Over 50 lawyers, including myself and my wife, just participated in a mass die-in at the California Supreme Court.
We, and many thousands of other young people, want to make change happen.
We are pro-community justice. We want to be heard and understood. And our work is just getting started.
In the months since the recent deaths of far too many unarmed people of color, a nationwide movement has been catalyzed. Young people everywhere, including myself, have repeatedly taken to the streets to call on our elected officials to change the engagement polices that result in untimely deaths. We have called for implicit bias training and a robust data tracking system to increase transparency, among other things.
Much of this work has been on a city or regional level, with disparate groups calling for specific changes in their cities. All politics is local.
People have falsely said that the movement needs a leader. But those of us from within the movement have responded that this movement is not leaderless. It is leaderful.
One group of which I'm a part, the Coalition of Young Leaders (CYL), drafted and presented the following list of demands at a symposium for changing policing in San Francisco:
COMMUNITY POLICING/YOUTH INVESTMENT
• #25MillionOver5Years: Invest in black and brown initiatives -- both inside and outside the classroom.
• #EnforceGeneralOrders: True Enforcement of SFPD General Orders -- consequences if violations are found.
• #DocumentStudentSearches: SFUSD must keep record and data on each search and seizure of a student on campus.
• #LocalHire&Diversity: Hiring of SFPD must be done with focus on local hiring from communities of color.
• #CommunityFocusTraining: Implement proper training, addressing implicit bias, de-escalation and cultural competency
• #UnArmedPolicing: SFPD must attend community events unarmed, and implement unarmed community policing.
• #PoliceRelationsBoard: Police Relations Board must be reinstalled and have authority to provide police recommendations.
• #RepresentationOnPoliceCommission: Create Police Commission public seat -- appointed by BOS and confirmed by Police Relations Board.
• #StopMilitarization: Stop purchasing and return excess military-grade weapons. Use only in Mayor-declared "Emergency."
• #RecordsOfPoliceShootings: Police involved shootings must be recorded, stored and reported to DOJ.
• #30DayInvestigation: All pertinent information regarding police shootings must be made public within 30 days of the incident.
• #AssignSpecialProsecutor: Assign independent special prosecutor in police involved killing, starting with the Alex Nieto investigation.
• #ReducePaidLeave: Mandatory unpaid leave after police involved shooting must be reduced from 10 to five days.
• #MeetWithTheMayor&LawEnforcement to propose and implement these demands.
Despite the long hours and hard work put in by various groups around the country, the movement has been subjected to criticism from those who seemingly have no understanding of what we are doing or pushing for.
The media narrative has been framed to consistently and deliberately aim to discredit the movement through discourse about our failings, often through the lens of the 1960s movements. That criticism can be summed up in this quote from a recent New York Times article on the new wave of protests:
"You could call it rebellious, or you could call it irrational...There has not been a rational analysis in how does A and B advance your policy change X and Y?"
The protestors have been compared to those taking part in Occupy Wall Street:
"Occupy had a staying power of, what, six months?... Three years later, is there any remaining footprint from Occupy? Not that I'm aware of."
The irony in this criticism is that, for years, our generation has been derided in various hit pieces, called everything from apathetic to narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy. But now, as we aim to subvert or conquer our supposed generational penchant to be entitled and lazy by strategically using the Twitterverse to make movements bubble up from hashtags to mass die-ins and disruption of consumer spending holidays and traffic in rallies for #blacklivesmatter, we are criticized for having a different approach than our predecessors. We are told that we should take lessons from film portrayals of Dr. King and others so that we can make our movement move right. The same systems and organizations that have frozen us out for years now want to dictate and advise us on how we should engage to fight for our freedom.
We reject this.
Many of us have been fighting for or thinking strategically about racial justice for years. Most of us, the media has never heard of, but that doesn't mean that we are not out here.
In my own circles, I have posed the question: Once we stop the police from killing us, then what? To that end, I have started discussing and taking actions to form a group called #LiberateWe, tasked with thinking strategically about the long term goals involved in truly bringing about systemic change.
Despite criticism of us, the journalists and scholars should begin with criticism of themselves. Our movement is necessary because they were apathetic.
