A packed main room in the ATU union hall in District Heights saw many testify from personal experience Saturday about the need to reduce incarceration, end cash bail, stop enabling ICE, get a grip on police misconduct and many other reforms.
As this Maryland Matters report indicates, headliner Ben Jealous became the news simply because he came back in public view – even though he was fighting for the same social-justice principles he has espoused whether a candidate or not.
/By Glynis Kazanjian <> Maryland Matters/ Benjamin T. Jealous may have made a soft entry into the 2022 gubernatorial election Saturday at a Progressive Maryland event in Prince George’s County designed to combat mass incarceration in Maryland.
In an interview, Jealous said it is the first “activist” event he’s participated in since losing the gubernatorial race to incumbent Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) by roughly 275,000 votes in 2018.
He said after garnering over a million votes in the election, he’s ready to take on any other Democrat in the gubernatorial primary race, including state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, who is openly considering a run.
Early in his address, Jealous reiterated his decision, first announced earlier in the week, to forego a run for Baltimore mayor in 2020.
A public transit union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, based in District Heights, provided the venue. Attendees strategized ways to develop a grass-roots plan to hold state’s attorneys and law enforcement agents in Prince George’s County and across Maryland more accountable for racial profiling and abusing arrest powers.
“There are roughly one million black families with a loved one in prison in America – too many for nonviolent offenses and being held on money bail,” Jealous said to a crowd of nearly 200 attendees, almost all African American. “Guess what, there’s roughly a million white families in America with loved ones in prison, too.”
According to Angum Check of Progressive Maryland, the incarceration rate in the U.S. has increased 500 percent since 1980. While people of color represent 37 percent of the U.S. population, 67 percent of prisoners are minorities, she said.
Representatives of the immigrants rights group CASA who attended the meeting said they are working on a three-point legislative package that would fully stop cooperation between ICE and local police, mandate police-worn body cameras and increase transparency of police databases.
Other criminal justice reform initiatives that advocates are pushing for include removing cash requirements for bail and expanding services for newly released offenders.
“As organizers we’re interested in numbers,” Jealous said. “How many people can we turn out? How many people can we get to the state capitol? How many people share the pain we are seeking to solve? Yes, racial disparity is important, and yet it is not the full story.”
After sharing stories about tragedies his own family has suffered with gun violence and loss of life, Jealous tried to drive home the point that incarceration rates for white men have been on a steady incline for the last 10-to-20 years.
“My mom’s black, my dad’s white,” Jealous said as he rattled off statistics from a study he participated in as president of the NAACP. “Black people in America are massively over-incarcerated relative to any other group in this country or on the planet. Americans, period, are massively over-incarcerated. In fact, … the incarceration rate for white men has jumped 50% since 2000.”
Jealous pointed to a trend in the study that showed incarceration rates for white American men steadily increasing to rates comparable to black men in South Africa “during the height of the Apartheid.”
He said if the trend continues, activists should begin to hold their meetings in more rural areas across Maryland.
“If things haven’t changed, we may out find next year that white men are just as likely as black men in South Africa to be jailed. What does that mean?” Jealous said. “Meetings like this should be held at the Eastern Shore. Meetings like this should be held in Western Maryland because we have rural white communities that are being over incarcerated.”
As the audience sat silently, Jealous specifically pointed to low-income white males as more likely to be incarcerated.
“The lawyers will come here and talk to you about disproportionality,” Jealous said. “You know, [it] doesn’t matter when your family member is in prison for something that he should have been sent to rehab for.”