"Collaboration to Empower Community"

The Value of Human Life

Prepared by: The Citizen’s Center for Public Life, 20 Naomi Court, Sumter, SC  29154.                               

The Value of Human Life:  What Must Be Done If We All Are To Realize Our Destiny, Liberty, and Freedom?

How Do We Change “The System” so Poor, Minorities, and Specifically Men and Boys of Color                                                           Have an Equal Chance to Live Longer, Better, and More Affluently?

In the wake of global violent events, as well as those of Ferguson, Missouri, a police chokehold induced death in Ohio, the New York NYPD attack, and our own South Carolina Memorial Day, local Grand Strand injuries and loss of life tragedies we hear cries for justice, legal and security sanctions, and come to realize the need for an awareness to how humans interact with each other.  How would America be different; how would South Carolina, how would Myrtle Beach be different if we acted as if we truly valued individual human life and each other?

How would we help each other reach our individual desired destiny, and realize the quality of life of the inalienable rights of being an American – namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? 

How can all experience the freedoms guaranteed under the equality of the law – regardless of color, race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual or religious preferences?  Would society be less violent? 

Where do we concentrate our actions –  (1) improving the social safety net for those most in need by reducing poverty, health disparities, or improving education; (2) changing the power, authority, legal, and bureaucratic systems by starting with building better relationships between police and the community; (3) or do we begin by changing how the juvenile justice and prison system functions by focusing on restorative justice mechanisms;(4) or must we strengthen a culture of democracy grounded in American core values of inclusivity, hard work, and hope for a better life?

Individuals would have equal opportunity to reach their full potential.  The phenomenon of an over representation of African American children getting in trouble at an early age and ending up in prison may not exist. Our prisons would not be over-crowed; nor would there be an un-proportionate percentage of black boys and men in detention or prison. The value of a human being would not be based on the color of ones skin, how one worshiped, who one loved, and in a land of plenty no one would go hungry.   Could we achieve this better life, where the innate talents and interests of every individual were supported in order that everyone could reach their desired potential, and if so, how?  What must we do?

Do we focus on changing the systems that function in our society such as education and enhancing individual capacities?  Do we start by focusing on changing the relationships between police and communities or maybe establishing restorative justice approaches for our youth detention and our prison system? Or, would we set aside our individual desires, beliefs, and differences and seek common endeavors in order to strengthen a culture of democracy that would insure prosperity, access to information and opportunity, and security of the necessities of life for every human being. 

We must change systems!  But, which systems do we focus on first; where do we concentrate our money and actions? 

Comprehensive system change could bring about a society in which human desired destiny, and a secure and rewarding life for all can be insured for South Carolinians, Americans, and people throughout the world.  Many will say we cannot achieve such a utopia; we will have to change too many archaic, legalistic, and elitist systems to create such an environment.   Among these would be power echelons of money, academia, corporate organizations, and prestige.  Society would be more open; and fewer decisions would be made behind closed doors. People would not have to give money or favors for an opportunity to succeed.  Let’s talk about some of the systems that impact our lives and how they can be changed in South Carolina.

What would have to change in order to prevent African American boys and men caught up in a dysfunctional situation and ultimately in prison or dead before their time? Maybe African American boys and men suffer worse than all the others that suffer injustices, but isn’t any human injustice indicative of a moral sickness?

  1. Must we build a stronger social safety net for those who are falling through the crack – the poor and specifically men and boys of color?  If we focus on building a stronger safety net, where do we begin – by improving education, health care, work opportunity, or with shelter and safety issues?
  • If we really valued human life would we allow there to be hunger in all 3144 counties in America? 
  • What kind of social programs must be developed to equally insure everyone has a healthier, safer, happier, more fulfilling, and prosperous life?
  • Government could invest more in people and families and less on the industries of defense, prison, or government bureaucracy.
  • We could focus on pre-K and young children in order to make sure they get a good start in life by giving more support to families, schools, and human service agencies. 
    • This option will take a long time to realize benefits and the problem is intolerable right now.
    • But, if we do not focus on a holistic approach many individuals and families will continue to get caught up in the system.
  • Possibly there is a limit to the quality of life we can expect similar to the concept of there being a limit to population growth and how many people the earth can sustain.   
  • If equality of life circumstances have eluded those in poverty and for a disproportionate number of African American men and boys and people of color, and if knowledge, wealth, and power opportunities have mirrored the gender and race of America’s founding fathers throughout American history, is there a way for the human species to progress to a place of equally valuing all human life and insuring an equitable quality of life for all?
  • Can we start by eliminating the disparity in the quality of life for African American men and boys in South Carolina and then teach the world how to do so for all?

