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Don’t forget the wrongs of America’s prisons when fighting systemic racism

On a daily basis, everyone in prison, but especially those who are black and brown, are subject to disrespect and insidious treatment. Prison culture is built on security and fear, not respect and rehabilitation

A federal prison.
A federal prison. To eradicate racism, we must take on the jails and prisons and their multi-million budget, an advocate writes.
Bebeto Matthews/AP File Photos

I am an 85-year-old white man who watched Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he responded to being struck in the forehead with a rock by staggering and then singing. We stood and sang and looked into the eyes of white people whose hatred I can still feel.

Fifty years later, George Floyd was murdered by police as other white cops stood by. Same hate.

Cell phones may make the difference in this battle for human rights. Millions of Americans, led by young people, are responding to state violence, exposed by phone cameras, in a way that offers hope.

I wish we had cell phones and cameras in prisons.

For the past 25 years, I have visited and advocated for people in Illinois prisons. My best friends, outside my family, are all imprisoned. On a daily basis, everyone in prison, but especially those who are black and brown, are subject to disrespect and insidious treatment. The prison culture is built on security and fear, not respect and rehabilitation.

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African Americans are 13% of the general population but 58% of the those imprisoned in Illinois. Our prisons confine about 40,000 people, a number that is decreasing mainly because women and younger men are not being imprisoned at the same disastrous rates. Meanwhile, the elderly prison population is increasing by 30% a year, thanks to tough-on-crime legislation, extreme sentencing and the elimination of parole in 1978. Elderly people are locked away in cages in a racist, punitive environment. Yet, so many manage to survive and even grow. I continue to learn from them.

I ask everyone who is supporting Black Lives Matter right now to not forget the Department of Corrections. If we are going to eradicate racism, we have to take on the jails and the prisons and their multi-million budget.

#DefundDOC.

Bill Ryan, Westchester

Don’t wait for the worst before taking action

Watching recent events, I found myself appalled, and yet hopeful. I saw many more people marching for peace and reform than hate and division.

Racism seems to linger, as hateful parents teach their children to hate, because that is what they were taught. Some people are just so angry, they need someone to blame for their woes.

Will this dark side of humanity ever go away? I’m greatly encouraged by people of all colors standing together to try and right repeated injustice.

Yet the only reason a light has been shone on these injustices is the availability of cell phone camera or a police body cam. If we did not have these modern tools, I have no doubt that these injustices would continue unimpeded. It’s a sad truth, but we can change it.

What does enrage me is that our system is so set on reactive, not proactive, policies. Why do we wait until things are beyond bad to finally act? We just cross our fingers that a horrible thing won’t happen, until it does. Viruses, oil spills, flooding, access to assault rifles, terrorist attacks, hate crimes, climate change, etc. These things could have been prevented, but weren’t.

Shame on us. Shame on those who have the power to change things but don’t, and shame on us for electing them.

My hope is that we can unite and make our world a peaceful, beautiful, happy place to live for everyone. We must act, not react.

Bradley DeChantal, Munster, Indiana

That 75-year-old protester...

Wow. Quite a nation we have for ourselves under the present pseudo-fascist regime. An elderly man, peacefully protesting, is shoved to the ground and is in critical condition and he’s the bad guy.

What an awesome, freedom-loving country! Such respect for the elderly. U.S.A ! U.S.A.!

Edward Juillard, Morgan Park