Two weeks ago I drafted an open letter to President Obama based on a meeting that T.D. Jakes, James Robison, and I convened in Dallas, Texas to help advance racial healing in our nation. As we met we attempted to avoid blaming whites for our current problems with the police in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY. We also avoided stating that changing our urban policing conditions was virtually hopeless in this generation. Instead we entered into a solutions based discussion. I wrote the following letter to the President, which you can read in its entirety at www.healtheracialdivide.com.
Dear President Obama,
I am writing this letter to you as a formal request for you to address the need for a major reform of the criminal justice system in your state of the union address this week. Mr. President we need to go beyond improving community policing, although training of law enforcement officers is very important. Part of the mistrust of law enforcement in urban areas has to do with the large number of ex-convicts who live in our cities. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the growing number of Black and Brown Americans who are becoming part of a permanent under class because of jail time. Michelle Alexander (Ohio State University law professor) wrote about this in her book “The New Jim Crow”.
Ex-convicts have problems with re-entry into society. Further, their families suffer because of the low income potential and numerous other consequences of having a criminal conviction on their records. The Department of Justice web site says, “over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation's communities. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year, and studies show that approximately two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years of release.”
In addition to the sheer size of the prison population, these numbers are a problem because 71% percent of these inmates are black and brown persons. Later on in this letter, I will address several specific recommendations that the Board of Prisons should accept in order to mitigate some of the damage being done to minority fathers, families, and communities by their policies.
On Thursday January 15, 2015, I helped convene a meeting of over 100 ministers who met at the Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas (pastored by Bishop TD Jakes) for a powerful closed door conclave called “Healing The Racial Divide”. Collectively, we represented over 40 million evangelical Christians of different racial backgrounds. The group included former Ambassador Andrew Young, Bernice King (daughter of the iconic civil rights leader), Bishop Vashti Mackenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bishop Paul Morton (founder of the Full Gospel Baptist Church), Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Dr. James Garlow of Skyline Wesleyan Church, Dr. Tony Evans of the Urban Alternative, James Robison of Life Outreach International, Dr. Sammy Rodriquez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Dr. Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and representatives of Colorado based Focus on the Family.
Later that evening over 6,000 people gathered for a Communion and Commissioning service designed to begin addressing the need for racial reconciliation within the church. All of us agreed that the American church has been divided along racial lines. Therefore, we signed a covenant of reconciliation and committed to the process of healing the racial rifts within the church (i.e. that Sunday morning at 11:00AM is the most segregated hour in our nation).
Secondly, we vowed to help lead the nation toward racial equality by using proven approaches to the four following bridges to peace:
1.Criminal justice reform
3.Urban economic development
I recommend that you endorse and support the passing of the REDEEM Act that Senators Corey Booker (D) and Rand Paul (R) have advanced so valiantly. The act attempts to address the fact that our criminal justice system is broken. It has been developed to correspond to sentencing reform efforts. It’s real name is the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment. Corey Booker’s web site says this about the second chance act: “Once convicted of a crime, Americans face daunting obstacles to successfully rejoining society. Since 1990, state and federal prisons have released an average of 590,400 inmates each year, and an estimated three quarters of these ex-offenders are rearrested within five years of their release. A recent report from the Vera Institute revealed that if just ten states studied cut their recidivism rates by ten percent, it would save taxpayers $470 million a year.”
I recommend that you take a moment to read the entire letter and to remind yourself that America is a country built on dreams and that Dr. King’s dream can certainly become a reality in our lifetime. Again, the entire letter and attachments can be found at www.healtheracialdivide.com.