Last week at GJP, we came together as a staff to discuss and process the violent insurrection on the US Capitol by white supremacists. The event itself was shocking, but even more disturbing was how the rioters – mostly white men – were treated by law enforcement: some taking selfies with insurrectionists, some seemingly enabling the mob. The vast majority of those who violently stormed the Capitol left safely that evening.
This, juxtaposed with the harassment, over-charging and over-convicting we see our clients (who are mostly Black) experience at the hands of the criminal justice system every day, is a very stark contrast. For nearly 35 years, Georgia Justice Project has represented individuals who are facing criminal charges and helped people clean up their criminal record. We represent people every day who are arrested, charged, and prosecuted for far less serious crimes than what we saw last Wednesday, with far less evidence of their involvement. GJP exists to even the scales of the criminal justice system – both individually and systemically – and help our clients out of the cycle of crime and poverty. We are very aware of the injustices of the criminal justice system through our work, but last week’s insurrection on the Capitol lifted the veil of disparate treatment for all to witness.
In addition to our daily work, we stood in solidarity with our community last summer against police brutality. We defended and are still defending those arrested for practicing their right to peacefully protest (if you are an individual arrested while protesting in Atlanta, please call 678-664-8294 – we may be able to help). We know that Black Lives Matters protesters would have been met with a far more violent response on Wednesday. This realization is only further reinforced by the 23 protesters arrested in our city the very same day for peacefully protesting the decision to not prosecute the officer that shot Jacob Blake.
Every day, we engage a criminal legal system that disproportionately polices Black people, that charges Black people more readily and more harshly, that is more likely to convict Black people, and that punishes Black people more severely. Having been touched by the criminal justice system, Black people are more likely to suffer the consequences of a criminal record – a “mark” that too often denies access to a stable, productive life. Every day, we see the effect that mass incarceration and over-policing has on Georgia’s communities.
We pride ourselves at GJP for being optimistic. We work every day towards a more equitable Georgia that we truly believe is possible. Standing with our clients over the years we have seen the difference that zealous advocacy coupled with social service support can make in an individual’s life. Working at the policy level, we know that systems can change. We believe we saw a glimpse of that better Georgia through last week’s historic election in our state. Despite Wednesday’s ugliness, do not lose heart – we believe positive change is on the horizon.
Georgia Justice Project will continue to show up the way we always have to advocate for individuals. We will continue to protect the rights and dignity of those affected by the criminal legal system, long after media attention on the issue has moved on. We will continue to fight with you for a Georgia that is fairer, more equitable, and more just.