Crime: the Campaign & New Policy

Sorry I been gone. I’ve been busy with my job, my other projects, and family shit. But I have been keeping up with what’s goin on in the world.

So one of the things I have grown anxious about is how crime is going to be used in the upcoming election.  Listening to Barack’s victory speech in Texas, which he said “As Commander in Chief, my job will be to keep you safe. And I will not hesitate to strike against any that will do us harm.” So now he’s gotta look as tough on national security as John McCain. Pity. It’s this part that is making me a little queasy.

So if Obama nabs the nomination, not only will his ability to “push the button” be called into question, but he will also be scrutinized for how tough on crime he is. So far, his talk about crime has been about how he led mandatory taping of police investigations in the Illinois legislature, and his support of death penalty, racial profiling and mandatory minimum sentencing. But a look at his Senate page on crime is much more frightening. It includes, as his accomplishments, legislation to increase restrictions and surveillance on “sex offenders” to increasing the capacity of local police officers to use technology—I guess for better surveillance. (Talk Left has a great blog entry on Obama and criminal justice issues).

Sigh.

But I hope that he can figure out a way to get through this without using “tough on crime” rhetoric as a selling point. Regardless, there are several high-profile reforms coming down the pike that I hope can move us away from such draconian practices and reduce the numbers of people in prison.

The New York Times reported on a new program in the city to provide young people with therapists who work with the families to help get at the root of the issues instead of sending them to prison:

“When Jacob Rivera, 15, was resentenced in May on an assault conviction, he felt he had received a “blessing.”

Only months earlier he had been sentenced to a year in state custody, and he had already spent weeks bouncing between a juvenile detention center in the Bronx and a residential treatment campus upstate. Two of his older siblings had spent time in those facilities and, he said, had “come out a mess.” He could see his future.

But the court gave him a second chance because his case had not been properly reviewed for inclusion in a new alternative sentencing program, which the city started in February 2007. The program, called the Juvenile Justice Initiative, sends medium-risk offenders back to their families and provides intensive therapy.

The city says that in just a year, it has seen significant success for the juveniles enrolled, as well as cost savings from the reduced use of residential treatment centers.”

Mother Jones has a pretty good news analysis of the fight on the federal level to end mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine:

“Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert warned that shorter crack-cocaine sentences will cause a “loss of the public’s trust and confidence in our criminal justice system”—a possibility that is only slightly less troubling than Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s claim that reduced sentences will mean that “1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release into communities nationwide.”

These statements are scare tactics aimed at reversing a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency responsible for setting sentencing rules in the federal courts, which has pegged March 3 as the first day federal prisoners doing time for crack offenses are eligible to petition for reduced sentences. This countdown comes just after the Commission’s introduction of less-harsh crack-sentencing standards in November, and the December announcement that this reduction will be applicable to inmates currently incarcerated as well as future offenders. The Justice Department, citing “public safety risks,” is trying to overturn the rule. But giving inmates the chance to obtain shorter sentences won’t spur a mass prison exodus: Judges will still decide which inmates deserve a reduction and which don’t. No one is guaranteed an early release.”

Mother Jones is the shit. They also have a great story on a corporate prison executive whom Bush is appointing to be the trail court judge in Tennessee.

Paul Krugman on Poverty

Paul Krugman wrote a pretty decent column on poverty in America.  Read this until I return to the scene tomorrow:

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.”

For the full article, go here…

Black Women Voting Power: New York Times & Washington Post Cover Clinton/Obama Tactics In South Carolina

It seems really strange that the New York Times and the Washington Post would run news stories both taking place in Black beauty shops to talk about th efight for Black women’s vote in South Carolina. But today, they did. Their stories, both accompanied by video, take different points of view on what Black women are thinking about how they are going to vote this year, and on the tactics Clinton and Obama’s machines are using to court their vote.

The most interesting thing to me is what the women in both stories say about how they’re voting, or considering their vote. In the Washington Post story–which focuses most on using the political tactics of reaching Black women voters–the women say:

“I’m not even thinking about color, but I guess in a way I am. I think basically white people won’t vote for him,” Bell said of Obama. “Isn’t that what voting is all about? You are voting for a person that you feel could be a winner.”

That pessimism that a black man could ever become president is a powerful force, even for Obama supporters such as Gaynell Wise, 51, an accountant who was getting her hair cut the day Champaign came into Passion Slice.

“I’m voting for him. I’m old-school. I know what’s going on,” she told Champaign. “He’s trying to take this country someplace it’s never been before. It’s going to take a lot for him to win. I know that. I know the system is not set up for him to win. It’s going to take a miracle and a lot of prayers for him to win. If you can get us to vote . . .” Most of the salons Champaign visits are frequented by younger women, who polls show have been more likely than their elders to vote for black presidential candidates.

But I think the New York Times story has a more nuanced and interesting approach. They talk to the women not just about the vote, but about their conflicted feelings about loving Bill Clinton and wanting to support Hillary mostly because of that. But they also are afraid, literally for Barack Obama’s life, and some are afraid to elect him, for it will mean his untimely demise:

Clara Vereen, who has been working here in rural eastern South Carolina as a hairstylist for more than 40 of her 61 years, reflects the ambivalence of many black women as she considers both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“I’ve got enough black in me to want somebody black to be our president,” she said in her tiny beauty shop, an extension of her home, after a visit from an Obama organizer. “I would love that, but I want to be real, too.”

Part of being real, said Ms. Vereen, whom everyone calls Miss Clara, is worrying that a black president would not be safe.

“I fear that they just would kill him, that he wouldn’t even have a chance,” she said as she styled a customer’s hair with a curling iron. One way to protect him, she suggested, would be not to vote for him.

And Mrs. Clinton?

“We always love Hillary because we love her husband,” Ms. Vereen said. Then she paused. Much of the chitchat in her shop is about whether a woman could or should be president.

That’s an interesting predicament. The Black women profiled in this story it could be said, want to elect Clinton because they like Bill, and because perhaps they want to seek revenge against the Republicans for the 2000 Florida voter fraud. The are scared to elect Brack not because they don’t think he’s Black enough (a media hype) but because they know he is more likely to be assassinated.

Perhaps for the first time in American history, people are really taking the voting interests of Black women seriously. I’ll give more of my analysis of this at NYU on Tuesday.