Bookshop Santa Cruz and the NAACP Santa Cruz County Branch welcome Zach Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, for an online event to discuss his new book, We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities—a groundbreaking new vision for public safety that overturns more than 200 years of fear-based discrimination, othering, and punishment. Norris will appear online with special guest Marlena Henderson, who is also featured in the book. They will share stories from We Keep Us Safe and discuss a framework to help understand and transform the policies and practices that perpetuate intergenerational trauma and community suffering.
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As the effects of aggressive policing and mass incarceration harm historically marginalized communities and tear families apart, how do we define safety? In a time when the most powerful institutions in the United States are embracing the repressive and racist systems that keep many communities struggling and in fear, we need to reimagine what safety means. Community leader and lawyer Zach Norris lays out a radical way to shift the conversation about public safety away from fear and punishment and toward growth and support systems for our families and communities. In order to truly be safe, we are going to have to dismantle our mentality of Us vs. Them. By bridging the divides and building relationships with one another, we can dedicate ourselves to strategic, smart investments—meaning resources directed toward our stability and well-being, like healthcare and housing, education and living-wage jobs. This is where real safety begins.
We Keep Us Safe is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized, so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.
"Bright, talented, compassionate, strategic, and committed . . . Norris's insights and story will be an enormously important contribution in the effort to advance human rights in this country." —Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
Zach Norris is the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which creates campaigns related to civic engagement, violence prevention, juvenile justice, and police brutality, with a goal of shifting economic resources away from prisons and punishment and towards economic opportunity. He is also the cofounder of Restore Oakland and Justice for Families, both of which focus on the power of community action. He graduated from Harvard and took his law degree from New York University. Connect with him @ZachWNorris.
Marlena Henderson grew up in Santa Cruz County. Her family is directly and tragically impacted by the criminal justice system. Her parents were beloved contributors to the Santa Cruz community with their involvement in the American Cancer Society, Cabrillo College, NAMI, the Santa Cruz Symphony, and more. They tried for decades to access resources designed to intervene and rehabilitate their son but those efforts failed and the consequences were tragic. Marlena notes, “When my brother first became involved in the system, he was not capable of causing the kind of harm that has led me to fear for my life today. Now he is capable. The costs of that failure are too high for families like mine.” She is now an advocate for Criminal Justice reform and Mental Health reform. As a victim and a survivor of the mass incarceration movement she brings a unique perspective to many of the systems failures and opportunities.
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