Addressing Systemic Racism in the U.S. and the Mass Incarceration of People of Color

The brutal killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police has catalyzed a groundswell of action against racism and police brutality across the country. We stand in solidarity and believe it is our duty to demand and work for systemic change to end racial injustice and inequality. We must root out the deep unconscious racial bias and white supremacy that permeates our culture, and end police violence and all abuses of police power. To this end, we must support anti-racist policy reform at the state and federal level.

Though systemic racism permeates many of our institutions, it is most entrenched in our criminal justice system, including in how the “War on Drugs” is waged inside communities of color. Just as the Jim Crow era of legal segregation replaced the institution of slavery as the main form of institutional racial control in the U.S. from the Civil War through the sixties, so has the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people—via the “War on Drugs” and otherwise—replaced Jim Crow since. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” lays bare how systemic racial control operates institutionally via the criminal justice system in our society today:

In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

The United States has 4% of the world’s population but 22% of the world’s prison population, in significant part because of the brutal “War on Drugs.” Despite using drugs at the same rates as whites, Black and Brown people are much more likely to be targeted by police, arrested and incarcerated. As Kassandra Frederique, incoming Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance relayed by email:

Time and time again, drugs are used as a justification to target, harass, assault, arrest, incarcerate and kill Black people by law enforcement. George Floyd drew his last breath after one police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes and another taunted “don’t do drugs, kids” to the gathered crowd. Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own bed by Louisville Police in what was a baseless warrant in a drug investigation… We must fight to remove drug involvement as a cover for disregarding the dignity and sanctity of human life.

Reforming the racist “War on Drugs” is a critical piece of fighting against systemic racism, and that is why we focus energy and resources as a company to support legislation that treats addiction compassionately, not criminally. People who are addicted to drugs should receive the help and treatment they need in a way that doesn’t further destroy their and their families’ lives. Since 2001 Portugal has showed the way, implementing expanded treatment programs in place of jailing low-level drug offenders and addicts, while continuing to criminalize trafficking and distribution of drugs.

One of the ways we are engaged this year is through strongly supporting, the Yes on 44 campaign in Oregon for the “Drug Addiction, Treatment  and Recovery Act,” now gathering signatures to get on the November ballot. We have pledged $250,000 to this campaign. Instead of arresting and jailing people for drugs, this initiative would use some existing marijuana tax money to pay for expanded addiction and recovery services, including supportive housing, to help people get their lives back on track. Victory in Oregon will blaze the path for the rest of the country to follow, and we call on our allies to likewise support this campaign. For those of you who live in Oregon, we encourage you to sign the petition today to put this on the November ballot.

Let’s work together to reform systemic racism however it manifests institutionally in our society, whether in police practices or government policies. Together, we are All-One or None! All-One! Black Lives Matter!

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David and Michael Bronner

David and Michael Bronner run Dr. Bronner's together with their family. They view the company as an activist vehicle and donate both time and money to causes they believe in.

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  • Corrina McFarlane

    Dear David and Michael, thank you for always being on it for social equity and “The Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” (thanks Charles Eisenstein for that piece of wordcrafting!).

    Prior to and through Covid lockdown we have been implementing a participatory democracy model, now online, for people worldwide and finally for Santa Cruz County, a model that opens up the space for people to get real, feel ‘safe’, hear and be heard, get into ‘Choice-creating’, make shifts and breakthroughs in thinking, tap into innate wisdom. They used this model on the western border of Austria (state of Vorarlberg) to address the destabilizing situation of Syrian refugees pouring over their border, among many other ongoing gnarly subjects. The guy who championed this model in Vorarlberg for over a decade (Manfred Hellrigl, director of their state ‘Office of Future-related Issues’) has said, “Show me another model that yields such results… In 10 years I have not found it.”

    So, we convened this 2020 Wisdom Council #DFO (Dynamic Facilitation Online) with a touchstone question:

    “How might we best emerge from this unprecedented Covid societal experience in better shape than we went in?”

