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Viewpoint: DRJC mobilized support for criminal justice reform

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Yvette Santiago | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE RACIAL JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE

Delaware took a big step forward in its efforts to address systemic issues of racism in the community, the workforce and our schools during the 2021 session of the General Assembly.

We are proud of the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative (DRJC) and United Way of Delaware’s efforts to mobilize organizations and leaders across the state to effect change in the highest levels of government by advocating for key policy changes in criminal justice reform and education. Eliminating the policies and practices that enable systemic racism in Delaware is DRJC’S mission. Established in 2015, our work caught fire in the wake of the George Floyd social justice movement last summer and continues to propel us forward. DRJC is a diverse group of more than 200 individuals and leaders of organizations from across Delaware. Our voice is unified, organized and powerful.

Rick Deadwyler | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE RACIAL JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE

We were heard, and through the efforts of many people, including but not limited to Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, Rep. Frank Cooke and the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, and Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-Bear, we saw groundbreaking legislation passed regarding Black history education, law enforcement transparency, sentencing reform and juvenile-justice reform.

We were pleased to see passage of:

  • House Bill 198, which requires school districts and charter schools to implement a Black history curriculum by school year 2022-23.
  • Senate Bill 147, which codifies reasonableness as the objective standard for the use of nonlethal and lethal force and establishes that state of mind is the justification as to what a reasonable person would have believed, rather than what the defendant believed. SB 147 also clarifies that chokeholds are considered deadly fworce.
  • SB 148, which expands the responsibilities of the Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust to include reviewing deadly use-of-force incidents by law enforcement and to review use-of-force incidents that resulted in serious physical injury. Additionally, SB 148 requires that the division release a public report on any incident involving the use of force and that the report include the race of the law enforcement officer who used force, the race of the individual on whom force was used and whether race was a relevant or motivating factor.
  • HB 195, which requires that certain police officers and employees of the Department of Correction and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families wear a body camera and record interactions with the public in accordance with regulations to be established by the Council on Police Training.
  • SB 15, which increases the Delaware minimum wage to $15 over the course of four years, allowing hard-working Delawareans to better support their families.

We asked members of DRJC’s Public Policy Committee to reflect on this past session and look ahead to the future.

Philanthropy Delaware’s Tynetta Brown says she was pleased by the support for bills that heavily impact minority communities and “just putting these conversations deeper on the radar of legislators.” Looking ahead, she’d like to see more discussion around grant-in-aid and how the allocation process can be more transparent, with a greater emphasis on meeting community needs, improving metrics and aligning aid with the cost that recipients must pay to deliver vital services.

Dr. Anne Farley of Wilmington-based First State Strategies Consulting, says she was encouraged that “participation was engaged and sustained for the long haul to tackle the tough issues, entrenched mind-sets and acceptance of the status quo to offer solutions to address systemic racism and discrimination.” She also believes that DRJC — and the community — would have had an even greater impact “with the ability to meet in person with legislators and participate in committee hearings.” That said, Dr. Farley and DRJC applaud the efforts and accomplishments of the General Assembly in 2021.

Henry Smith III, co-chair of the Wilmington Community Advisory Council, is right when he says we need to continue focusing on funding and policies to address the social determinants of health and crime in our state, since effectively addressing these would go a long way toward tackling many of the priorities of DRJC. He says he was disappointed by the “paucity of support for Black organizations,” saying there needed to be a bigger push for more funds from the Black Legislative Caucus, NAACP, the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council or any other organization supporting Black causes.

Looking ahead, DRJC is prioritizing its focus on diversity, equity and inclusion across the business community and state agencies. In addition, opportunities for the future include advocating for paid family medical leave and education reforms that target infrastructure, programming and funding across our K-12 system.

We need to focus on establishing our agenda early, conducting outreach and education to legislators, and educating DRJC membership on how we can take on greater leadership and advocacy roles.

In summary, DRJC made tremendous progress in this most recent legislative session. But much work remains if we are to effectively address systemic issues of racism in the workforce and in our communities and schools. We invite you to join our work.

Rick Deadwyler and Yvette Santiago are co-chairs of the Public Policy Committee of the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative. You can learn more about DRJC here.

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