Actions in Faith and Justice working to address school to prison pipeline

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 17, 2019

SALISBURY — Since 2017, Actions in Faith and Justice has used a painful part of Rowan County’s history — the Aug. 6, 1906, lynchings of three black men — to push for systemic change.

Through commemorative programs held in August in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, the group has worked to shed light on racial disparities across the nation. Its efforts have supported a community commitment to address inequality, including the “Resolution of Reconciliation” adopted by the Salisbury City Council on Jan. 15.

On Aug. 3, the group will kick off an effort to address another inequity through the formation of the School Justice Partnership, an interagency effort to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.

The 1906 lynchings took the lives of three African-American men who were suspects in a murder. A mob numbering in the thousands forcefully took the three from the Rowan County jail before hanging and shooting them in an area known as Henderson Woods.

Actions in Faith and Justice began facilitating dialogue about the tragedy in 2017 with a service of remembrance. The service was followed in 2018 with a screening of the documentary “An Outrage: The History of Lynching in the American South.”

By exploring this painful part of history, Actions in Faith and Justice committee member Susan Lee said, an understanding became clear.

“Race equity issues are ongoing,” Lee said. “The process of lynching never ended, it just evolved.”

According to “An Outrage” filmmakers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, it evolved into sometimes subtle discrimination or injustice. Other, more outward evolutions include institutional racism and police brutality.

Actions in Faith and Justice’s August programs and the ensuing community dialogue led to the City Council’s adoption of the “Resolution of Reconciliation,” with condemned the 1906 lynchings, the murder for which the three men were standing trial and other manifestations of injustice. The resolution calls for racial reconciliation throughout the city.

Working toward reconciliation 

Actions in Faith and Justice’s Aug. 3 program, scheduled from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Salisbury Civic Center, will kick off the development of an interagency partnership meant to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.

According to School Justice Partnership of North Carolina, 40% of referrals to the juvenile justice system are school-based. Youths of color are 2.5 times more likely to be referred and 1.5 times more likely to be placed in confinement than white youths.

Such treatment for minor misconduct increases the likelihood that youths will reoffend. Confinement increases the risk that a youth will be rearrested as an adult — thus creating the school-to-prison pipeline.

The School Justice Partnership is designed to help the school system, law enforcement agencies and the court system work together to create strategies that address student misconduct in the school system and the community rather than in the justice system.

These partnerships can help reduce suspensions and court referrals, keep students on track and accountable, and increase student achievement and graduation rates.

The kick-off will once more serve as a time of commemoration and learning from the past, all while helping educate the public on ways the community can move forward.

“What’s called for is concerted action,” said Lee. “As stakeholders, we can support our schools. …  The School Justice program is really a blueprint of how we can make an impact. Once we establish it, it will  be an ongoing program.”