September 7th marked the first Friday of the Windows on the World series. Guest speaker Reverend Dominique DuBois Gilliard spoke on the prison system and the problem with mass incarceration. Having authored the book “Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice the Restores” as well as several other books, Reverend Gilliard was able to call for Eastern University students to rethink incarceration. Defining slavery as a racial and social control issue, Reverend Gilliard argued for recognition of the clear link between mass incarceration and race. His talk focused on the realities of America’s recent past, issues that remain as a result currently, and the malpractice of the criminal justice system throughout it all.
A lucrative business centered around sharecropping, lynching and a battery of restrictive laws known as the “black codes,” mass incarceration resulted not only from the War on Drugs, but from the criminal justice system historically supporting the degradation and total mistreatment of different races and ethnicities. As time allowed, Reverend Gilliard spoke on the consequences of these historical, unjust practices, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, the War on Drugs and the Church’s lack of care, call to action and compassion amidst it all.
Sharecropping emerged shortly after the abolition of slavery due to a need to supply white plantation owners with labor, and was a practice in which renting out a piece of land was exchanged for work with slave-like conditions and little-to-no income or return. Shortly thereafter, lynchings began to take place, a demonstration of white supremacy in which the unjustified killing of blacks became public spectacles and celebrations. Perhaps the most underhanded method through which the Southerners attempted to reinstall slavery and promote systemic racism, was the black codes, which were rewritten slave laws that were reinstated following the short Reconstruction period following the abolition of slavery. In a desperate need to stabilize the economy, the South created these laws which subjected those who were newly-freed to all types of injustices, promoting black criminality and leading to the rise of convict leasing.
Reverend Gilliard concluded his talk by appealing to those gathered to rethink incarceration, recognize the way which the American government and criminal justices system has promoted this systemic oppression, and choose consciously to advocate for the “least and the less than” Gilliard said.