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Criminal Justice Reform

August 15, 2021

Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, Author Michael Candelori, Source ttps://vimeo.com/216412159 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

  • There were 264 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial police officers killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2020;  there were 135 killed in 2019 [1A].
  • Overall, there are 22,217 names of fallen police officers inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., extending back to 1786 [1B].
  • Since 2015, police officers have fatally shot at least 135 unarmed black men and women, nationwide [2A].
  • At least 75% of the police officers involved in such shootings were white [2B].
  • At least 6 of the police officers involved in such shootings had histories of drug use, domestic violence, or other troubling behavior.  Several were convicted of crimes like battery while on the force, but retained their jobs [2C].
  • These deaths are all in the context of 10 million arrests, annually [3].

The issue of criminal justice reform is a thorny one.  To begin with, there is little or no agreement about what actually constitutes reform.

Self-serving agendas, political ambitions, and appeals to prejudice rather than rational argument further complicate the situation.  Shrill voices have been raised on all sides

For many of us, the prospect of “defunding the police”, as the slogan goes, is terrifying.  What is meant by this phrase, also, though varies.

For some, the phrase implies reduced police budgets with funds redistributed toward neglected social services such as housing, education, employment, and mental health [4].

Others feel police departments should be entirely disbanded, then policing re-imagined and redefined.

In an effort to reduce America’s high incarceration rate, progressive prosecutors like Kim Foxx of Chicago, Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, George Gascon of Los Angeles, and Larry Krasner of Philadelphia have taken to implementing less punitive policies [5][6].

Exercising prosecutorial discretion, they have declined to bring charges for simple drug possession or prostitution, eliminated the necessity of bail for minor crimes, ended the prosecution of juveniles as adults, and/or refused to seek the death penalty.

Results are mixed.  In Philadelphia, the city’s jailed population has dropped by more than 30% [5B].  Its murder rate has meanwhile risen by approximately 43% [5C].  There are, of course, many factors impacting such statistics.

What are Christians to make of this turmoil?

Some would argue for a “social justice” gospel, in line with secular liberal thought [7].  Certainly, social justice – depending on its definition (which can vary radically) – is not inconsistent with the gospel [8].

But the gospel is, above all else, a spiritual message.  The promise of Salvation has eternal ramifications which both undergird and supersede social justice.

But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5: 24).

[1A and 1B]  ABC News, “Honoring the fallen:  264 officers killed in line of duty in 2020 with COVID deaths top cause”, 1/11/21, https://wjla.com/news/local/honoring-the-fallen-police-officers-killed-in-the-line-of-duty.

[2A, 2B, and 2C]  National Public Radio (NPR), “Fatal Police Shootings of Unarmed Black People Reveal Troubling Patterns” by Cheryl Thompson, 1/25/21, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/25/956177021/fatal-police-shootings-of-unarmed-black-people-reveal-troubling-patterns.

[3]  Statista, “Number of arrests for all offenses in the United States from 1990 to 2019” by Erin Duffin, 9/28/20, https://www.statista.com/statistics/191261/number-of-arrests-for-all-offenses-in-the-us-since-1990/.

[4]  Good Housekeeping (GH), “What Does ‘Defund the Police’ Mean?  Here’s the Meaning Behind the Rallying Cry” by Hannah Jeon, 7/22/20, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a33024951/defund-the-police-meaning/.

[5A, 5B, and 5C]  The Atlantic, “Why Larry Krasner’s Defeat Would Be a ‘Defeat’ for Criminal-Justice Reform” by Russell Berman, 5/3/21, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/05/larry-krasner-philadelphia-criminal-justice-reform/618764/.

[6]  PBS, “Philly DA”, 4/20/21, https://www.pbs.org./independentlens/films/philly-da/.

[7]  Wikipedia, “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statement_on_Social_Justice_and_the_Gospel.

[8]  Shared Hope International, “Biblical Justice & Social Justice” by Christine Erickson, 6/4/18, https://sharedhope.org/2018/06/04/biblical-justice-and-social-justice/.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse https://avoicereclaimed.com

11 Comments
  1. There aren’t any easy answers to the criminal madness, are there? Without Christ, we are all lost.

    I am currently reading a book that I highly recommend: Inside the Robe: A Judge’s Candid Tale of Criminal Justice in America by Katherine Mader. This memoir, written by a recently retired judge from Los Angeles County, was published earlier this year. Her book is very candid indeed. She identifies as a secular Jew. Many of her relatives did not survive the holocaust. Her interest in criminal justice was rooted in her family history. I am about halfway through the book now, and her insider’s take on the criminal justice system in this country is both enlightening and discouraging.

    Again, as I see it, Christ is the only answer to the mess we humans have made of this world.

    • I wholeheartedly agree, Linda. One thing I learned as a lawyer was that there is very little justice in this world.

  2. Ah, Amos is my favourite ‘Minor Prophet,’ actually a major one! As relevant today as it always was. Yep, a purely ‘social gospel’ will not do the trick. The Good News, in its biblical fullness, is what we need to stand for, even if it’s not very popular today. ‘New creations in Christ.’

    Such a mammoth task. ‘Lord, have mercy, and give grace and wisdom.’ Thanks Anna.

  3. I read somewhere that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the Islamism she saw practiced in Afghanistan. There’s no doubt in my mind that the debacle Biden and the military have made of their departure after twenty years (!!) there will be a disaster for women and children. May God help them.

  4. sadly throwing in the towel and heading off to a cave or an empty island someplace while telling the last one out of the nation to cut out the lights seems to be pretty much how I feel

    • I am much of the same mind, Julie. The issues w/ which the world is confronted are both discouraging and confounding. And they multiply daily. Our hope though is in Christ. He remains sovereign.

  5. Many years ago I resigned myself to accept the awful truth that there is no true justice in this world. This has been proven countless times as we witness corruption and treachery overwhelm our justice system.
    Justice in the hands of sinful men is a fallacy because in the eyes of man it can be bought for a price. God’s justice,however, is meted out in truth and righteousness because His motives are pure and undefiled.
    It is in Him that we must place our hope and confidence for an eternity where greed, corruption, vice, and lies will never be found.

    • Well said, Ron. That does not, of course, mean that we should not strive for justice. Scripture instructs us to oppose oppression, defend the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause (Isa. 1: 17).

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