The BREATHE Act

America’s “justice” system is broken. If the events of the last year haven’t cemented that notion in your head yet, our latest episode with Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps will.

During our conversation with Alec, he made two dramatic—and accurate—points. First, our justice system is not designed to mete out justice, promote public safety, or remove the dangerous elements from our society. Instead, it is created by the wealthy and powerful to protect their interests at the cost of everyone else, and it has been doing an outstanding job for almost a century. The second point might be harder to swallow for many: our criminal justice reform efforts are a farce that almost always causes more harm than good.

“Many of the people who are leading criminal justice reformers are the very same people who built this mass incarceration, bureaucracy, the very same people profited from it and who still profit from it,” Alec told Mila during their sobering conversation. “And what these people are trying to do is use the label of reform to perpetuate many of the same practices and injustices with different labels.”

Essentially, we aren’t fixing anything because tinkering with a racist, broken system still leaves you with the same system at the end of the day.

Enter the BREATHE Act.  The new bill, initially proposed by the Movement for Black Lives, represents the kind of structural overhaul we so desperately need. Instead of the usual “justice reform” Alec decried in our interview, the BREATHE Act is a landmark piece of legislation that could genuinely change the justice system if adopted.

The BREATHE Act has the support of prominent progressive lawmakers Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The Act seeks to address the specific injustices felt by people of color around the US, but all Americans will benefit from it. Its proposals include:

• Ending qualified immunity for police officers—a tool police around the country use to avoid accountability for their often brutal actions.

• Removing mandatory minimum sentencing, an oppressive policy responsible for America’s high incarceration rates.

• Providing felons the right to vote.

• Creating grant programs to incentivize alternative measures for public safety that don’t involve police (defunding the police).

• Working towards prison abolition.

• Creating grant programs to address systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental racism, and unfair housing practices.

• Examining reparations.

Although the BREATHE ACT has not been passed, it represents a sea-change in our thinking about justice. Instead of band-aids to the festering wounds of police violence and systemic racism, the proposals laid out in the BREATHE Act seek to dismantle the most offensive and brutal aspects of our justice system and build something that protects the public without infringing on our most basic rights.

To be clear: the BREATHE Act is not looking to abolish public safety or create a lawless new America, but it does seek to change our justice system on every level. The BREATHE Act removes the parts of our justice system involved in population control and property protection for the masses. It replaces them with compassionate, common-sense ideas that will make our communities safer and alleviate the crushing burdens of systemic racism and economic inequality.

The BREATHE Act is a progressive masterpiece that aims to put America on a course for equality, liberty, and happiness for all.

WORKS CITED

“The BREATHE Act Federal Bill Proposal.” The Breathe Act, Movement for Black Lives, breatheact.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/The-BREATHE-Act-V.16_.pdf. 

“The History Of Policing And Race In The U.S. Are Deeply Intertwined.” NPR, NPR, 13 June 2020, www.npr.org/2020/06/13/876628302/the-history-of-policing-and-race-in-the-u-s-are-deeply-intertwined. 

Jada.harvey. Law and Justice in Real Time How Race and Social Class Ties into Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Comments. Washington State University, 14 Sept. 2015, hub.wsu.edu/law-justice-realtime/2015/09/14/how-race-and-social-class-ties-into-mandatory-minimum-sentencing/. 

Lopez, German. “The State of Ex-Felons’ Voting Rights, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 18 Sept. 2020, www.vox.com/voting-rights/21440014/prisoner-felon-voting-rights-2020-election. 

“Qualified Immunity: Explained.” The Lab by the Appeal, theappeal.org/the-lab/explainers/qualified-immunity-explained/. 

Ray, Rashawn. “What Does ‘Defund the Police’ Mean and Does It Have Merit?” Brookings, Brookings, 3 May 2021, www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/06/19/what-does-defund-the-police-mean-and-does-it-have-merit/. 

“Think Prison Abolition in America Is Impossible? It Once Felt Inevitable | Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 May 2018, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/19/prison-abolition-america-impossible-inevitable. 

“What America Owes: How Reparations Would Look and Who Would Pay.” ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/Business/america-owes-reparations-pay/story?id=72863094. 

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