• Jon B. Comstock

A fair system is not too much to ask for.


ACTION STEP: As a candidate for Arkansas House District 96, I am convinced that we in the majority don’t get credit just for showing up. We need to expend actual energy and effort to help dismantle institutional racism that has delivered us to the present state of mass incarceration. Call your City, County and State legislative bodies and tell them you expect them to change our systems. (See expanded list of initial suggested options below. More to come.)

Black Americans want to thrive – not just survive day to day. I have shown up at the area protests and walked with the marchers in Bentonville, Rogers (2x), Springdale and Fayetteville and talked with many of the participants. It’s clear to me that they love America just as much as the next patriot – They just demand that America live up to its stated values. That’s not too much to ask for.

Are we willing to learn how we got here? You and I must first be willing to learn as much as we can about the “being black” in America. How is their experience different than those of us in the majority? Intentionally read and watch programs to get educated, such as the PBS Newshour Special “Race Matters: America in Crisis”. Watch the movie “13th”. Connect the dots to understand how slavery morphed into race codes, leased prison labor, Jim Crow (with domestic terrorism a daily life’s experience), and today, mass incarceration. Read The New Jim Crow. (What does it mean for NASCAR’S only black driver to find a noose in his garage this week?). It’s why America has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. It’s why one in three black Americans are likely to go to prison, whereas one is seventeen whites will go there. Learn why there exist staggering gaps in educational, health and employment opportunities for those whose skin is black.

My wife read a series which helped explain why the “history” we learned was incomplete. By way of simple examples, it observed that it’s no accident that:

We learned about Helen Keller, and not of W.E.B. DuBois

We learned about the Watts and L.A. Riots, but not Tulsa or Wilmington. 

We learned about black ghettos, but not about Black Wall Street. 

We learned about the New Deal, but not “red lining.”

We learned about Tommie Smith’s fist in the air at the 1968 Olympics, but not that he was sent home the next day and stripped of his medals. 

We learned about “states rights” as the cause of the Civil War, but not that slavery was mentioned 80 times in the articles of secession. 

We learned that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery, but not that it made an exception for those the State chooses to imprison.

Privilege is having history rewritten so that we don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable facts. Racism is perpetuated by people who refuse to learn or acknowledge this reality. 

We each have a choice.

Our criminal justice system’s foundation, while asserting it is “race neutral” rests heavily on racial outcomes adverse to black Americans in disproportionate ways. Studies conducted in Arkansas reveal the same. Enough is enough. We need to start the dismantling process. Public safety needs to look different than it does today.

It’s about more than police abuse. Add to my list and share them with me. Consider:

Life is not fair, but government should be. 

1. Insist on a genuine “community policing” model for police and sheriff.

2. Arkansas should follow Governor Hutchinson’s advice to enact a series of hate crimes based on racial animus.

3. Adopt resolution of support for State Senator Hendren’s effort to have an “adverse impact” assessment made on criminal justice laws prior to their enactment.

4. Adopt a resolution of support requesting the State Legislature to conduct a review of criminal sentencing – especially relative to the subject of proportionality.

5. Adopt a resolution of support requesting the State Legislature to enact laws that will restore the right of Judges to be able to be fully involved in the propriety of any plea-bargain offer made by the State’s Attorney.

6. Support State law to mandate that Prosecuting Attorneys across the State are required to routinely update a public-accessible database that will inform citizens, counsel and Judges, of plea-bargain offers made relative to each case being managed.

7. At every level of government, including the Courts, take active steps to assure that the public citizenry is able to attend and fully observe open proceedings.

8. As to Law Enforcement:

a. Substantially increase the training required of our Law Enforcement (and include the social sciences). Their greatest strength should be their ability to deescalate situations, not deliver lethal force.

b. Adopt a “duty to intervene” in the face of excessive use of force.

c. Adopt explicit use of force policy, including banning choke holds and no-knock warrants (except when life of another individual is substantially at risk);

d. Require a review of every “gun unholstered” event.

e. Form a Citizen Review Commission to offer policy recommendations

f. Form and finance an independent body to transparently review police misconduct allegations.

g. Mandate body cameras.

h. Conduct an audit of all Law Enforcement “military type” equipment and consider whether continued use is appropriate/ and or repurpose the grant funds.

9. City and County governing bodies should require increased minority representation.

10. Mandate total transparency of police misconduct and use of force.

11. Gather relevant data and mandate review of every citizen-police-display/use of force incident.

12. Utilize seizure of assets for community-building programs (not military weaponry).

13. Prohibit use as “confidential informants” of any person under age of 25 or on probation, parole or other supervision.

14. Prohibit “controlled drug buys” or use as confidential informant, of any person who is known to have alcohol or drug addiction issues.

15. Provide for automatic sealing of records – misdemeanor and felonies – once all time served and fines and fees paid.

16. Conduct an audit of every “financial grant” program utilized by area Law Enforcement and determine if the maximum focus is on community resources.

17. Support the selection of an Independent Prosecutor anytime potential charges are being made against a member of Law Enforcement.

18. Provide funding for Hispanic and African American groups to conduct public survey of their community re attitudes toward local police. 

19. Actively adopt policies which will reduce the number of people booked into area County Detention Centers (which will have a corresponding reduction of the number of persons eventually sent to prison):

a. For all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, adopt a “felony citation to appear” program (similar to traffic citations to appear).

b. For select misdemeanors and felonies, adopt a “Pre Charge Referral Program” (staffed and funded appropriately) which allows participants to engage in activity that is beneficial to themselves and/or the community, and avoids the filing of an actual criminal charge

c. Adopt “restorative justice” model (and provide appropriate staffing and funding) for most misdemeanors and select felonies (but don’t automatically exclude all charges deemed violent).

d. Support the adoption of laws by State Legislature that will mandate a distinction between the conduct of simply “missing a court date” (which can be punished as a contempt if appropriate) and “actual absconding from the jurisdiction of the Court” (which would remain a distinct crime).

20. Cities and County Governing bodies to pass resolutions that request the Arkansas Legislature to support (with laws, staffing and funding) the effective reentry of persons back into our communities when they have served time in prison, inclusive of immediately restoring the right to vote upon their release from confinement.

21. Cities and County Governing bodies to pass resolutions that request the Arkansas Legislature to conduct a thorough review of the well over 10,000 collateral legal consequences that burden a person with a felony conviction.

22. With regard to pre-trial detainees in County Detention (who have a Constitutional presumption of innocence), provide phone and email at County/City expense solely.

23. Since Qualified Immunity is an invention of the U.S. Supreme Court, it likely will take that Court’s willingness to discard this made-up doctrine. In the meantime, Cities and Counties can support resolutions that inform the Legislature that the violation of another’s Constitutional rights by Law Enforcement (including Prosecuting Attorneys) should result in outright dismissal of the pending criminal charge.

24. ADD your suggestions – AND work to make them happen.


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© Jon Comstock  for Arkansas 2020

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