Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris spoke out against racism and advocated for criminal justice reform during a county COVID-19 task force update Tuesday.
Harris said the murder of George Floyd “tears back the veil of racial injustice, an issue that seems to worsen by the day.”
“African Americans have been too often racially profiled, pulled over, surveilled, and put in handcuffs,” Harris said. “I understand the pain and frustration of these experiences because I have had all of these experiences. All of us feel the echoes of 1968. However, history has shown that we can do unimaginable things in this community and in this country. We can face down COVID-19, we can restore our economy, and we can turn the page on racial injustice.”
Harris said racial injustice has to be addressed with a unified effort. Everyone has a role, the mayor said, noting that his administration will continue to push an “aggressive criminal justice agenda.”
“People of color, particularly African-American men, are too often caught up in a criminal justice system that tags them for life,” he said “The system devastates the ability of too many African-American men to ever fully enjoy the benefits of living in the greatest country on Earth.”
Harris said his administration has worked with the district attorney, judges, court clerks, and the sheriff to implement bail reform, which has “made a difference in hundreds and hundreds of lives of non-violent offenders who would otherwise spend months in detention.”
Pre-COVID-19, Harris said the Shelby County detention numbers were the “lowest the county has seen in years,” passing an “ambitious goal” for bail reform set by Just City.
“We will do even more to change this system,” Harris said, noting that he will go before the Shelby County Commission this week to advocate for “Ban the Box,” which will help those with criminal history get jobs.
“Too often African-American men with criminal histories have been held back and kept from getting jobs,” Harris said.
The mayor added that he is prepared to meet with any activists or protesters to take a step toward “real action that will drive real change.”
“In Shelby County, we’ve had hundreds of protesters demand to be heard and who have lifted up important concerns,” Harris said. “I hear you. In fact, leaders across the state hear you.”