National Expungement Week, a grassroots effort across multiple US cities to help victims of the War on Drugs repair their lives, explored the legacy of Juneteenth last week with the release of the first installment of what the group dubbed an ongoing video conversation. The social justice collective brought together organizers from all over the country to reflect on the significance of the day, especially in light of the recent demonstrations protesting racial inequality and police brutality following the death of George Floyd.
In a statement, NEW offered that the Juneteenth celebrations came with a new meaning this year, as the group’s origins could be traced to the holiday two years earlier. It was then that LaTorie “Torie” Marshall and James Watts, co-founders of the Washington D.C.-based cannabis advocacy and education group We B.A.K.E.D., came together with Cage-Free Cannabis co-founder Adam Vine, a meeting which first sparked the idea for a nationwide effort to expunge criminal records.
Today, NEW has grown into an organization that, along with its signature issue, also fights for criminal justice reform, voting rights, and housing and food insecurity. The group’s annual Expungement Week, which offers up to 77 million Americans nationwide legal aide to help them with prior criminal convictions stemming from the drug war has been going for two years strong now. The third annual N.E.W. will take place from September 19-26, 2020.
"Juneteenth is a reminder that we are still not free, not while people from marginalized communities are disproportionately imprisoned and exploited by the Justice System and the privatization of Prisons," says N.E.W co-founding organizer LaTorie Marshall.
NEW has been quite active recently, as demonstrations have hit across the country. The group released a statement earlier this month condemning the officers involved in the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mike Ramos, and Tony McDade, as well as all officers who use their “protected class status” to murder anyone in the black community.
“We condemn the militarization of the police forces across our nation and the excessive force used against people exercising their rights to speak against police brutality,” NEW’s statement continued. “Police unions across the nation lobby to insulate their protected status as they escalate the violence against the people, with lethal and less-than-lethal weapons used to maim and kill protestors.”
Additionally, the group demanded the defunding of police departments across the nation, with the funds used to be made available for schools, housing, mental health, and education.
“Due to COVID-19 and overwhelming community need, N.E.W. will continue to expand its online resources for people to access legal relief and wraparound services, as well as the in-person clinics for which we’re known,” says N.E.W. co-founding organizer James Watts.
Readers can check out the Juneteenth video on the left, or go to NEW’s website for more information.