I grew up in the midst of social unrest. Until I was nine years old, car bombs, curfews, murders, military roadblocks, kidnappings, and blackouts were common. By the late 1980s, the city where I lived was under siege. In 1991, the violence and turmoil forced my family out of Peru, and continued to rage for many years.
The last few weeks have been turbulent with protests, riots, violence, and death plastered all over the headlines. As when I was a child, a whole segment of the country’s population feels so marginalized that they see rioting as the only avenue through which they can be heard. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles recently stated, “the protests and riots throughout our cities reflect the justified frustration of millions of brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin. It should not be this way in America. Racism has been tolerated for far too long in our way of life.” When I was a child, the majority of Peruvians had no access to education, healthcare, or markets. The experience of the majority of the indigenous population consisted of marginalization and oppression. Leftist guerrillas channeled the discontent to their advantage and they rose up against the establishment.
Our American society has difficult issues to tackle that disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. Though racism still exists in our country, the belief that someone is inferior than me due to his or her race, many of the issues we face are not overtly racist, but can be understood in racial categories. The Equal Justice Initiative argues that wealth and not culpability shapes outcomes in the American criminal justice system. Many who are charged with crimes lack the resources to obtain the help they need, leading to wrongful convictions and excessive sentences. Many prisons have become places to deal with the poor and mentally ill. The United States has 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, while it only has 5% of the world’s population, and the number of people incarcerated has increased from 200,000 to 2.2 million in fifty years.
The EJI argues that the criminal justice system remains the institution least impacted by the Civil Rights Movement seen through the presence of racial disparity in its decisions, mass incarceration, and the common presumption of guilt of people of color. A 2014 National Research Council report indicates that all Americans regardless of race use drugs at similar rates, but drug-related arrests of African Americans is three to four times higher than that of whites. A 2017 Pew Research Center study reports that even though African Americans and Hispanics are about 28% of the population, they represent 56% of the incarcerated. The EJI states that one in three black baby boys today is expected to go to jail or prison at some point in his life.
Cardinal Turkson of Ghana recently reminded us that, “The United States has a long history of non-violent demonstrations. Martin Luther King led a lot of them and they were non-violent because they were well-planned and they had a leader. What we witness in these days is a spontaneous eruption of people’s anger and sentiment against everything that is happening.” The Catholic Church is a champion for the inherent dignity of every human person. Our belief drives us to speak and act today. Turkson concluded, “Racism is a very widespread and diffused problem in society. [We must teach that]… we share the same dignity bestowed on us by God, created in His image and likeness.”
Check out the website of the Equal Justice Initiative. You can also watch Just Mercy for free online which is about the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson.
Picture is not mine, information here.