|The world is demanding criminal justice reform and residents here in Harris County are expressing the same calls to end police brutality and find alternatives to a discriminatory system.|
I hear your voices.
|I saw your commitment and dedication when I walked alongside you as we gathered with more than 60,000 Houstonians to protest George Floyd’s killing at the hands of the Minneapolis police. |
Throughout my life I have fought for a fair criminal justice system, one that doesn’t criminalize people based on their class, race, or health. Never before have I witnessed a time like the present where that it is truly possible to divest ourselves from a system of mass incarceration of communities of color. We will make our communities better and safer for all people and that is only possible through extensive reform.
Tuesday at Commissioners Court, we passed important measures to stop the criminalization of poverty, mental illness and homelessness, which have all been used to discriminate and oppress communities of color.
Take some time to read about them.
Examine Budget Priorities & Re-Invest Resources
Now is the time to begin investing in alternatives to our current criminal justice system – a system that criminalizes poverty and public health challenges while being discriminatorily applied to oppress communities of color. By examining and implementing new possibilities that will uplift our communities, our resources will be more impactful and efficient, and ultimately result in safer communities with less violence. There are better alternatives to addressing long-term root issues, like health and economic stability, than with mass incarceration. Where we invest our money and time reflects our values.
We must ask ourselves if spending 45% of Harris County’s general fund budget on law enforcement the best way to promote the health and safety of our residents?
By passing a measure calling for a comprehensive examination of our budget priorities and allocating an initial marker of $25 million for alternative programs — with $5 million going to qualifying cities that plan to implement such services — on Tuesday, we afford ourselves the opportunity to prioritize community health and reduce racial disparities. With this measure, we also recognize that most problems arising from substance use disorders, mental health diagnoses, and poverty require medical professionals and social workers-not criminal enforcement or armed officers.
Why do we continue to believe that we are safer when we incarcerate our neighbors who have the greatest need?
Re-imagine what justice means
We are tired of waiting as Black and Brown lives are continuously and needlessly destroyed. Harris County sends Black people to Texas prisons at almost FIVE TIMES the rate of White people.
We must re-imagine what justice means, and open our eyes to the ways that the justice system intersects with racism, classism and other societal inequities. We must chart a new path predicated on community well-being. We can choose to have a society that uplifts communities and makes them safer and healthier because we cannot continue on the path of ineffective and discriminatory criminal practices that destroy lives.
Ensure Quality Indigent Defense
We passed a measure that will ensure all people will have their rights protected through adequate and fair defense. Everyone – rich or poor – should be guaranteed capable legal defense. We must stop criminalizing poverty, homelessness and mental illness. Incarcerating people for being poor doesn’t make us any safer.
Independent Oversight Board with Subpoena Power
We passed a measure to create an independent civilian oversight board with subpoena power to review documents and investigate claims against the police, including cases involving excessive force. The need for greater transparency is necessary to begin to strengthen the relationship between community and law enforcement and guarantee accountability.
We are on the path toward a better, fairer justice system but we must continue the fight. I have been on the battlefield for justice for decades, so I want to encourage you not to give up. Continue to show up at protests, call your elected officials and exercise your right to vote.
Change is happening, and I am proud of our community for saying enough is enough.
Rodney Ellis, Commissioner