It is impossible to think about the criminal justice system, without acknowledging how structural racism is embedded into it. While some elected officials have focused on tinkering with the criminal justice system, abolitionists like Mariame Kaba note, “efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms like these have failed for nearly a century.” Kaba challenges us to ask, “Why do we have no other well-resourced options?”, and steers the conversation toward focusing on community safety. Indeed, a deep understanding of the roots of our nation’s highly racialized and inequitable criminal justice system is necessary, if we are to imagine a more equitable way forward.
The resources in this section call out the origins of structural racism within the criminal justice system, shares the demands and ideas a [...]
Criminal Justice and Specific Populations
Imagining Criminal Justice Transformation
Legislation and Policy
The Death Penalty in the United States
Equal Justice Initiative
Democracy Rising: The End of Florida’s History of Felony Disenfranchisement and Launch of a New Age
The Advancement Project
“Stand Your Ground” Laws and Trying to Prevent the Next Trayvon Martin
Robert M. Cross
The Harvard Law Record
As We #SayHerName, 7 Policy Paths to Stop Police Violence Against Black Girls and Women
Andrea J. Ritchie
Policing and Public Safety
Resistance and Organizing
Sentencing and Incarceration
“If you’re quiet, knowing that there’s a culture of racism inside most police departments, and you’re not saying anything, you are on the wrong side of history.”
~ Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter
Mass Incarceration, Visualized – The Atlantic
Also in this section:
Addressing Hate and White Supremacy
Employment and Labor
Health and Healthcare
Voting Justice and Democracy Building
Children, Families, and Youth Development
Media and Technology
Community Planning: Land and Transportation
Immigration and Refugee Rights
Trauma, Violence, and Healing
In the context of racial equity work, accountability refers to the ways in which individuals and communities hold themselves to their goals and actions, and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible.
To be accountable, one must be visible, with a transparent agenda and process. Invisibility defies examination; it is, in fact, employed in order to avoid detection and examination. Accountability demands commitment. It might be defined as “what kicks in when convenience runs out.” Accountability requires some sense of urgency and becoming a true stakeholder in the outcome. Accountability can be externally imposed (legal or organizational requirements), or internally applied (moral, relational, faith-based, or recognized as some combination of the two) on a continuum from the institutional and organizational level to the individual level. From a relational point of view, accountability is not always doing it right. Sometimes it’s really about what happens after it’s done wrong.
SOURCE: Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing: Stories from Our Work, Bonnie Berman Cushing with Lila Cabbil, Margery Freeman, Jeff Hitchcock, and Kimberly Richards (2010).
Related Resources: Accountability
Location: PLAN / Change Process
Black Lives Matter
A political movement to address systemic and state violence against African Americans. Per the Black Lives Matter organizers: “In 2013, three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. [Black Lives Matter] members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
SOURCE: Black Lives Matter, “Herstory” (accessed 7 October 2019).
When people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression.
Example: Able-bodied people who object to strategies for making buildings accessible because of the expense.
SOURCE: Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin (Routledge, 1997).
Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color.
Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as “red-lining”).
City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.
SOURCE: Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).
Movement building is the effort of social change agents to engage power holders and the broader society in addressing a systemic problem or injustice while promoting an alternative vision or solution. Movement building requires a range of intersecting approaches through a set of distinct stages over a long-term period of time. Through movement building, organizers can:
Propose solutions to the root causes of social problems.
Enable people to exercise their collective power.
Humanize groups that have been denied basic human rights and improve conditions for the groups affected.
Create structural change by building something larger than a particular organization or campaign.
Promote visions and values for society based on fairness, justice, and democracy.
SOURCE: Julie Quiroz-Martinez, From the Roots: Building the Power of Communities of Color to Challenge Structural Racism (Akonadi Foundation, 2010), citing the Movement Strategy Center, which offers these further definitions.
The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group. Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson state that oppression exists when the following 4 conditions are found:
the oppressor group has the power to define reality for themselves and others,
the target groups take in and internalize the negative messages about them and end up cooperating with the oppressors (thinking and acting like them),
genocide, harassment, and discrimination are systematic and institutionalized, so that individuals are not necessary to keep it going, and
members of both the oppressor and target groups are socialized to play their roles as normal and correct.
Oppression = Power + Prejudice
Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing, such as the percentages of each ethnic group in terms of dropout rates, single family home ownership, access to healthcare, etc.
SOURCE: Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.
A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between or among racial groups. Policies are written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. Racist policies are also expressed through other terms such as “structural racism” or “systemic racism”. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.
SOURCE: Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.
States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them. Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims—and help to change the underlying causes of abuse. Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.
Related Resources: Reparations
Location: PLAN / Issues
The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of White domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics, and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.
For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural, and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for African American and Native American men, compared to white men. These include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress, and racism, lower rates of health care coverage, access, and quality of care, and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these things.
Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities by Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change, and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center, for the Race and Public Policy Conference (2004).
Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).
The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and “undeserving.” Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.