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An End of Year Message from SCHR Board Chair James Kwak

Dear Friends of the Southern Center for Human Rights, 

Most of us have never lived through a year like 2020 before. This has been a year of omnipresent tragedy and uncounted acts of heroism, of the most astonishing failures of governmental leadership and the most inspiring collective demands for racial justice. It has been a year that has further exposed and exacerbated the systematic inequality and injustice that pervade our society, as stock markets soared while communities of people experiencing poverty and People of Color suffered the brunt of the personal and economic devastation wreaked by COVID-19.   

The Southern Center for Human Rights has never experienced a year like 2020 before, either. It began with the extraordinary clemency granted to our client Jimmy Meders by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles the very day of his scheduled execution. It continued with the onslaught of COVID-19 and another wave of needless killings of Black people by the police and vigilantes.  

The logistical and emotional burdens on our staff, many of whom are personally familiar with racism and police violence, have been tremendous. Yet, while taking on new childcare responsibilities and grappling with the latest manifestations of systemic racism in America, they only took on more work, organizing the defense of people arrested during antiracism protests and fighting to protect people trapped in jails from a deadly virus.   

This has been an extraordinary year. But there is nothing extraordinary about racism and injustice in the criminal legal system. Whether the economy is up or down, whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, whether we have a vaccine for COVID-19 or not, the criminal legal system continues to oppress poor people and racial minorities People of Color, causing millions of dollars of excessive fines and fees, hundreds of thousands of unnecessary jail stays, thousands of excessive years of prison sentences, hundreds of avoidable police killings, and dozens of cruel executions.     

The cause of justice is always urgent. The Southern Center will always stand for equality, dignity, and justice in the criminal legal system and for a world free of the evils of the death penalty, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of poverty.  

You are part of that fight. Your support defends Black men sentenced to death by all-white juries, overturns excessive prison sentences, helps people in jails assert their right to vote, shines a spotlight on abuses in jails and prisons, and campaigns against legislation that would make the criminal legal system harsher and less fair.  

Our victories are your victories. When a federal judge orders the Department of Corrections to improve conditions at a horrific jail or prison, it is because of you. When an elderly Black man walks out of prison, freed from a life sentence for drug offenses that was imposed almost exclusively on Black peoples, it is because of you. 

We will continue to fight. We are counting on you to continue to fight as well. Please make a contribution or help spread the word about our work. Today. 

Thank you for being our partner in the struggle for justice. We wish you and your family the very best this holiday season. 

With warmest regards, 

SCHR Board Chair James Kwak