Photo by United Justice Coalition
Roc Nation held its second annual United Justice Coalition Summit at the Javits Center in New York City on Friday (Dec. 1). The event, which had 3,000 attendees, brought together legal experts, political leaders and community advocates for the purpose of advancing equality and justice in society.
Speakers for the event included New York Attorney General Letitia James, Fat Joe, Charlamagne Tha God, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Angela Rye, Tamika Mallory, Soledad O’Brien, CNN chief legal analyst Laura Coates, and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke of the U.S. Department of Justice.
More than 60 national and local non-profit organizations -- including REFORM Alliance, Last Prisoner Project, Innocence Project and Gathering for Justice -- were in attendance to offer programs and resources for all attendees to advocate for change in their respective communities. The summit also included an art gallery that told stories of activism.
Fat Joe, who introduced a panel featuring the families of Sean Bell and DJ Henry -- both victims of police shootings -- spoke about how Hip-Hop plays a central role in addressing the vast disparities of the prison system as one of the most popular global cultures.
“I never knew that we would be here 50 years later and I never thought that I would be in a space like this talking about prison reform,” Joe told BET.com. "We’re giving back to our communities. As a young kid, I was just trying to make it out of a bad circumstance. Now, I’m thinking about how to improve our neighborhoods.”
“Mass incarceration means slavery when you work in a prison as an inmate for $1.12 a week and a candy bar costs $1.50. There are Black and brown people who are in jail for 50 years for something that they did when they were teenagers. I think people can change and many have learned their lesson after being locked up for one mistake. We have to address that issue.”
Charlamagne Tha God moderated a panel about mental health treatment in the criminal justice system and shared that Black media has an obligation to put the spotlight on issues that negatively impact our communities.
“It’s about amplification. We have to put the light and the cameras on the people who know what they're talking about,” Charlamagne said. “On my platforms, it's imperative for me to always have the experts on. I'm just a person who has some experience and I can tell my story from experience. But I'm not an expert in any of these things. Mental health is my passion but I'm not an expert in that or criminal justice reform. But I can bring all the experts to all my outlets.”
Dyson stated that reparations should be an essential platform of any candidate who wants Black votes in 2023. The New York Times bestselling author believes that reparations to Black Americans are “long overdue.”
“We need reparations, and we need to have reparations in many forms. Look, I would love to see Negroes not have to pay taxes for the next 50 years. That's a form of reparation,” Dyson argued. "We saw the work they’re doing in Evanston, Illinois where they gave Black residents $25,000 who could provide their ancestry, and in California. So there are creative ways in which we can address the issue in our society.”
Coates emphasized women's role in justice reform, noting that the role of women of color -- historically, present day and in the future -- is all tied to justice. She also reiterated that all politics are local and justice issues should be at the forefront of the upcoming 2024 election.
“The presidential election certainly is the sexiest of elections but it's the state and local that are going to matter as well," Coates said. "Remember, voting rights are tied to the local jurisdictions as well abortion is tied to the state's issues.”
“There are so many things that matter to people such as housing insecurity, the economy, and everything is tied to elections and its part of justice. If we do not tackle the things economically, politically, and legally that impact our day-to-day lives, we have no power.”
In addition to panel discussions and sessions, an immersive art gallery with short films, books, and artwork highlighting the stories of activism was on display throughout the summit.
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