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Justice, Not Jail; Preservation, Not Sprawl PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 03 October 2000 18:00
An interfaith group representing more than 20 congregations unveiled two platforms on Sunday to stop the destructive effects of urban sprawl and address inequities in the criminal-justice system. Quad Cities Interfaith presented the plans to several hundred people at a “Proclaim Jubilee” gathering at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. More than a dozen elected officials from the City of Davenport, the City of Moline, Scott County, and the Iowa and Illinois state legislatures attended the event.

“Church-based organizing can be a witness … to positive social change,” said Bishop William Franklin of the Diocese of Davenport.

The platforms, one addressing economic growth and the other community justice, together represent a comprehensive progressive agenda for the Quad Cities area – covering everything from public transportation to drugs to land use.

The Reverend Leland Eyres, who worked on the “smart and fair growth” agenda, said the goal of the platforms is to give progressive efforts some momentum. While there have been some initiatives over the past 15 years to create a regional authority to plan and guide growth, “the atmosphere has just not been right,” he said.

The Quad Cities Interfaith agenda was not something that was just thrown together, Eyres stressed. “We’ve been working on this almost a year,” he said.

The economic-development platform includes 11 recommendations, all basically focusing on consistent application of rules and policies; coordination among the Quad Cities; development of services and housing for all income levels; and preservation of natural resources, agricultural land, and historic property.

Many of the recommendations are little more than principles or philosophies that cannot be legislated or enforced, however. They rely on the goodwill of public officials. “Use planning and zoning ordinances to encourage higher-density development and better use of existing infrastructure” is one example. “Develop uniform, clear, and consistent criteria regarding who pays for costs associated with new development” is another.

And the specific recommendations the platform includes are politically sensitive, including creating a “metropolitan authority to coordinate land-use and economic-development planning” and own and administer a “regional mass transit system.”

While such an authority would probably reduce competition among cities for new businesses and accomplish many of Quad Cities Interfaith’s goals, it would also require each municipality to essentially cede its home-rule authority, something that’s not likely to happen.

The community-justice platform applies the principles of “restorative justice” to law-enforcement. The platform includes widespread implementation of “community policing” techniques, including the establishment of neighborhood police substations, foot-patrol officers, and neighborhood officers. Quad Cities Interfaith is also pushing for an end to racial profiling, the formation of a police/community relations committee, the development of “drug-treatment courts,” and the restoration of voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.

Unlike the economic-development plat-form, the community-justice recommendations are concrete, and progress can be easily assessed. But the goals aren’t necessarily any less difficult to accomplish.

The justice platform stemmed from the failed referendum to build a new jail in Scott County, said John Wahl, a member of the Quad Cities Interfaith committee. But the group eventually realized that other aspects of the criminal-justice system need attention, too. “The jail’s really the end result of the criminal-justice system,” he said.

At the Proclaim Jubilee event, speaker Wilma Drummond said that Davenport Mayor Phil Yerington and Civil Rights Director Judith Morrell have made a commitment to support a bill that would prohibit racial profiling. (Racial profiling is a practice in which people are stopped, searched, or arrested because of their skin color instead of whether there’s actually any evidence suggesting they committed a crime.)

The problem with ending racial profiling is that many police departments deny it exists in the first place. Although the City of Davenport has no data on profiling, Drummond said, a litany of complaints from citizens confirms that it does happen.

But even if a department committed itself to eliminating profiling, it would be very difficult to determine whether it had been eradicated or not.

Determining success would be easier with other recommendations. Quad Cities Interfaith, for example, is asking the state and federal governments to fund drug-treatment courts in Rock Island and Scott counties. (Rock Island County has already begun a drug-court program on its own.)

Drug courts are designed to be less adversarial than a normal courtroom and allow defendants to have their sentences reduced or charges dismissed once a program is completed. The concept is a reaction to stiffer drug penalties that have been legislated over the past 20 years, resulting in the United States having a larger percentage of its population in prison than nearly any other country.

Drug offenders often deserve a second chance, said Earnest Longstreet, a speaker at the Proclaim Jubilee. “At some time or another, we all need forgiveness,” he said. Drug users “need to be rehabilitated, not always locked down.”

Quad Cities Interfaith is also recommending that Iowa strike a law that forbids people convicted of felons from ever voting. The state is one of only 15 with such a provision. Wahl said the law prevents 25 percent of African-American adult men in Iowa from voting, which ensures continued disenfranchisement. “We need to find ways to help people earn their voting rights back,” he said. Representatives of the religious coalition said the fact that its platform was introduced just five weeks before the election was not intentional.

“We have not tried to tag it on November 7,” Eyres said.

“It’s coincidental, but it’s good fortune, too,” Wahl said. “We’re trying to generate public discussion.”
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