Racial discrimination among law enforcement, society's reluctance to discuss the issues surrounding immigrant and mass incarceration, as well as several other issues were explored at a recent town hall meeting held at the University of Illinois. The discussion was organized by the United Methodist Women organization with a goal of informing women about ways to mobilize and push back against police brutality, economic and social injustice and mass incarceration.
Bishop Sally Dyck was a panelist at the event. As an exercise, she asked the audience to raise their hand if they have been impacted by incarceration, either directly or indirectly. Roughly half of the audience raised their hands.
Dyck pointed out because of the societal stigma around the issue of incarceration, churchgoers are reticient to raise the issue as a prayer concern. This leads to a feeling of isolation that is contradictory to what the church is supposed to accomplish, according to the Bishop.
"What happens in the life of our churches is the very people you're sitting next to, some of the pillars of the church, some of the newest to the church, are suffering alone -- isolated and feeling alienated in the church they've been in for 80-something years," Dyck said.
Another panelist, Page May, is a Chicago-based organizer who works with We Charge Genocide. She was the lead author of a shadow report submitted to the U.N. Committee Against Torture.
May says the media can have a negatiive impact on social movements. She advised the audience to question how mainstream media portrays protests and activist actions, often giving more attention to the supposed violence than the issue being protested.
"If in the news you hear that there's violent protesters, question that," said May. "Don't dismiss the movement because of how the media reported it. It's probably non-violent."
Lissette Castillo Vizcarra of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America discussed incarceration and deportation of immigrants. She alleges that there is what almost appears to be a separate legal system for immigrants.
"DUI's are a big issue that we run into," said Vizcarra. "If you're a citizen, after 10 or 15 years you get to go to court and have it expunged. Unfortunately, if you're a person of color it gets a lot more complicated."
Vizcarra says that DUIs are categorized as a "significant misdemeanor" for immigrants, which, she contends, is something that doesn't exist in the normal criminal justice system.
"If you're and immigrant and you get a significant misdemeanor, you're on the fast track to deportation," said Vizcarra. "You're being put in the category with significant and violent criminals."
Vizcarra argues that such distinctions are an indicator of the sophisticated PR campaign surrounding immigration, adding that people are often easily misled by what they read.
"It's not your papers that make you worthy to stay here," said Vizcarra. "It's the fact your story is here, your life is here, your community is here, and this is where you belong."
Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary at Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, explained that social awareness moves in cycles. Carruthers said the "Black Lives Matter" campaign is the new iteration of labor leader Bill Lucy's statement, "I Am a Man."
Given the benefit of hindsight, Carruthers wants people to realize that the campaign shouldn't seek to validate black lives, but instead question those who would do them harm.
"The real call of black lives matter is not to argue about our humanity," said Carruthers. "It is to raise a question about the humanity of those who would oppress us."