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Jackson joins Sewell for town hall on policing

Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation (SCNTR) Co-Founder and Executive Director Ainka Jackson on Tuesday joined U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, and other Alabama activists for a community conversation on policing amid the current unrest unfolding across the nation.

“The grief we feel is an understanding that, despite our struggle, the things we have to work so hard for don’t come without demand,” Sewell said as the virtual town hall, part of her “TerriTalks” series, got underway. “It is never lost on me that both racial violence and peaceful protest can exist side by side. We have seen time and again that peaceful protest is the way.”

Sewell lamented the fact that rabble-rousers have given the would-be peaceful protests a dark image in cities across the country, including Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile.

“I implore our community to remain focused and vigilant,” Sewell said. “I want to make sure we direct our righteous indignation at positive change.”

“We cannot let this moment be hijacked by looters,” Sewell added later. “Our democracy allows us to seek redress from our government when we’re unhappy and we’re unhappy.”

After a brief introduction of the activists on the line, Sewell turned to Jackson for an update from Selma, which she said faces one of her district’s biggest unemployment rates and still deals with “so many inequities.”

For her part, Jackson noted that SCNTR was established to fight all forms of violence, including racial or economic, and a look at the promulgation of that violence is necessary to move forward.

“I think our country has to come to terms with the violence that it inflicts and we inflict because of that violence,” Jackson said. “If we look at people’s behavior as a cry-out and address that root cause…that’s what restorative justice is about. I think those two things are something we have been working on in Selma.”

Jackson noted that the SCNTR has been working with local schools and public safety agencies on restorative justice, showing that justice can be more than punishment or imprisonment.

Jackson said that murders have increased “drastically” in Selma amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, adding that there needs to be more “holistic ways of doing things that address all of those different root causes that are connected.”

Police reforms are necessary, Jackson said, but it must be coupled with investments in education, healthcare and more.

“I see how all of those systems relate,” Jackson said. “If we really want to show our love for one another, we should create those systems that show love by supporting justice.”

Later in the conversation, Jackson expanded on her concept of “love” as an engine for change during the current turmoil in the nation.

“It’s important that we understand that we hold people accountable because we love them,” Jackson said. “Love is an action word. I think that we fundamentally have to look at what the justice system is and what it was created to be.”

Jackson noted that legislative changes will not be enough to achieve the level of change needed – Jackson opined that the creation of citizen review boards with subpoena powers would go a long way to resolving issues between police and the communities they serve, as well as funding for restorative justice programs and more.