Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Complain A Lot

I really do.

In fact, looking back over my posts on this blog, I found that roughly 95 percent of them have some sort of complaint about the way the world works at their core. Complaining is cool, but I realized that I don't offer a bunch of solutions, which makes my complaining seem a lot like whining.

Anyway, I was strolling through the blogsphere and touched down for a minute at Nat Turner's Revenge. While perusing the brother's site, I came across a post he did about one of my favorite topics, HBO's The Wire.

I'll save my gushing explanation of the show for another time, since those of you who have read this blog for a while have heard it all before. Instead, I want to talk about one of the issues raised in the post about the show.

One of the main elements of The Wire is the futility of the War on Drugs and the impact that war has had on low-income people, particularly black folks. Anyway, the creators of the show did a piece for Time Magazine where they discussed one of their solutions for dealing with the War on Drugs and it was a doozy. You can check out the short article here.

As you can see, the authors advocate that anybody sitting on a jury that is considering a case involving drug violations vote for acquittal regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused. They point out that jury nullification is an acceptable protest for citizens to engage in, particularly if the want change. The show's creators said that this strategy shouldn't be used if violence is involved in the case, but is justified if it is strictly a drug case.

Now that is interesting.

Before I even discuss the merits of this strategy, I would like to point out that it's kind of ironic that the show's creators advocate for it because in The Wire's final season one of the most loathsome characters on the show avoided prosecution through jury nullification.

State Senator Clay Davis, a snake who had his hands in more pockets than a Calcutta thief, managed to avoid conviction on accusations that he misused public funds by convincing a black jury that his prosecution was a result of rich, white folks looking to give him the shaft. Despite the mountain of evidence against Davis, the jury decided that racism was a bigger deal, and let him walk. The response by several characters, whose dialogue was of course okayed by the show's creators, expressed their disgust with the outcome and the jurors. So, it would seem that the show's creators only support jury nullification when it's used for issues they agree with it.

But, I digress.

The idea of using your position on a jury to write historical wrongs is one I've thought about on many occasions. I've never sat on a jury, but I've often wondered how I would comport myself if given that opportunity. I don't know if I would be able to sentence another black man to the hell that is prison, even if I think they are guilty of a heinous crime. I know for certain I would never be able to convict someone of a crime that could result in their death.

However, I don't believe that every juror should refuse to convict criminals on drug convictions simply to prove a point. On one hand, it would definitely send a message to the government that there needs to be a change in how law enforcement and the judicial system handle the drug problem. On the other hand, if criminals, (and despite the wrong done to them, these people are criminals) are allowed to operate without fear of consequences, I don't see things getting any better for folks in the hood.

The judicial system may be corrupt and unjust, but there is no denying that it is a deterrent.

I would rather see people focus their protests and complaints on impacting those areas where real change can be made to the system, instead of nullifying juries. I know the creators of The Wire have no faith in "systems," but I don't see how the world can work without certain systems. I think we as a nation need to figure out a way to force the government to spend more money on items like education, infrastructure and public services instead of just agreeing to let crack dealers walk.

But, while that sounds like a good solution, it's still pretty vague. In concrete terms, I think we need to advocate to change the funding mechanism for local school systems, that we need to do away with mandatory minimum drug sentences and that we need to make an immediate investment into job training and educational services for prisoners.

Schools should not be funded based on the affluence or lack of affluence of the local tax base. We need to have one big pot that allocates the same amounts to every student and also pays for capital improvements based on a priority system as opposed to a patronage system.

As I've said before, mandatory minimums are unjustly enforced and unfairly remove decision making from judges. There is no justification for the gap between the sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, but, more importantly, it makes no sense to automatically sentence people to a decade in prison without considering the actual circumstances of their crime.

Finally, the way we treat prisoners in this country is atrocious. If we want prisoners to be positive, contributing members of society we have to spend money on helping them achieve those goals. We cannot warehouse them in cesspools that encourage recidivism much more than rehabilitation. Everyone understands that most prisoners lack education and job skills, let's rectify that problem to make them productive again.

