Point of View Columns

What a Difference a Day Makes

Monday, August 12, 2013 will be noted as an important day by those who pay attention to what goes on in this country. Because after all of the A-Rod, Anthony Weiner and Lindsay Lohan stories, there are actually some very important issues of justice that are being addressed. And how they are addressed is going to make a huge difference on how all Americans will live in the days and years to come. And we can start with today’s “Stop and Frisk” court decision.

Today, Federal District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in a 195 page decision that for close to a decade the New York City Police Department has systematically, intentionally and institutionally violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos through its eternally controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. Her decision does not mince words and leaves New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly without a legal leg to stand on.

For example, the City of New York argued that the high proportion of blacks and Latinos who were stopped reflected the high proportion of crimes committed by blacks and Latinos. Judge Scheindlin correctly and logically pointed out that stopping virtually all black and Latino young could not be justified because some black and Latino men commit crimes.

What is astounding is that the case itself brought to light the fact that over the past decade millions (yes, millions) of stops of the “Stop and Frisk” variety were inflicted on black and Latino young men (88% of the stops). Yet less than 10% of these stops resulted in reasonable cause for arrest and less than 5% who were stopped were ever convicted of a crime – and in the overwhelming majority of those convictions the crime was possession of small amounts of drugs (usually marijuana).

That the police department of a major American city would inflict such draconian measures upon a large and much maligned segment of the population is stunning. “Stop and Frisk” as employed in New York has been nothing less than despotic in its implementation and incredibly corrosive when it comes to the relationship between the police department and the minority communities of the polyglot capital of the world known as New York City.

The only surprise is that some people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, are surprised that an impartial judge would find the City of New York to be at fault. And we can only hope that in the future the common effort to prevent and deter criminal activities does not give rise to other “simple” solutions that so casually violate the rights of millions of Americans.

And, on this same day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will instruct U.S. attorneys across the country to limit charges in drug cases so as to limit the terms of incarceration that are imposed. Attorney General Holder pointed to the fact that although this country has 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. Clearly this astronomical incarceration rate is expensive ($80 billion per year) and just as clearly indicates a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

As the so-called War on Drugs approaches the half century mark it is clear that this war is beyond “winning”, whatever “winning” was ever supposed to mean. The War on Drugs did give rise to a private sector corrections industry and widespread corruption within the law enforcement sector. And it has also resulted in the horrific decimation of communities of color across the country as men (and increasingly women) in these communities are arrested and convicted and sentenced and incarcerated in much higher proportions than their white counterparts.

Interestingly enough, Attorney General Holder and the Obama Administration did not take this matter before the politically hogtied United States Congress. Even though the drug sentencing proposals have widespread bipartisan support at the state level, it is now a sad fact of life that any proposal with “Obama” connected to it is virtually DOA when it arrives at the door of the House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Holder and President Obama picked a good time to remind the Teapublicans in the House what the word “executive” in the Executive Branch actually means.

All in all a good day for justice.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt a few moments before this column was written and the beat goes on. Ruling elites in the Middle East, the Caribbean and Africa are watching with great interest. Meanwhile, here in the United States:

The Luck of the Kenyans?

“The Luck of the Irish” is a well-known phrase, but who knew about “the luck of the Kenyans”? It is rare that the word “luck” and “Barack Obama” have been linked in considering the first two years of his presidency.

The near collapse of the American economic system approached a cataclysmic meltdown in this country. More than 8 million people lost their jobs during these first two years of the Obama Administration and unemployment rates continue to hover above 9%.

President Obama has had to manage near biblical disasters like the BP oil spill and he has the daily challenge of avoiding the Vietnam-like replay that haunts this country’s every moment in Afghanistan. And all the while the economy is making a seemingly grudging recovery that is virtually imperceptible to too many Americans.

And yet, when one considers the leading potential Republican candidates it is hard to believe President Obama’s apparent good fortune. Consider the field:

-Mike Huckabee – The former governor of Arkansas and a failed candidate in the 2008 primaries, Mr. Huckabee fervently believes that two people named Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs and wants this belief to be taught to American schoolchildren as scientific fact.

-Mitt Romney – The former governor of Massachusetts and a failed candidate in the 2008 primaries has tried mightily to convince the public that the universal healthcare plan that he instituted in Massachusetts is not the healthcare plan supported by President Obama – except that it is. The fact that he is a Mormon guarantees that the notorious religious intolerance of the right wing of the right wing of the Party of No will rain down on his head if he gets anywhere near the nomination.

-Michelle Bachmann – The doyenne of the Tea Party movement, Ms. Bachmann comes across as a zanily miscast cheerleader with a script that is devoid of facts or logic. Her singular contribution to recent political discourse was to characterize President Obama as a “socialist”. She has also been known to make stupid people look smart.

-Haley Barbour – The current governor of Mississippi as a presidential candidate would have to explain how his state manages to rank last or near last in almost every indicia of quality of life for its citizens including literacy and health care. His rose-colored recollections of the bloody days and murderous nights in Mississippi are bound to offend African Americans and anyone with a decent knowledge of history.

-Newt Gingrich – The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Gingrich is noted for having been complicit in the closing of the federal government not once, but twice. He also distinguished himself as a great humanitarian by serving divorce papers upon his wife as she awakened from breast cancer surgery.

-Donald Trump – Really? Several corporate bankruptcies and thousands of disgruntled bondholders might prove to be awkward for The Donald to explain. No need to mention his hair.

Congressman Ron Paul wants to do away with Social Security, Medicare and distribute six-guns to children (the last item is a joke…I think). The former governor of Alaska is virtually irrelevant to this discussion and is still struggling to get both of her Pradas out of her mouth since the Tucson Massacre. And then there is a larger cast of unknown wannabees.

And that’s pretty much the field. One has to believe that given a choice between Barack Obama and any of these Republicans yearning to “take back America” the American electorate will go with the incumbent.

It’s a long way to November 6, 2012. But given the challenges that he faces, Barack Obama is a very lucky president to have this class of potential opponents. Maybe there is something to the “Luck of the Kenyans”.

Blind Justice

Justice is supposed to be blind. Justice is not supposed to be deaf and dumb. Consider the recent case of Ms. Kelly Williams-Bolar in Ohio who was imprisoned for placing her son in a school district in which she did not reside. Not surprisingly her motive was to provide an opportunity for her son to get a better education.

We don’t have the space to consider all of the factual and legal issues but given what we know imprisonment seems an outrageous and cruel response. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime, if there was a crime.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan continues to sashay down the boulevard wearing an allegedly stolen necklace and all anyone wants to know is who designed the dress that she wore to court. Go figure.

Have a great weekend!

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