As Thanksgiving approaches and many of us look to find gratitude, let’s consider how some of the things we may be grateful for are denied to others in our community. In fact, there are things that many of us take so much for granted that we may forget to even be grateful for them. Benjamin Franklin aptly identified, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” And so, in the interests of serving justice and finding grace and gratitude this holiday season, I offer the following non-denominational criminal justice/Thanksgiving prayer:
To Whom It May Concern –
May our law enforcement officers see black people as human beings and stop shooting them for no reason. May a cop see a black teenager running and instead of assuming that he’s just committed a crime, assume that he’s playing or excited to get home and share some tidbit from his day or simply going somewhere in a hurry. May all police officers recognize that it is always wrong to lie to implicate someone, even if the officers believe that the suspect must be guilty of something.
May our schools stop acting as a prison pipeline. May school administrators remember that children with challenges are still children and that misbehavior in school is best treated with compassion and teaching, rather than with escalation and criminalization of their lapses.
May our prison administrators remember that prisoners are still people, mostly people who just made a mistake. May our prison administrators treat our fellow human beings with basic decency and respect, remembering that despite their errors, prisoners are nevertheless entitled to essentials like medical care, compassion, and humane treatment.
May our judges act judiciously and wisely. May they stop imposing insurmountable bail requirements on nonviolent, low-risk defendants, which forces poor people to jails despite the presumption of innocence. May our judges allow families to remain intact while the criminal justice system slowly unfolds for the accused who wish to enforce their right to contest the accusations against them. And may courts stop imposing higher sentences on people of color than on their white counterparts. May they remember that they are the arbiters of justice and always strive to ensure that the system unfolds justly.
May our prosecutors use the tremendous powers they wield—to decide who gets charged, how severely, what plea deals are offered, etc.—in a way that is fair to all people, regardless of the color of their skin or whether they are exercising their right to protest the government. There is vast room for improvement in this realm, and may our prosecutors recognize this and use their powers in a more egalitarian manner that honors our constitution and our professed principles.
May our politicians be mindful that they are elected to serve the people, not the corporations. May they stop demonizing refugees and immigrants, quit facilitating the horrors that are for-profit prisons, pass laws that honor and encourage every citizen’s voting rights, seek fair laws that treat all citizens respectfully, and stop slashing the funding for the organizations and agencies that protect people’s rights and access to the justice system.