Police shootings of unarmed African Americans have inspired outrage, but that’s just one of many ways America’s criminal justice system is tilted against people of color. Today, a growing movement is challenging structural racism that has millions of Americans in a cycle of incarceration. We gathered leaders from different parts of this fight—singer John Legend, who founded the “Free America” campaign; activist DeRay Mckesson; former prosecutor Adam Foss; Obama administration data expert Clarence Wardell III; and Malika Saada Saar, Google’s senior counsel on civil and human rights—for a conversation with Fast Company’s J.J. McCorvey.
You each have a distinct perspective on criminal justice reform. Broadly speaking, what is the way forward for the movement?
JOHN LEGEND: We have to understand that while we talk about criminal justice and presidents and national politics, most criminal justice decisions that affect real people are made by district attorneys, state legislatures, governors—people on the local and state level. Most of the prison system, the budget, and the actual population of the system are not federal. Presidents and Congress effect federal law, but so much of the law that affects criminal justice policy and the communities that are impacted by it is done by state and local politicians. We have to