For decades, our nation has been complacent in allowing unarmed Black and Brown community members to experience ever-escalating police violence and ostracization. Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Jessica Hernandez, Tamir Rice, Jonathan Ferrell, Oscar Grant, Antonio Zambrano-Montes and others like Anthony Hill here in DeKalb County. An alarming number of Black and Brown residents, killed by the police, who should be alive today.
Today, African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and are almost four times as likely to experience the use of physical force in an encounter with the police. Black men, in particular, are sentenced to 19 percent more jail time for committing the exact same crime as white men and are jailed at more than five times the rate of white people.
The statistics aren’t new, in fact, our county’s sordid history of incarcerating our young Black and Brown men under the veil of the “war on drugs” is well documented in Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (although it’s ten years old now, this book is no less relevant today). We spend $80 billion a year on incarceration and have more people in jail than any other country on earth.
How do we begin to fix this? Overhauling a decades-old system built on the exploitation of half of our community may seem daunting, but the solutions are straightforward. We should spend less on prisons and jail, and more on jobs, and education for our young people and formerly incarcerated. We need to end profit-driven private prisons and detention centers –– no one should profit from locking fellow Americans. We must stop locking people up because they’re too poor to afford cash bail. We should implement civilian-led police reforms, and it is imperative that we end the destructive “war on drugs,” including legalizing marijuana.
Many of the reforms we need in our country right now can be implemented at the local level, through elections picking the District Attorney, Solicitor General, Sheriff, Mayors, and County Commissioners. Here in DeKalb County, I will lead on introducing legislation to support restorative justice measures, end the war on drugs, and establish new innovative policing models to enhance transparency, oversight and community involvement in public safety.
Here are the key platform ideas:
- Decriminalize Marijuana Possession, and deprioritize it as a policing strategy. Take a firm stance on ending the costly and racially unjust war on drugs. Focus on treatment and rehabilitation for drug addiction and restorative justice for small-time drug dealers. Legalize hemp as an allowable urban agriculture use in DeKalb County. Draft zoning and licensing reforms to legalize medical and recreational marijuana businesses in DeKalb County — we can craft legislation and a pre-registry now, so we are ready once the Georgia General Assembly passes additional legalization bills into law (rather than playing catch up).
- End Cash Bail, by establishing a DeKalb Bail Fund modeled after the Brooklyn Fund, introduce civilian court watchers program, implement the National Association of Black County Officials’ resolution on pretrial justice reform, supporting an “evidence-based locally validated pretrial assessment,” eliminate for-profit bail bonds and encourage implicit bias training for all judges.
- Establish a new civilian-led policing model; developing a permanent connective system between residents, business owners, and the public safety department. Empower local residents to participate in neighborhood safety by instituting civilian police academies year-round, lowering the barriers between residents and police communications.
- Support Incarcerated Women by ensuring that they have access to communication with their families, trauma-informed care, and free basic hygiene products. Ensure this is a funded line item in the DeKalb Sheriff’s annual budget.
- End ICE cooperation, reaffirm DeKalb County’s opposition to acting on behalf of Federal Immigration Authorities in enforcing federal law. Local police need to focus on stopping real crimes, not pushing families into the shadows of our community.
- Expand Police Athletic League Program (PAL); partner with every police jurisdiction (MARTA, DeKalb Schools, University and Colleges, and Municipalities), to expand universal afterschool program coverage through the PAL mentoring program. Focused on homework help, leadership skills, and career development.
DeKalb County has the potential to set the national model for a fairer justice system, one focused not on punitive punishment, but on truth and reconciliation through restorative justice. We can reduce crime, increase graduation rates, end mass incarcerations, put our most at-risk neighbors on a path of self-sufficiency and dignity. We can become the safest county in Georgia if we reform our laws, involve the community, and bring more compassion into our justice system.
Ted Terry is the former mayor of Clarkston, Georgia — the most ethnically diverse square mile in America, and a current candidate for DeKalb County Super 6 Commission. www.tedfordekalb.com