This week, the climate activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison for standing up against oil companies and defending our future. During this historic moment of great courage, I'm reminded how our justice system is inherently flawed, and imaginging new possible futures that include more kissing.
You would never hear a judge say, "I sentence you both to kiss and make up." A little silly, yes. Almost as ridiculous as our current system of mass incarceration.
When a hero is behind bars, a murderer walks free, and our prisons hold more black men than slavery ever did, it’s time to ask what’s underlying the statistics, and imagine new possible futures. The Smooch project (a winner of the Possible Futures film contest) is doing just that -- gathering photos of people sharing affection, capturing some powerful stories, and imainging a future where a mother chooses to forgive her son's killer.
When I think about a new possible justice system, I think about how much I love living a city with such a energetic spirit of social justice. A friend of mine, who owns a green business in Oakland, once compared Oakland to Paris. Although we don’t have the Seine, we do have Lake Merritt and a lot of geese. I love how Oaklanders walk and bike everywhere, there's a "take to the streets" energy, the climate is almost always 70 degrees, and people hang out at hipster cafes drinking coffee in the sunshine.
I was recently biking up 35th Ave, right near Fruitvale BART station where Oscar Grant was shot. As I headed to our Summer of Solutions Oakland planning meeting, I was in awe -- beautiful, purple, hanging flowers had bloomed on all the trees lining the road. In the midst of delicious smells coming from the Pupuserias, little dogs barking behind fences, and store windows that still display photos of Oscar Grant, I saw the beauty that is only Fruitvale.
Reading all the blog posts about Tim’s sentencing reminds me that our criminal justice system is immensely flawed, and we need to change it. We need systems that address root causes of violence, not lock away black and brown children. We need to honor heroes who stand up for our future, not put them behind bars. We need to acknowledge how imbedded issues of race, class, and power are in our current justice system, and work towards a system of Restorative Justice. (I can only imagine what Tim’s sentencing would have looked like if we were using systems of restorative justice, not a system owned by corporations.)
Finally, we need to imagine a new possible future for our justice system and our world. Hopefully, one that includes more kissing.
For information and insights on the state of our prison system, check out Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.