I wanna take a few minutes this morning to teach about how our nation’s criminal justice system actually works. We’ve marched, we’ve protested, we’ve boycotted, we’ve taken knees, we’ve raised fists – and I’m glad we’ve done every single one of those things. I hope we continue to do them, but this morning I want to tell you about the one thing we can do from coast to coast that will actually shake up the criminal justice.
First, let me give you some context.
The criminal justice system is complicated. Even that’s an understatement.
The United States has over 7,000 jails and prisons. Did you know we have more jails and prisons than we have colleges and universities? That’s crazy. In many states, particularly in the South, we have more people in jail and prison than we have in college.
The United States has over 20,000 police departments. And each one of those departments has unique rules, guidelines, and even local laws that they enforce. We have over 1.1 million police officers. And our officers are among the least trained, least educated law enforcement officers in the world. Only a handful of those 20,000 police departments require a college degree. In fact, in most states it takes 4 times longer to become a licensed cosmetologist than it does to get a gun and a badge.
I said all of that to say that the justice system and its problems have layers. It took hundreds of years to shape and mold it into what it is right now and undoing what’s wrong with it is a highly complicated endeavor. I wish that we could blow up the current justice system and start from scratch, but that’s not how it’s going to go down. We’ll have to reform it bit by bit, policy by policy, person by person.
And this morning I want to tell you what I think the single most important action we can take to reform the justice system. It took me years to come to this conclusion. I could name several hundred different actions and reforms our nation desperately needs to make the justice system operate with some real fairness and equality, and we should actually fight for every single one of them, but the most important thing we can do, and I’m going to shape most of my work on this in 2018, the most important thing we can do is elect progressive, woke, conscious, reform-minded prosecutors.
No single individual plays a bigger role in the criminal justice system in this country than the District Attorney. Our nation has 2,300 of them operating in every county and every medium to large city in America.
No role, no person has a bigger impact on who goes to jail and who doesn’t, who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t, than the District Attorney. No single person plays a bigger role in whether or not corrupt and violent police not only charged with crimes, but also get convicted, than the District Attorney.
They are essential.
And let me tell you something that is both shocking and disgusting. Over the 2,300 elected DA’s in the United States, 95% of them are white and 80% of them are men.
In a nation that is on its way to becoming a nation of color, 95% of District Attorneys are white and they are largely conservative white men. It may very well be the whitest, most conservative, male dominated profession in America.
Let me get even more specific.
30 states don’t have a single black DA. 14 states don’t have a single DA of color – not a Latino, or an Arab American, or an Asian American – 14 states have all white DA’s.
As it stands right now, less than 1% of America’s DA’s are women of color.
Earlier I said that our criminal justice system has hundreds of problems. That’s true, but this problem with America’s DA’s is a root problem. As long as it exists, everything else will fall short.
And I wanna be clear, it’s not just race and gender, it’s also political. The majority of DA’s from coast to coast are super conservative white men. And it’s a problem.
As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve found that most people can’t even name their DA. And listen to me – that’s exactly how they want it. They want that position and that authority that comes with it, to be their own secret power structure. They’ve dominated that position for hundreds of years now and if we want any type of change at all – we’re going to have to change the game with who gets elected as the DA not just in our city, but we’re going to have to care about who gets elected in every city and county across the country.
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