In early 2013, the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force was formed at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Lacombe, Louisiana. It began with a weekly discussion of Michelle Alexander’s newly published book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the title from which the group took its name. Members of the group included parishioners of the Unitarian church as well as members of nearby communities of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, and New Orleans, among others. After the book discussions, members continued to meet to discuss local issues, to watch films on the topic of mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline. Some members became involved in the political process, attending meetings of local organizations that supported related social issues such as payday loans, poverty, voting access, and overly-harsh drug penalties in the Louisiana justice system, as well as other mass incarceration issues. Some members also attended committee meetings of the Louisiana state legislature and rallies at the state capitol. Over time, then, the original task force has moved beyond its beginnings as a discussion group in the local Unitarian church, and, as a result, we are adopting the name of our blog as the signifier of our social and political activities: Equal Justice Louisiana.
The Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force began with a discussion of Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Lacombe, Louisiana. The church first invited the community at large to view the documentary The House I Live In, an investigation of the devastating effects of the War on Drugs. The film was followed by an invitation to community members and leaders to participate in a discussion of Alexander's book in four scheduled meetings led by Leslie Runnels of the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists and co-facilitated by Bonnie Schmidt, a member of the North Shore UU. At the conclusion of the discussion, the group decided to continue meeting and exploring ways to increase the community's awareness of the racial inequality in our prison system and the effects of mass incarceration on individuals, families, and communities.
Our goal is to increase awareness of the issue of unequal justice and its effect on Louisiana's incarceration rate with the express purpose of reducing those rates to ensure the reduction of wasted lives, broken families, and broken communities.
Working with other like-minded organizations to shine a light on the racial inequities in our prison system and on the unjust consequences of our nation's War on Drugs, we hope to bring about changes in the drug laws as well as in the treatment of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. Our vision includes influencing legislation that will:
- decriminalize drug possession
- end racial profiling and the targeting of drug busts in poor communities
- eliminate selective enforcement
- establish humane prisons
- abolish drug forfeiture laws
- stop transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement
- fund treatment programs
We invite others in our communities to join us. Meet with us for discussion; participate in events that promote equal justice, humane treatment of prisoners, equal access to legal representation, restoration of civil rights and access to jobs for the formerly incarcerated; and support legislators who will work to implement our vision.
To its shame, the state of Louisiana imprisons more people than any other state in the United States.... and any country. According to Cindy Chang of The Times Picayune, "Louisiana is the world's prison capital......[with an] incarceration rate [that] is nearly five times Iran's, 13 times China's and 20 times Germany's." Join us in our efforts to demolish this dubious distinction.