The task force report on addressing racial disparities in criminal justice is now officially done and voted on. Hurrah! There was a sense of euphoria, I think. I felt it . Some of us talked about how we really need a party. The head of the public defender’s office offered her home for this purpose for next month, although I don’t know whether it will actually happen. The last few weeks have been very intense and conflictual. I’ve drafted several partial posts about some of the conflicts and issues, but couldn’t get them into a state to post, partly because I was too darned busy trying to catch up on everything else I should be doing. The events involved crying, shouting, confrontations between “system” people concerned about being made to sound bad or worried about being told to do things that are just impossible and “community” people wanting their voices and perspectives heard. Also glaring examples of racial/ethnic cultural differences and the huge effect of standpoint. The past three rounds of meetings have involved people proposing changes to the report to bring it into line to something they could vote for. Several key compromises were worked out. I bailed out of the writing committee after the last round — I just had to do my course preparation and other work. The chairs just hung in to the bitter in, accepting and processing proposed changes and trying to get a consensus document pulled together. I’ve worried that the watered down the voices of the oppressed too much, but the compromises saved the “public hearing” section, in which people’s stories are told, albeit with language reminding people that they are unverified stories from particular individuals.
Tonight’s meeting had a different spirit, friendlier, warmer. We’d all gone through intense disagreement and struggle and had ended up with something people are pretty proud of, even the people who voted no on some of the specific resolutions. The conflicts and divisions are still there. After all the votes, some of the people had to hurry away at the official ending time of the meeting. About half of us stayed around for check out, where people took turns saying that the experience was often painful and difficult, but we respect each other and feel like we have grown from the experience. This is a group of people who are mostly White and Black, one Hispanic, a mixture of “system” people and “community advocates.” One of the women, an older Black woman with a 9th grade education (how she describes herself) whose son is in the system and who was on the committee as a community advocate, expressed her pride at having her name in “the book”, the 80-page report (with appendices).
If I ever get time, I’ll try to go back to those partial posts and try to describe some of the dynamics and conflicts. In the meantime, I’m thinking to myself that finally, by the last meeting, we’ve done the work we need to do to be together as a community, and now we are disbanding. Somehow this seems like a metaphor for our society.
In the meantime, I’m behind in course prep and in pulling together the paper for a conference in two weeks.