The Black Hole of the American Injustice System PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff Writer   
Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:00

By David S. D'Amato

Though many Americans know that prisoners often work while behind bars, the conditions under which they toil may be less than clear. Fortune magazine made waves this summer when it reported that “[p]rison labor has gone artisanal,” revealing a multimillion dollar business that puts convicts to work making everything from specialty motorcycles to goat cheese sold at Whole Foods.

And while consumers pay top dollar for the prisoners’ expensive wares – and companies like Colorado Corrections Industries rake in millions – the prisoners themselves often make as little as 60 cents per day. David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, says that prison labor operates in a “legal black hole” where basic legal protections such as minimum wage are conspicuously unavailable.

That hopeless black hole has swallowed nearly 2.5 million individual Americans, destroying lives and dreams, tearing families asunder and leaving them in financial ruin. As is now a well-known and shameful fact, the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its populace than any other government on earth. No country sanctioning such a practice can maintain that it is “free” in any but the most ironic, mocking sense.

Such statistical data confirm the United States’ brutal and unjustifiable over-criminalization, the tendency toward outlawing acts that a free society would treat as permissible. Today, a huge percentage of American prisoners at both the state and federal levels are nonviolent offenders, their crimes usually involving the possession of illegal drugs. Most of these captives are black or Hispanic Americans – even though these groups are no more likely to possess “contraband” than white Americans. Subjected to militarized police forces that treat their neighborhoods as occupied war zones, members of these vulnerable groups are routinely harassed, stopped and frisked, watched and arrested without cause. They are made criminals, sent to prison to languish or perform slave labor.

Yet even if we grant, for the sake of argument, the preposterous premise that almost everyone in prison has committed some actual crime, we are nonetheless left with the question of how a free society ought to deal with those who violate the rights of others. The notion that wrongdoers must be punished is the great unexamined assumption. It is not at all clear that justice is served by punishment – much less that justice requires punishment.

In Resist Not Evil, distinguished attorney Clarence Darrow argued that punishment itself represents a great injustice, his great legal mind condemning “the evil and unsatisfactory results of punishment.” Darrow believed the criminal justice system should strive to make a victim whole and to reform the lawbreaker, not to subject the criminal to savagery and vengeance, the barbaric holdovers of less enlightened ages. Darrow went so far as to contend that the state’s simple and mindless revenge, “without any thought of good to follow,” is indeed worse “than any casual isolated crime.” Considering the practice of punishment from all angles, addressing all ostensible rationales, Darrow revealed it as wrong, ineffectual, inhuman.

Market anarchists believe that only acts which violate the equal rights of others ought to be regarded as crimes. Every individual thus has the sovereign right to live her life in whatever way she chooses, as long as she allows everyone else the same right. Under these simple standards, the prison system is an abominable example of injustice and aggression.

“The time will come,” Darrow wrote, “when the public prosecutor and the judge who sentences his brother to death or imprisonment will be classed with the other officers who lay violent and cruel hands upon their fellows.” With American prisons bursting at the seams and giant corporations exploiting the slave labor pool they create, one hopes that the day Darrow wrote of is coming sooner rather than later.

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 23:11
 
The Red Flag Flies High Again on Prosecution in Brown Slaying PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff Writer   
Friday, 19 September 2014 22:24

by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A little over a year ago the debate was fierce over whether Florida state prosecutor Angela "tough on Crime" Corey assigned to prosecute George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin would dump the case. There was good reason for the debate.  Zimmerman was not a police officer. But he was seen as the next best or worst thing to it since he had close ties with law enforcement and was a one-time neighborhood watch patrol officer. This automatically bestowed on him the shield that cops have from any charges of misconduct especially in cases where the victims of their misconduct are young African Americans or Hispanics.


 

The rest of course is history. Zimmerman walked in part because a jury believed his fairy tale that he was the victim of a Martin attack. But in larger part because prosecutors put up an inept, feeble, and bumbling prosecution that again reconfirmed the nightmare fear that the rare times that cops are prosecuted for deadly force and the victims look like Martin bad things almost always happen.

A year later the red flag that flew high with prosecutors in cop cases is flying even higher in the Michael Brown slaying. The instant that the call on whether to prosecute Brown’s killer, Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson would be made by the hard-nosed St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough who has a well-worn record of refusal to prosecute any officers who have been involved in dubious, even outrageous killings of mostly unarmed black suspects, the screams were loud for a special prosecutor. This hasn’t happened. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon emphatically said no. This could be subject to change but it would take the near miracle of smoking gun evidence that Brown was killed with absolutely no justification or provocation and the dogged refusal of McCullough to prosecute.

