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America’s Misdemeanor Problem Wednesday August 4 at 9am on Peace & Justice

Written by on Sunday, August 1, 2021

This Wednesday, August 4 at 9am, we’ll play part of the film RACIALLY CHARGED: America’s Misdemeanor Problem, created by Brave New Films. Then we’ll talk to one of the film’s producers, Casey Johnson. Casey also produced the film Suppressed 2020: The Fight to Vote.

RACIALLY CHARGED: America’s Misdemeanor Problem exposes how our country’s history of racial injustice evolved into an enormous abuse of power within the justice system. 13 million people a year – most of them poor and people of color – are caught in this system.

Told through parallel first-person accounts of those charged under the Black Codes of the Reconstruction Era, to the heartbreaking stories from people caught up in the system today, the film brings to light the unfolding of a powerful engine of inequality and profit that personifies the birth of Black Lives Matter while shedding new light on our history of wrongful convictions with deadly consequences.

In addition to the first-person accounts, the film showcases key analysis from experts in the fields of law, criminal justice, and historical racism.


The biggest misconception about misdemeanors is that they are minor. This could not be further from the truth. There are hundreds of thousands of misdemeanor laws. Every jurisdiction uses them to regulate all kinds of conduct but there are some that are clearly unfair and mostly skewed by wealth and by race.


Many of the most problematic misdemeanors that we grapple with today have been around for hundreds of years, and in this country in particular, have a really sordid history. After the Civil War, Southern states repurposed their misdemeanor systems essentially to criminalize and control African- Americans. The mechanism that they used is one that we still see today.


The business of misdemeanor criminal justice is an 80-billion dollar industry and it is not just going to private players. 90 cents of every one of those 80-billion dollars goes to a public institution – courts,prosecutors, publicly managed institutions, prison guards, wardens – feeding an entire economy (much the way slavery did). The economics incentivize us to be tough on crime.


One of the things we are learning now is just how disproportionately low-level offenses that most people don’t even think of as crimes are enforced against African-Americans and this becomes an entry into the criminal justice system that they may never break free from. Even more disturbing is the frequency in which these arrests turn violent, or deadly — sparking protests and sometimes racial terrorism.


Covid-19 requires Americans to think hard about what is unjust and disproportionate punishment. It is a question that ethicists have tried to tackle for millennia, but has been given added urgency during the pandemic as correctional facilities have become the nation’s hot spots, not only due to the overcrowding but also because of the cycling in and out of jails for low-level misdemeanor charges.