Last month, protests in Baltimore dominated the national media, as community members demand to know what happened to Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who suffered severe spinal injuries and died while in police custody. The Department of Justice is now investigating Gray's death for possible civil rights violations.
For over 40 years, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has supported community-based efforts for peace in Baltimore. In 1968, AFSC released a report on the Baltimore uprising that occurred when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Today, AFSC staff members Dominque Stevenson (Friend of a Friend program director) and Farajii Muhammad (youth empowerment coordinator) have been actively involved in the protests and have spoken to media about addressing the root causes of conflicts in Baltimore: racism and mass incarceration.
CNN (April 28, 2015)
— Carol Costello (@CarolCNN) April 28, 2015
Democracy Now! (April 23, 2015)
Real News Now (April 23, 2015)
Uprising with Sonali (April 21, 2015)
AFSC’s Baltimore staff have also appeared in the Boston Globe, The Intercept, Truthout, Public News Service, and Politico. Farajii and Dominque also wrote an article called The Larger Problem in Baltimore, which was published in The Progressive.
Police violence and mass incarceration
Dominque Stevenson discusses the connections between police violence, systemic racism, and imprisonment on AFSC's Acting in Faith blog in a post titled #BlackLivesMatter: Why We Can't wait.
"In Maryland, African Americans make up 29 percent of the state’s population yet comprise 69 percent of the 109 people who died at the hands of police in 2014, according to a recent ACLU report.
In addition to these killings, black people face other forms of oppression such as mass incarceration. There's often a direct link between police brutality and incarceration. Many prisoners in Maryland report that they have experienced physical abuse, including the use of stun guns, during their arrest. ... One of the best ways to honor Freddie Gray and the many victims of police brutality and murder, is to care about the hundreds of Freddie Grays that live among us now. We must work to end police brutality, but we must also remove the veil of invisibility that allows conditions of inequity and oppression to exist for so many."
Changing the system inside and out
Incarceration negatively impacts people on both sides of prison, jail, and detention center walls. AFSC works to end mass incarceration, improve conditions for people who are in prison, and promote a reconciliation and healing approach to criminal justice issues.
Our Friend of a Friend program connects young men in correctional facilities with prison mentors who help them develop the skills to navigate violent situations. The goal is to reduce institutional violence by providing tools that build healthy relationships, create support structures, and develop effective communication skills--all of which help them prepare for a successful return to their communities.
Read about Russell and Mike, a Friend of a Friend participant and his mentor.
See our interview with Eddie Conway, who helped found Friend of a Friend while he was in prison in Baltimore.
Investing in communities
As protests like the ones in Baltimore illustrate: Momentum is growing for change. Now is the time to push for a real overhaul of the criminal justice system. Transformative and restorative justice approaches are less costly, more effective, and more humane than mass incarceration
And justice is best served by helping people heal and preventing further harm.