PHILADELPHIA -- The demonstrations during the national anthem across the NFL are all the buzz. President Donald Trump has pushed back on them. Cable networks are dedicating hours of programming discussing them. The issue has gone mainstream, and everyone wants to know what will happen Sunday.
But Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins -- one of the first to protest during the anthem in the name of social justice -- had no interest in discussing what the scene around the NFL might look like this weekend when approached at his locker stall Wednesday.
"Not my concern,” he said. “What happens on Sunday is not my concern.”
Instead, Jenkins and other members of the ever-growing players coalition are focused on taking advantage of the oversized megaphones suddenly in their hands to draw attention to the issues that they are demonstrating in the name of.
That’s why Jenkins, along with teammates Chris Long, Torrey Smith and Rodney McLeod, as well as coalition co-leader Anquan Boldin, penned a letter to Pennsylvania legislators strongly endorsing the Clean Slate Act, which they believe will reduce recidivism by automatically sealing records for those who have a non-violent, misdemeanor record from 10 years ago, thereby increasing the chances that they can find employment and housing.
They also rolled out the following public service announcement:
"Right here in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, we're in the incarceration capitol where we lock up more people in the county of Philadelphia than anywhere in the world,” Jenkins explained Wednesday. “We still send our kids to life without the chance for parole more than anybody in the world. And we're trying to reintroduce legislation that would reinstate the use of mandatory minimum sentences, which we've seen has driven up mass incarceration and decimated communities all over this country, especially communities of color. And so those are things we're trying to raise awareness to, trying to fix and use our platform to try and engage in positive conversation. So the more we can focus our talks and efforts on those things, the faster we can get to solutions."
It’s why Jenkins and other players from around the NFL, including Doug Baldwin and Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, participated in a CNN roundtable Wednesday night to articulate their positions and push back on the notion that their protests are intended to be anti-flag, anti-military or anti-American.
And it is why Jenkins turned down the opportunity to discuss all the hoopla surrounding the demonstrations and kept pivoting back to what he sees as the heart of the matter.
"At this point, I think that it's very important that we do get back to the original purpose for all of these demonstrations. We've seen countless videos of men and women of color being killed or brutalized by the hands of police, so we want that accountability, we want to bridge the gap between our law enforcement and our communities, we want that relationship to be better. And we want to make changes to our criminal justice system. Those are the things that started it, and those are the things that we need to talk about and get back to,” Jenkins said.
"I just think it's beneficial at this point in time to focus solely on the issues because now more than ever there are probably more people listening, and more exposure than ever at this point. And so I think it's very, very important for us to, while we have that spotlight, to actually point it in the direction of the things that we're trying to get accomplished.”
LETTER TO PENNSYLVANIA LEGISLATORS
When you walk out of prison, you have hope. You may not know what lies ahead, but you believe you’ve left punishment behind. You think you will have a chance to work, find a home, connect with your loved ones, and provide.
But for the as many as 70 to 100 million Americans with criminal records, that hope is quickly quashed. Each week, over 10,000 Americans leave prison. And they find that their past is not behind them, but is an ever-present barrier to reentry. Employers across the country refuse to conduct interviews of those with a record, even if it is for a non-violent misdemeanor like criminal mischief/graffiti or trespassing. Like much of the criminal justice system, the effects are harshest for people of color. Studies show that employers are more likely to forgive the past transgressions of whites than formerly incarcerated minorities. Your record also can keep you from getting housing. Public housing officials want to know if you have a clean record – if you don’t, you might be banned and could find yourself on the street. And many states withhold public assistance from those saddled with a prior drug conviction. If you need help providing for your children as you get back on your feet, you might be out of luck.
These collateral consequences have devastating effects. When you are turned away from job interview after job interview, knowing you are qualified but have a prior conviction, you start to lose hope. When you can’t put a roof over your child’s head or food on the table because have no steady income, you are devastated. When you are sleeping over a grate in the winter because you’ve been turned away from public assistance and there is no affordable housing in your city, you lose hope. It is then that people make mistakes and return to crime. It should surprise no one that a link exists between unemployment and recidivism.
Take 35-year-old Ronald Lewis’s case. A couple of us players recently had the privilege of meeting Ronald, a Philly advocate pushing for criminal justice reform who appears in the accompanying video. Thirteen years ago, Ronald was convicted of misdemeanor retail theft and misdemeanor drug possession. His record since – clean. In that time, he has started his own heating and air conditioning business. He regularly trains and hires men from our community, giving back on a daily basis and working to make neighborhoods often overlooked by employers better. He should be commended as a true role model. Instead, his record keeps him from obtaining lucrative contracts at places that will not work with those who have criminal records, no matter how old or how non-serious.
We can do better in Pennsylvania.
Legislation is currently pending here to automatically seal records for our brothers and sisters who have a non-violent, misdemeanor record from ten years ago. There is no reason not to pass the Clean Slate Act (House Bill 1419 and Senate Bill 529 which passed in May). Indeed, across the country, state legislators have recognized the value of record-sealing. In Nevada, legislators passed a bill to seal records after five years; in Illinois, there is just a three-year waiting period. Other examples abound.
Pennsylvania must follow-suit. Who amongst us, after all, has not benefited from a second chance of some sort? No one. We should give it to others. We are therefore calling for the legislature to pass Clean Slate and restore hope for the many in our state that want to work, put food on the table, and provide for their families. Will you join us?