The reason for McCullough’s foot drag on or outright refusal to prosecute Wilson strikes to the heart of why he and other prosecutors either won’t prosecute officers or invariably blow the case against them the rare times they do. More than a decade ago the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in its landmark study," Who's Guarding the Guardians," of the conduct of police and prosecutors in civil rights cases, told exactly why. It cited the traditionally close relationship between district or county attorneys and police officers, who usually work together to prosecute criminals, the difficulties they have in convincing grand juries and trial juries that a police officer did not merely make an understandable mistake, but committed a crime; and the lack of information about cases that could be prosecuted or systems for reviewing possibly prosecutable cases.

These towering barriers have been glaringly evident in the Brown slaying. Wilson was put on pro forma paid leave, the Ferguson police chief released potentially damaging information about an alleged Brown heist at a convenience store, rallies were held and hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised in Wilson’s defense. And in the flood of news stories about the killing, Wilson has been depicted as a hardworking, model cop.  There is also no ironclad standard of what is or isn't an acceptable use of force in police misconduct cases. It often comes down to a judgment call by the officer. In the Rodney King beating case in 1992 in which four LAPD officers stood trial, defense attorneys painted King as the aggressor and claimed that the level of force used against him was justified. This pattern has been evident in a number of celebrated cases since then.

There’s yet another horrific fact about these cases.  That’s the call for a special prosecutor who will take the case out of local police friendly prosecutors and can be independent, and objective. Corey was a good example of where even that can go terribly wrong. She was the special prosecutor appointed to prosecute Zimmerman. But again the U.S. Civil Rights Commission noted that the appointment of a special prosecutor does not guarantee that police officers accused of wrongdoing will be prosecuted and ultimately punished. In many cases, the special prosecutor is another county or district attorney selected from a neighboring jurisdiction that may be subject to the same biases and partiality as the original prosecutor. The Commission cites numerous examples where special prosecutors have been appointed in high profile cases to eliminate real or perceived bias by local prosecutors for the defendants yet the prosecution has still failed to get a conviction.

In October, a grand jury supposedly will make the call whether to indict Wilson on charges in the Brown killing. Barring a dramatic development in the case, it will be up to McCullough to ask for an indictment and to supply evidence that will support an indictment. This is usually a mere formality and prosecutors get the green light to go forward.  But this can’t happen if no case is presented in the first place, and given McCullough’s track record and the past history of these cases, the odds are long that Wilson won’t spend a day in criminal court. This is why the red flag flies high again on prosecution in the Brown slaying.

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 22:38
 
Ok, Who's on Trial Here? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ron Rogers   
Friday, 27 June 2014 05:56

Mayor Steve Benjamin: Ok, Who's On Trial Here

Even though he is not on trial, Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin has taken several hits from the prosecutors in the Jonathan Pinson corruption trial. This has caused some damage to his political image.

 
Killing and Dying for Respect PDF Print E-mail
Written by Walter Fields   
Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

There was some disbelief over social media when it was suggested the accused shooter of two Newark New Jersey youth was prompted by his feeling disrespected. The suspect, a 15 year-old boy, is reported to have been angry because he believed two other young men had ‘hit’ on a girl he was dating. The boy’s rage resulted in the death of a 13 year-old girl, Zainee Hailey, who was struck by a stray bullet while taking out the trash on Christmas night. Another victim, a target of the shooter and one of the boys the suspect alleged to have acted disrespectfully toward him, died of his injuries. The third victim was shot in the neck and seriously injured.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 06:03
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The New Hillary Hit — Pit Her Against President Obama PDF Print E-mail
Written by Earl Ofari Hutchinson   
Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

GOP strategists have made absolutely no secret that they are loading up for bear against Hillary Clinton, if but more likely when, she announces that she’s in for White House in 2016. They’ve already shelled out millions to assail her on websites, blogs, and in less than discreet digs at her from the Republican National Committee. They’ve rehashed all the old stuff about Whitewater, the Lewinsky scandal, her tout of health care reform, which was the prelude to the much harangued Affordable Care Act, and most importantly her alleged cover-up of Benghazi.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 06:03
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