Liz Loeb, Reclaiming Our History: Fair Hiring, Criminal Records, and a Legacy of Discrimination

Not every gets a fair chance in Minnesota.  We pride ourselves on being good neighbors and good community members, but we still live in a state that doesn’t really offer opportunity for all.

One out of every five Americans has a prior criminal record.  Current hiring practices make it almost impossible for someone with a prior record to get a job, no matter how hard you try, no matter how qualified you are, and no matter if your record has nothing to do with the job to which you’ve applied.  Steady work is one of the strongest factors in helping people put their lives back together after prison.  A new Pew study recently reported that Minnesota leads the nation in recidivism.  When you can’t find work after months and years of trying, going back into the system can become the only option.

This isn’t simply about fairness.  It’s about race, and it’s not an accident.  People of color bear the burdens of our criminal system at a staggeringly higher rate than white people .  People of color make up less than 15 percent of Minnesota’s total population but more than 46 percent of those in prison.  This is not because people of color commit more crimes, but because of proven patterns of racial profiling and a history of racial inequity in our country.

In the decades after World War II, banks out-right refused to invest in African-American communities.  This was called red-lining, and it created communities of intense poverty.  When the “War on Drugs” began in the 1970’s, police brought the brunt of violent enforcement straight down on these neighborhoods.   The “War on Drugs’ has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.

I’ve seen it in my own life.  Dozens of kids at my wealthy suburban high school in the mid-1990’s consumed and sold illegal drugs.  And yet, none of my friends were ever arrested.  Police weren’t in our schools.  If we were caught by an adult somehow, it was swept under the rug, a youthful mistake that wasn’t going to ruin our oh-so-bright and promising future.

It’s easy to become who you’re expected to become, for better and for worse.  Although we’ve inherited a legacy of racial violence and division, I know that by working and acting and building and learning together, we can write our own history.  We can change the script of who we’re all supposed to be by making common cause out of our diverse racial experiences, and by refusing to let the tactics of oppression pull us apart.

Today, Justice 4 All is launching a powerful campaign for fair hiring practices in Minnesota at the Urban Outreach and Research/Engagement Center in North Minneapolis.   Please join us to help make Minnesota a state that offers a fair chance to everyone.

Liz Loeb

Liz Loeb is a member of Take Action Minnesota and a leader with the Justice 4 All team.  She is also the Policy and Organizing Director of Protect Minnesota, a statewide organization working to end gun violence.

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