Shimmer of Hope: Communities of color closer to hunger-free milestone

Photo courtesy of Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

By Rev. Diane Ford Dessables

Earlier this week, the president of the largest police organization in the United States issued a formal apology to the nation’s minority population “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color,” according to an article in The Washington Post.

Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., delivered his remarks during the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) convention in San Diego, Calif. The organization’s membership includes 23,000 police officials in the United States.

The statement was issued on behalf of the IACP, and comes as police departments around the country continue to grapple with tense relationships between officers and minority groups.

This courageous admission marks a significant milestone. This public apology may well be the first that the police themselves have made to help address the systemic causes of hunger and curb poverty among people of color in the U.S.

We applaud Cunningham and the IACP for that. However, more work needs to be done to realize Bread for the World’s goal of ending hunger by 2030.

The federal government began efforts to reduce poverty in this country during the civil rights movement. The effort has reduced poverty by 40 percent – not nearly enough, but that’s significant. 

Over the last 15 years, about half the nations of Africa have experienced rapid economic growth and progress against poverty.  So we know that hunger, poverty, and racism can be overcome – if we push.

And we know that the struggle for justice abroad and here is an integral part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  You know it in your bones. Pope Francis says that the love of God that we experience in Jesus Christ gives us such joy that we want to share it.  We agree. We share it by talking about it – and also by changing our country and the world to make them more consistent with the fact that God loves everybody.

Yet this broadly shared Judeo-Christian value has not always resulted in fair policies and just practices at the local, state, and federal levels when it comes to criminal justice.

While the national and political consensus against mass incarceration – one of the systems that produces hunger and poverty – has grown and many politicians and organizations like Bread have worked to get Congress to pass sentencing reform legislation this year, one critical voice was missing from this otherwise collective conversation.  But that changed this week, which is commendable.

The apology comes around the same time of the release of a new report, “State of Black Immigrants,” states that just as African-Americans suffer disproportionately high arrest, prosecution, and incarceration rates, so too do black immigrants living in the U.S.

The report said: “This occurs despite no evidence that they engage in more criminalized activities in comparison to any other racial group. Black immigrants are also disproportionately impacted by the compounding impact of the immigration enforcement system. Numerous federal agencies and programs work in conjunction with local law enforcement to criminalize, detain and deport immigrants. The racism present in the criminal legal system spills over and informs the immigration enforcement system, and thus it naturally and unjustly targets Black immigrants at all stages of the process.”

As the number of U.S. black immigrants continues to rise, debates around immigration must acknowledge and rectify the injustice in these enforcement and deportation systems. Remedying policing practices have broad implications for numerous communities that are underprivileged and have been underserved.

Admitting that historically there has been a problem, like Cunningham did, is the first step to lasting reform and recovery.

Rev. Diane Ford Dessables is senior associate for denominational relations at Bread for the World.

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