Skip to main content

Criminal Justice Reform - "Locking Up Our Own"

When I came home from my arts-focused sleep away camp, I noticed a book on my mother's desk, "Locking Up Our Own" by James Forman Jr. My Dad saw me pick it up and told me the author would be speaking at a San Francisco bookshop the following week. I had read the book "Monster" by Walter Dean Myers in English class and visited the San Francisco Public Defenders office with the Youth Policy Camp, so I decided to go.

The last time I attended a bookstore for an author event was to see a picture book writer read to children. This was much different.

Forman, a well-respected Yale Law professor and former public defender, discussed policies from the '70s and '80s that were aimed at addressing rising crime rates, but resulted in the mass incarceration of blacks. Forman explained that many of the African-American officials taking office after the Civil Rights movement were the ones who lobbied for measures against drug-dealing and gun violence at the request of their African-American constituents who complained about their unsafe neighborhoods.

But tougher laws against crime were not the only things they had asked for on behalf of their constituents. They also wanted better schools, jobs, and an agressive effort to rebuild their struggling neighborhoods. But all they got was harsh criminal enforcement that disproportionaly affected the black community. Even in liberal San Francisco, which is less than 8% black, more than half the people in jail are African American.

A question probably burning in your mind as it was mine is how can we change this. "We are going to have to dismantle this system the same way it was built: slowly and by all pushing in the same direction," said Forman at the bookstore talk. Forman also gave some examples of actions people can take: If you work at a company, review HR policies - would you hire people with a criminal record and help give them a fresh start? If you belong to a church, can you adopt a returning citizen by helping them get an ID, find housing, and a stable job? Teachers and professors can even teach a class at a prison system -- Forman did this himself while at Yale and found it inspiring and lifechanging.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when thinking of the enormity of effort it would take to make the world a better place, whether that be destroying the school-to-prison pipeline, reforming immigration policies, or even finding a better-qualified president. But I found comfort in Forman's words, for as long as we are all doing something, we can and will make a change.

"Because if we do it," says Forman, "slowly, but surely, we will dismantle this massive, and unjust system."





Comments

  1. Great work! Slowly, but surely, we will change the laws and the prison industrial complex.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Board Member's Perspective on San Francisco Public Schools

Rachel Norton is a former journalist who has served on the San Francisco Board of Education since 2009. She served on the SFUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and is also an active member of Parents for Public Schools. I attended San Francisco public schools through 8th grade and was eager to hear her perspective.


What made you decide to first run for school board?

I have two daughters who attended SFUSD schools (both graduated from George Washington HS). I always knew I wanted to send my daughters to public schools and from the time they were in preschool I got involved with Parents for Public Schools and started paying attention to school board politics. 

My older daughter has autism, so from the time she entered Kindergarten I started volunteering with a group of other parents of students with disabilities, to help support parents through the IEP process and to help kids get the services they need. I became aware that so many kids were not getting what they needed,…

Rube Goldberg Reflection

The ball moves down the ramp. It makes a swirling sound as it moves through the funnel.  The dominoes tumble over each other in an orderly fashion. The last one pushes the car. The car spins through the scale. The pin rolls over... and BOOM!! The balloon pops. What causes this chain reaction? It's called a Rube Goldberg Machine, or in simpler words, a series of events that provoke something even bigger; like the example we just had, the ramp, the funnel, the dominoes,.. they all worked together to make the ballon pop. These series of events are called simple machines, which are several working manuevers (in this case 6) each assigned to complete a different simple task. The impact of one is not great, but together, they can cause an expolsion.

Here are the six simple machines:

Wheel/Axle: Used to carry around heavy mass with less effort

Pulley: Uses wheel and rope to raise, move, raise, and lower a load

Lever: A rod balanced on a fixed point that can move more wheight effortlessly

Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? Interview with Irma Herrera

I recently had the privilege of watching a one-woman show at San Francisco’s Marsh Theater called “Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?”. The author and performer was Irma Herrera, a civil rights attorney, who shared stories of her childhood as a Mexican-American girl in South Texas, anecdotes from her career as a lawyer and activist, and much more. I met with her after the show and she agreed to do an interview for my blog. 

What made you decide to pursue a career in law? How old were you? What had you wanted to be before then?

I think the seed was planted when my mother admonished me with this phrase: “Muchacha eres una abogada sin libros.” She would say this to me because I asked many questions and was always arguing and trying to win others to my point of view. But perhaps the biggest influence was seeing the work being done by African-American civil rights lawyers on behalf of their community. When I looked at the ways that black people were treated in this country, I could can se…