Close to three hundred people gathered at Christ Episcopal Church on Tuesday evening, August 11, 2015. They came to hear a panel of experts discuss race, mass incarceration, and the role of faith in addressing these issues. Providing the keynote address and sitting on the panel was U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
Also sitting on the panel were U.S. Attorney for the District of NJ, Paul Fishman, Rev. Charles Boyer of Bethel AME Church, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Jiles Ship, and our own executive director, Rev. Craig Hirshberg.
On the minds of many of the people in attendance was the recent spotlight on police brutality and the daunting statistics that indicate a culture in which minorities, particularly black men, are being unjustly charged, arrested, and incarcerated. “We can not arrest our way out this problem,” commented Director Ship. It was recognized by all on the panel that as a religious community, as a community of compassion it is up to us to engage and strengthen the reentering prison population to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Rev. Boyer said “if anyone can help people get back into society, it is the religious community.”
A champion of prison and criminal justice reform in his first term as the junior senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker has sponsored several pieces of legislation, including the REDEEM Act which would expand expungement laws, particularly for incarcerated youth. Seeking to cut government spending on incarcerating non-violent criminals, Senator Booker calls on his colleagues to “redirect resources into community policing and public defense” and a radical expansion of federally funded human services programs.
When asked “what can I do to help?” Rev. Hirshberg calls us all to “be a collective voice for justice” while Rev. Boyer suggests “we need a radical embrace” of the newly released prison population into our communities.
The panel was moderated by NJTV News anchor, Michael Hill who broadcastef live at the beginning of the event. View his interview with Senator Booker and Mayor of East Orange, Lester Taylor here. Were you there? See photos from the event and tag your friends!
Laurice Grae-Hauck is the Outreach Coordinator of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of NJ.