PEP Open Letter

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Community Partners:

The Washington University in St. Louis Prison Education Project (PEP) stands with the Black community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and those who are protesting against recent and recurring acts of racial injustice and violence. In doing so, we acknowledge the pain, anger, and frustration that members of these communities are feeling, and denounce the racism, hatred, and bigotry that are deeply rooted in the establishment and sustainment of this country’s political, law enforcement, and legal systems.

In 2014, Mike Brown died at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, leading to widespread protests in Ferguson and across the country. As we watch this violent history repeat itself again and again, we demand accountability not just from the people who killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Nina Pop, and the countless other victims of police brutality, but also from the policing and criminal legal systems that disproportionately target, arrest, and incarcerate people of color. As a higher education in prison program, the lives of many of the students we serve have been directly affected by this systemic structural violence.

We view our efforts to create higher education opportunities for people during and after incarceration as inextricable from anti-racism. We remain committed to our mission of providing equitable education, support, and resources to our students. We will continue to work towards a more just society that actively upholds anti-racist ideals and values and that holds individuals, institutions, and social systems that engage in, perpetuate, or condone racial violence accountable for their actions.

We encourage those who wish to get involved to:

  • Donate to bail funds, organizations that provide legal assistance, Black-owned businesses, and protestors.
  • Make your voice heard at the voting booth and elect officials who have demonstrated that they are actively committed to anti-racist policies.
  • Contact your local representatives to advocate for decarceration, restructuring of police departments, transparent investigations into police killings and acts of brutality, reforms in state laws on the use of force by police, and meaningful changes in law enforcement hiring and training practices to address racism and implicit bias.
  • Speak out about racial injustice – both within your immediate networks as well as in your local, regional, and national communities – while remembering to center the voices of those who are directly impacted by police violence and the criminal legal system.
  • Acknowledge your privilege, and use it to empower and amplify the voices of those who have historically been and continue to be the targets of racial oppression and violence.
  • Educate yourself and engage in respectful dialogue around issues of racial injustice and violence.

We have included a list of relevant resources and information below, which we invite you to explore and share widely.

In solidarity,
The PEP Executive Board

Robert Henke, Director
Barbara Baumgartner, Associate Director
Jami Ake
David Cunningham
Joy Kiefer
Natasha Narayanan, Program Coordinator


Justice for George Floyd Toolkit

Bail Funds/Legal Help by City

St. Louis Black Businesses Relief Fund

Resource Guide: Prisons, Policing, and Punishment by Micah Herskind

Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves

Antiracism Resources for White People

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States by Joe Macaré, Maya Schenwar, and Alana Yu-lan Price (free ebook)

The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale (free ebook)

Advancing Positive Change: A Toolkit for Racial Equity and Empowerment by the Ferguson Commission

Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity by the Ferguson Commission

Healing in Action: A Toolkit for Black Lives Matter Healing Justice and Direct Action by Black Lives Matter

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis (PDF of full book)

Arch City Defenders (legal advocacy organization)

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