With a new presidential administration taking office in Washington, here in Louisiana we are ramping up our work to dismantle racial injustice and build a stronger, more equitable future for everyone.
Without question, a Biden administration is an opportunity to turn the page on a Trump era characterized by a flagrant disregard for the rule of law and a harmful manifestation of the racism and cruelty that have pervaded American life for hundreds of years.
President Biden has already begun to roll back some of Donald Trump’s most harmful and discriminatory policies – a testament to the millions of Americans who marched, organized, and voted to defend our democracy.
But the systemic challenges that plague our country did not begin with Donald Trump’s presidency and they won’t end with Joe Biden’s inauguration. Especially here in Louisiana, a state with the country’s highest incarceration rate, rampant racial profiling, and an epidemic of police violence – Black and Brown communities continue to live in the shadow of Jim Crow.
We approach the work that lies ahead with a hopeful spirit and energized by love. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. courageously reminds us that hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.
That is why 2021 will be a year of sowing seeds of love in our community through intensive and collaborative work by our affiliate. We have an ambitious, multi-pronged agenda fueled by our deep commitment to empower communities of color and dismantle racial injustice, which will need every ounce of your heart’s support.
Here are a few of our top priorities for 2021:
- Pretrial Incarceration. Our landmark Justice Can’t Wait report shined a spotlight on Louisiana’s pretrial justice system, which incarcerates thousands of people for months and even years on the mere accusation of a crime. Most people held in parish jails in Louisiana are accused of low-level offenses, and are being held for no other reason than their inability to afford bail. This year, we will work in the Legislature to combat this harmful practice and reduce the number of people who languish in jail awaiting trial.
- Police Accountability. Louisiana has the highest ratio of police officers-to-residents of any state in the country and an epidemic of police violence that disproportionately impacts communities of color. This year, as our Justice Lab initiative works to file cases on behalf of individuals victimized by racist policing, our advocacy department will be pressing lawmakers to reform laws that shield police from accountability. It’s time to end the era of police impunity once and for all.
- Immigrants' Rights. During the Trump administration, Louisiana became the epicenter of its mass detention agenda, with thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers warehoused in brutal conditions in remote private prisons. We’ve sued to challenge the unlawful detention of immigrants, and worked to expose the horrific conditions in these facilities. In 2021, the ACLU of Louisiana will continue to advocate on behalf of immigrant communities through both litigation and advocacy.
- Prosecutorial Accountability. Prosecutors are the most powerful players in the criminal legal system – and too many of them operate with little oversight or accountability, perpetuating failed “tough on crime” policies that devastate Black and Brown communities. In 2020, the voters of Orleans Parish sent a resounding message to the country when they elected District Attorney Jason Williams on a platform of bold, progressive reforms. Now the ACLU of Louisiana, alongside our coalition partners, plans to build on this momentum by holding Williams to his campaign promises, and educating communities around the state about the power of prosecutors – and the importance of holding them accountable at the ballot box.
- Freedom of speech. The freedom of speech is a founding principle of our country, and a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment. At the ACLU of Louisiana, we’ve focused on the intersection of racial justice and the freedom of speech – using the First Amendment to defend the rights of Black Lives Matter protesters like Deray Mckesson and journalists like Abdul Aziz. This work will continue in 2021 as we fight to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone.
- Voting rights. The right to vote is a bedrock of our democracy, but throughout the country and here in Louisiana, politicians continue to engage in voter suppression and other efforts to make it harder for people to make their voices heard. This includes the redistricting process, where elected officials are allowed to rig the electoral maps in their favor and shield themselves from being held accountable to voters. In 2021, we will continue to educate voters about their rights, break down barriers to the ballot box, and fight for fair maps.
None of this will be possible without the dedication and resolve of thousands of supporters, volunteers, and activists throughout the state who have committed themselves to building a stronger and more just Louisiana.
Let’s get to work.