By Cate Graziani, Criminal Justice Campaigns Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership
Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit community organization based in Austin, Texas, is calling on residents of Travis County to support its Help, Not Handcuffs initiative. Read the call to action and follow the links below to get involved.
When someone finds themselves needing help for a substance use issue, the worst thing you can do is lock them up. But in Travis County, that is what we are doing to people in urgent need of help.
We can do better. Along with our partners, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative, and Austin Harm Reduction Coalition, we are calling on the Travis County Commissioners Court to invest in something better.
As part of the upcoming county budget talks, our community has a chance to lay the groundwork for a safer and healthier Travis County. We are asking our leaders to vote to provide supplemental funding for a 24-hour walk-in center. This could be a place where people find help for substance use disorder before they are arrested. The center is opening next month through the efforts of Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative and the Austin Harm Reduction Coalition.
We support a 24-hour walk-in center because we believe in real public safety in our communities. How a community responds to illicit drug use is a remarkable indicator of its commitment to safety. The evidence shows that communities that respond with harsh criminal consequences are doomed to experience the worst ravages of drug use. The impact of overly punitive drug policies is especially significant for communities of color, with glaring racial disparities associated with drug arrests. African Americans comprised 24 percent all arrests for possession in 2017, despite representing only 8 percent of the Travis County population.
But communities that respond by providing access to treatment and community supports see declines in drug use and related crime. We want our community to be one of these.
Based in Austin, Texas, Grassroots Leadership works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.