    ~A “We the People” check-in~

    We had 3 artists who numbered among 10 Santa Cruz County residents present. I am including one image produced by one of the artists on Day 1 of 3, and here’s the link to the GALLERY on googlesite to see the range of images produced

    On the Gallery webpage, notice “the boat” on Day 1, juxtaposed with “the boat” on Day 3 (the proverbial vessel we all occupy together).

    When a jurisdiction such as our county runs this model on a regular basis (why it’s called a Wisdom Council Process), it serves to deliver into the public discourse the missing conversation; the elephant in the room; what we’re not talking about, what we’re afraid to talk about, where we’ve been unable to go, and feeds the new learnings and distillings back into the Whole for whole system change.

    Under Covid lockdown we’ve been prototyping #DFO (Dynamic Facilitation Online) Zoom model, pulling in people from different nations, different professions, even frontliners in the pandemic. But this was the first Wisdom Council #DFO; 4 facilitators, 3 Santa Cruz artists, and, in this case, six additional Council.

    What we are doing in essence is what Jim Rough envisioned in his 2002 book, Society’s Breakthrough! Releasing [and harnessing] Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People.

    Santa Cruz Covid Wisdom Council (convened, it so happened, as news broke of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer).

    Day 1 “the boat” ~ “US Compassion”
    #TheBoat “US Compassion” and the land, “US Old Ways”
    [Artist’s caption]:

    “As we go through this corona-virus period of time, we are together and separated at the same time, as though we’re on an ark, like the symbolic Noah’s ark, looking for new land, for a new normal. Windows on the boat include people masked and people communicating from different races. On the deck, one person refuses to see, one refuses to hear, and one takes the position of prophesy and one hangs over the edge in despair. The sea is filled with corona virus symbols. The land we see may be old land that is cracking up. Is this where we want to land and come out from shelter in place?
    The white figure holding the flag also holds money and a group of black figures stand off on a separate mound of land. US old Ways is draped across the land masses.

    Truth bubbles up linked to listening to each others’ stories.

    Forgiveness, humility and empathy, questions unite, answers divide us.

    WE are all part of the vessel growing towards truth

    I’m not sure why I named the ark-boat, US Compassion….that seems contradictory and informative at the same time.”
    ~Ann Elizabeth Thiermann, MFA
    Santa Cruz Muralist | Art Lecturer | Organist

    On Day 3 the boat motif is again evoked (by another of our artists). This time it’s the “Tabula Rasa.”
    The juxtaposition of the Day 1 & Day 3 boats speaks directly to the Council Process.

    Citizens Wisdom Council ~ Animating the “We” in ‘We the People’
    “It may have been perverse of destiny to array perception across billions of subjectivities, but the fact is central to human life and language and culture, and no philosophy or cognitive science should be allowed to evade it.”
    Marilynne Robinson, from ‘Absence of Mind’ 2010

    {with thanks to Kennan Kellaris Salinero for this extraordinary quote, animated during Covid 2020 #DFO

    ✦ *♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ *’¯`✦¸¸.*’¯`✦*’¯`
    ✦I✦Magi✦Nation✦¸¸.*’¯`✦* 2020
    *’¯`✦*’¯`✦💚 💜 💫 *’¯`✦¸¸.*’¯`✦*’¯`✦
    “The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper” EP

    We are welcoming/inviting kindred spirit sponsors for this Citizen series at this unprecedented time
    Center for Wise Democracy is a 501(c)3.

    Thank You Thank You Thank You!

  • notyetsilenced

    There is no such thing as “systemic racism”. However, there is epidemic “systemic anti-whiteness”. It was manifested in the recent looting and arson riots. Whites were systematically targeted solely because of the color of their skin. Why no mention of their suffering? Why has a large chunk of the human race suddenly become subhuman?

    Now that I know how you feel, I will never use any of your products again.