No Justice, No Peace
The intersection of movements for Black liberation and justice, calls for recognition of the essential humanity of our LGBTQ brothers/sisters/siblings, and our approach to the COVID-19 pandemic have created both a challenge to the primary institutions of our democratic system and an opportunity for real structural and transformational change. Change that can make our country healthier, our communities safer, and our institutions more just. If we rise to the challenge, recognize the need for change is real, and act boldly, we can emerge from this moment stronger.
To us, this is a matter of life or death.
The criminal justice system incarcerates millions of black men. That is effectively sentencing them to death in jails and prisons that are hotbeds for COVID-19. If you are a young black man in America, you are far more likely to be incarcerated for a non-violent drug offense than a young white man. Once confined, you are far more likely to be exposed to COVID-19, HIV, and other infectious diseases and far more likely to die while incarcerated than similarly situated white inmates.
We call for three (3) actions that Governor Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Legislature, and Congress can and should take immediately in response.
First, we need an Executive Order from Governor Reynolds restoring voting rights - automatically - to all people who have served their prison sentences. Bringing these voters back into the electoral process will help reduce recidivism (and our prison population in the future) and create a more equitable election process.
Second, there needs to be an immediate moratorium on all sentencing involving jail time for all non-violent drug offenses. Incarceration during these trying times dramatically increases your chance of contracting COVID-19, and our prison population is already overburdened. If Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen can get a reprieve from their prison sentences, we need to extend this to people who have committed non-violent drug offenses.
And third, we are calling on President Trump and the Department of Justice to immediately reinstate the federal moratorium on the execution of federal inmates. The state inequitably applies the death penalty to persons of color, and the state shouldn’t be in the business of taking a person’s life.
Over the last year, there has been an awakening of millions recognizing the violence perpetrated against communities of color. This awakening is occurring all over our country, and right here in our backyard in Iowa. One hundred and fifty-two years ago, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Iowa became the first state to desegregate our public schools. We were among the first states in the nation to recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry legally. Our legislature and Governor Reynolds were among the first states to pass reforms in response to the George Floyd murder.
Now, we have an opportunity to build on that foundation. To make our way into a new frontier where we pursue justice for all and peace for future generations.