U.S. Senate Says “Yes” to Torture

U.S. Senate says yes to torture

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” – Joseph Welch

On Thursday the U.S. Senate voted 54 to 45 – with six Democrats voting “yes” and two Republicans voting “no” – to confirm Gina Haspel as the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By doing so the Senate excused and rewarded Ms. Haspel’s oversight of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

In 2002, Ms. Haspel went to Thailand to oversee a CIA black site known as the “Cat’s Eye,” where prisoners were beaten, sleep deprived, held in “stress positions,” locked inside small, wooden boxes, and waterboarded. After the torture program came to light, Ms. Haspel helped order the destruction of videotapes of the torture sessions. During her confirmation hearings Ms. Haspel testified that, in hindsight, the CIA should not have engaged in its “enhanced interrogation program” (the politically correct euphemism for torture). However, during those same hearings she also repeatedly refused to condemn torture as immoral.

To be clear, not only is torture in fact immoral, it also illegal under U.S. and international law. The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Articles 55(c) and 56 of the United Nations Charter, which the U.S. Senate ratified 89 – 2 in 1945, pledges the United States to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” The Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. ratified in 1994 and amended federal law to implement, requires our nation to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction,” and specifically makes no exceptions for “a state of war or a threat of war.”

While 54 United States Senators excused and endorsed torture this week, it is worth remembering it wasn’t so long ago that our government prosecuted and imprisoned people as war criminals for the exact same kind of torture Ms. Haspel oversaw. In 1947, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) tried Japanese Army interpreter Yukio Asano on charges of of violating “the laws and customs of war” through these specific acts:

Specification 1: That in or about July or August, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Morris O. Killough, an American Prisoner of War, by beating and kicking him, by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.

Specification 2: That on or about 15 May, 1944, at Fukoka Prisoner of War Branch Camp Number 3, Kyushu, Japan, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Thomas B. Armitage, William O. Cash and Munroe Dave Woodall, American Prisoners of War, by beating and kicking them, by forcing water into their mouths and noses, and by pressing lighted cigarettes against their bodies.

Specification 5. That between 1 April, 1943 and 31 December, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture John Henry Burton, an American Prisoner of War, by beating him, and by fastening him head downward on a stretcher and forcing water into his nose. (emphasis added)

The IMTFE found Asano guilty, and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor. Seventy-one years later, the United States Senate promoted Gina Haspel to the most powerful intelligence and paramilitary job in the land.

“Let them kill you, but don’t cross the line.” – Hannah Arendt

The Senate’s 54 – 45 vote in favor of Ms. Haspel’s confirmation means she would not have been confirmed but for the six Democratic Senators who voted “yea.”

While it may be true that some of these Democrats cast a vote for Ms. Haspel partly because they face tough 2018 re-election bids (Manchin, Heitkamp), it should go without saying that any job which requires you to endorse torture is not a job worth keeping. 

Alexander (R-TN)     Barrasso (R-WY)     Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)       Burr (R-NC)             Capito (R-WV)
Cassidy (R-LA)          Collins (R-ME)         Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)           Cotton (R-AR)          Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)                Daines (R-MT)         Enzi (R-WY)
Ernst (R-IA)               Fischer (R-NE)        Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Gardner (R-CO)        Graham (R-SC)         Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)             Heller (R-NV)           Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)           Isakson (R-GA)         Johnson (R-WI)
Kennedy (R-LA)        Lankford (R-OK)     Lee (R-UT)
McConnell (R-KY)    Moran (R-KS)         Murkowski (R-AK)  
Perdue (R-GA)           Portman (R-OH)       Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)           Rounds (R-SD)          Rubio (R-FL)
Sasse (R-NE)               Scott (R-SC)               Shelby (R-AL)
Sullivan (R-AK)         Thune (R-SD)            Tillis (R-NC)
Toomey (R-PA)          Wicker (R-MS)          Young (R-IN)
Warner (D-VA)          Shaheen (D-NH)       Heitkamp (D-ND)
Nelson (D-FL)            Manchin (D-WV)      Donnelly (D-IN)
Flake (R-AZ)                Paul (R-KY)
Baldwin (D-WI)         Bennet (D-CO)         Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)            Brown (D-OH)         Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)           Carper (D-DE)         Casey (D-PA)
Coons (D-DE)             Duckworth (D-IL)   Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)       Gillibrand (D-NY)    Harris (D-CA)
Hassan (D-NH)          Heinrich (D-NM)     Hirono (D-HI)
Jones (D-AL)                Kaine (D-VA)            King (I-ME)
Klobuchar (D-MN)    Leahy (D-VT)           Markey (D-MA)
McCaskill (D-MO)      Menendez (D-NJ)    Merkley (D-OR)
Murphy (D-CT)           Murray (D-WA)      Peters (D-MI)
Reed (D-RI)                  Sanders (I-VT)         Schatz (D-HI)
Schumer (D-NY)         Smith (D-MN)        Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)             Udall (D-NM)          Van Hollen (D-MD)
Warren (D-MA)           Whitehouse (D-RI)  Wyden (D-OR)
Cortez Masto (D-NV)
McCain (R-AZ)