2.  How can we change the power, authority, legal, and bureaucratic systems that impact our everyday lives, and seems to be doing so in increasingly negative ways for the poor, and for men and boys of color?  Maybe we should focus on building better relationships between police and the community.

  • How do we focus on building trust between the community and police?

We can join with others already working on change on this issue, or start a new group to organize community dialogue and action on community–police relations.  Include all voices in the community, especially those who have been marginalized.  Have local officials and members of the law enforcement community.  Involve young people.  Work with bridge-building organizations and leaders in your community who already having trusting relationships with both the police department and community members.

    • Link dialogue to action and community change. (See Everyday Democracy Resource information below.)
    • Create opportunities for genuine community engagement between police and community members.  Having a structured process for people, institutions, and government to work together can lead to real change.  Student led service learning and intergenerational service-learning projects can create a space for community members and the police to talk about trust, expectations, policing strategies and tactics. 
    • Residents can share their concerns and police can share how residents can play critical roles in effective partnership strategies.
    • Here are some concerns that dialogue participants may have:

(1) Understanding — Residents and police do not understand each other.    (2) Treating People Fairly –Police, the Courts, and Legal Assistance, do not always treat people of color fairly. 

(3) Tough on Crime/ Three Strikes You’re Out — Being tough on crime is good but it leads to other problems. 

(4) Law Enforcement Officers Need Support — The community does not give police enough support. 

(5) Accountability is Key — No one is doing enough to hold police accountable. 

(6) Give Special Attention to Some Neighborhood  –Residents and police are not doing enough to make some neighborhoods safe.

  • South Carolina depends on private security guards to protect everything from gated communities to nuclear power plants, but the state has among the nation’s weakest training standards for these hired guards.
    • Per a Post and Courier review of SLED documents, police reports and media accounts, security guards have been involved in at least 18 shootings during the past decade, killing at least four people and wounding six others.
    • Additionally during the same timeframe six guards have been killed and two others have been wounded.

SLED has assembled an advisory committee of agents, security company representatives and technical college professors.  The group meets to discuss concerns and ways to improve state standards.

“The dialogue has been positive, and a move toward improving training requirements is likely, said a panel member.7

____________________  NOTE:

For Protecting Communities Serving the Public, from Everyday Democracy see: 

http://everyday-democracy.org/news/strategies-build-trust-and-take-action-wake-ferguson#.VJBomr67KfG

“Dialogue-to-change efforts can be a springboard for building relationships and transforming the practices and policies of our public institutions, from Everyday Democracy Ideas & Tools for Community Change.

Everyday Democracy’s mission is to help communities talk and work together to create communities that work for everyone.  They work directly with local communities, providing advice and training and flexible how-to resources.  Since their founding in 1989, they’ve worked with hundreds if communities across the United States on issues such as racial equality, poverty reduction, education reform, and building strong neighborhoods.   Everyday Democracy works with national, regional and state organizations in order to leverage resources and to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.  Their aim is to help create communities that value everyone’s voice and work for everyone, and to help create a strong national democracy that upholds these principles. December 8, 2014.

7Smith Glenn, December 13, 2014, S.C. security guards hold same powers as deputy sheriffs on private property with fraction of training.  Post and Courier, Charleston, SC. From: http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141213/PC16/141219726?ref=email

  1. Should we create a global culture of restorative justice?   How can we change how the prison system functions?

In America we could transform or prison system beginning with decriminalizing juveniles for juvenile actions and transforming our prisons in order to rehabilitate, to reduce incarceration in the first place, and by providing programs responding to criminogenic needs.

