I read with appreciation “The Path to Reparations Remains Unclear,” (Apr. 7) by Joe Pettit in The Baltimore Sun. Mr. Pettit presents a clear history of racial inequality detailing public policies that still grant white people access to opportunities and benefits that are still denied to black people. Mr. Pettit makes the case for reparations but acknowledges that there is no clear design that will eliminate inequality. Nearly 20 years ago, The Sun ran a series that demonstrated this point called “The great give-away: Pupils get TVs instead of teaching.” Parents of so designated “special-ed” students (disproportionately black) fought for educational programs to meet their children’s needs. Rather than address this basic right, many were offered compensation for the wrong-doing, including color televisions or trips to Florida instead.
We do not want gifts to better accept racial inequality. We need policies that fracture the racist foundation upon which our public systems were built. Mr. Pettit chronicles actions that cemented racial inequality in America, including the alleged “war on drugs.” A documented failure in preventing drug use and deaths, the “war” caused mass incarceration. Mr. Pettit notes that the war on drugs was an effective “governmental mechanism to destroy black families, black neighborhoods and black economic opportunity.” Through the provision of the 13th constitutional amendment, slavery and involuntary servitude was abolished, except as a “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” And so it was, we are the prey for the war on drugs.
However, we the people have the will to crack this racist foundation and under corrective action approved by Maryland’s General Assembly and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland has two “governmental mechanisms” to get at it. First, expungement of felony records under select circumstances and upon proof of achievement — passed in 2018. Second, the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2016 that codified the use of opportunity compact financing to move tax dollars out of prions and into recovery for men and women coming back home.
Elected officials across the United States indefensibly allocate billions of tax dollars to operate prisons, jails and detention centers that fail to meet the public safety goals they are publicly funded to achieve. Expungement of felony records is a moral and economic imperative to restore the constitutional rights of those who have served their time, and the opportunity compact provides for early release of men and women crippled by addiction and convicted of non-violent, drug-related crimes. As a result, recidivism/crime is driven down and hundreds of millions of tax dollars are saved. A portion of these savings are available to fund drug treatment and seed opportunities in our communities, including early childhood learning, quality elementary and secondary schools, after school arts, sports, civics, academics, recreational activities, jobs and businesses.
Reparations along these lines eliminate racial inequality from our country’s criminal justice system and is an idea not only for Democratic presidential hopefuls — but Republican candidates as well.
The writer is founder and president of The Lazarus Rite.