Recent news stories have reported that the black unemployment rate has been double the white unemployment rate for as long as records have been kept: 42 years! The black/white wealth gap has also increased: "The average African-American household takes home around 40 percent less income than a similar white family... [T]he median wealth of white households [was] 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households back in 2009."
We are making progress on achieving collegiate credentials, but it's often at the hands of private for-profit colleges: University of Phoenix is one of the largest issuers of degrees to minorities, and this comes with a hefty price tag.
These are just some of the myriad of issues we are facing.
Some of us are working behind the scenes to ask and answer questions about which legislative/policy changes we should organize around for the next 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 years. I am reaching out to people in an attempt to put together a list of outcomes we as a movement would like to see, and to form topical working groups and begin to brainstorm long-term solutions with tangible targeted actions. I have a couple of ideas to begin, but I would like this movement to be crowd-sourced. As stated above, we are not leaderless; we are leaderful.
One such idea is: Incomes 4 Outcomes (I40). Incomes 4 Outcomes (I4O) could either be an organization or an organizing mantra created to facilitate the empowerment of marginalized communities by leveraging their consumer spending power and redirecting a portion of it to influence the political, social and policy outcomes they want to see. The communities I visualize participating in Incomes 4 Outcomes are primarily young people, millennials and under-represented minorities -- people who individually possess a very small percentage of the collective American wealth, but are high consumers, and thus the target of massive marketing campaigns that seek to turn them into customers.
We seek to change this paradigm, and instead leverage that spending power to turn them into a social and political force that uses the power of the checkbook to hold politicians and corporations alike accountable. In the new political reality post-Citizen's United, marginalized communities must be able to use not only traditional organizing methods and social media to spread our message, but also our economic strength. Individual dollars and individual donors may not be able to command attention, but as a unified force, we can move mountains.
Over the next two to three years, Black consumer power is projected to reach $1.1 trillion, Latino spending power to reach $1.6 trillion, Asian spending power to reach $1 trillion and millennials reached $1 trillion. If we could divert just 5 to 10 percent of this spending power, we could create a more inclusive and representative America.
Another such idea is making student loan debt payments adjust according to regional costs of living. This is particularly relevant given who is likely to take on the most debt for college. (Psst.... It's us.)
I have also been toying with various ways to impact the criminal justice system outside of the legislative arena. At the present time, the stats are sobering.
According to the NAACP:
- From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people
- Today, the U.S. makes up five percent of the world population, and has 25 percent of world prisoners.
- Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, one in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population, is under some form of correctional control
Research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that:
- Felony conviction or imprisonment significantly reduces the ability of ex-offenders to find jobs, costing the U.S. economy an estimated 57 to 65 billion annually in lost economic output.
- Male offenders constitute 90 percent of people convicted of felonies in the U.S
- The working-age, ex-felon population in the U.S. at 12.3 to 13.9 million.
- One in 17 working-age adult men are former prisoners, and about one in eight men are ex-felons.
- Additionally, the research found that only 40 percent of employers said they would consider hiring job applicants.
One potential solution I have is an app/movement called "2nd Impression," a mobile platform designed to make the job search for individuals with criminal records more productive and efficient by mapping employers who are proactively working to hire individuals with criminal records, and incentivizing them through increased community financial support.
The value added by 2nd Impression is three fold:
- Companies that actively work to hire returned citizens benefit from the good will of the community, which increases community support of the businesses' economic growth and development.
- Communities can hold businesses accountable for not developing and utilizing proactive hiring practices by choosing to redirect their consumer resources to businesses that do.
- Most importantly, returned citizens are more readily able to find jobs that will allow them to add value both to the institution and their community.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg of the immense mountains we must conquer to make racial justice in America a reality.
Now is the time to muster the energy into a sustainable change movement -- to really build local, regional and national power.
I'm calling on all activists to join with me to build or increase or network, and show the naysayers that they are wrong about us, just like they always have been.
In honor of Martin Luther King, we continue to dream of an America that will final live up to its ideals. But, just like him, we aren't only dreaming of that reality... We are crafting it.
I hope you will join with me.