A statement on #JusticeforAll in light of George Floyd’s murder, from Kyle J Smith, Executive Director of Determination, Incorporated

We stand by your brothers and sisters in Kansas City and across the nation who are working hard and standing up for justice and peace

#BlackLivesMatter is at the very core of our work. It’s one of the many reasons we go into prisons to host our Back to Business workshop. While our workshops focus on entrepreneurship, our hearts cry out to each of the men and women: You matter. We will not forget you or cast you aside because of your mistakes. Your life is intertwined with ours. Let us heal together for the sake of our families, our community, and the future of our nation. 

African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. I must admit, when I first heard this statistic, I thought to myself: There must be more Black people in prison because they commit more crimes. 

I was wrong. The causes of the problem are way more complicated than that. We can see most clearly how I was wrong in the data on drug sentencing disparities:

“African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.” 

My clear cut and incorrect diagnosis did not stand up to the complicated reality as to the causes of the problem. According to “The Color of Justice” report: 

Evidence suggests that some individuals are incarcerated not solely because of their crime, but because of racially disparate policies, beliefs, and practices (including over-policing)… An unwarranted level of incarceration that worsens racial disparities is problematic not only for the impacted group, but for society as whole, weakening the justice system’s potential and undermining perceptions of justice.”

Admitting I was wrong was not easy. Acknowledging and rectifying implicit bias never is – not for me, not for cops, and not even for people of color who are being marginalized and demonized every day because of mainstream and systematic implicit bias. 

Admitting I was wrong was not easy because if I were right, if the causes of the problem were just that simple, then the solution would be so straightforward: Black people just need to commit fewer crimes! While we should never remove personal responsibility from the solution (“offender accountability” is one of the primary tenants of restorative justice), we should also admit when our proposed cure-all turns out to be just one small piece of the solution.  

My naivete had a positive intention: then we can all get along and everyone can just be happy! That is a fine goal. A bit childish, but fine. We will never reach that peaceful, harmonious goal, or any other hopeful outcome, if right intention does not become right action. 

Right action looks different for all of us, and it always starts by taking care of yourself. It always starts by looking inside of yourself and addressing your own pain and trauma. Right action always starts by untangling whatever preconceived notions make you see the world in black and white. 

An “Us versus Them” mentality is what is tearing our nation apart. “Us versus them” is what is killing our neighbors. “Us versus them” will always limit your personal happiness. “Us versus Them” will never lead to peace or true #JusticeforAll. 

I pray that George Floyd and his family receive justice. Not just retribution against the offender, but justice. Retribution is when “the time fits the crime.” Justice is when systems change so that there are fewer negative outcomes and more positive ones. Justice is healing. 

At Determination, Incorporated, we are working toward social justice (alongside many, many other individuals and organizations across the world.) Because you need to get back to whatever you were doing before you started reading this, I will summarize social justice in this awesome infographic I saw on LinkedIn from Myah Payel Mitra.     

Equity and Justice Explainer

As you get back to whatever you were doing, please remember that social justice begins on an individual level by gaining greater understanding of the lives of others. Do research, then share what you learned. Ask questions, then listen. Share a meal with someone different from yourself, then offer to split the bill.  

Social justice (or social healing) begins, on a personal and societal level, when each of us works to build relationships across racial and socioeconomic divides. These divides, and the historical oppression of White on Black America, are the great sins of our nation. 

In Christianity, we know sin as “missing the mark.” Missing the mark is seeing someone (or someones) in need and not asking yourself: What can I do to help?

Helping can mean direct action. It also means standing in solidarity with the most vulnerable in our society. It also means taking care of yourself and others in your neck of the woods. 

Take care, both inside and out. In whatever you decide to do next, please, take care

With Love,

kjs

Kyle J Smith, Founder and Executive Director

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Determination, Incorporated is a 501C3 nonprofit in KCMO creating a pathway of opportunity for formerly incarcerated people through entrepreneurship. To learn more, contact us here.

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