I think that if more Americans rally around these three goals we can see immediate changes in our country, changes for the better. Otherwise we're doomed to fight the same drug war over and over, with our only recourse being to punish offenders harshly or let them free to commit more crimes.


OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Man, do not get me started on the legal system and just how unfair it is, especially on the class level.

In Harris County you are pretty much screwed if you are poor. They use a court appointed system and those lawyers don't even work on those cases as opposed to a public defenders office. But you know Texas is the HANG 'EM HIGH state and Harris County is the crown jewel of corruption.

Race and class are so finely intertwined in this country that to be classicist is often racist and vice versa. Especially in legal matters.

I am personally involved with a case and he is college educated and the things he has seen during this stint are completely stomach turning.

I think you of course have good ideas but how do we get them into play. With so many people eating high off the corrupt status quo it is hard to know where to begin.

I loved the Wire too. We had many discussions about what legalizing drugs would do during the story arc. The Wire was one of the most thought provoking shows on TV.


A.F. said...

"Finally, the way we treat prisoners in this country is atrocious. If we want prisoners to be positive, contributing members of society we have to spend money on helping them achieve those goals. We cannot warehouse them in cesspools that encourage recidivism much more than rehabilitation. Everyone understands that most prisoners lack education and job skills, let's rectify that problem to make them productive again."

I agree!

I've been looking at SB 749, which closes the state's largest youth detention center in Baton Rouge, which has lost its accreditation and is worse than a warehouse. The bill claims that it will move the residents of this center (Jetson) to much smaller centers where there will be a focus on rehabilitation and recovery, where they will be closer to their families, and where they will be offered great education and job training. The legislation has bi-partisan support. BUT the problem is that these other, smaller centers DO NOT EXIST! The promise of other centers and better services is a bait and switch. It's not going to happen. All that the bill really requires is that Jetson close. What's really going to happen is that the young people will be moved to other, existing centers, overcrowding them, etc. (I have all this on very good authority and am not just speculating.) The legislation is an actual effort to *cut back on* the services offered to young people in detention rather than taking better care of them.

And many, many of the young people in detention centers are there for "drug offenses," and I mean minor ones, too, and shouldn't even be in detention to start with. It's a terrible mess.

It's too late to do anything about SB 749--support for it is almost unanimous--but I hope that everyone will demand that our legislators allocate funding and create better programs for the kids who do end up this system.

Anonymous said...

To a great extent, voters have rewarded politicians for being "tough on crime" in the ways that, of course, lead to abuses and inequal consequences based on class and/or race.

I think that from a political standpoint, it is easiest NOT to fix things. Because, if truth were to be told, legalization of most drugs and regulation of them would remove many criminal elements from the equation. Personally, I'm not a fan of drugs (except frequent caffeine and some occasional alcohol in my case), but as long as they are criminalized, we have this problem.

Legalized drugs would, of course, be a major source of tax revenue for the government; the problem is that as a society, it seems unlikely that anyone in any great numbers will advance this idea. So, instead, politicians look toward creating jobs in the prison and law enforcement markets instead.

Gye Greene said...

On your comment about education and funding: Not that Australia is all perfect or anything, but...

Since moving to AU, from the U.S., I've been intrigued by the differences in educational funding. As you point out, school districts in the U.S. are based more at the city level (or clusters of small adjacent towns). This allows big discrepancies in funding (and thus, resources), based on the local tax bases: the rich areas get good funding, and the poor areas get crummy funding.

In Australia, educational funding (and decisions) are made at the state level. (The AU states are about the same size as the Canadian provinces.) So it's actually pretty equitable from area to area...


Vertis said...

Great post,
The problem with the educational and judicial systems in this country is the inherent racial bias that guides the government's judgement.

If we were all Americans, then there would be no complaints from conservatives about putting all the money for education in one pot and allocating services equally. The war on drugs would not be focused on the black and poor.

Since we are all not truly considered Americans or thought of as the same, the issues a community faces, becomes their problems to solve alone. The only way problems in the inner city will change, is if folk who live there decide to make it happen. The dominant culture, most non — black folk and uppity Negroes could careless.

Raving Black Lunatic