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Racial justice conference hears impassioned call to address imbalances

Bermudians have been urged to consider starting a robust human rights movement in order to address racial inequities.

The call came from Michelle Alexander, visiting American civil rights lawyer who gave the keynote address at a conference on racial justice this past weekend.

Dr Alexander warned Bermuda not to follow the path taken by her country which had created a racist criminal justice system resulting in the mass incarceration of African Americans and devastation of black communities.

In ending her address she said that it was important to challenge several myths including the “myth that some of us are unworthy of genuine care and compassion” if racial justice is to be achieved in America.

“Until we challenge that core myth we will continue to have systems of racial and social control emerge over and over again, systems of discrimination and exclusion that define who the unworthy people are,” she said.

Dr Alexander said that a movement was needed because the system was deeply entrenched in the economic, political and social structures of the United States.

And she referred to Dr Martin Luther King who had said that without basic human rights, civil rights were an empty promise.

“I hope that those of us in the United States will build a human rights movement of education not incarceration, of jobs not jail cells,” she said.

“And I hope that this movement will be joined by people around the world, people in Bermuda, people in South Africa, people in communities around the world which are increasingly ripped by a punitive impulse towards poor communities of colour, rather than extending them care, compassion and concern.”

She went on to say that change in the US could not come about by “tinkering” with the system.

“The ultimate aim of a major social movement is cultural transformation not mere rule shifting,” she said.

Dr Alexander continued: “For here in Bermuda, I think the question is whether what is needed is tinkering with your criminal justice systems or any of your other institutions or whether it is possible that a more profound social and cultural transformation is needed.

“And if a more profound cultural and social transformation is needed, it is going to be necessary to engage in advocacy and to force conversations that the overwhelming majority of people would prefer not to have.

“I will stand with you in your efforts to define what racial justice means in Bermuda and I hope that you will stand with those of us in the United States who are seeking to break this cycle of caste in America and find a way to force a public consensus, a new moral consensus that honours the dignity and humanity of each and every one of us no matter who we are or what we might have done.”

The call was well received by many of those who attended the conference organised by Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda.

Shannon Tucker, a client of the Transitional Living Center, spoke about his tangle with the justice system and sounded a sceptical tone.

He said the conference was an opportunity to get his views heard. Mr Tucker who admitted having dealt drugs, had told the conference his story which included what he said was an unjust imprisonment

“I have been to lawyers, I’ve tried every legal way and just been shut down from only my past history and my appearance,” he told

The Royal Gazette.

“If they’re truthful about what they say they want to do, it should have a very big impact,” he said when asked what impact the conference would have. “But from what I’ve seen in the past, it’s just like a sad song. But hopefully, this is different.”

CURB President Cordell Riley, lawyer Kevin Comeau and Family Centre executive director Martha Dismont also addressed the conference which was designed to explore structural racism in systems, policies and institutions, while providing concrete ways of moving forward.

Other panellists and presenters were Pastor Leroy Bean, founder of the group CARTEL, Transitional Living Centre Executive Director Sharon Swan, community activist Gladwyn Simmons and Keith Lawrence, project manager of the US based Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change.

Go to www.royalgazette.com for an audio of Attorney General Kim Wilson and Dr Michelle Alexander’s speeches.

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Published April 02, 2012 at 10:00 am (Updated April 02, 2012 at 10:12 am)

Racial justice conference hears impassioned call to address imbalances

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