As a survivor of violence and an advocate for criminal justice reform, I’ve seen first-hand how our legal system fails to meet the needs of survivors and victims’ families.
Like most states, Louisiana does not provide adequate direct assistance or enough support services to people and communities impacted by crime. So organizations like Louisiana Survivors for Reform (LSR) — the coalition I am proud to organize — leads survivors to one another, using advocacy as a form of healing, for themselves and their loved ones.
At LSR, we believe the voice of every survivor should be heard and that the primary focus of reform should involve supporting all impacted individuals and communities, investment in crime prevention strategies, and restorative justice that is trauma-informed.
Too often, victims are silenced or ignored. Reliance on mass incarceration has not only shown to be ineffective in making our communities safer, it fails to offer victims any alternatives to carceral options and does not offer accountability and healing, the priorities for many victims. This one-size-fits-all approach to addressing harm destabilizes Black, Brown, and low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by crime, over-policing, and incarceration.
Our criminal legal system perpetuates an often false victim-offender binary, failing to address the fact that many people who commit crimes are crime victims themselves, suffering the long-term impacts of trauma. Extreme punishments and lengthy sentences perpetuate these harms instead of acknowledging and addressing cycles of violence, all the while failing to provide survivors and victims’ families with the support and choices we need.
Non-unanimous juries are a prime example of this harmful approach. Explicitly created to uphold white supremacy, these Jim Crow juries were designed to make it easier to send Black people to prison. And for more than 120 years, that’s exactly what they did—fueling a mass incarceration machine that separated families and targeted Black and Brown communities.
Last year the United States Supreme Court struck down non-unanimous juries as unconstitutional, but did not resolve the question of whether people serving final convictions due to Jim Crow juries would be given a chance at justice. This has left more than 1,500 incarcerated people in legal limbo; survivors and victims’ families who aren’t even aware of these changes to the law will need answers and clarity about their cases.
That is why LSR is currently providing information and resources to crime survivors and victims’ families in Orleans Parish whose cases resulted in a non-unanimous jury verdict. Through this effort, we seek to connect people with available community resources and a growing network of survivors who support one another. There is no cost or residency requirement for these services if you or a loved one was the victim in an Orleans Parish case with a non-unanimous jury conviction of 10-2 or 11-1.
Survivors and victims’ families often feel their voices aren’t heard, and that they’re not given updates on their cases, leaving them feeling powerless, angry, and uninformed. We’re offering information on what could happen following the Supreme Court’s decision, connections to resources for victims, education on the history of Jim Crow in Louisiana, and a space for people to be heard.
Healing is not a linear process. While restoring justice is absolutely necessary to dismantle an intentionally racist practice that has devastated generations of families, if these verdicts are overturned and the cases retried, it will have a huge impact on those who assumed the legal process was over.
Support is available. With accessible services that provide safe, non judgemental spaces where survivors of crime can ask questions and have their voices centered by victim advocates, we can begin to heal.
Katie Hunter-Lowrey is the Crime Survivor Organizer for the Promise of Justice Initiative and coordinator of Louisiana Survivors for Reform. Survivors and victims’ families can call/text (504) 459-9347 or email OrleansJCJSurvivors@gmail.com to learn more about non-unanimous jury verdicsts. Louisiana Survivors for Reform can be reached any time at email@example.com, call/text 504-535-4912 or at https://promiseofjustice.org/home/louisiana-survivors-for-reform.
The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Note: Martin Pedersen, chair of The Lens’ Board of Directors, served as editor for this column.)