Let's learn who benefits from the status quo

Hennepin County district judges Mel Dickstein and Lucy Wieland have, on these pages, highlighted the systemic racial disparity in the criminal-justice system that results in a 41 percent rate of incarceration for people of color in a state that is still about 85 percent white.

The root of our systemic classism and racism begins with housing and education. We circumvented the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling (which said that separate and unequal schools were illegal) by creating neighborhoods based on income and class.

We have a nearly 70 percent rate of racial disparity in home mortgages between whites and people of color with similar credit ratings. Both our inner city and suburbs are among the most segregated in the nation.

Mass transit was hotly debated for 40 years, effectively blocking to this day a transit system that would take people to the suburbs, where the jobs are.

Separate but unequal education is still the order of the day, both in the inner city and the suburbs, and our racial achievement gap is second-highest in the nation.

Those affluent enough to still be comfortable after the financial crisis are immune to the horrific suffering in the communities of color because they are totally isolated from it.

The media magnifies and sustains the stereotyping of people of color as criminals (and therefore deserving of condemnation and punishment).

We top the list in category after category for racial disparity, and are worse than Mississippi or any of the southern states. We need to follow the money to see who benefits from maintaining a punishing system, destined to continue the implosion of our entire society.

We know that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was right that "injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere," yet we persist.


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Make sure to keep priorities in order

It's true: Many of our churches --mainline and evangelical -- have experienced increased giving even in these difficult economic times ("A recession-proof gospel of giving,"Sept. 24). That's to the credit of generous and faithful members and friends.

But in these days of high unemployment, homelessness and unaffordable health care, the key question for the church is not "how much are we bringing in?" but "how much are we giving out?"

People of faith -- progressives and conservatives alike -- know that we are in the world to show compassion, to serve one another, to lift up those who have fallen, and to heal those who are wounded. Judge us by how well we do those things -- not by how full our collection plates are.


The writer is senior minister at the Plymouth Congregational Church

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Last summer I went on a mission trip to the south side of Chicago with Wooddale Church. Going into the trip, I thought the best way to help those struggling with poverty was to provide them with food, clothing and shelter.

While these elements are great and very important, I realized throughout the weeklong trip that there is one aspect that could easily impact many lives, for free.

Finding someone on the streets and engaging in conversation with them can help make homeless people feel more confident and eager to find a job. Communities all across the globe can do their part in helping with the issue of poverty.

Taking the time to sit down with someone and listen to what they have to say can help them get back on their feet and off of the street.


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Why statehood can only be negotiated

A skeptical letter writer asked recently why the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state shouldn't happen and why it would lead to bloodshed. The short answer is: rejectionism.

Palestinian Arabs have consistently rejected Israel's right to exist as a legitimate entity or to negotiate genuine compromise in return for having their own state. Instead, they have tried since day one to drive the Jews out through violence and terror.

There are many verifiable, historic reasons for Israel's genuine fear of a nonnegotiated Palestinian state. Don't believe what "they" say? Conduct your own scholarly inquiry.


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Northstar differences? Sure -- and progress

Differences of opinion about when and how to expand the Northstar commuter-rail line have always existed. Recently, disagreements between members of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority have been written about ("Northstar plans divide two counties," Sept. 25).

As chairman of the NCDA, I want to assure folks that the authority and its members remain committed to helping Northstar be a tremendous asset to the state.

There's a good quote from Henry Ford: "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."

The NCDA brought 30 governmental units together in 1997. It took 12 years of persistence to get the first train rolling in November 2009. The success of opening day was not the end.

The NCDA continues to make progress with its partners on building ridership, and we envision extending the service to St. Cloud. And, no, we don't always agree on how to accomplish those goals.

Another quote comes to mind, this one from Darryl F. Zanuck: "If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, both are useless."

NCDA members will continue to have their differences. But there's much to celebrate so far.

I'm talking about 96 percent on-time performance and consistent travel time regardless of weather, plus people taken off the congested roads. In the first year, 16 million passenger miles were logged on the trains, safely.