In her recent piece “How Long O Lord, How Long Will Black Men Be Killed by the Virus of Hatred and Fear,” Barbara Williams Skinner invoked the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, who centuries ago responded to the injustices of his time, crying out:
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!,” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Habakkuk’s ancient plea rings true today, as Americans rebel against the structures, systems and individuals perpetuating violence and murder against people of color. In response to Habakkuk’s plea, the Lord instructed him to write down a vision of the future.
In the absence of credible, nonpartisan and selfless national leadership, we must write down our vision of the future. State and local elected officials must listen to the concerns of their residents, including faith-based communities, to formulate and implement a more equal and just today and tomorrow. And residents must use their anger and frustration at the ballot box to engage in our democracy and elect leaders committed to this future.
For me, that includes police and communities righting past wrongs and building trust using well-resourced restorative justice efforts funded by government and accomplished by community groups. The District has successfully used this approach to empower victims and hold people who have committed criminal acts accountable without trapping them in a cycle of incarceration or hopelessness.
This future includes police arresting only high-risk individuals for serious crime and, for others, issuing citations to come to court or finding pathways that, when appropriate, don’t require entry into the justice system. The District has done this safely during the novel coronavirus pandemic by expanding our “citation in lieu of arrest” program. This practice improves police-community relations, and data shows that 90 percent of those who are issued citations do not reoffend.
It includes stopping community violence not only through law enforcement and prosecution but also by investing in community-based violence reduction and prevention programs. The District is fortunate to have one such program. Cure the Streets employs formerly incarcerated individuals and others committed to mediating and de-escalating conflict in their own communities.
As a 50-year resident of the District, I believe in the willingness of longtime Washingtonians — as well as our newer neighbors — to turn to civil engagement and community-driven strategies to advance meaningful change. I believe in building a restorative District.
Now is the opportunity for us to come together and write a new future of racial, social and economic justice that more equitably addresses our city’s endemic disparities in health, education, employment and housing.