The National Day of Empathy

Event Recap

On March 1, MassINC joined with the national bipartisan initiative #cut50 along with organizations across the country for a single day of action to highlight the strength of the bipartisan criminal justice reform movement. The Day of Empathy united groups from Boston to Oakland in solidarity, as a way to generate compassion and understanding on a massive scale for millions of Americans impacted by the criminal justice system.

In Massachusetts, we gathered at the State House to highlight the needs and share the perspectives of the communities impacted most; from survivors of violent crime, those who were addicted or mentally ill, incarcerated individuals working to transform themselves, people with a criminal record desperately seeking a second chance, and all community members impacted by crime, public safety, and violence.

“For this national day of empathy, we want to hear from individuals who can speak to the issue of what happens to one’s life when you come in contact with the department of corrections or jails or prisons. We also want to talk about communities that are impacted by incarceration” remarked MassINC President Greg Torres at the outset, stressing that “the burden of get tough policies have fallen disproportionately on communities of color.“ He added, “[that has] to change, we have to do something, it’s simple justice.”  We were joined by James Mackey of #StuckOnReplay, Jumaane Kendrick (Changing Tracks Initiative, ABCD), Cassandra Bensahih (E.P.O.C.A), and Louie Diaz (Lowell House, Beyond the Wall) each of whom have been directly impacted by the system, and who are now working to heal their communities. One of the most stirring moments came from Jumaane Kendrick:

“Without the empathy of other people, I wouldn’t be standing here…I was a dropout at ninth grade, I was a victim of violence, I’ve been incarcerated several times” Jumaane said, adding that “without empathy and understanding and people actually realizing what my circumstance was but wanting to change, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”

Through the lens of these experiences, we hoped to shine light on those most directly impacted by the criminal justice system so that their voices could be elevated to the highest level.

“I’m not saying to you that when we do something wrong we’re not to be punished, but I’m saying what comes after that, where are we when we don’t give people an opportunity to have housing, jobs and to be better in their life after they’ve paid for their mistakes…why we continue to punish people because of where they come from or what they’ve done…people do change and I’m an example of that.”                                                                                                                              – Cassandra Bensahih

In order to reform our criminal justice system, we must first humanize and empathize with those who are impacted by it.  For the last thirty years, the burden of get-tough policies has fallen disproportionately on communities of color, low-income communities, and those struggling with addiction or mental illness. In our latest report, The Geography of Incarceration, we saw just how significant this dis-proportionality has become in the city of Boston. On the Day of Empathy, we gathered together to express solidarity and empathy for these communities who bear the burden of a broken system. The incarceration of an individual does not stand as an imposition on a single person for one designated period of time. The repercussions of an arrest or a sentence are felt community-wide, extending across generations. We are opening the dialogue on legislative efforts for this reason, in an effort to view this issue with empathy and to support the communities affected. Without empathy, we cannot achieve the meaningful policy changes that keep our communities safe, our families’ whole, and our economy strong.

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