Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Doing Justice in Broward County

Last night, we went to our annual BOLD Justice Nehemiah Action.  Each year, across our county, religious people meet to discuss which justice issues are most important to work on.  Each year, the group chooses 2-3 to focus upon, which culminates in a Nehemiah Action, where elected officials meet with the large group.

Those of us who have worked with politicians know that numbers are important to them--not just statistics, but the voters who are paying attention.  So each year, we go to the Action; we know the optics are important.

We go because we want to contribute to the optics of a packed church, but we also go because it's good to be together as a larger people of faith across a wide spectrum of Christian traditions.  I have been to large gatherings of Lutherans, or smaller gatherings of one to three types of faith traditions, but rarely a large group of a mixture.

Each year, my spouse gets a bit grouchy about going.  He grumbles about how the officials are only agreeing to what they planned to do anyway.  But we go.

And on the ride back, we remember that even if we all agree to a policy, it's good to be part of the group who will be watching.  It's good to be part of the group who asks questions, like, "Why is this population at risk?  Why can't we make these simple changes?"  It takes time, but change can come.

Each year, we get to hear news of our successes.  For example, we've been working on making civil citations the first choice when dealing with youthful offenders who have committed non-violent crimes.  Many people don't realize how often a juvenile might be arrested for something like trespassing when they go into a neighbor's yard to retrieve a ball.  Then children end up with a criminal record, which for many of them, makes life harder than it needs to be.

We've been successful with getting many of our local law officials to adopt civil citations over criminal convictions, but we've also been working for state-wide legislation.  Last night we learned that a bill had been passed and that the governor signed it into law on Good Friday.


In many ways, it's a small move towards a more just society.  But our actions will impact thousands of Florida children each year.  With no criminal record, they'll have a better chance to scholarships and other ways to have a better life.  They'll have the kind of second chance that many of us just took for granted--decades ago, before the schools and juvenile justice system became so much more punitive.

It's a small move, but it's an important one.  Once we might have said that having everyone welcome at a lunch counter was a small move too.  Small moves can help the arc of history bend towards justice, to use the words of Martin Luther King.

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