In honor of Veterans Day, The Temple hosted a Records Restriction Summit Monday to help Fulton County vets and others with criminal records achieve clean slates. In a historic synagogue known for being a champion of social justice and human rights, 300 residents charged with felonies and misdemeanors – but never convicted – got final orders that their records were restricted.
The primary purpose of records restriction is to prevent applicants for jobs, housing and college from being restricted by their criminal past. Representatives from Fulton legal and courts systems were on hand Monday to help those who applied and were approved for records restriction receive their final orders.
One of those was Jason Pullman, the Jewish radio morning show host of 94.9/ The Bull, who came to the event with his lawyer, Kevin Fisher. Pullman, who grew up at The Temple, said he was charged seven years ago with terroristic threats after throwing a half-empty water bottle at a car he thought was trying to run him off the road. The charge was later reduced to simple assault and dismissed, but he wanted it off his record. “It could have impeded me the rest of my career. Thank G-d it was dismissed.”
Earlier, The Temple Rabbi Peter Berg welcomed those who filled the halls of the synagogue for the event. “For over 150 years, we have been at the forefront of community activism and social change,” he said at a media conference before the opening ceremonies, which included patriotic songs and bands.
“Today we gather under the auspices of the Rothschild Social Justice Institute at The Temple, generously named by the Arthur M. Blank family in memory of our rabbi, Jacob M. Rothschild.
“Rabbi Rothschild worked hand-in-hand with Dr. King, and I know he would have been proud to witness the sacred work we are doing today. This Temple was bombed 60 years ago this month because our rabbi was relentless in mobilizing our community to speak truth to power to do the right thing, even when it was not convenient or popular,” Berg said.
“We are here to face the world head-on, and to repair that which is broken – our criminal justice system. … Too many people have a criminal history and too many people are incarcerated. To be specific, about 3.8 million people in Georgia have a criminal history. In Fulton County alone, there are 1.5 million outstanding charges that have never gone to trial. These charges mar the records of our neighbors. It prevents them from getting jobs or getting access to colleges, and it disqualifies them from public housing and adoption.”
The Temple is working with Public Square Media to develop a toolkit to help other Jewish congregations host similar events around the country, said Rabbi Lydia Medwin, the synagogue’s director of engagement. “In a country that claims that people are innocent until proven guilty, [some] are being treated as if they’re guilty, even though they were not convicted.” She said the event fits in with The Temple’s commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world, and was facilitated and funded by Jews.
This was the first year the summit was held at The Temple and on Veterans Day. The past two years it was held at other times at Ebenezer Baptist Church because criminal justice issues were seen as the concern of the African-American community, said John Eaves. He brought the program from Chicago to Atlanta while he was chairman of the Fulton County Commission. As a member of The Temple and chairman of the Rothschild Institute’s racial justice committee, Eaves believes it an appropriate evolution that a synagogue and Jewish community with a strong history of social justice embrace this cause.