ABOVE: Rev. Jesse Jackson talks to union leaders, lawmakers, ACLU, NAACP, MWBE advocates and other community leaders while in Houston (Photo Credit: Harris County Precinct 1)
This past Monday, July 9, the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Houston to join forces with Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and various local community advocates, to address a litany of social justice issues that have impacted many individuals in the Greater Houston area, as well as across the entire nation.
At a news conference that was held at the Harris County Precinct One El Rio Service Center, Rev. Jackson joined Commissioner Ellis to talk about why Harris County Commissioners Court should settle a bail-reform lawsuit and a push for the county to adopt a minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) program.
Several community leaders, ministers, and community organizations, such as FIEL Houston, NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and others were part of the gathering.
As the Forward Times has been reporting for some time, one of the most important battles taking place across the U.S. has been a push for bail reform. The fight for bail reform has become one of the most important and major civil-rights issues of our day, and that fight is being aggressively waged in Harris County, which has the majority of its county leadership fighting a costly lawsuit to contest its unjust cash-bail system that keeps poor people behind bars.
Rev. Jackson spoke out against the position Harris County has taken to aggressively fight the lawsuit, and expressed his support for U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s recent ruling that found Harris County’s cash-bail system unconstitutional, emphasizing that the system essentially keeps select defendants in jail because they are poor and do not have the means to pay.
“The cash-bail system in Harris County is discriminatory along the lines of race and poverty,” Rev. Jackson stated. “Fewer and fewer people are getting more and more, while more and more have less and less. We need to get rid of the borders that separate poor people from those who are not poor, in Harris County. We must continue our fight for the poor, because most of them cannot fight for themselves.”
The case against Harris County is scheduled to go to trial in December, but Rev. Jackson strongly urged Harris County officials to stop their efforts to fight against the movement to end the current cash-bail system and is encouraging them to settle the lawsuit to avoid any further damage to poor people.
Commissioner Ellis, who is the only member on Commissioners Court to oppose the lawsuit since inception, wants his colleagues on Commissioners Court to settle the costly bail reform lawsuit. Commissioner Ellis has faced continuous and tremendous amount of pushback from his other three colleagues on Commissioners Court – Jack Morman (Precinct 2), Steve Radack (Precinct 3) and R. Jack Cagle (Precinct 4).
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, however, has gone on record stating that the bail reform lawsuit should be settled out of court. However, the three Commissioners have dug in their heels, advocating for Harris County to continue spending money to defend the lawsuit.
“That money could be spent on reforming the system,” said Commissioner Ellis. “We could have been using that money to educate people, so that once they get out of prison they are productive, and don’t get stuck in that cycle. This broken system doesn’t solve anything.”
Since 2016, Harris County has spent roughly $7 million to defend the lawsuit and appeal the case, versus using that money for other much-needed areas across the county.
Rev. Jackson also expressed his support for Commissioner Ellis’ efforts to get Harris County to adopt an MWBE program and policy to ensure MWBEs have a fair opportunity to compete for and win contracts with Harris County. Harris County and the City of Houston recently approved an inter-local agreement that allows Harris County to use certain elements of the city’s disparity study, which is required for its race- and gender-conscious contracting program.
Lastly, Rev. Jackson addressed the Trump administration’s former policy that separated immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This was a crime against humanity,” said Rev. Jackson. “Fighting for children at the border is our obligation, just like fighting to end borders that separate Blacks and browns from Whites, as well as the poor in Harris County, is our obligation.”
Rev. Jackson emphasized that getting people out to vote during the upcoming midterm elections is extremely important and a critical way to ensure these major social justice issues are addressed. At last month’s National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Annual Convention, Rev. Jackson expressed his support of the NNPA’s efforts to register 5 million new, Black voters before the November midterm elections.
They are hoping the success of this initiative will significantly impact the way all of these social justice issues are addressed moving forward.
“We must make November 6th and day we will always remember,” said Rev. Jackson. “We must vote with passion on November 6th and change the political direction of our country.”