Wednesday, April 2, 2014

PICO-LA Faith Day Rally at the State Capitol

signs at the Faith Day rally against mass incarceration

Several members of the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force--Bonnie Schmidt, Bev Mussen, Marlene Hahn, and Anita Dugat-Greene--joined PICO-Louisiana (People Improving Communities through Organizing) and other organizations, represented by several faith leaders and their congregants, on the steps of the state capitol on Tuesday, April 1st, to rally against mass incarceration. Lauren McGaughy, of The Times Picayune, has a report of the rally at the following link: "Faith leaders criticize Louisiana sentencing, prison policies." Several bills are moving through the state legislature during this legislative session that have the potential to help decrease the large prison population in Louisiana and to redress some serious inequities in the criminal justice system.

An eight-part investigative series in The Times Picayune in 2012 helped raise awareness of these issues, and forums in Louisiana towns have brought together people in a bi-partisan movement to reform the prison system. The eight part series in the Times Picayune can be found at the following link: "Louisiana Incarcerated: How We Built the World's Prison Capital."
The Faith Day group gathered on the front steps of the Louisiana state capitol

After the rally, the large group broke up into six smaller groups in order to meet with legislators. The NNJCTF members joined the group led by Dr. Lue Russell of Southern University. 

Of the two or three legislators Dr. Russell requested to leave committee meetings briefly to meet with the group, Rep. Patrick Jefferson (D-District 11) was able to answer the call. 
Rep. Patrick Jefferson (D-District 11) with Dr. Lue Russell and Bonnie Schmidt

Rep. Jefferson answers questions posed by a young man who participated in the rally
Rep. Jefferson agreed to support the bills that the group was focusing on today: 
  • SB 323 (reducing all penalties for marijuana possession); 
  • HB 745 (authorizing courts to waive mandatory minimum sentences in certain non-violent, non-sexual crimes); 
  • HB 217 and HB 485 (banning the box--requiring state contractors to avoid denying employment to ex-offenders based on criminal history alone; the seriousness of the offense and the time elapsed since the offense must be considered).
Members of PICO  discuss issues with Rep. Jefferson

Rep. John Bel Edwards was not able to meet with the group.

The participants in the rally then reconvened for a Research Action with Senator Elbert Guillory (R-24). Several persons in the audience were ready to ask questions that were prepared the day before in PICO's Boot Camp. One participant asked Rep. Guillory what propelled him into politics. In answering the question, Rep. Guillory described his first encounter with the law as a black teenager in Louisiana. He said that at the age of 15, he tried to borrow a book from the local library and was apprehended for violating a law that prohibited blacks from white-only libraries. 
Louisiana state senator Elbert Guillory (R-District 24) speaks to the members of the Faith Day rally at the state capitol
 Rep. Guillory assured the group that he would support the bills on which they were focusing during this visit to the state legislature, including the bill that would make possession of marijuana a misdemeanor. He reminded the group that three recent presidents had admitted to smoking marijuana in young adulthood. "If weed is a gateway drug," he said, "the gateway must be to the White House!"
Participants in the Faith Day rally listen to Rep. Patrick Jefferson
Dr. Lue Russell prepares to give instructions for meeting with a state legislator
A participant in the Faith Day rally has a question for Senator Guillory
Faith Day rally on the front steps of the Louisiana state capitol

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