On this day 155 years ago, a U.S. general marched into Galveston, Texas, carrying an order from President Abraham Lincoln. All enslaved men, women and children were now free, General Order No. 3 declared.
The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed in 1863, but it took more than two years to relay the message to the Lone Star State, where an estimated 250,000 people were still being held as slaves — a devastatingly long delay that feels strikingly emblematic of our country’s sluggishness in righting its racial wrongs.
As a journalist in Galveston, I wrote about a movement to make June 19 a national holiday. I interviewed Samuel Collins III of Hitchcock, who hosted a Juneteenth celebration each year at Stringfellow Orchards, a historic site once owned by a Confederate veteran, that Collins and his wife transformed into a living history lesson.
Collins told me then, “All of us can benefit from what Juneteenth represents. We are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain of the community.”
That was 13 years ago, but Collins’ words feel especially poignant today amid a pandemic waging a deadlier toll on Black communities and the continued brutality of Black individuals — especially Black men — at the hands of police and a broken criminal justice system.
Want to learn more? Read about the nation’s oldest celebration of the abolition of slavery at Juneteenth.com and check out this oped from Rodney Ellis, a Harris County commissioner, on why he's cautiously optimistic that "America is finally ready to have a reckoning on race."
A Back-to-School Pop Quiz
With college kids preparing to return to their campuses, the time is nigh for Congress to put on its own thinking caps. Before the fall semester starts, federal lawmakers should ask themselves three important questions:
If schools can’t stay open, can they close in a way that protects students and taxpayers? “Congress must ensure measures of rigorous oversight of institutions' financial health,” writes Kelly McManus, AV’s Director of Higher Education.
Can schools provide high-quality online education? With social distancing still the mantra in many areas, virtual education isn’t going anywhere soon, amplifying the need for a stronger regulatory structure, guidance and better oversight into distance learning.
Can we prevent a rise in predatory institutions? If the 2008 recession was any indication, for-profit institutions will seek to exploit the weakened economy. Policymakers must step in, “hold the line on existing consumer protection standards” and maybe even create a secret shopper program to root out bad behavior.
Related: The surge in for-profit colleges is troubling. Many have poor graduation rates and often don't make good on their promise for quality education, usually leaving students in the lurch. Student protection groups like Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School are sounding the alarm.
The Quiet Part of the Revolution
In the last few weeks alone, Americans have donated $90 million to community bond funds to ensure protesters aren’t held in jail. This massive demonstration of support is also a rebuke of the bond system, which forces people to cough up often unaffordable amounts of money if they want to leave jail before trial.
Yes, you read that right: Even though people are legally innocent at this stage, they have to pay for the right to leave jail, or they're locked behind bars for days, weeks, months, and in some horrifying cases, years. Right now, hundreds of thousands of people are sitting in jails across America because they can't come up with the money to bond out. A startling number of them will plead guilty just to go home and keep their jobs and families intact. A disproportionate number of them are people of color.
But what if well-meaning supporters no longer had to bond people out? What if the system was radically different, and a person's experience in the criminal justice system didn't depend on how much money they had? Arnold Ventures sat down with Mimi Carter and Alison Shames, who co-lead the Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research project, to hear about the work they're doing with jurisdictions committed to creating fairer, more just pretrial systems.
What We're Reading
America’s Wild West healthcare pricing system is coming under fresh scrutiny during the pandemic. Sarah Kliff with the New York Times is out with a new piece exposing the irrationality of pricing, with a coronavirus test costing $100 in one lab and $2,315 in another.
The pandemic has led to a documented spike in gun sales. In a new oped in USA Today, AV’s Executive VP of Criminal Justice Jeremy Travis and RAND’s Andrew Morral argue that this run on guns underscores the need for more research about gun safety.
The state-budget train crash, why this collision course of low tax revenue and high demand could mean "savage cuts to public services." Through no fault of their own, state budgets are out of control and are about to hit the buffers.
In a provocative interview, Nikki Jones, Ph.D., professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Advancing Pretrial Policy & Research (APPR) that our country has long focused on implicit biases in law enforcement – but research is starting to show that explicit biases shape police interactions with the Black community.
CBS News’ one-hour primetime special “Justice for All” that delves into systemic racism and police brutality is another must-watch, according to my colleague Nikki Smith-Kea, who also opened up about conversations she’s been having with her son. "Mommy," he asked her. "Will there be another Martin Luther King Jr.? He tried to stop this years ago, and it seems like it didn't work?"
Struggling with how to talk to your kids about racial injustice? I gleaned some useful conversation starters from the CNN/Sesame Street town hall, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism.” Enlightening for bigs and littles alike.
Some Final Inspiration
Platypuses are returning after the devastating Australian fires in a New York Times story that our VP of Communications Jennifer Sizemore described as the uplifting tale of hope and rebirth we all need right now. “If only we could take such good care of each other,” she told me. Amen.
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