We must first address the underlying issues
President Barack Obama’s historic visit to a federal detention facility last week focused America’s attention on the brutal realities of our criminal justice system. Yet this broken system is only a symptom of an even more brutal American reality: white supremacy.
Until we accept and address this underlying cause, systemic problems including unfairly long mandatory minimums, racialized police brutality, harsh prison conditions, and unnecessary obstacles upon release, will continue to plague our nation. Like an incessant game of whack-a-mole, addressing one will only cause racism to rear its evil head in another equally pernicious place.
Every one of us needs to look deep into our souls and into our social systems to heal the wounds from our racist culture and fix our criminal justice system. This is slow, hard work—and it’s necessary.
As a Christian minister and president of Union Theological Seminary, I look with great hope to the Christian story as one that, at its heart, is a story of redemption. It’s the promise that even in our brokenness, our sins are forgiven. Why is it then that when it comes to our criminal justice system, we act in punitive ways, never in redemptive ways? Why do we continue to practice retributive justice, when we could move toward restorative justice?…
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