Vote Like Your Life Depends On It!

A voter leaves the polling booth during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016.
A voter leaves the polling booth during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

Alfred Olango. Terence Crutcher. Tyre King. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Korryn Gaines. Philando Castile. The list is painful, and many of us are wondering if we will be next.

The headlines of police killing Black Americans and Latinos appear to be unending. Immigrant families are being torn apart by a prison industry that profits from detaining Black and Brown bodies. Flint residents still don't have clean water or answers. Workers are fired for demanding better pay, and sacred native land is threatened by gas companies.

Our lives and our families matter. This election, we can't stay home, nor can we vote solely for the top of the ticket. We must go to the polls, vote all the way down ballot, including local races. We must vote like our lives depend on it.

While all eyes are trained on the high-stakes presidential election, we should be careful not to overlook the crucial races that could make the difference between whether our families stay together; between surviving and thriving; between life and death.

Across the country elected prosecutors, police chiefs, city councils, mayors and judges are making the policy decisions that unjustly send people to jail and that bury people under fines when they cannot pay for something as simple as a parking ticket. They are the ones who refuse to prosecute when a police officer shoots and kills an unarmed individual.

The two years since the killing of Michael Brown have confirmed what we already suspected: the same injustices led people out to those streets of Ferguson are happening on a regular basis across the country. Marion County, Indiana may seem far from Ferguson, Missouri, but in reality, local policies aren't all that different.

Blacks are over three times more likely to be in jail than the white residents in Marion County, Indiana, which received an 'D' from PICO National Network as a part of their deep-dive into mass incarceration and policing policies in counties across the country. PICO found that extraordinarily high rates of incarceration are concentrated in areas with high Black and Latino populations.

In the nearly 30 years between 1985 and 2014, the jail population per capita in the county doubled. The number of jailed women in that time period increased by 145 percent. More than forty-four percent of people who spent time behind bars in Marion County were found innocent or had their charges dismissed after spending more than 30 days in jail. More than 5 percent of those individuals spend more than six months in jail.

Like many cities and counties across the country, Marion County's prosecutor, mayor and police chief are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of all people in the county. But collectively they have pursued policies that effectively and intentionally criminalize Black and Latino communities.

We know that showing up to the polls can make a difference in these races and that your vote will make a difference.

In Chicago, voters stood up and defeated Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who refused to act for over a year in the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of the police. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down, voters helped Michael O'Malley unseat Timothy McGinty, who didn't bring charges against the police officer in the case.

When you head to the polls Tuesday, remember that it's not just about a high-stakes presidential election. This election is about our future and the ability of our families not just to survive but thrive. It's about holding police and prosecutors accountable. It's about recognizing the humanity of undocumented immigrants. This election, vote as if your life depended on it. Because it does.