Last Friday, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) participated in an intensive training on workplace sexual harassment and assault facilitated by Healing to Action. During this full day workshop, WCRJ staff explored the root causes and structural impacts of gender based violence, and developed skills to support systems-level resistance to abuse against female workers. In the coming weeks, WCRJ will take steps to develop a leadership base of low wage Black women workers and launch an organizing campaign to counter sexual violence and economic oppression in the workplace.
Dating back to the origins of slavery, the economic exploitation and sexual abuse of Black women have been inextricably linked and deeply rooted in our national institutions. The historical reverberations are evident in the present day, with Black female workers significantly overrepresented in low wage industries which report disproportionately high rates of sexual harassment complaints. Nevertheless, recent public outrage expressed in the Me Too and Time’s Up movements has focused exclusively on the struggles of prominent, wealthy white women, largely discounting the experiences of survivors of color.
As activists voice concern over the unsustainable nature of the #MeToo and #TimesUp moment and debate how best to achieve traction and permanency, WCRJ recognizes that the future success of the movement lies in the collective power of Black women, who have historically led the fight to eliminate gender based violence in the workplace, often at great personal sacrifice and with little recognition. As organizers, policy makers, attorneys, and plaintiffs, Black women have been instrumental in writing federal legislation, establishing legal precedent and shifting public attitudes on gender equity in the workplace.
WCRJ is committed to amplifying the voices of low wage Black women workers in the movement to end gender based violence and economic exploitation. More information on how you can get involved in our fight for racial, gender and economic justice can be found here.
Last week, U.S. Representative Danny Davis (IL-07) introduced the Bail Fairness Act of 2018, which would prohibit states from imposing monetary conditions of release upon individuals charged with nonviolent misdemeanors. This federal bill seeks to remedy the unconstitutional and racially biased practice of detaining people who have not been convicted of a crime, solely on the basis of their inability to post bail. Throughout the U.S., people of color are subject to pretrial detention at disproportionately high rates. By routinely incarcerating individuals who are presumed innocent, often for years at a time, our nation’s broken and unjust bail system has had devastating impacts on the housing, employment, child custody status, and sentencing outcomes of hundreds of thousands of Black community members.
In Illinois, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) has joined allied community organizations and activists in calling upon lawmakers to reform the racist and corrupt policy of pretrial detention for defendants who cannot afford bail. In 2017, state legislators responded to constituent pressure by passing the Bail Reform Act, which guarantees individuals the right to counsel at bond hearings and grants limited bail review for poor defendants. This legislation marks an important step forward for statewide bail reform. However, in its failure to impose concrete restrictions on the issuance of money bonds and its perpetuation of pretrial incarceration, the Bail Reform Act falls short of restoring the full rights of presumptively innocent poor and Black defendants.
At the county level, local organizers have long drawn attention to the racist and unconstitutional detention practices of Cook County jail, in which minorities comprise 93% of all inmates awaiting trial for periods longer than two years. In 2017, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans issued an order requiring judges to set affordable bonds for all defendants who pose no threat to the public. The countywide policy has demonstrated initial success, yielding a 15% reduction in the jail population within the first two months of implementation.
In order to promote equity and justice for all defendants awaiting trial in Illinois, WCRJ calls upon state legislators to pass the Equal Justice For All Act (HB 3421) which would eliminate the monetary bond system statewide and restrict pretrial detention to only the most serious cases.
WCRJ is committed to resisting the systemic racism and oppression endemic to the criminal justice and prison system in Illinois and beyond. More information on how you can get involved can be found here.
Last week Illinois passed a criminal justice reform bill that sets forth measures to ensure more humane, equitable and responsive conditions for women detained in state prisons. The signing of House Bill 1479 follows the passage of the Women’s Correctional Services Act late last year. Sponsored by State Representative Juliana Stratton, these two pieces of joint legislation establish a Women’s Division within the Illinois Department of Corrections and implement gender-responsive and trauma-informed programs to better address the particular challenges faced by women involved in the state prison system.
The Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) considers this policy to be an important step forward in restoring the rights of female inmates across the state. However, we recognize the urgent need for further legislative action in order to bring justice and equity to the thousands of Black women in Illinois who are targeted by the criminal justice system at disproportionately high rates.
Unjust policies that criminalize poverty and Blackness have led to the mass incarceration of women of color nationwide. The growth rate of the female prison population in the U.S. currently outpaces that of men, with a 700% increase since 1980. Black women, who comprise only 13% of the national female population, are incarcerated at more than two times the rate of white women. Despite this overrepresentation, the needs and interests particular to Black female inmates are routinely discounted by the criminal justice and prison systems.
In order to restore the rights of women of color held in Illinois prisons, WCRJ offers the following policy recommendations:
1. Improve services and programs for women in prison who are pregnant and/or parenting.
2. Protect women in prison from sexual assault and abuse.
3. Reduce excessive sentencing laws for crimes of poverty and survival which disproportionately target women of color.
4. Support women's successful re-entry through employment training and job creation for workers with conviction records.
5. Fund post-release housing services for re-entering individuals.
Further details on WCRJ's policy recommendations can be found here.
In the coming weeks and months, WCRJ will be advocating for reform measures that restore equity and justice to all Black inmates across Illinois. We will be organizing members, introducing legislation and working with lawmakers in an effort to counter the racism, corruption and abuse endemic to the criminal justice system.
More information on how you can get involved in WCRJ’s fight for prisoner rights and Black liberation can be found here.
This past Sunday, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ), in partnership with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), Action Now, A Just Harvest, and BlackRoots Alliance, held the 2018 King Day Commemoration and Public Meeting at Trinity United Church of Christ. Over 300 community members, activists and faith leaders convened to honor the life and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to give voice to critical community concerns, including police accountability, criminal justice reform, economic equity, and education justice.
The event was attended by various elected officials who were called upon to offer their commitment to advancing policies that promote the safety, equity and liberation of Black workers and their families. Members of the Illinois General Assembly, including Senator Daniel Biss and Representatives William Davis, Mary Flowers, Sonya Harper, and Litesa Wallace, pledged to work towards instituting a progressive income tax, ending cash bail, and implementing an elected school board system for Chicago Public Schools. Aldermen Roderick Sawyer and Jason Ervin voiced their promise to promote police accountability through the establishment of a democratically elected civilian oversight board.
In the coming weeks, WCRJ and allied organizations will be working closely with these elected officials, holding them accountable to their commitments to our communities. We will also be reaching out to other state lawmakers and city council members, calling upon them to answer their constituents' urgent demands for racial and economic justice. More information about how you can join our fight to realize Dr. King's vision of dignity, safety and equality for all Black workers can be found here.
In the wake of the 2012 presidential election, john powell, Paul Hudson, Eva Paterson and Roger A. Clay, Jr. published the following open letter:
Although we acknowledge the deep support President Obama received from many groups and from the American people generally, African-Americans were a critical constituency both nationally and in battleground states such as Ohio, where African-American turnout increased from 2008 and whose vote share was greater than its share of the electorate as a whole. Congratulations and thanks to us all for helping re-elect the President and for all the other progressive changes that we helped usher in on Election Day. The entire world will benefit from our actions and the future will be brighter for all.