This week, in light of the tragic shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile so closely followed by the heart-breaking assassination of five Dallas police officers, we at Seed Street are taking a moment to step back and reflect on the deep divisions, structurally inequalities and fundamental lack of shared understanding that plague so many aspects of our world today and ultimately enable so much senseless violence and loss. We recognize that our country is in the midst of a powerful dialogue through movements like #blacklivesmatter and led by countless grassroots social leaders, albeit a dialogue fueled by the momentum of tragedy and a movement whose greatest tangible goals are still the stuff of dreams. We would be remiss if we did not share our love and full-hearted support for these change-makers and this movement, as well as do our part to further the conversation.
We recently had the special opportunity to hear from Mike de la Rocha - musician, author, social justice activist and founder of creative arts and policy fund Revolve Impact – on his mission to radically reimagine the criminal justice system in our country from beginning to end. The statistics that represent the contradictory paradigm of our prison system today are staggering. Since 1972, the number of incarcerated people in the Unites States has grown from only 300,000 to over 2.3 million. That is 5 times faster than the growth rate of the U.S. population at large. And this growth in our prison system has been disproportionately fueled by the incarceration of poor black and minority Americans. In fact, within African American communities, one out of three men between the ages of 18 and 30 will serve time. Beyond this, our prison system has become the defacto largest mental health treatment institution in America, and a staggering number of inmates are actually men and women whose mental health and addiction issues have been left untreated.
As anyone who has spent time studying or following this issue knows, the statistics are manifold and the issue itself is complex beyond measure. Mike de la Rocha promotes the radically simple yet potent concept of “restorative justice”, wherein we focus on putting health and healing at the forefront of our criminal justice system rather than on simply “locking people up in cages and sending people back into our communities destroyed.” Mike was as the forefront of the movement which led California voter to ratify Proposition 47 in 2014, thereby reclassifying several non-violent offenses from felony convictions and into misdemeanors and opening up hope for access to jobs, education grants and public housing for the thousands of non-violent offenders in our prisons who are barred from such access under a felony conviction.
Mike and his work have been deeply shaped by another social justice pioneer, the lawyer, author and advocate Bryan Stevenson. We want to share with you this powerful TED talk delivered by Bryan, along with an excerpt from his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.