A New Birth of Freedom: What Will “Justice” Look Like?

President Abraham Lincoln first uttered this phrase on November 19, 1863 on the battlefield of Gettysburg. It is again relevant today during this new worldwide battle for freedom and justice.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution legally ended slavery in the United States. Yet the racism of slavery has never ended.

America, in the 1960s, witnessed the Freedom Riders, the brutality of the Southern leaders and the brave leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. Because of their heroic efforts for freedom and justice, a tectonic shift in the federal laws of the United States occurred – on June 19, 1963 President Kennedy in his Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights and Job Opportunities introduced the Civil Rights Act. The Act became law on July 2,1964. On August 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act became law. Justice was attained finally by the passage of these monumental laws.

This year America has been witness to racism by the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African-American men and women in the streets of America. What the nation and world are again demanding is Change and Justice. But what will “Justice” look like in the 21st century?
What does history teach us about attaining “Justice”? It teaches us that although these national and international marches are raising the consciousness of America and the world, justice will only be attained for the Afro-American community when new laws are passed that guarantee their new freedoms. These are the mandates and options that must be passed into law.

There are six major areas of reform that must be enacted into federal, state and local legislation: Jobs & Economic Reform, Police Reform, Education Reform, Health Reform, Voting Reform and Criminal Justice Reform.
Jobs & Economic Development – Banking Reform Laws to allow minorities greater and faster access to capital to build small businesses in the neighborhoods, The United States government controls over a one trillion-dollar federal pension fund and very little if any is managed by African Americans and invested in their communities. When Black America gains equal access to capital that is not predatory they will be able to buy homes and participate in the appreciation and tax benefits enjoyed by the rest of society. Revise the laws to further perpetuate and strengthen Affirmative Action. CEOs of major corporations must include more minorities on their Board of Directors. include more minorities on their work force and include more minority vendors.

The Wall Street Journal on June 15, 2020 stated, “Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan said systemic racism has held the U.S. economy back from reaching its full potential. A more inclusive economy where everyone has opportunity will mean faster workforce growth, faster productivity growth, and we’ll grow faster” Mr. Kaplan said Sunday on CBS. When it comes to addressing the headwind racism presents to growth, “we’re right to focus on this and bore in on this,” he said, adding that it is in the interests of the country to bring about a more equitable economic future for all…”

Police Reform – Enact federal, state and local laws to achieve absolute and total police reform nationwide. This must include zero tolerance of chokeholds. We must also have consistent comprehensive independent investigations and severe punishment for police brutality, corruption and murder. Police Licensing should be analyzed. Maintain police disciplinary records for 10 years.Fund new police training centers to emphasize non-lethal training and mental health assistance for the police to help them cope and succeed in their very stressful jobs. Keep the police force informed of the new advances in police enforcement.

Relieve the police from certain duties that are very difficult for them to perform. Reclassify the funding previously sent to the police to these neighborhood services such as funding to handle the mentally ill, funding to handle domestic violence and funding for community youth and job training centers. Monitor the progress on Consent Decrees and make transparent the status of the compliance by the municipalities. Community Police-Youth athletic events should be an important part of the reform legislation. Hire more African-American police. Currently only 20% of the Chicago Police Force is Afro-American.

Education Reform – Federal, state and local laws must be reformed especially preschool through sixth grade. Higher education needs to be free and available to all Americans as a matter of national security. America does not have enough intellectual capital to compete against our rapidly emerging foreign competitors. We need to invest substantially above current levels. At the top 100 universities in America black students represent a low percentage of the entire student body. If we don’t improve these numbers absolutely nothing will change. America’s black colleges and universities must continue to be financially supported.

Health Reform – On Sunday, June 21, 2020, in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times prominent members of the health care industry stated in an article that “Racism is a Public Health Crisis”. The article states,”…The health centers and hospitals we represent are deeply woven into the fabric of the communities we serve, live and work in, and we stand united as frontline staff against racism, injustice and inaction…Racism results in generational trauma and poverty while also unquestionably causing higher rates of illness and death in black and brown communities…These social determinants of health include poverty, inadequate housing, underperforming schools, police brutality, mass incarceration, food deserts, joblessness, poor access to health care and violence. “

The industry is doing the following: Covid 19 –Working with the City of Chicago to provide testing and protective equipment to marginalized communities, Hiring Programs to hire minorities, Community Investment by keeping dollars in their community to create jobs and help rebuild strained and decimated economies, Pharmacy and Grocery –Thousands of residents are left without essential pharmacies due to closure, vandalism and looting. Healthcare providers are calling on pharmacies and grocery stores to reopen on the south and west sides of Chicago to secure vital access to food and medications, Rebuilding – Working with volunteers to rebuild communities severely damaged by the demonstrations.
Criminal Justice – We must end mass incarceration. Former Attorney General Eric Holder told the world that black men in America are getting sentenced to prison terms that are 20% longer than white men who commit the same crime. America must stop this racial discrimination. The Cook County programs of decreasing the inmate population by one-third by releasing minor offenders has proven very successful both for justice and economically.

The Wall Street Journal on June 15, 2020 stated, “Senior Judges Speak Out Against Racial Injustice…As demonstrations after George Floyd’s killing in police custody unfolded across the nation, the Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of North Carolina weighed in with her own declaration-the first in a wave of extraordinary statements by jurists around the country…she said “in our courts, African Americans are more harshly treated, more severely punished and more likely to be presumed guilty…these protests are a resounding national chorus of voices whose lived experiences reinforce the notion that black people are ostracized, cast out and dehumanized…As chief justice, it is my responsibility to take ownership of the way our courts administer justice, and acknowledge that we must do better, we must be better…Within days the entire California Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Maryland echoed the exact position.”

Voting Laws – Encourage voter registration and Vote by Mail. Protect the U.S. Postal Service and stop voter suppression by harsher federal, state and local laws.

These are the critical reforms we must now enact into law. Black Lives Matter and this is what we must do protect and save all black lives.

Dean T. Maragos, New Trier Township Democratic Committeeman