– Joel Feinman


The GOP Celebrates Mother’s Day by Assaulting Christian Family Values and the Rule of Law

GOP war on families 1

In an early Mother’s Day gift to the world, on May 7 Attorney General Jeff Sessions scored a tremendous victory in the GOP’s war against families and the rule of law in the United States. Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for people who enter the U.S. without documentation; henceforth, all undocumented adult immigrants will be prosecuted by the U.S. “Department of Justice.” [sic] This policy makes no accommodations for refugees fleeing poverty and the often extreme violence of their homelands – violence the U.S. is partially responsible for creating.

If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” – Jeff Session

In case one worries Mr. Sessions won’t really practice what he is preaching, The New York Times reports that “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since last October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.” According to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, despite what many assume this willful destruction of families is not cruel and heartless because, “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”

“America has begun a spiritual reawakening. Faith and hope are being restored. Americans are turning back to God.” – Ronald Reagan

At first glance, tearing apart families may appear to be a strange avocation for an Attorney General whom Evangelical Christian leaders call “a wonderful believer,” who is “on fire for Christ.” However, given the new DOJ policy of ripping children out of the arms of their refugee parents, one must ask – which parts of the Bible does the GOP still believe in?

  • Psalm 82:3-4 seems to be out. (“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy.”)
  • Proverbs 24:11 no longer seems to cut the mustard (“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.)
  • Ephesians 4:32 can be scratched off. (“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”)
  • Hebrews 13:1-2 doesn’t seem like Mr. Sessions’ thing anymore. (“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”)
  • Matthew 25:35 is clearly not kindling Jesus’ fire in the DOJ these days. (“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”)
  • Leviticus 19:33-34  must have been written by a Hillary-Obama-Islamo-Fascist. (“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”)

We need to recognize the attack Mr. Sessions launched last Monday is not the act of a political renegade, but rather the latest salvo in the GOP’s war on traditional Christian values and the integrity of the family. In the last several years the party, which claims its economic and social policies “should always promote and strengthen that most sacred [family] bond,” has endorsed a candidate accused of sexually assaulting children, passed laws to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, ceaselessly attacked programs that provide health care and social security to the most vulnerable Americans, opposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights between men and women, and threatened to criminally prosecute people who help refugees. By doing so the GOP has exposed themselves as much more interested in breaking families apart than bringing them together.

 “We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States.” – Donald Trump

The GOP has long cast its position on immigration as an example of its fealty to the rule of law. However, much like its practice of turning the other cheek to biblical passages it finds politically inconvenient, the GOP habitually skips over the U.S. Constitution when it thunders on about which laws it thinks should actually dictate immigration policy.

Article VI Sec. 2 states,

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” (emphasis added)

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. ratified in 1992, prohibits our government from arbitrarily arresting and detaining anyone, including refugees and asylum-seekers. The U.S. is also party to the 1967 protocol of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states in Article 33 that member nations must not return refugees to places where their “life or freedom” would be threatened. Additionally, U.S. law requires immigration officers to refer refugees who seek asylum to an interview with an asylum officer before they can be deported. In 2017, Amnesty International issued a report documenting numerous incidents of Border Patrol agents telling refugees they cannot apply for asylum in the United States, and needed to “go back to Mexico.” Finally, while the U.S. has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (nothing says “New Wold Order” more that human rights for kids), we are a signatory to that treaty, which obliges nations to act in the best interests of children. Suffice it to say any government policy that forcibly separates children from parents is not in the best interests of either, and happens to be illegal under international law, U.S. statutory law, and the Constitution of the United States.

“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
“Come and see,” and I saw, and behold a white horse.” – Johnny Cash

In the purest distillation of ironic tragedy, the GOP’s war on Christian family values and the rule of law is quickening a functional end of days for the war’s victims. VOX estimates that the Trump administration’s monomaniacal focus on the persecution of refugees will, by January 2020, turn almost 400,000 people legally present in the U.S. into undocumented immigrants, vulnerable to forced deportation and the destruction of their families. These 400,000 men, women, and children are refugees from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, who fled violence and natural disasters in their homelands and have been allowed to legally live and work in the U.S. – for more than 20 years in some cases – under the Temporary Protected Status Program. In a development that will surprise no one, the Trump Administration has broken with previous administrations, and chosen to end TPSP rather than extend it.

This choice illuminates the fantastic hypocrisy of the GOP’s lip service to family values and the rule of law. Under Trump, the Republican party no longer cares how many families it breaks apart or how many laws it violates, if doing so allows it to demonize and persecute even one more refugee. This choice does not seem very Christ-like.

– Joel Feinman

Dispatches From The Carceral State

carcel state

Carceral: adjective, car·cer·al \ ˈkär-sə-rəl: relating to or suggesting a jail or prison, such as the 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 76 Indian Country jails, and hundreds of other military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and territorial prisons currently operating in the United States of America, AKA the freest nation on earth.

Item #1 – Arizona’s war on women

Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. incarcerated population. In what will surprise to no one with even a passing familiarity with mass incarceration in this state, the change in women’s state prison incarceration rates has been much smaller in some states, like California and Maine, and far more dramatic in Arizona.

women AZ incarceration graph

Item #2 – APAAC’s war on truth

This March, the taxpayer-funded Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) released the 4th edition of its “Prisoners in Arizona” report. Current APAAC Chairperson and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk  lauded the report for supposedly proving that Arizona prisons are “filled with repeat and violent offenders.”

This is a truly curious assertion, due to the fact that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) itself states that,

  • 53.8% of Arizona prisoners are in prison for the first time.
  • 21.7% of all Arizona inmates are currently in prison for drug offenses – the highest percentage of all categories of incarcerated offenders. (This includes the 198 people in prison for marijuana possession only. In comparison, ADOC currently houses 150 people convicted of domestic violence.)

Back in 2011, the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice debunked a previous edition of APAAC’s “Prisoners in Arizona” report point-by-point, proving among other things that the report conflates the definition of  “repeat” and “violent” offenders, artificially inflates the number of people classified as “dangerous, violent, or sexual offenders,” and falsely asserts that Arizona’s high incarceration rate is responsible for a drop in crime. The 4th edition of “Prisoners in Arizona” is no better, and might even be worse. Its principal author, John Lott, Jr., is an academic fraud who published a paper in December in which he claimed that undocumented immigrants in Arizona are at least 146% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. This claim is completely false, as it rests on the ridiculous notion that that all deportable, non-US citizens are undocumented immigrants. They aren’t, of course. A huge proportion of them are legal immigrants who violate the terms of tourist visas, work visas, or Green Cards.

Also, one more thing about this “report.” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery funded Lott’s “research” with RICO funds, which are public dollars raised through civil asset forfeiture and  intended for things like crime victim assistance, substance abuse prevention, and gang violence intervention; “pretty much anything other than promoting the legislative agenda of Arizona’s elected County Attorneys,” said Caroline Isaacs, Program Director for American Friends Service Committee-Arizona.

Item #3 – America’s war on racial equality

The United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a report in 2016 recommending that the government of the United States make reparations to African-Americans as amends for America’s history of racism, racial terror, and mass incarceration. Among its findings:

  • From an early age African-Americans are “treated by the State as a dangerous criminal group and face a presumption of guilt rather than of innocence.”
  • Excessive control and supervision targeting all levels of the lives of African-Americans.
  • Racially based patterns of arrests without justification, detentions without legal counsel, and at times deadly physical abuse against African-Americans committed by members of the Chicago Police Department.
  • The over-representation of African-Americans in federal and state prisons, and disproportionately high incarceration rates for African-American men and women.
  • Federal and state use of mass incarceration as a system of racial control, in much the same way Jim Crow laws were used in previous decades.
  • Inadequate conditions of detention, and serious barriers to detainees accessing physical and mental health treatment.
  • A strong correlation between race and imposition of the death penalty. (African Americans represent 41.7% of the U.S. death row population, and 34.6% of defendants executed since 1976.)

Item #4 – The Carceral State’s war on our wallets

Finally, according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative (If you follow this blog and don’t donate to them, you really should. Their work is priceless), America’s continuing addiction to mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers $182 billion every year. This is more than the annual federal discretionary budget for food & agriculture, science, energy & environment, health, and transportation combined.

costs of mass incarceration

Coda – Larry Krasner’s war on injustice

Viva Larry Krasner! As Philadelphia’s new District Attorney, he is making an unprecedented effort to put a stake in the heart of mass incarceration.

– Joel Feinman

The Dirty Heart of Clean Elections


“The mind of man is capable of anything — because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.” – Joseph Conrad

Manufacturing fear of crime and criminals, and exploiting the boogeyman of the convicted felon is a hallowed American political tradition. As researcher Anthony M. Platt wrote in the journal Social Justice in 1994, “Every politician running for office in the November elections recognized that law and order demagoguery was the ticket to success.” This certainly applies to presidential contenders; see Bush 41’s execrable 1988 Willie Horton ad, Bill Clinton’s interruption of his 1992 presidential campaign to fly back to Arkansas to ensure the execution of a mentally ill black man, and Donald Trump’s seemingly endless invocations of Chicago, “American carnage,” and racialized sexual assault.

None of this fear-mongering and dog-whistling will come as any surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with American politics. What may be surprising is that, in Arizona, people convicted of felonies are forced by law to help pay for some of the very campaigns that demonize them to achieve victory.

Paying for the privilege of the hangman’s noose

On November 3, 1998, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, the “Clean Elections Act.” According to the Commission which oversees it, the Act provides “clean funding” to statewide and state legislative candidates, who want to campaign with public funds instead of private donations as a way of avoiding the influence of private donors. Essentially, candidates who choose to “run clean” must demonstrate they have community support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions. The Clean Elections Commission then gives these candidates public funds to run their campaigns. These public funds come from three places: 1) the $5 qualifying donations gathered by clean candidates, 2) civil penalties levied against candidates who violate the clean elections law, and 3) a 10% surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines. It is this third funding source that deserves special scrutiny.

Under Arizona law, any time a court imposes a fine on a defendant for a civil violation (parking ticket) or a criminal violation (robbery), the court must also impose a 10% surcharge on that fine, which goes into the clean elections fund. In October 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law in the case of May v. McNally, and ruled that the surcharge was a “tax” that did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.

Requiring people convicted of crimes to help fund the campaigns of law & order candidates who will, if elected, make their lives even worse would startle Kafka himself –  unless he was born in Arizona. Lest we think this does not actually occur, we need only examine some of the positions taken by the following “clean” elected officials:

  • State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Tucson), who has been endorsed by Joe Arpaio and the Arizona Citizen’s Defense League.
  • State Representative Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff), who likes to tweet about how the liberal media underreports black-on-white crime, and how former Attorney General Eric Holder is “soft on crime” because he doesn’t like how many black men are in prison.
  • State Representative Becky Nutt (R-Clifton), who supports private prisons and thinks “drug and human smuggling are out of control.”
  • State Representative Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa), who voted to lengthen the prison sentences of undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes.
  • State Representative Anthony Kern (R-Glendale), who believes in “mandatory sentencing laws with stiff penalties to prevent violent criminals and predators from being released back onto our streets.”

“A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

What could be more cruelly ironic than forcing people convicted of criminal offenses – whose newly depressed job prospects already increase the difficulty of making ends meet – to fund their further political demonization? How about forcing them to pay for an electoral system they cannot participate in.

Arizona law holds that, once a person is convicted of a felony, they automatically lose a host of civil and political rights, including the right to bear arms, the right to serve on a jury and hold public office, and the right to vote. One may think this is appropriate for people convicted of murder, rape, and armed robbery. However, before we clamber up a soap box and preach about not doing the crime if you can’t do the time, we might want to pause and reflect on just how many acts qualify as felonies in Arizona these days. Here are 29 pages of them, an incomplete list that includes such horrors as branding an animal that belongs to another person, pandering, and filing a false bingo report.

Such over-criminalization extracts a heavy toll on our democracy; as of 2016, Arizona had the 8th highest percentage of disenfranchised voters in the nation; 221,170 people, or 4.25% of the State’s population, was ineligible to vote in the last election due to a criminal record. Elections are won and lost by far smaller numbers than this. In 2016 Representative Finchem beat his Democrat opponent by 9,998 votes – 4.5% of Arizona’s disenfranchised voters. Representative Thorpe won his race by 4,770 votes – 2.1% of disenfranchised voters. Representative Kern’s victory over his Democratic opponent was the thinest of all clean elections candidates; he won by 4,001 votes, a mere 1.8% of the Arizonans disenfranchised by a criminal conviction.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.” ― Joseph Heller

The Clean Elections Act’s final insult to injury occurs when people with criminal convictions attempt to get their voting rights restored. The law automatically restores most first offenders’ civil rights once they complete probation or are discharged from prison, but only as long as they pay off all of the fines and restitution imposed as part of their sentence.

To see how the momentous injustice of this can play out, let’s assume for the sake argument that our neighbor, John Yossarian, pleads guilty to selling real estate without a proper license, which in Arizona is a felony offense. After his plea the court automatically revokes Yossarian’s right to vote, and orders him to pay a $10,000 fine. This means Yossarian must also pay a $1,000 surcharge to the state clean elections fund on top of that fine. He can no longer sell real estate, so Yossarian cannot get a good job and earn a significant income. After eighteen months he successfully completes probation and doesn’t get into trouble again, but working for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant means he has no extra money to pay either the fine or the surcharge. Consequently Yossarian’s right to vote is not restored, and he cannot vote against his state representative and their tough on crime platform in the 2018 election. Even if Yossarian does scrape together the $11,000 it will take to get his voting rights back, a percentage of that money will help fund his representative’s re-election campaign against a more progressive opponent who, unlike Yossarian’s representative, wants to end mass incarceration and over-criminalization.

This is the realty of the Clean Elections Act, and its injustice plays out hundreds of times a day in courtrooms all over our state. The intention behind the Act – ameliorating the effect of money on elections – may have been noble, but as is so often the case in our history, it is the poorest and most helpless among us who must pay the price for our noble efforts. That price isn’t cheap, and can be measured by the 221,170 Arizonans who could not vote in the last election for a better and more equitable society.

– Joel Feinman


On Shooting A Man Then Shaming Him For Bleeding

blaming the victim for crime 1

Police bias vs. black-on-black crime

The subject of black-on-black crime inevitably arises during any debate about race and racial bias in the criminal justice system. One of its most vocal denouncers is Heather MacDonald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City. On January 11, she participated in a debate entitled “Is Policing Racially Biased,” and stated that contemporary policing is data driven, and that patterns of policing today do not demonstrate police bias, because police simply go where the crime is. According to Ms. MacDonald, objective statistics show that crime is disproportionately a minority problem.

According to the Justice Department, Blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That’s because Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined according to the Justice Department. In the 75 largest counties of the United States, which is where most of the population resides, Blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime, though they’re 15% of the population in those counties. These crime disparities are repeated in every big American city. Here in New York, Blacks commit 75% of all shootings, though they’re 23% of the population…whites commit 2% of all shootings, though they are 34% of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings, and you account for 98% of all shootings in New York City. This means that virtually every time the cops are called out to a shooting scene, they’re being called to a minority neighborhood on behalf of minority victims and being given a description of a minority suspect. The cops don’t wish that disparity. It’s a reality forced upon them by the reality of crime.”

There are well-written and well-researched pieces, supported by data, arguing these statistics are “a dodge, it’s a smokescreen, it’s a red herring, it’s bullshit.” But behind the debate over whose statistics are correct lies the question of how much Ms. MacDonald and her fellow travelers actually care about the lives of Black people.

The truth may be that they don’t care very much. The people who protest black-on-black crime the loudest are precisely the same people who vehemently oppose social policies that mitigate the poverty and inequality that so often causes crime. When Ms. MacDonald is not talking about policing, she does not seem the least bit concerned with protecting or enhancing the well-being of African-Americans.

The inseparable illnesses of crime and poverty

Crime does not arise in a vacuum, and none but the most ardent racists believes that one ethnicity is predisposed to commit more crime than others. One of the factors that intuitively and empirically contributes to crime rates is poverty. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published a special report which found that black and white households living in poverty were much more likely to be victims of crime, and were victims of crimes at similar rates. Poverty also tends to create criminals, as two Scottish researchers documented in a groundbreaking study which followed the lives of 4,300 children as they transitioned to adulthood.

Yet poverty is not colorblind. As of February 2015, 1 in 10 Asians and non-Hispanic whites lived below the federal poverty line ($24,600 per year for a family of four), compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic/Latinos, 1 in 3 Native Americans, and over 1 in 4 African-Americans. In absolute numbers, 42% of all poor people are non-Hispanic whites, yet they make up 62.6% of the overall U.S. population.

federal poverty line by ethnicity

Percentage of population by ethnicity living below the federal poverty line

According to the Economic Policy Institute, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate dropped in 35 states in the fourth quarter of 2016, the African-American unemployment rate exceeded the white unemployment rate in every state where Black unemployment rates could be computed. The Black unemployment rate was highest in Washington, D.C. at 13%, while the white unemployment rate was highest in West Virginia at 5.3%. That unemployment picture looks far more dire when we factor into it how many Black men are locked behind bars, and therefore cannot look for work.

black unemployment rate including prison

While there has long been a gulf in wealth between white Americans and people of color (white families have earned on average $2 for every $1 that Black and Hispanic families have earned for the last 30 years), that gap has widened since the 2008 economic crises; by 2013 the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for Black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families. Redlining – the arbitrary denying or limiting of financial services to specific neighborhoods because the residents are people of color or poor – has afflicted communities of color for generations, with economically devastating results.

Decrying the disease but criticizing the cure

Heather MacDonald’s crime stats may or may not be correct, but what they do for certain is falsely insulate crime rates from the old, pernicious problem of race-based poverty that commentators like her either completely ignore or consciously obfuscate.

Ms. MacDonald never digs below the surface to ask why crime rates are so high among communities of color. Nor does she seem very interested in proposing solutions to the crime problem that do not involve additional policing. On the contrary, Ms. MacDonald has been a vocal critic of exactly the kind of social policies intended to alleviate the poverty and systemic inequality that gives birth to high crime rates.

In her 2001 book “The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society,” Ms. MacDonald dismisses much of New York City’s social welfare programs as “progressive nonsense.” She has condemned putting day care centers in schools to simplify life for teenage mothers, and admitted that she has “always loathed” affirmative action. Ms. MacDonald has also criticized “out-of-wedlock births, particularly among blacks” as the real of cause poverty, and disdainfully asserted that school textbooks have been “revised in accordance with the multiculturalist agenda,” which presents “American history as a morality play whose primary theme is the oppression of virtuous ethnic minorities by a monolithic evil white majority.” She has displayed a startlingly ignorant, ethnocentric view of history by claiming, “The concept of an inclusive, tolerant society is the legacy of the European Enlightenment, and of it alone.” Finally, she has called for limiting Hispanic immigration into the United States, which she views as the importation of an underclass with the potential to expand indefinitely,  and sought to disabuse sentimentalists who cling to “the myth of the redeeming power of Hispanic family values, the Hispanic work ethic, and Hispanic virtue.”

A painful and transparent insincerity

In his masterful work Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote,

Black-on-black crime is jargon, violence on language, which vanishes the men who engineered the covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel…The killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit, were created by the policy of Dreamers, but their weight, their shame, rests solely upon those who are dying in them. There is a great deception in this. To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Crime among and between African-Americans cannot be separated from centuries-old policies of racism and oppression, which set the stage and skewed the risers. When criminologists and commentators like Heather MacDonald address the crime problem, they make no attempt to contextualize it or even engage with its historical roots. But Ms. MacDonald uses buzz words to make it seem like her focus on black-on-back crime is motivated by altruism, as she did during her January 11 debate, when she stated, “According to the Justice Department, Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That, to me, is the civil rights issue that we should be most concerned about.”

This seems to be the very kind of linguistic violence that Ta-Nehisi Coates condemned. While Ms. MacDonald is more than happy to adopt the rhetoric of civil rights to defend American policing, she has consistently and vocally opposed social polices that would benefit the very crime victims she claims to champion. If Ms. MacDonald and other commentators of her ilk cared about the victims of black-on-black crime, or sincerely wanted to prevent such crime from occurring, they would champion school desegregation, oppose voter suppression, insist on investing in urban economic development, and demand radical reform to our failed health and child care systems. Instead Ms. MacDonald does the opposite. She condemns the black people who commit black-on-black crime, then actively opposes policies intended to alleviate the poverty and racism which breed that very criminality.  Ms. MacDonald isn’t just shaming the bleeding man; she is working to ensure an endless supply of blood-sotted shooting victims.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney Does Not Prosecute Hate Crimes

prosecuting hate crimes 3

The Pima Liberator has obtained copies of every incident designated a “hate crime” by the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in 2015 and 2016. After analyzing the police reports and court files of every single incident, The Liberator has learned that the Pima County Attorney has not prosecuted a single hate crime in the last two years.

Prosecutors must allege a crime was motivated by hate for it to be punished as a “hate crime”

In April 1990, the U.S. Congress passed The Hate Crimes Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. § 534)  which requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data about crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The law was amended in later years to include crimes motivated by disabilities, gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles. As a result, Pima County law enforcement agencies make a practice of collecting information on crimes that appear to be motivated by hate towards one of these groups, and reporting that information to the FBI.

Arizona law does not define “hate crimes” as a unique kind of criminal conduct. Instead, Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-701(D)(15) and § 41-1750(A)(3) state that, when a judge decides how to sentence a defendant, they shall consider as an aggravating factor,

Evidence that the defendant committed the crime out of malice toward a victim because of the victim’s…race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

In other words, hate crimes in Arizona are more commonplace crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder that can lead to a harsher sentence if motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected group. However, in order for a judge to make a hate crime finding and sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence, the prosecutor must first allege that the crime was motivated by hate. This allegation is made in a pleading attached to the formal criminal indictment, which lists what laws a defendant is charged with violating.

In 2015 and 2016 the Pima County Attorney prosecuted zero out of 20 incidents designated by law enforcement as hate crimes

The Pima Liberator obtained copies of all 20 reported incidents that the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department designated as hate crimes in 2015 and 2016. All 20 are listed and summarized here.

Among the findings:

  • The Pima County Attorney did not prosecute any of these incidents as a hate crime.
  • 11 of the 20 incidents involved race or color; 7 involved national origin; 7 involved a crime based on sexual orientation; 5 involved religion. (Some incidents were targeted at multiple protected groups.)
  • Only 3 of the 20 incidents resulted in an arrest.
  • 2 of those 3 incidents were prosecuted as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating cases – charges not included in Arizona’s current hate crimes laws.
  • Only once did the Pima County Attorney bring felony charges in an incident designated by law enforcement as a hate crime. In January, 2015, a male high-school student assaulted another male student in their high-school’s bathroom while calling the victim “faggot,” “retard,” and “bitch.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a broken clavicle. The Pima County Attorney did not charge this as a hate crime, but allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a class 6 (the lowest level) felony in juvenile court. The defendant was sentenced to probation, and the charge was eventually designated a misdemeanor.

Actions speak louder than words

Despite this very thin record, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has previously trumpeted her commitment to prosecuting hate crimes, which she has said extends to serving on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney’s Association, “Whose meetings deal with numerous issues of vital concern to our constituents, including issues related to…hate crimes.” Ms. LaWall has ordered her office to create and distribute – from Pima County taxpayer funds – glossy brochures in which she has bragged about working with community groups to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

LaWall hate crimes claim

“A Report To The People: Pima County Attorney’s Office 1996 – 2006,” pg. 32

In addition, Ms. LaWall’s employees and supporters have lauded her supposed dedication to the prosecution of hate crimes during her previous elections.

Taking the “mission to protect the public safety” seriously

Hate crime is a serious issue in our community and our country. The FBI reports that there was a 6% rise in hate crime in 2015, and there has been a huge spike in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S.. Recent days have seen the brutal shooting of Indian immigrants, and dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country, including here in Tucson. The Tucson City Council is right now considering a new hate crimes ordinance that would prohibit misdemeanor hate crimes, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement just last week promising that the Tucson Police Department will work vigorously “to apprehend the people behind any hate crimes.”

According to her own words, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall gives special attention to helping victims and prosecuting violent crime, and takes seriously her “mission to protect the public safety.” But how well is this mission fulfilled when our chief prosecutor does not even attempt to prosecute hate crimes? It is unfair to expect any prosecutor to maintain a perfect record of hate crimes prosecutions, especially when such crimes often lack eyewitnesses or suspects. But it is also unfair to the voters and taxpayers of Pima County for an elected official to publicly and vigorously condemn hate crimes that they in fact do not seem to care all that much about prosecuting.

– Joel Feinman

“Tough On Crime” Deepens Mental Health Crisis

Mass incarceration trauma 1

The bogeyman of “state intrusion” – a phrase usually used as a euphemism for taxation or regulation among advocates of small government – is a popular one. However, it is difficult to understand the full meaning of the phrase until the state intrudes into your home, through your body, and through your children’s bodies. People who have been incarcerated and their families understand this very real encroachment of the state into their personal lives.

In his October, 2015 article, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”, Ta-Nehisi Coates charts the policy history which culminated in today’s mass incarceration crisis. As Coates points out,

“In absolute terms, America’s prison and jail population from 1970 until today has increased sevenfold, from some 300,000 people to 2.2 million.”

This crisis is a financial one and a practical one. By now it is a well-documented fact that the rates at which we incarcerate people have not had any notable effect on crime rates. Yet mass incarceration has been one of the most expensive ventures in the modern history of our country.

It is a human crisis.

Coates correctly points out that there is a causal relationship between the poor material conditions experienced by individuals living in poverty and certain risk factors which lead to criminal behavior. These same individuals often live without access to many of the social services afforded to the well-off, such as healthcare and behavioral services. Moreover, it is clear that poverty and crime have a cyclically causal relationship, which can easily be traced through the history of the many structures of institutionalized racism which, for centuries, have plagued people of color and African-Americans especially.

From a psychological perspective, it is crucial to point out the fact that the experience of poverty drastically increases the likelihood that an individual will struggle with addiction and experience mental health issues, such as PTSD and C-PTSD. Without proper treatment, these issues may lead to unemployment and even homelessness. Among others, Coates identifies these four risk factors – homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, and mental illness – as particularly common in low-income African-American communities, and as common causes of criminal behavior.  He describes it as such:

“High rates of incarceration, single-parent households, dropping out of school, and poverty are not unrelated vectors. Instead, taken together, they constitute what [Harvard sociologist Robert] Sampson calls ‘compounded deprivation’—entire families, entire neighborhoods, deprived in myriad ways, must navigate, all at once, a tangle of interrelated and reinforcing perils.”

Per Coates’ assessment, cases of PTSD  and other mental illnesses which go untreated are often the cause of criminal behavior in low-income communities of color.

Oppression produces and exacerbates trauma and its consequences.

Though  not an excuse for harmful behavior, criminal behavior does not occur as a result of some moral failing on the part of poor people of color. Rather, a lack of services available to address the material conditions which lead to trauma and its ramifications is to blame.

I know firsthand about the traumas that members of vulnerable communities experience. In these communities, PTSD is primarily caused by neglect, prolonged material deprivation, and sexual violence. Moreover, there is a clear overlap between the conditions people of color (especially women of color) experience when they have severely limited access to social services, and the factors which lead to trauma-related conditions. Women of color are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and sexual trauma is commonly overlooked in areas where incarceration is favored over treatment.

Incarceration only accelerates the poverty-prison pipeline, and repeated trauma further speeds it along. It is especially common for female inmates to be revictimized in prison. The cycles of abuse, violence, and drug dependency (factors which produced criminal behavior in the first place) continue to occur behind bars. A highly punitive and retribution-focused approach to prosecution, especially for nonviolent crimes, is not only draconian but also ineffective. So-called “tough on crime” crackdowns punish the most vulnerable people in our communities, and thereby fuel the system of abuse and revictimization by adding the state as an agent of that abuse yet again, this time in the form of a prison.

There is no documented evidence to support the claim that incarceration is effective in addressing these issues: in fact, it is quite clear that incarceration only exacerbates cycles of poverty and trauma. Moreover, the explosive growth of the prison industry over the last 40-50 years has been tremendously costly to taxpayers who do not benefit from its perpetuation.

In the age of mass incarceration, the state has different functions for different groups of people. The prison-industrial complex produces profit for some. Its price is the capture of black bodies and their forced labor, abuse, and traumatization in prison.

– Tara Taylor