Good afternoon to everyone who knows a vacated conviction doesn’t equal innocence.

This has been a week. An admitted sexual abuser (formerly America’s dad) was released from prison. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court took a sledgehammer to what was left of the Voting Rights Act.

And a beautiful Black woman athlete’s Olympic ambitions are at risk because she smoked weed, which is legal in more than a dozen states and has no meaningful performance-enhancing qualities for a track star. (Might it make you quicker to eat Cheetos? Possibly. Faster at the 100 meter? No.)

MLK50’s focus is squarely at the intersection of poverty, power and policy. Each of these events, in their own ways, represent the collision of power and policy – violent policy.

When we think violence, our minds typically go to blood, bullets, a beating, something in the physical realm that leaves flesh irreparably damaged.

I want us to learn to recognize violence in all its forms, and that includes destructive policy that wrecks lives across generations. Policy is the prosecutorial discretion that leads to prosecutorial misconduct that ultimately allowed a powerful, rich rapist to go free. 

Removing protections that help ensure equal access to the ballot is violence against voters of color, little different from the racist poll taxes and literacy tests of not that long ago.

And outdated rules on drug use – especially a drug that is now a $17.5 billion industry (and that’s just legal sales) in this country even while thousands remain behind bars for minor possession – is violent and hypocritical policy. U.S. drug policy steals liberty from mostly Black and brown offenders, leaving them destitute upon release, while making others rich.

This week, our reporters paid attention to two new Tennessee laws that – surprise! – are violent.

People start to walk down East Person Ave. during the 4th Unity Walk against Gun Violence at Hamilton High School on June 12. Photo by Brad Vest for MLK50

The first is violence in its too familiar form: Gun violence. A law that took effect July 1 allows almost all adults to open (or conceal) carry a firearm without a permit – because there’s no way that ends badly.

While Republican state lawmakers say they’re defending the Second Amendment, Memphis leaders expect it to worsen an already difficult fight against gun violence. “It makes me sick in the stomach to think about July 1,” said local anti-violence advocate Stevie Moore, whose son was gunned down in 2003.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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