Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (pictured) sits on iconic Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. The current campus sits on nearby Jackson Street (Photo Credit: Todd A. Smith/Regal Media Group).
T.I. Partners with Atlanta Church to Address Mass Incarceration
Legendary Atlanta-based rapper T.I. has partnered with legendary Atlanta congregation Ebenezer Baptist Church and others to fight mass incarceration with a conference held June 17-19.
“The Multifaith Movement to End Mass Incarceration” is a collaborative effort between Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr.’s old church and the rapper/actor born Clifford Harris to release inmates from overpopulated prisons.
“This conference is very important in ending mass incarceration and the systemic issues around Black and Brown people,” said Yusef Salaam of the Central Park Five. “Since the film, ‘When They See Us,’ has come out, a lot is being done to expose the trauma of being Black in America; of being stigmatized in America, and I want to use my platform to expose this ugly reality, especially as it pertains to young people, so that there will never again be a Central Park Five, there will never be a Kalief Browder, and we can finally change this system for good.”
T.I. will use his financial resources to help bail out low-income inmates.
Various churches across different faiths will leverage spiritual power, people power and other power in the faith communities to end mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex.
Reverend Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church and many others believe that the prison industrial complex unfairly imprisons people of color.
Other church leaders in attendance at this week’s conference included faith leaders from Auburn Seminary of New York and The Temple of Atlanta.
“The Multifaith Movement to End Mass Incarceration” has two phases, which include the momentum phase that lasts until the end of June and the implementation phase from June 2019 to May 30, 2023.
The momentum phase will include obtaining additional partners to assist with ending mass incarceration, adopting policies and practices of alternatives for mass incarceration on the national, state and municipal levels.
And the implementation phase will consist of training faith leaders to help people in their communities resist the traps of the prison system.
“I look at what was happening in the prison pipeline and realized that the church voice had been muted on the issue of prison reform,” said Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. “I realized that we needed to be (a) part of what was taking place.”
Mass incarceration has adversely affected all Americans, especially African-Americans and other minorities.
From 1980 to 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America jumped from approximately 500,000 to more than 2.2 million people.
Although America is home to only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. houses 21 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Approximately one in 37 people in America are under some sort of correctional supervision.
The statistics of mass incarceration tell a deeper story about race and systemic racism in America.
In 2014, African-Americans made up 34 percent of the U.S.’s prison population, or 2.3 million of the 6.8 million prisoners across the country.
African-Americans and Hispanics make up 32 percent of the United States population.
However, African-Americans and Hispanics make up 56 percent of the prison population as of 2015.
Statistics show that if African-Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rate as their White counterparts; the prison population would decrease by approximately 40 percent.
Incarcerations by gender show racial undertones as well.
African-American women were incarcerated at twice the rate as White women.
Statistics also show that African-Americans and Whites use drugs at about the same rate.
However, the prison rates for African-Americans on drug charges are six times higher than that of their White counterparts.
African-Americans make up 12.5 percent of illicit drug users in America but make up 29 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 33 percent of those in state prison for drug offenses.
Obviously, criminal records have a negative effect on reintegrating into society upon release from prison.
Having a criminal record makes it 50 percent less likely that a potential employer will call an applicant back.
That rate is twice as high for African-Americans with a criminal record.
Additionally, diseases like HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and Hepatitis B and C are extremely high in prisons.
In 2012, the United States spent approximately $81 billion on prisons.
The spending on prisons has tripled the amount of money America spends on K-12 education.
The rise of the prison population can be traced to the rise of the prison industrial complex.
As of result of the prison industrial complex, state and federal governments have turned the prisons over to private corporations that use the prisoners to turn a profit for their companies.
Instead of paying workers on the outside reasonable wages to manufacture products, corporations pay prisoners basically nothing to manufacture the same products, almost guaranteeing straight profits with very little overhead for those products.
Coupled with the prison industrial complex is the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which makes slavery legal for those convicted of a crime.
The United States government enacted the 13th amendment to the Constitution as a means to re-enslave African-Americans after the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Those convicted of serious crimes often lost their right to vote, which in essence took away one of the most basic rights in a democratic society.
Several states have begun the process of restoring voting rights for convicted felons, most recently in Florida after the 2018 midterm elections.
Many states now allow convicted felons to vote once they are released from custody.
Vermont and Maine allow convicted felons to vote even while behind bars.
While many laws have begun to address the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, the various voting laws by states makes many ex-felons unwilling to vote, which has an adverse effect on many minority communities.
“The state disparities are really astounding,” said University of Minnesota sociology and law professor, Christopher Uggen. The professor also worked on the 2016 Sentencing Project.
“It is definitely confusing at election time, and many former felons are risk averse—they may not vote if they are afraid of getting a felony conviction for illegal voting.”