A Plea to Build Something Better

/ Blog Post

By Tracie Johnson, 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Photo of Tracie Johnson
Photo of Tracie Johnson

As a Black woman, born and raised in a working class Black neighborhood with a heavy police presence, today’s current events are upsetting but unsurprising.

My beloved family members and neighbors have experienced instances of racial profiling, police harassment, and brutality. I still remember the day the police came to my parents’ home and detained my brother. They placed him stomach-down on the ground because they assumed he was a local drug dealer. He was not. I remember crying because I did not know if my brother was going to be yet another avoidable tragedy taken from me right before my eyes. Ultimately, he was let go but the haunting memory remains.

As much as it saddens me to share this story, it is important because with or without media coverage, the list of Black men, women, and children who are unjustifiably killed by the police grows. This lone fact is at the belly of the outcry for America to value Black lives.

As an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP, I work to help women and girls of color with criminal records overcome barriers to employment. Although women are the fastest-growing population to have criminal justice contact, the traditional criminal system and reentry space have yet to catch up to this fact, leaving women’s unique needs unmet. As such, I am struck by the fact that the officers who killed Breonna Taylor have yet to be charged. I am struck that the hashtag #SayHerName exists because the names of Black women killed by the police are missing from the larger conversation around police violence. I am struck that the murder of trans men and women at the hands of the police barely makes honorable mention in the conversation.

This is an issue that plagues the entire black community. The majority of my clients seeking record-clearing support come from communities just like mine where the over-policing of poor Black neighborhoods leads to disproportionate criminal justice contact. We know that Black Americans are more likely to be stopped, arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced than their white counterparts despite being no more likely to commit crimes. The criminal histories attached to this criminal system contact impacts access to employment, housing, education, assessing loans, and more. In recognition of this racial justice impact, I, along with other legal advocates in the Employment Unit at Community Legal Services, work hard to clear records, advocate with employers, and effect key policy changes.

Right now, many people are hoping to return to normal. Unfortunately, normal for Black people in America means another name, added to an already too long list of lives taken too soon. We cannot return to normal. The protest in the streets are a plea to build something better. I stand with that.

To learn more information about Tracie’s Fellowship project, visit her Fellow profile.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow