Archive for May, 2007

The death penalty – on request?

For years, I’ve been a staunch opponent of the death penalty. To me it seems both barbaric and unjust. In a fallible and inequitable criminal justice system, one can never be sure that the death penalty is applied evenly and without bias. And with the spate of false convictions that have been uncovered in the past few decades, it’s clear that even completely innocent people are sentenced to death.

So, I was more than a bit surprised when I read this article from the BBC News: hundreds of Italian prisoners who are serving life sentences are actually requesting that the death penalty be reinstated (it’s been banned since after World War II.)

The letter they sent to President Napolitano came from a convicted mobster, Carmelo Musumeci, a 52-year-old who has been in prison for 17 years.

It was co-signed by 310 of his fellow lifers.

Musumeci said he was tired of dying a little bit every day.

We want to die just once, he said, and “we are asking for our life sentence to be changed to a death sentence”.

I’ve always thought about death penalty as the most cruel and unjust form of punishment, but how much less cruel is life imprisonment, really? Unlike a death sentence, it’s reversible; if someone is found to have been wrongly convicted, they can be released; if they appeal and evidence is unearthed that proves them guilty of only a lesser crime, their sentence can be shortened. But the prospect of living the rest of one’s life behind bars is a horrifying one indeed, as evidenced by these prisoners’ plea for death.

Being a prison abolitionist, I’m looking forward to a time when prisons fade into obsolescence and are no longer how society deals with its problems. However, that’s probably a long way off. So in the meantime, the questions I’m pondering are these – should prisoners be allowed to request the death penalty instead of a life sentence? Should that be allowed even if the death penalty is abolished as an involuntarily imposed sentence? Does this amount to something akin to voluntary euthanasia (physician-assisted suicide), which I do not oppose? Is this a devaluation of the lives of prisoners? That last question sounds eerily like something a “sanctity of life” anti-choicer might say, but I’m coming from a different angle. People in prison are already so undervalued, even when they’re released; does something like this only reinforce that devaluation – saying that life in prison is worse than no life at all? And finally, does anyone but prisoners actually serving life sentences have the right or even the ability to answer any of these questions?

dugout lovin’?

Manny Ramirez and Julian Tavarez of the Boston Red Sox act with surprising affection towards each other in this video, during which the sportscasters grow increasingly uncomfortable with the display and eventually respond with predictable ridicule and horror.

Kenyon Farrow responds to the video, saying that, while Manny and Julian may well have something more than platonic going on (which would be fun times, indeed), maybe they’re just perpetuating a rare phenomenon in US society: straight men touching.

But maybe they are straight! I actually wish more straight men would get over their fear of touching other men (Have you ever seen straight men in a movie theatre on on a train sit next to one another without leaving an empty seat between them?). Maybe they’d be less likey to feel the need to beat and bash women, children, queers or men they percieve to be less man than they. So whatever the case, Manny and Julian, be not moved by the naysayers! Hug on! Caress on! Fondle on! Wrestle on!

Whatever the larger import of this interaction, I’ll say this: while I’m a Yankees fan and am therefore pretty much required to hate Boston, this video made me love the Sox just a little bit. (Please don’t tell my mom, she already calls me a turncoat for attending the occasional Mets game.)

ACTION ALERT: Tues. 5/22 NYC Emergency Press Conference and Rally on Immigrant Justice

I won’t get a chance to write about the b.s. immigration legislation that’s being pushed through Congress right now, so instead I suggest you attend the press conference and rally in NYC tomorrow, if you’re local, and read the press release below.

Immigration “Grand Bargain” = Grand Sellout

With this weeks upcoming vote on the Senates Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (resulting from the bipartisan “Grand Bargain” between Senators and the White House), immigrant communities face one of the most repressive immigration plans in decades: an enormous report-to-deport program, a punitive pseudo-legalization plan, expanded enforcement at the border and interior, a guestworker program with tougher worksite enforcement and minimal worker protections, as well as devastating cutbacks in family immigration to be replaced with merit-based requirements. Community groups in the New York metro area are coming together to challenge the Senate “Grand Bargain” on Tuesday May 22nd as part of a national coordination of press conferences (officially on Wednesday May 23rd throughout the country) with the National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights.

JOIN US in front of Senator Clintons office to URGENTLY condemn this “bargain” which compromises away our lives.

What: Emergency Press Conference and rally for immigrant communities to speak out against the Senate-White House Immigration Deal and demand that our Senators not compromise immigrant lives.

When: 11am on Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Where: Outside Senator Clinton’s office (780 Third Ave, between 48th and 49th Streets)

Who: Organized by Immigrant Communities in Action and the American Friends Service Committee

To endorse, please contact

************

PRESS RELEASE

American Friends Service Committee
Immigrant Communities in Action

PRESS RELEASE, May 21, 2007

Contact:
Trishala Deb, Audre Lorde Project: 917.488.6701 (English)
Chia Chia Wang, American Friends Service Committee: 646-509-3860 (English)
Jennifer Arieta, Centro Hispano “Cuzcatlan”: 631-332-7887 (Spanish)

NYC Immigrants Tell Clinton and Schumer: The Grand Bargain Equals a Grand Sellout

Queens, NY – Immigrant Communities in Action (ICA) – a multi-ethnic coalition of grassroots immigrant rights groups in New York – is joining other national, regional, and local groups around the country to say NO to the “Grand Bargain”. With this week’s upcoming vote on the Senate’s Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (referring to the bipartisan “Grand Bargain” between Senators and the White House), immigrant communities face one of the most repressive immigration plans in decades: minimal opportunities for immigrants to legalize our status, expanded enforcement at the border and interior, a guestworker program with tougher worksite enforcement and minimal worker protections, as well as devastating cutbacks in family immigration to be replaced with merit-based requirements.

Coalition members will hold a press conference and rally at Senator Clinton’s office this week, in conjunction with a national media week coordinated by the National Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Date: May 22, 2007
Time: 11 am
Location: Outside Sen. Clinton’s Office, 780 3rd Ave., between 48th and 49th St.

We do not see the so-called “Grand Bargain” as a legalization bill, but rather a “report to deport” system for millions of immigrants that cannot jump over the extremely high hurdles—including a restrictive point system which most community members will not qualify for and which penalizes working class immigrants. The misleading proposal also requires immigrants leaving the US to “touch-back” with no guaranteed right to return as well as having to prove continuous work history. Many of our community members will not qualify due to work and education histories, old age, medical issues including HIV status, and a scarcity of jobs with employer sponsorship, or an inability to fit legal definitions of “family” because of their gender identity or sexuality. “The impacts of this proposal would be devastating on the immigrant communities in New York, with thousands expecting to have the opportunity for permanent status only to enlist in a program resulting in their own deportation,” Namita Chad, a member of the Audre Lorde Project stated.

Possibly the most contentious part of the plan is the rollback on historic family reunification options for millions of families in the United States. The Grand Compromise eliminates most options for family sponsorships and replaces them with a feeble visitor visa program. Residents will lose the ability to sponsor parents and children who are 18 years or older. “How can other American families stand by while children lose their grandparents and parents are cut off from their own children? While we build the economy for families in this country, we could be completely cut off from our own,” states Jennifer Arieta from Centro Hispano “Cuzcatlan”.

Any of the feeble “paths” to citizenship will not be available until “interior enforcement,” “employer verification,” and “border security” milestones are in place, which could take years. Additionally, these “security” measures will encourage local and state police to act as federal immigration agents and place thousands of border patrol ICE agents in communities and worksites, which would make our communities more vulnerable to abuse, racial profiling and harassment and lead to widespread detention and deportation. “Why does this proposal stipulate a capacity to incarcerate 27,000 immigrants a day?” Carolyn H. de Leon-Hermogenes, a member of Domestic Workers United, asked. “It is clear this proposal has nothing to do with communities and everything to do with expanding enforcement and corporate profits for the same companies that are making money from the war in Iraq.” Similar to last year’s plans, the Grand Compromise also focuses heavily on enforcement, including doubling the number of Border Patrol agents; adding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to investigate “immigration crimes;” and providing more equipment to militarize the border.

***

Through an extensive community consultation process, Immigrant Communities in Action documented the voices of immigrant communities and created the “People’s Platform for Immigration Reform.” Community members want to reunite with their families within a reasonable period; we do not want to wait decades to apply for their “green card” and then more years to become a citizen before we can file a petition for their relatives. We want to protect the rights of all workers – immigrants and native-born. We want a fair path to legalization available to all temporary workers. We want our homes, our workplaces, our cities, and our borders to be safe; we want an end to the human and civil rights crisis and disappearing legal processes. We say no to increasing raids, detention and deportation that tear our families apart, and are paid for with taxpayers’ money. Immigrant communities are in crisis as our families are being torn apart—we desperately need a fair and humane immigration reform that includes a clear and realistic path to legalization and an end to raids, deportations, detentions & excessive policing.

NYPD activist surveillance documents surrounding the RNC released

After a long legal battle, I-Witness Video has obtained and posted more than 600 pages of NYPD RNC-related activist surveillance documents, spanning from October 2003 to September 2004. On the I-Witness site, you can read more about the preceding legal fight, download a large PDF of the documents, or perform single-word searches on the documents.

I’ve already been going through them for about an hour, and am about to stop myself from looking at them all night. Otherwise I’m going to have nightmares. Lots of the stuff is really creepy. Some of it is creepy because of the infiltration factor that’s evident in what they’re able to find out; how disturbing to think of organizations and groups being infiltrated. However, some of the stuff isn’t creepy at first because it’s such public information, so the methods of obtaining the info aren’t so creepy seeming. But then, when you think about it a little more, it’s almost creepier, because the things they’re documenting seem so tame and so benign. I’m talking regular old community organization meetings, happy family-friendly kinds of marches and activities, that sort of thing. Green Party events held in sunny Tompkins Square Park, for fuck’s sake. These guys aren’t just worried about their infamous scary black bloc anarchists here, the kind of mythological threat that the cops and the press like to put on display to terrify the populace. Nah, they’re after anyone who has the slightest inclination towards evil anti-American concepts like justice or equality or liberation.

And that’s just the shit from the document that hasn’t been redacted (blacked out, usually with comments like “law enforcement privilege.” (Oh yeah, we know all about law enforcement privilege.)

Obviously, I know that the police and the rest of the government are fucking insidious, and all of this shit has gone on for decades upon decades in this country (centuries upon centuries, probably) and will continue to do so for a long while to come. And it’s not as if I don’t know that the groups and movements and coalitions and even social groups that I live and work within are heavily surveilled, even when we’re doing things that seem so innocent, so harmless, so tame, so right.

But it’s still scary. And it still might give me nightmares.

I think it might also convince to me finally start practicing better technology privacy and security measures – you know, encrypting emails, that sort of thing. I always think that I don’t say or write anything interesting or sensitive or important enough to really worry about. But I think I’m realizing that the cops find a whole lot more interesting than I would’ve thought.

celebrating May Day, LAPD style

I’d heard about the police brutality at the immigration protests in LA, but I didn’t see this footage until today. It looks like a warzone. It is a warzone – the police vs the people. It’s horrifying.

Something striking about this particular footage – even Fox News (albeit a local affiliate) showed the truth in a “fair and balanced” way. The LAPD really fucked up this time, it seems, by not only attacking the protesters, but also brutalizing members of the media, who have the ability to put the story out there and who can’t be so easily written off as unruly protesters or “anarchists.” Who knows, maybe some change will come after this. Not holding my breath, though.

in case you ever doubted that prison is an industry

From the New York Times, via futurebird on the debunkingwhite Livejournal community: California inmates who meet certain requirements and can fork over a significant amount of dough get to have a cushier stay in prison than their less wealthy fellow inmates:

For roughly $75 to $127 a day, these convicts — who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients” — get a small cell behind a regular door, distance of some amplitude from violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring an iPod or computer on which to compose a novel, or perhaps a song.

Unbelievable, right? Well, not so unbelievable, considering that our entire capitalist society constantly reinforces the notion that, the more money you have, the more worth you have as a person, and the better you deserve to be treated. And hopefully, though unfortunately, we’ve all been disabused of the silly fantasy that the justice is blind, that the justice system in this country is equitable and applies the law fairly and evenly across lines of race and class.

And yet somehow, I still managed to be a little shocked by this. I figure, if you’re a person with racial or economic privilege who still manages to be convicted of a crime (even if it’s a lesser crime than another person with less privilege may have been convicted of), and you actually get sentenced to time in prison (again, even if said sentence is lighter), and even still if you get some preferential treatment from prison authorities, you’re still going to be serving your sentence in basically the same facilities, with basically the same privileges and lack thereof.

Silly me to forget there’s always a way to make sure that the richer and otherwise more privileged are more comfortable and are treated more humanely than everyone else.

Some particularly infuriating passages (emphasis mine):

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.

Wealth and privilege aren’t limited to money; they also extend to knowledge and access to information. Many people are denied all sorts of rights to which they are fully and lawfully entitled because they just don’t know about them. Information is either never offered or made so inaccessible that those rights may as well not exist at all.

Many of the overnighters are granted work furlough, enabling them to do most of their time on the job, returning to the jail simply to go to bed (often following a strip search, which granted is not so five-star).

To me, this was one of the most galling aspects of the pay-to-stay privilege. For most people, the damaging effects of prison sentences extend far beyond the length of the stay. Even a relatively short stay can put a person’s job in jeopardy; do you think that most hourly-wage workers will come back from a few weeks or months in jail to find their old job waiting for them? Hell no; and then, of course, follows the difficulty of finding another job and the financial troubles caused by lost wages. But with the work furlough privilege, you can not only retain your job, but you can continue to make money right through your term.

Only one of the people quoted even comes close to getting at the all too evident problems with this situation:

While jails in other states may offer pay-to-stay programs, numerous jail experts said they did not know of any.

“I have never run into this,” said Ken Kerle, managing editor of the publication American Jail Association and author of two books on jails. “But the rest of the country doesn’t have Hollywood either. Most of the people who go to jail are economically disadvantaged, often mentally ill, with alcohol and drug problems and are functionally illiterate. They don’t have $80 a day for jail.”

Most of the other people quoted simply highlight how racist, classist, and generally fucked up this is.

“The benefits are that you are isolated and you don’t have to expose yourself to the traditional county system,” said Christine Parker, a spokeswoman for CSI, a national provider of jails that runs three in Orange County with pay-to-stay programs.

Since when does a person convicted of a crime that requires jail time have such latitude of choice when it comes to what they “expose” themselves to? Not that I’m any fan of the prison industrial complex, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole frakking purpose of prison?

Parker continues, going on to say what is perhaps the most outrageously honest thing in this entire article:

“You can avoid gang issues. You are restricted in terms of the number of people you are encountering and they are a similar persuasion such as you.

Hmm… can anyone guess the sort of things she might be talking about when she says “persuasion?”

When talking about how the Pasadena Police Department tried to “create a little buzz” (!) for the program in the 1990s, a department representative says,

“Our sales pitch at the time was, ‘Bad things happen to good people… People might have brothers, sisters, cousins, etc., who might have had a lapse in judgment and do not want to go to county jail.

Right. Because poor people who commit crimes are criminals, and rich people who commit crimes are good people who had a lapse in judgment.

The article’s conclusion seems to assert that the “five-star jails” still suck. Kinda.

Still, no doubt about it, the self-pay jails are not to be confused with Canyon Ranch… Lockdown can occur for hours at a time, and just feet away other prisoners sit with their faces pressed against cell windows, looking menacing.

Because POOR PEOPLE ARE SCARY! Even when all they can do is scowl at you through a window because your money gets you better treatment and privileges than they have.

Ms. Brockett, who normally works as a bartender in Los Angeles, said the experience was one she never cared to repeat.

“It does look decent,” she said, “but you still feel exactly where you are.”

Yeah – in a watered-down version of jail that you get to stay in because of your most likely unearned privilege. We feel for you, really.