Letitia* was home alone one night when police officers broke into her apartment, dragged her out of bed, and demanded to know where the drugs were. She had no idea what they were talking about. When she couldn’t answer their questions, they beat her and arrested her. They had no warrant. 

Several years later, Letitia’s “criminal history” has prevented her from getting a job that pays a living wage. After her car recently broke down, she has started to have to Uber to work, an expense that cuts her daily pay by one-third. All the while, she has slid into debt, because of supporting her children’s college educations. 

Letitia’s story was just one of many told at a recent gathering of participants in the ACLU of Louisiana’s Guaranteed Income pilot project. This project brings together participants from our Justice Lab who have suffered from racially discriminatory policing practices in Louisiana. The participants in the Guaranteed Income program live in the parishes of Jefferson and Caddo, where police routinely act unconstitutionally and with impunity. All participants have been victimized by police but have not received any settlement or support of any kind as a result of the police abuse. Louisiana’s archaic one-year statute of limitations and qualified immunity are common legal barriers that prevent survivors of police misconduct from filing cases.

This program is funded by Deacon Leroy Close and Gracie Close, siblings who with the ACLU of Louisiana, have explored their ancestors’ role in enslaving people and in the slave trade. They are descendants of enslavers who owned plantations and later operated cotton mills in Fort Mill, SC. Through our Truth and Reconciliation program, Leroy and Gracie committed to supporting 12 participants with $1,000 a month for twelve months, as well as wraparound services such as free counseling, expungement clinics, financial literacy and career services workshops. We hosted focus groups with our Guaranteed Income participants in late August and early November to understand the context of their lives and their needs. Through conversations with the participants, we gathered insights into the impact of police misconduct on the lives of survivors and used those takeaways to create our holistic programming. 

The first police force was created in Charleston, South Carolina, as a patrol to catch enslaved people who attempted to escape their conditions of bondage. Our hope is that this pilot program creates proof of concept for a transfer of wealth from the descendants of enslavers, to those who suffer from the vestiges of slavery. The Guaranteed Income program will support the Justice Lab’s goals to use litigation, legislative and narrative campaigns to address unconstitutional, racist policing. Our hope is that this program empowers physical, emotional, and economic security for recipients, and begins planting the seeds for an offensive strategy for dismantling the prison industrial complex.

On December 1, our first round of payments were distributed. Our cohort of participants makes up a tapestry of homeowners, entrepreneurs, and hardworking parents and grandparents, all with unique stories and aspirations for the future. Some of our participants’ dreams include filing an LLC for a new business, restoring family property, celebrating a recent marriage, paying off property taxes, and seeking higher education. We will continue to update you on our progress and learnings from transferring wealth in service of restorative justice. 

*Name was changed to protect the victim’s identity.