Our hearts are breaking for so many Americans in pain right now, especially George Floyd’s family, who had their loved one stolen from them in a police encounter that never should have turned lethal. Mr. Floyd’s killing demonstrates once again that law enforcement’s dehumanization of Black Americans can have deadly results. This country had already recently lost Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and a sickening number of other Black people who lost their lives over generations because of fear and hate.
It is clear that the communities most disadvantaged by coronavirus are the same communities most affected by structural racism, over-policing that results in dehumanizing treatment, and the devastating consequences resulting from mass incarceration.
The racial disparities in our justice system are vast. One in 3 Black men are incarcerated in their lifetimes compared to one in 17 white men. Our prisons, with populations that are disproportionately Black, have reported over 34,000 people who have tested positive for Covid-19, in less than four months. Hundreds of incarcerated people have already died from the virus.
The over-policing of marginalized communities and the creation and continuation of mass incarceration are deliberate policy choices. We hope this is a turning point for our country, a time when we can reimagine our system of justice, working with communities to redefine public safety and significantly shrinking our jail and prison populations.
We’ve seen that elected prosecutors, judges, public defenders, and correctional agencies can work together to keep the justice system from adding to the devastating effects of the coronavirus. Prosecutors are declining to initiate new prosecutions for low-level offenses that do not implicate public safety. Courts have waived the collection of their fees and fines. Some jails and prisons have released vulnerable citizens to reduce the spread of Covid-19, without jeopardizing public safety.
This is a critical moment when we need to make sure we finally carve out a new approach to justice in America.