  • Does America/ South Carolina need to implement a comprehensive restorative justice system inclusive of system-wide changes for both juveniles and adults? 
  • Do we start by focusing on those youth who are from poor families and particularly African America youth, seemingly destined for a “cradle to prison pipeline” as the Children’s Defense Fund maintains?
    • Diminished discretion in justice system – from mandatory minimums and three strikes to zero tolerance in schools should be reconsidered8
    • Elementary school children should not be receiving “blue tickets” for interrupting class and then they and their parents have to go to court?
    • Violence, poverty, racial disparities in youth and child serving systems, poor education and racially unjust policies are fueling the playground to prison yard crisis and must be emeliorated.9
    • We know that adolescent males brains, the part that helps humans make rational decisions, does not fully develop until around age 25.  Yet, we continue to incarcerate young males who make inappropriate decisions – particularly regarding drug use.

___________________

8.  Charleston League of Women Voters Public Forum, The College of Charleston, September 17, 2014, School Discipline: Classroom to Prison? Power-point slide presentation, #5 slide.

9.  Edeleman, Marian Wright, Dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline –Our Future Depends on It., p.192

A 10-year-old student was arrested for bringing a plastic BB gun to a Charleston elementary school.  The boy said he was at a friend’s house the night before and the friend gave him the gun, which he forgot to take out of his bag before school.10 

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 10.31.24 AM      

  • Or, should we start with reducing the number of African American men in prison; but what kind of programs must be established to maintain individual and community safety?
    • Such a program would include criminogenic needs focused programs for those exiting prison or jail with the explicit intention of reducing recidivism.11
    • Some communities forbid asking about criminal history on most job applications – a step being considered by Georgia, Michigan and New York.12

______________________

10 Boughton, Milissa, Nov. 17, 2014, Post and Courier, from:  http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141117/PC16/141119415/1177) 

11 Latessa, E.J., and Lowenkamp, C.L., 4th Quarter 2005, Community Corrections: Research and Best Practice, What are Criminogenic Needs and Why they’re important, Ohio Judicial Conference.  P. 15                                                    12   Williams, T. and Vega, T. Oct. 23, 2014, A Plan to Cut Costs and crime:  End Hurdle to Job After Prison, The New York Times, http://nyti.ms/1ozGb2a


  • Some business executives have said we should start with the non-violent Family Court cases.  Instead of placing men in jail for non-payment of child support we should establish programs to teach them job skills, help them gain employment and support them to be contributing members of society.
  • There is a movement within congress, including such conservatives as Senator Rand Paul and Newt Gingrich to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, to expunge the criminal record for non-violent offenders and reassess parole and probation rules so violators are not automatically reincarcerated.13
  • Keeping inmates connected with their families can often make or break their chances of another statistic:  1 in 4 return to prison within three years of release. 

    Criminogenic needs15 are crime producing dynamic risk factors that are strongly correlated with the risk of recidivism.

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at 10.43.12 AM

SC is trying to make it easier to maintain family bonds for those families living in the Lowcountry with relatives in Columbia prisons with videoconference visits.14

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13. Williams, T., and Vega, T., Oct. 23, 2014, A Plan to Cut Costs and Crime:  Ed Hurdle to Job After Prison, The New York Times, http;//nyti.ms/1ozGb2a.

14.  Roldan, C., Nov. 28, 2014, SC Prisons trying video visits to cut down on recidivism, The Post and Courier:  http://www.postandcourier.com.

4. Should we rebuild a culture of democracy grounded in American core values of inclusivity, hard work, and hope for a better life? Vestiges of racial bias and discrimination still limit some groups from realizing their inalienable rights, particularly African Americans; and African American men and boys have major barriers to overcome.

If we truly valued human life, what would we do and how would we work together to effect the societal changes we need?

