Here’s Why John Legend Wants To End Mass Incarceration

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After winning an Academy Award with fellow artist, Common for best original song, “Glory,” in the film “Selma,” John Legend reminded everyone that despite the film’s historical context, the issues addressed within the film “Selma,” are still very relevant today.

Legend spoke out about the Voting Rights Act, the same law that was being fought for in the film, having been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012 (something not everyone may have realized), and perhaps most notably, he touched on the fact that the United States has the largest prison population of any developed country in the world.

“We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” Legend said when receiving his Oscar.

And it seems that those words were not at all empty. On Monday, John Legend announced his “Free America” campaign, with the goal of ending mass incarceration. Legend is scheduled to kick off the campaign by performing at a correctional facility in Austin, Texas. Later, he plans on attending a press conference with Texas legislators to discuss the infrastructure of the criminal justice system.

Legend’s campaign may seem radical to some, but many similar campaigns have been happening on college campuses for some time now. Students Against Mass Incarceration, otherwise known as SAMI, is a national organization with chapters on college campuses across the country.

SAMI chapters frequently publish materials detailing prison statistics within the United States such as the fact that Black men are incarcerated at a rate six times that of White men. They also frequently highlight the fact that slavery was never entirely abolished, one exception always remaining under the thirteenth amendment, that exception being “as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall be duly convicted”.

Many people have argued that the 13th amendment, ratified in 1865 after the Civil War, coupled with high rates of Black people being incarcerated, and violence at the hands of police are not a coincidence. Even moments in pop culture such as the advent of the television show “Orange Is The New Black” seem to speak to reality that correctional facilities often fail the populations they are meant to serve– meaning those who live within their walls, and those who live without them as well.

So it would seem that John Legend’s reasons for starting his Free America campaign are varied and numerous. Whether or not it is successful, it is still nice to see a celebrity use his power and influence for a cause he truly believes in.


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