Rosa_Parks_Booking

This morning, I took my eye off the prize. I succumbed to surface and to common narrative.

“60-years ago today Rosa Parks sat on a bus, held a mirror up to a racist United States, changed history,” I tweeted.

What I said was true … but it was reductive. And it was in fewer than 140 characters. For a moment, I settled.

We need courageous historical moments as way-markers and inspiration in the ongoing fight for equality, and we mustn’t mistake them for job done or mission accomplished. What she started, we must still continue.

“Social justice requires social action,” says Mike Lee, Executive Director of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) an organisation with whom I am allied and who responded to my tweet by pointing out that since Rosa Parks was fingerprinted and booked into jail, over 70 million people have joined her in law enforcement and FBI criminal databases.

“Rosa Parks was arrested while demanding social equity,” wrote PLSE in an email this morning. “This creation of her criminal record is often cited as the tipping point for the civil rights movement of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and beyond.”

Rosa Parks changed history but she didn’t heal all social ills.

70 million is quite the acumulation of permanent information. Quite a new order of magnitude in state control. Have the advances we’ve made in employment opportunity, and even educational opportunity, been met with anything close to equality within the machine of criminal justice? I don’t think so. Permanent records have permanent effects and debilitate people in their efforts to move forward in life with secure housing, jobs and access to social services.

“It is estimated that one in five Philadelphians has a criminal record,” says PLSE which has, in recent years, expunged over 5,500 criminal records in Philadelphia County for 3,000 low-income individuals. PLSE conducted over 200 educational know-your-rights workshops about criminal records creation, dissemination and destruction. It has donated over $5,000,000 of pro bono legal representation and facilitated 900 hours of AmeriCorps community service in expungement hearing representation. PLSE settled two employment discrimination cases based on criminal history.

Let’s honour Rosa Parks in a continuation of her fight for equal rights. Let’s act, not just talk. Do, not just ‘Like’. And perhaps today, on Giving Tuesday, Give?

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