In a federally controlled park, in the middle of a federally controlled city, stands a federally controlled statue. Abraham Lincoln, the flawed leader who guided our country through its bloodiest conflict, extends a hand over a kneeling, shackled African American man struggling to free himself.
Why is the man kneeling and not standing looking his president in the eye?
Why is he not, in the least, clothed in the uniform of a Union soldier, a rifle in hand, liberating his enslaved brethren, like one of the thousands of “colored troops” who fought valiantly to the defeat the “peculiar institution?”
Why is he not granted some measure of dignity or pride in his stance?
The statue we see now was commissioned and paid for by former slaves to honor Lincoln. Unsurprisingly, they were given no voice in its design, which was outsourced to the Western Sanitary Commission (WSC). Originally a private charity organized to care for wounded Union soldiers, the commission grew to handle all hospitals west of the Mississippi River.
Does this hijacking sound familiar? It should.
The supine African American man underneath Lincoln’s “beneficent” hand parallels the subordinace of “Chocolate City” to federal rule.
Just as The WSC’s design of the Emancipation Statue ignored any input from its Black funders, the federally controlled system of felony justice in the District of Columbia remains impervious to the needs of this city’s Black citizens.
In DC, Black people are arrested at 10 times the rate of whites. In fact, while Blacks make up 47 percent of the population, they comprise 86 percent of those detained by police. The city has the one of the highest incarnation rates in the United States: imprisoning 1,153 individuals for every 100,000 residents. So, in addition to policing, prosecution, supervision and sentencing lie at the heart of ensuring that Black Lives Matter in the District of Columbia.
Federal prosecutors make all charging decisions. Neither appointed by elected officials nor directly accountable to voters, under this nation’s corrupt, plea bargaining system, federal authorities set the general terms of incarceration for thousands. Federal judges sentence these individuals and then remand them to the custody of the US Bureau of Prisons, which houses them throughout the country far from their loved ones. The US Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), an independent bureaucracy reporting directly to the president, supervises the lives of DC’s returning citizens.
So, in the debate over defunding the police, the question of establishing local sovereignty over DC’s entire justice system must not be ignored.
DC prosecutors, accountable to citizens, should make felony charging decisions. Elected or locally appointed DC judges should decide sentences. Those few felons who require imprisonment should be housed in humane, DC-controlled facilities convenient to loved ones. Lastly, the supervision and reintegration of returning citizens should be a central responsibility of the District government.
Will these reforms be expensive? Yes.
Are these difficult objectives? Certainly.
Does this require statehood? Definitely.
In the Civil War, this country’s African American forefathers and mothers fought to end slavery. It is time to follow their example. End federal tyranny over the District of Columbia and allow its citizens to create a new justice system that truly values Black Lives.