Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and part of his Big Idea is about kids in prison, and the country that keeps them there until they die (that’s us). America is the only country in the world with kids serving life in prison without parole (LWOP) sentences for crimes they committed as children. And that, Stevenson says, changes our identity as a country. It changes us.
Rachel’s interview so moved me, that I had to hear him speak more fully, hence the above TED Talk, which was provided on Rachel’s blog. Please watch the whole video, you won’t be sorry.
Part of this country’s identity is that we have the fifth highest rate of incarceration in the world, behind such countries as China and Iran, and the incarceration rate is abnormally high in this country among people of color. We lock up children as young as 13 years old for life, for things they did before their brains are finished developing. And please, to anyone reading this who thinks that because my bleeding liberal heart doesn’t believe in locking children up for life, then that means I believe no punishment should be given at all — get a friggin’ grip on reality, okay?
In this country, we are “treated better if we’re rich and guilty, than if we’re poor and innocent.” He who can hire the best lawyer (or team thereof) has the best chances of getting that “not guilty” verdict, or at least a lighter sentence. Wealth shapes outcome, that’s true, but it could also be said that social class and the color of one’s skin shapes outcome as well.
But we don’t like to think about those kinds of things in this country. Hey, if it’s not happening to me or my family, why should I care? America, love it or leave it! We’re number one!! American exceptionalism rules!!
Except when it doesn’t. As long as there is inequality, suffering, discrimination, poverty, and hate in this country, none of us are free — let alone exceptional.
We are, above all, human. Our humanity is the only thing we bring into the world, and our humanity (or the shreds thereof) are all we take out of this world. Our humanity is all we have and all we are, and if we want to find a solution to the terrible social ills afflicting this country and the world, we should start there.
This is our daily open thread — Discuss amongst yourselves.