In an early-May issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin tells the story of one prosecutor’s effortsto combat mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on African Americans. In the story, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm comes to realize that racial disparities exist not only at the incarceration level but also in how the system treats crime victims.
As EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein outlines in a letter to the letter to the editor, published in response to the article: “There is a growing national recognition that racial inequality extends to victimization—people of color are more likely to be victims of violent crime than white people.”
Chisholm and his staff’s discovery, however, puts them in a difficult situation. As Vox explains:
“If police and prosecutors are told to be less aggressive in going after low-level offenders, how can they make sure they don’t end up devaluing African-American victims? If they’re told to take property crime in black communities as seriously as property crime in white communities, how can they avoid overreacting by rounding up and hauling in too many young men of color for things white men would get away with?”
Silberstein reminds us, however, that this type of analysis fails to consider the possibility that there are ways to respond to crime other than incarceration. It also fails to recognize that crime victims – especially people of color – might have needs that are not met and are unrelated to whether someone is arrested.
“The biographies of incarcerated people are filled with stories of unaddressed trauma and victimization. America has not made the treatment of trauma a priority in responding to crime and violence. Equity in criminal justice will remain out of reach until we expand the agenda to meet this urgent need.”
EJUSA is increasing our call for the expansion of that agenda, creating and supporting new campaigns to help crime survivors gain access to trauma care. Be on the look-out for new EJUSA staff and opportunities to act both locally and nationally to ensure that everyone impacted by violence and crime has access to the care that they need.