemed “threatening” have seemed too frequent. Far more frequent, however, are the excessively-long determinate sentences, sentences to life in prison, and life in prison without the possibility of parole that are handed out to poor young men and women. Each day, these young men and women, as young as 14-years old, are effectively sentenced to die in prison, all in the name of public safety. They are essentially killed by the state, but their deaths are not captured by cell phone video, re-tweeted, or become public rallying cries. Rather, their ultimate death by the system is the end result of an overly-harsh and racially-biased criminal justice bureaucracy that throws away these young lives not with a bullet, but through the shuffling of papers, unjust prosecutions, unfair bail requirements, offers of dubious plea deals, and the pounding of gavels.
It is these stories, often untold and unheard, that prompted ARC to help pass SB 9, SB 260 and SB 261. These laws have worked to undo some of the harsh sentencing laws that were developed out of a fear of the poor and young people of color, by encouraging parole boards to recognize that young people can change and become productive citizens and community leaders if given the chance, rather than being sentenced to waste away in prison. In order to accomplish this, ARC partnered with community-based organizations and members, including leaders in the law enforcement community, to accomplish this important goal.
At a time when the world was beginning to see police officers killing American citizens, others in the law enforcement community were working alongside us to reform a racist and overly harsh system, a system of dehumanization that helped foster the social and political contexts that sanction these brutal police behaviors. Without the help of law enforcement officers, men and women deeply committed to a just system and safe and healthy communities, we would not have been able to help pass these important laws. And while this is true, it is also obvious that egregious police misconduct must be held accountable, and those law enforcement officers that break the laws that they are sworn to uphold, must be prosecuted and sent to prison. ARC works to reform the criminal justice system and stands in solidarity with all of those working to do the same.