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Shema: Pay Attention to the Upcoming Election

Shema: Pay Attention to the Upcoming Election

Kathy Weinman quote

The following post was written by Kathy Weinman for Temple Israel of Boston's blog. Weinman's piece is a great example of how congregational leaders can foster civic engagement by informing congregants of the issues at stake in the upcoming election and providing concrete resources to learn more and take action. Please feel free to adapt for your own congregation or Jewish community.

Beginning on September 4, in the Massachusetts primary, we will elect the people who will serve as our District Attorneys for the next four years. Our informed votes are critical.

 

The number of people incarcerated in Massachusetts has more than doubled since 1980 despite significantly falling crime rates. The burden falls disproportionately on people of color and neighborhoods with large numbers of black and Hispanic residents. Recent data reflects that while blacks are only 8% of Massachusetts residents, they constitute 27% of the prison population. Hispanics are 11% of the residents in the Commonwealth, but 25% of those in prison. This disparity is worse here than in many other states – in fact, the Hispanic/white disparity is the highest in the country. An analysis of data for fiscal year 2014 demonstrated that blacks and Hispanics received longer sentences and served more time while incarcerated than whites.

 

While the historic criminal justice reforms passed by the Massachusetts legislature and signed into law by the Governor earlier this year will result in a fairer and more effective system, our work is not done. Earlier this year, the ACLU of Massachusetts, in partnership with the Greater Boston Interfaith continuing power of prosecutors to determine whether our criminal legal system serves justice. District Attorneys decide whether to charge someone with a crime at all or give him or her a second chance. They decide which crimes to charge, including, for example, whether to charge a crime with a harsh mandatory prison sentence and whether to charge an immigrant with the type of crime that leads automatically to deportation. Since the vast majority of cases in Massachusetts – over 90% – are resolved by plea bargains, DAs play a much larger role than judges in determining the ultimate disposition of peoples’ lives. DAs also wield enormous political influence in public policy debates on criminal justice; virtually all of them opposed significant reforms proposed by advocates, which resulted, for example, in watered down legislation repealing mandatory minimum drug sentences. As Rahsaan Hall, the leader of the DA Difference campaign as Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, has stated, Who’s the most powerful person in the [Massachusetts] criminal legal system?…. It’s your local District Attorney, your DA.

 

As voters we also have power, the power to hold District Attorneys accountable. We can exercise that power at the ballot box, especially in the six of the eleven races for DA in Massachusetts that are contested this year. Choosing among those running for the office is an important responsibility – Who will reduce mass incarceration? Who will eliminate disparities that unfairly disfavor racial and ethnic minorities? Who will seek treatment, not prison, for non-violent individuals suffering from substance abuse disorder or mental illness? Who will protect immigrants? Who will ensure that our criminal legal system is effective and just?

 

Exercising that power requires us to be informed about the DA candidates. Fortunately, there are easy ways to do that:

 

Get to know the candidates by looking at the candidates’ websites, which will tell you about their experience, policy positions and endorsements. Here are links to the candidates running in most of the communities of Greater Boston:

Middlesex County (including Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Framingham, Natick, Needham, and Somerville)

Suffolk County (including Boston, Revere, Chelsea, and Winthrop)

Norfolk County (including Brookline, Dedham, Milton, Needham, Sharon and Wellesley)

Watch on-line videos of their debates. The candidates in Middlesex and Suffolk Counties have participated in debates.  A couple can be found here:

Middlesex County (July 24, 2018) (starting at 24 minutes)

Suffolk County

 

Please hear directly from the Suffolk and Middlesex DA candidates yourselves by joining us at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s Electoral Primary Action on August 23 at 7:00 p.m. at the Boston Teachers Union, 180 Mt. Vernon Street, Dorchester 02125. RSVP to Dru Greenwood.

 

And please VOTE!

 

Kathy Weinman is an attorney in Boston.  She is a former president of Temple Israel of Boston, and current chair of its Racial Justice Initiative/Criminal Justice working group. Kathy is a member of the Commission on Social ActionFor resources on how to bring civic engagement to your congregation or Jewish community, visit www.rac.org/CivicEngagement.

Published: 8/14/2018