Renaldo Pearson: We Can’t Wait to Address the Sleeping Giant of Mass Incarceration

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The mass incarceration problem is arguably the greatest deterrent to African American progress in the 21st century.  Private prisons are serving to harm entire communities by putting away fathers and mothers for long periods of time.  When their children are not being raised properly, it only worsens the cycle of despair and violence that exists in many communities across America.  

This essay does a good job of laying out the issues.  You should take a read. 

On Father’s Day (two months to the day after the 50th anniversary of the critically acclaimed “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written by my late fellow alumnus, Dr. King), I released an open letter, via Facebook, asking America to contemplate the question, “Whatbest explains why there are so many black men and fathers missing from black households?” Or “What is the real reason behind the fact that, today, over half of all black children grow up in homes without a father?”

Today, in the wake of the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. King told the world of his “Dream,” it is clear to me that that question is even more pressing now.

As I wrote in my open letter, the answer to that question is mass incarceration, where one-third of adult black men have been labeled felons for life, primarily through the now-glaringly unjust ”War on Drugs.” Indeed, in less than 30 years (since 1980), the penal population went from 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase (two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners).

The fact of the matter is that, in urban America, black (and increasingly brown) men are disproportionately targeted, pursued, and arrested for a “crime” (mainly simple, nonviolent possession of marijuana — a drug less harmful than both alcohol and tobacco) that goes largely unnoticed and unpunished when committed by whites (who, multiple studies show, actually use the same drugs at similar or higher rates) on college campuses and in suburban citadels across the country.

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