Recently, millions of people across the country have woken up to something we have long recognized at the Texas Civil Rights Project: systemic racism and anti-Blackness sully American culture to its core. Perhaps the starkest stain of racial injustice is our criminal legal institution.
Texas locks up more people in more prisons than any other state, often in more inhumane conditions. Black Texans are imprisoned four times more than whites. 75% of people behind bars in Texas are unconvicted of any crime but unable to pay bail for their release pending trial. Dismantling systemic racism and the other drivers of mass incarceration is no easy feat, but we are guided by a values-based plan.
Our values will light our way towards reclaiming power over the public safety agenda and fundamentally changing what is meant by “law and order”:
Police and prisons are institutions of White supremacy rooted in chattel slavery. This grave historical truth warrants total abolition instead of mere tweaks for “better” plantations and overseers. We reject the mass funneling of Black and Brown people into jails, prisons, juvenile, and immigration detention. We aim to reduce the harms of the criminal legal system while working towards a public safety agenda centered on crime prevention and on freedom. Long-term abolition includes many practical steps that can be taken now such as decriminalization, decarceration, and divestment.
Freedom, dignity, equity, fairness, justice, health, protection, self-determination, and self-expression. Human beings are inherently free— free to move about and to express who we are, and free to think for ourselves and to dissent. Human dignity is inalienable. Our fundamental rights to life, liberty, religion, worship, and peace must never be stripped.
In addition to the human right of self-determination, the right of the people to define “crime,” determine how best to prevent crime, prioritize which laws to enforce, decide who to conduct enforcement and how best to address violations. Self-determination includes the right of the People to create alternatives to policing and prisons. We believe self-determination is key to remedying the individual and collective harm of the criminal legal system on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, women and LGBTQ+ and on poor and low-income communities.
Democracy, civic, and political participation
The State acts in the People’s name and is accountable to the People. Transparency, accountability, and oversight are key components of a democratic society. Civil and political participation, assembly, protest, and voting are fundamental rights. We oppose prison gerrymandering; counting people as residents of the counties where prisons are located instead of as residents of communities on their last known address undermines the political power of those communities. We believe full democratic, civic, and political participation by all people is crucial to building justice into the criminal legal system.
Human beings are not commodities. We oppose schemes that generate municipal revenue and corporate profits by stripping financial equity and human capital en masse. For-profit actors operating private prisons, private probation, private parole, private bail bonds companies benefit hugely off the criminal legal system. Jails and prisons await people who cannot afford to pay bail, fines, and fees. And still today, Texas’s prisoners perform unpaid labor. We believe that focusing on public safety instead of raising money is essential to a just criminal legal system.
Anti-racism includes critical analysis of how White supremacy embeds and manifests in our customs, policies, operations, and institutions as well as in our everyday attitudes and practices. We believe anti-racism is an essential element for reducing the harms of the criminal legal system on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and ethnic minorities.
We understand the criminal legal system poses unique, cumulative harms to people based on e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, patriarchy, class, immigration status, religion. In our fight against injustice we draw from critical race, feminist and queer theory and intersectionality. We believe a critical lens attuned to the interplay of myriad identities is invaluable to promoting justice for Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, Muslim and low-income women and LGBTQ+ individuals.
It’s going to take all of us to fight for justice. As I mentioned in our video, litigation will be important in this fight, but so will direct action and community support. You can support our efforts today with a contribution to our team, or share our video with your friends and family to get a conversation started on dismantling systemic racism and mass incarceration in Texas.
Liyah K. Brown is the legal director of the Criminal Injustice Reform program at the Texas Civil Rights Project.