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Black Lives Matter’s big step

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Peniel Joseph: Movement for Black Lives agenda calls for the systemic overhaul of the criminal justice system

Agenda seeks to re imagine "black humanity and dignity" in the 21st century, he says

Editor’s Note: Peniel Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Political Values and Ethics and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently “Stokely: A Life” The views expressed here are his own.

CNN —  

Unfocused. Misdirected. Those are just a couple of the kinder words used by some critics of Black Lives Matter to describe the movement.

But it isn’t just staunch critics who have appeared to express skepticism over the movement’s focus. Last year, for example, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during an exchange with activists: “Your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair…But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, ‘Here’s what we want done about it.’”

“…Because in politics, if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on its shelf,” she continued.

Peniel Joseph
Kelvin Ma/Tufts University/Kelvin Ma/Tufts University
Peniel Joseph

Maybe they were stung by that last point, maybe they weren’t. But either way, the Movement for Black Lives has gone a long way toward responding to that perceived shortcoming with the release of a new report, one that marks an important new phase in the growth, development, and sustainability of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Published to coincide with the upcoming two-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, that triggered national demonstrations focused on institutional racism in the criminal justice system, “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice” includes dozens of thoughtful policy recommendations designed to promote concrete, real-world solutions to racial and economic inequality.

The sprawling agenda broadly focuses on six themes: ending the war on black people; reparations; divest-invest; economic justice; community control; and political power.

At its most radical, “A Vision for Black Lives,” advocates reparations for slavery, educational discrimination and environmental racism in the “form of full and free access for all Black people” to lifelong education. More pragmatically, the agenda calls for the systemic overhaul of the criminal justice system, including “an end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees” and other related charges that financially cripple poor black defendants.

The movement’s vision of a racial justice focuses on balancing substantial new investments in “the education, health, and safety” of black lives, while redirecting federal, state, and local resources designed to contain, cage and control the nation’s most vulnerable racially segregated and economically devastated communities.