“And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz.” —KJV 1 Kings 7-21
The above quote speaks to the first building of the Temple by Solomon and King Hiram, which established the foundation to strengthen King Solomon’s rule in Jerusalem (City of Peace). It alludes to how religion and worship served to form a community recognizing the need for pillars to hold up the ethics and morality of social order. Today, these same principles apply when we look into the Black and minority community; generally it is the church, temples and mosques that are the foundation and pillars of the community. However, when considering the conditions of the community, we find ethics and morality in short supply. While the faith based institutions are the pillars from which security and stability are to be ensured, yet, the faith based institutions are more often found to be self-insular and abiding a system of government that from its very nature, in my opinion, is corrupt. In essence the pillars are corroded and crumbling, and the poor and oppressed peoples are suffering with little assistance from faith based institutions and government.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he charged the faith based community of ethical and moral bankruptcy, for their failure to challenge government laws of institutional racism. In his letter, Dr. King called for them to take the struggle to the streets, to protest and demonstrate as an expression of their faith and humanity. Over a period of time they responded, strengthening the civil rights movement, demanding the U.S. government to recognize it was not living up to its creed and motto. Right before his assassination, Dr. King came to the conclusion that the U.S. government is the greatest purveyor and harbinger of violence in the world. Fifty years after the advent of the civil rights movement, Dr. King’s words and determination ring ever more true!
In my book, We Are Our Own Liberators, in the chapter “Religion and Revolution,” I sought to speak to the issue of “liberation theology,” acknowledging that in 1999, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, called “for the end to jailing and killing of Black youth.” Unfortunately, since then, little has been done to reverse the continued flow of young Black and Brown men and women being ushered into the multi-billion dollar prison industry. While everyone knows the U.S. government confines more of its citizens than any other industrialized nation in the world, there has been little to no challenge to the root cause and effect o the proliferation of this inhumane growth industry. Although the progressive community has sought to support prisoners’ protests, such as in Lucasville, Ohio, Georgia, and Pelican Bay, California hunger strikers, the faith based institutions have been mostly absent and silent. There has been a disconnect and isolation, voiding a fundamental issue that faith based institutions should be circling around in an all out war challenging the ethical and moral fiber of U.S. racist political and judicial system.
Therefore, I am raising this concern as a challenge to the progressive community(s), for them to directly confront the institutional pillars of the community, the religious institutions, and demand they join in the prison abolitionist struggle. It is important to make this connection as a means to broaden the base of support in the community, and empower the struggles of prisoners seeking to serve their time without the threat of racist violence by prison guards, and to have fair and impartial parole systems. But just as importantly, to forge a working relationship that challenges the social and public policies that create conditions for crime and anti-social behavior to exist in the poor and oppressed communities. This means, to build bridges where creating alternative to prison is paramount, and young folks are encouraged to remain in school, establishing after school programs, and enjoining young people to become a part of the overall struggle, stemming the timed of their incarceration.
In light of the recent memorial of Dr. King (statue) in Washington, D.C., it seems fitting to up the ante in this second prison (slavery) abolitionist movement. Needless to say, this is a daunting challenge, but no more daunting than when Dr. King wrote his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Prisoners’ Rights are Human Rights!
In fierce struggle
Jalil A. Muntaqim