  • How do we get to such a place and what will it look like when we get there, when our nation, when South Carolina, has transformed the “discords of our nation … and state… into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood“ … and sisterhood, (from MLK I have a Dream, Aug. 28, 1963)?
  • How can we realize restorative justice, kindness, and empathy for our neighbors, and not be consumed by retribution and hate, bias, and avoidance; can we make the virtuous choice?
  • If financial, personal, and health security were equal for everyone, what would have to change?
    • What causes the fear one race has of another race? 

At a recent Ferguson and Race discussion in Columbia, SC, Black attendees said, “We know they (Whites) hate us and they would as soon kill us as not!”

  • Why are African American’s often not given equal opportunity for employment?

Sociologist, now at Harvard, examined race and employment.  Their sobering finding was that African American applicants with no criminal record were offered jobs at a rate as low as white applicants who had a criminal record.16

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16.  Mullsinsthan, S., Jan. 4, 2015, Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions, (Economic View), The New York Times (The Upshot), from:  http://nyti.ms/1AnvWzW.

  • If equality and opportunity were engineered, would we create a system of ongoing dependence and disincentive?  Would individual drive and perseverance be extinguished?
  • If America depended on philanthropy and corporate social responsibility of the top businesses to resolve societal problems would this redistribute wealth or would it be creating a new master/ and servant class?
    • This option might put the destiny of many in the hands of a privileged few.  Should business executives define our happiness?
    • Can societies wellbeing be bought?

If We Truly Valued Life, the Talents, Skills and Qualities of Everyone Would be Sought and Developed!

American’s need to wake up and realize American exceptionalism is a myth.  We do not have the corner on quality of life among other nations, nor is one gender and one race superior in ability or potential.  Today’s society needs the uniqueness of everyone to achieve a better world for everyone.  If we were committed to this concept we would still be talking about systems.  What would a society look like that is dedicated to discovering individuals’ unique potential, talents, skills, and qualities? 

  • In America and in South Carolina if African Americans, other minorities, and women – who may not be minorities but experience inequalities – were truly supported to achieve their potential what would change and how could it be done
  • Should we focus on providing equal opportunity for all, or must we focus on the unique burdens the poor and minorities experience – with an initial emphasis on African American men and boys?
  • Considering the challenges African American men and boys must overcome, are these challenges understood by everyone? 
    • Do the vestiges of slavery, the welfare state, and White privilege haunt Americans and South Carolinians to the point that only revolutionary change can achieve the depth of human discovery needed to truly change our future?
    • Do African American’s understand how White people abhor being blamed for the prejudicial misdeeds of their ancestors?

Americans and South Carolinians Must Begin Working for the Common-Good!  How Can We Work Collaboratively and In Partnership So Everyone Can Achieve the “American Dream?”

If we truly seek a better world and a world of equal opportunity, we must approach all change with an attitude of non-violence, shared brother and sisterhood, and trust.  Our individualistic approach to our freedoms, liberties, and our rights would change to a focus on responsibilities. 

  • What are some of the responsibilities we will have to act upon?
  • How can we be more inclusive, more transparent, and more supportive of everyone?
  • What individual sacrifices would have to be made in the short term?
  • What would the Common-Good look like?

  

  • What human personality traits stand in the way of achieving such a world; can these be overcome? 

Is this option too idealistic? Some may say that this choice may sound positive and benevolent, but it is totally unrealistic.  For example poverty is prevalent throughout SC, America, and the world.  Even in America there is hunger in every county – in all of the approximate 3144 counties. That means in every county in every state there are some people that go hungry every day.   How can people be productive if they are hungry?

If we did eliminate hunger in SC, what other problems of inequality could we resolve?

South Carolina is still seen as a proud Southern State and a staunch defender of state’s rights, could South Carolina show the rest of America how we can take care of our own by enlisting the talents of all the state’s residents and by working together in partnership to create a quality of life that provides for the common well being of all? 

Could a community of good will start in Myrtle Beach and in South Carolina? 

How do we begin?

Prepared by: The Citizen’s Center for Public Life, 20 Naomi Court, Sumter, SC  29154.                              

For more information contact Barbara Brown, Barbara.a.brown13.bb@gmail.com, 803-968-0388

RESOURCES:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx_eRM5bous

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