As James Baldwin is widely quoted, “To be a Negro in this country, and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time.” When it comes to crime in America, one can argue that the system has failed us all, resulting in a rage often acutely felt by Black and Brown Americans.
For Black and Brown victims of crime, finding justice can become a secondary fight itself, thanks to red tape and disproportionate access to resource and recovery services — a situation felt even more deeply in a system that has, at times, refused to even acknowledge us as victims.
To commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week officially reaching 40 years of advocacy for all victims of crime, Alliance for Safety and Justice and its over 46,000-member survivor group, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), is hosting a series of virtual events in honor of crime survivors. Today, they unveiled their National Crime Victims Agenda, a plan they say will “address the needs of our nation’s diverse victims of crime.”
On Saturday, during the national Survivors Speak virtual conference, survivors will share stories and discuss ways to enact meaningful legislative change to uplift the public safety of communities most harmed and impacted by violence and crime.
CSSJ says this initiative stems from “research [that] reveals disparities and inequities in access to support for Black crime victims, which mirrors the exclusion of Black and Brown victims of violence from the public perception of who gets to be a victim. This exclusion from policy conversations is why our public safety systems fail to provide Black communities with real safety. If we’re going to create safety, we must listen to victims, address the core needs of communities and resolve root causes of violence and instability.”
Through the National Crime Victims Agenda, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice hopes to address three main areas: expanding victims rights; ending discrimination; and providing more urgent help by offering less pushback and red tape.
Expanding Victims Rights
When it comes to finding resources following a crime, any benefits or protections are largely dependent on which state it occured in, making it hard for some victims to navigate their next steps.While the 2004 Crime Victims’ Rights Act granted the right not to be excluded from public court proceedings and the right to be reasonably protected from the accused, its protection was limited to victims of federal crimes, leaving each state to adhere as they see fit. This has created a gap that sometimes allows victims (and their safety) to fall through the cracks.
Based on this, critics, including the ACLU, have called for an actual constitutional amendment to achieve equal application across the board. Such changes would require victims be notified and given the right to speak during the course of all legal proceedings.
Expanding rights would also give more protection in terms of employment and housing, which can become a spiraling situation as survivors can sometimes lose both in the aftermath of trauma. According to CSSJ, “While important benefits and projections for victims exist in many states, such as victim compensation, those benefits and protections are not readily available to all crime survivors.”
Adding, “Expanding eligibility to services and compensation to all victims is crucial to support healing and stop trauma cycles. This includes ending eligibility exclusions that blame victims for their own victimization and bar eligibility to witnesses to violence victims, people with prior records or on probation parole and victims of police violence.”
In short, survivors won’t be held back or penalized for not being “perfect victims.” And Black and Brown survivors, whose victimization is so often disregarded in public narratives and police conversations, would finally be seen and supported.
In terms of current legislation, all victims aren’t treated equally — something that’s long plagued those simply looking for justice. To end discrimination, the agenda has developed a plan that includes opening up victim serices eligibility to all victims of crime and violence, a common-sense approach that has yet to truly be implemented.
While many states do provide some benefits and protections, actually accessing them is another battle. The Victims Rights Agenda says that “[e]xpanding eligibility to services and compensation to all victims is crucial to support healing and stop trauma cycles. This includes ending eligibility exclusions that blame victims for their own victimization and bring eligibility to witnesses to violence, family members or violence victims.”
These measures would make it easier for those with criminal records or other legal hurdles to actually receive services following such violence. This would also eliminate the need for police reports in situations where other types of reliable documentation are available.
More Urgent Help, Less Red Tape
In terms of difficulty following cases of violence or other trauma, accessibility to care and services often determines just how the healing process will go — reasons Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice has fought to provide more help with less strings and bureaucratic red tape attached.
If you’ve never been a victim of a serious crime, suddenly being tasked with figuring out the options available to you can be a struggle. CSSJ says the majority of victims have never even heard of victims compensation or other programs.
As a result, the group is pushing for anyone involved in the process — from law enforcement to health professionals — to be fully trained on ways to engage and share such information from the start.
“Everyone who works with victims of crime on a daily basis, including law enforcement, service providers and health professionals, must be trained to understand how to access help, the civil legal protections that exist and how to ensure victims can access help.”
Even when aware, lengthy wait times and human error can result in additional issues, especially when faced with deadlines to return documents you’re not even aware of. Of this issue, CSSJ says, “Once aware of available benefits, many survivors still report being unable to access them because the response time for urgent needs is too slow. Bureaucratic processes and protocols can mean that people don’t get help when they need it. Emergency financial support must be available as broadly as possible and must be processed quickly so people can get timely help, and nonemergency applications for help must be resolved within a reasonable amount of time.”
Through the National Victims Agenda, a framework can be laid to create tangible change for survivors across the country. For them, it’s all about ensuring they are safe and protected.
CSSJ says, “Despite substantial increases in criminal justice expenditures over the last three decades, the majority of crime survivors do not receive support to recover from harm. In 2018, more than three million Americans were the victims of at least one violent crime.”
“While nearly eight out of 10 survivors say their life had been affected by the crime, fewer than one in three receive the kind of help they would need to recover from the crime,” it adds.
For the Alliance for Safety and Justice, it’s part of a larger effort to “[w]ork with leaders and advocates to advance state reform through coalition building, research, education and advocacy.”
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.