The Pastor’s Pen: July 29, 2018

It bears repeating that we have identified our theme for the next few years as being, The Voice of Justice for the Black Church in America.  One particularly dreadful example of injustice facing Black and brown people in our nation is the inequality within the penal system. In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander points to the rise in the prison rate for people of color as being the direct result of the so-called “War on Drugs” which was, in effect, a war on oppressed minorities, with drugs as a convenient excuse.

In the past 25 years, the prison population has risen from 350,000 to 2.3 million. According to Alexander, this alarming growth is not the result of increased crime, but the War on Drugs’ singular achievement of codifying harsher sentences and developing mandates that persons caught in third time offenses would face life imprisonment. We must keep in mind that although the Republicans rose to political dominance on the Law and Order platform, it was Democratic President Bill Clinton who enacted the “three strikes you’re out” policy (i.e., Three-Strikes Law) that contributed to overpopulated prisons.  Actually, the federal and state prison populations rose more under Bill Clinton than under any other president.

The reprehensible rise in the prison population has had shocking results for our society. Drug crimes are considered felonies; as such, prisoners are branded for life; they must list themselves as felons when applying for jobs; they are ineligible for food stamps and denied access to public housing; and in a number of states, they are not permitted to vote or hold office. Alexander noted that prisoners are subject to permanent second-class citizenship similar to the status of freed Blacks after Emancipation.

Shiloh’s Social Justice Ministry has elevated our consciousness about prison reform as more than making prisoners lives more humane, but also in challenging the conditions that made the War on Drugs an assault on Black and brown people in this nation. As we uphold our theme to become the voice of justice for the Black church, let us redouble our efforts to educationally and legislatively promote and fight for justice in sentencing.  We also endeavor to work tirelessly to make people aware of how society exploits drug use to suppress the progress of people of color through the penal system.

The words of the Lord make this mandate clear: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. (Luke 4:18-19-KJV)