By Jeanne "Ginger" Betstock Stillman, UNA-SNY Vice President of Chapter Development and Former UNA-SNY Division President
On August 17, 2016, the UNA-USA Southern New York State Division held its third consultation on Race, Criminal Justice and Human Rights. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, former NYS Senator and now Special Advisor to Governor Cuomo for Policy and Community Affairs at Homes and Community Relations, joined in planning this program and gave remarks on the importance of our work together. Jeanne Betsock Stillman, organizer of the event, described interactions in 2016 between the United Nations and the U.S. related to race, criminal justice and human rights. These included visits to the U.S. and statements by the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and a letter from the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. All spoke to the positive elements they observed in U.S. policy and actions and their recommendations for change. Also important to the framing of the discussion was the Report of the President’s Task Force on Community Policing (2015). Troy Wolfe, UNA Education Director, introduced the small group discussions.
The event was held in the office of the UN Foundation in New York City. The 38 participants included clergy members, police officers and consultants, legislative staff, university faculty members and other educators, attorneys, staff of agencies assisting prisoners or those released from prison, experts in human trafficking and violence against women, public health specialists, Human Rights specialists, NGO representatives, UNA-USA chapter and Division leaders and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority members, and included several people who were formerly incarcerated.
After introductions Ms. Hassell-Thompson offered remarks on several topics she thought important for our meeting:
Troy Wolfe announced the small group topics and methods. The participants chose from: (1) the school to prison pipeline and related education issues; (2) housing for youth aging out of foster care and sick adults leaving prison; and (3) race and justice issues including community policing and courts and reintegration into the community. In a plenary session the each group reported on its discussions. Next steps are to spread widely the final report through the networks of participants and to send it to Ms. Hassell-Thompson with the aim that key ideas might be included in the Governor’s State of the State address and budget.