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The United States is number one globally in the incarceration of its citizens. The US is 5% of the world population and houses 21% of the world’s prisoners. This has not always been the case. Between 1989 and 2015 the number of people incarcerated in the US increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million. Another 4.6 million are under correctional control in the form of probation or parole. African Americans make up 13% of the US population but in 2014 African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34% of the total 6.8 million in the correctional population.
The most promising legislative proposal currently being considered is the the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), S. 1917. This bill would reduce some of the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offences and also allow those currently in prison to apply to have their sentence reduced. Additionally it strengthens recidivism reduction programs and provides new limits to the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. You can view a one page information sheet here.
The economy is a human creation. Unlike the weather, it follows laws laid down by humans, not by God or Nature. Most of us work a significant portion of our lives, but how much we prosper depends not only on our individual actions, but also on laws governing labor, corporations, taxation, and public investment. When Europeans began settling North America, they and their descendants established laws that appropriated land and resources from Native Americans and utilized enslaved Africans as free labor, setting the stage for the accumulation of wealth and political power primarily among people of European descent. One example of this is the student loan industry. Click here to learn more.
Gun violence is a national health issue. The United States homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries. For every one person killed with a gun 2 more are injured. Black men are 13 times more likely to be shot and killed by a gun than white men. Violence has a traumatic impact on larger communities resulting in emotional and physical health issue. Common sense gun measures, including universal background checks and an assault weapon ban, have wide bipartisan public support. Possible legislation includes the Background Check Expansion Act (S. 2009) and The Assault Weapon Ban of 2017 & 2018 (S. 2095 and H.R. 5087). You can view a one page information sheet here.
The right to vote is a basic human right. It is perhaps the single most important right in a democratic society. History verifies that voting discrimination against minority populations continues and therefore that federal oversight of state and local voting functions remains an imperative in jurisdictions with patterns of voting discrimination.
In its 2013 decision Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by invalidating a key provision that requires certain states to have any changes to their voting laws approved by the Department of Justice (“pre-clearance”). These states had historically sought ways to restrict voting for African-Americans. To repair this gap, Congress must come up with a new formula to determine which states should be subject to pre-clearance. The Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1419 and H.R. 2978) provides the best means to create criteria for determining which states should be subject to pre-clearance.
Our sacred texts and faith traditions call us repeatedly to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner. Yet the cries of the tired, poor, and huddled masses that our faith, and Lady Liberty, also demand be heard and welcomed into the U.S. have often been made worse by immigration policies imbued with scapegoating, racism, detention practices, and labor abuses that result in modern day slavery enacted both before and following immigrant arrivals. One legislative measure being considered is the Dream Act (H.R. 3440 and S. 1615). Find out more in this one page fact sheet.
Every child, regardless of race, income, disability, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other immutable characteristic should be able to obtain a free quality public education. This includes issues such as discipline, funding, and diversity and desegregation. Important measures such as the joint guidance issued by the Departments of Education and Justice in 2014 should be promoted and strengthened to ensure all students are supported. Additionally, Congress needs to prioritize the use of public funds for public schools as well as fully fund the Every Student Succeeds Act. Learn more from the one page info brief here.
We are a part of and caretakers of God’s creation. We are also called to care for our neighbors near and far. Communities of color are subject to a host of environmental dangers. They are more likely to be harmed by climate change, water contamination, air pollution, lead poisoning, and hazardous waste sites. In addition, heritage sites and sacred places most important to communities of color are less likely to be protected among our nation’s public lands and waters. To help alleviate these conditions it is important to support legislation that protects our environment. Both the so-called National Monument Creation Act (H.R. 3990) and the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act (H.R. 4532) harm our ability to protect important historical and cultural sites. Additionally Congress must do more to strengthen the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. You can find more info here.