A few weeks ago, the ELCA released the Draft Social Statement on Criminal Justice, a document intended to spark conversations throughout the church.
Its timing was significant for me. A month or so earlier, I heard an interview with author Michelle Alexander about her book called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Then, I read it. In the book, Alexander observes that the criminal justice system is devastating black communities in America through the war on drugs. This policy, she says, was established in the 1970s and ’80s to control black men by locking them away in prison and labeling them criminals when they are released. You may not agree with her broad conclusion. Regardless, the stories and facts she tells about the criminal justice system are important and compelling.
The war on drugs is especially dangerous, she notes, because it is hidden from the majority. Unlike Jim Crow, which happened out in the open, the war on drugs is happening primarily in poor black neighborhoods, police cars, courthouses and prisons. The book has spent weeks on the best-seller list and is galvanizing readers (including at least one Lutheran pastor).
This blog post is one of my first steps to respond to the book and to contribute to the church’s conversations about criminal justice. I hope Women of the ELCA starts more conversations and shows up where conversations are already happening in our congregations.
We are a community of women that aspires to work against racism. I hope we bring questions about race to these conversations. Alexander says that Americans are less likely to talk about race today because we’re supposed to be better than that in an age of supposed colorblindness. (As in, “How bad can racism be? We elected a black man president.”) For Women of the ELCA to be “anti-racist” in the age of colorblindness, we have to acknowledge racism where it happens. As Christians, in any age, we are called to shine light on what is hidden. How will you participate?
Emma Crossen is director for stewardship and development.