Mass Incarceration USA: How a Broken System Perpetuates Itself


“Wheel about and turn about and do just so. Every time I turn about I jump Jim Crow.” 
— chorus of an 1828 minstrel song

“We have not ended racial caste in America, we have merely redesigned it.”
Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow

Yeah, it’s called mass incarceration. Our jails are filled with black and brown men and women. The number of inmates, primarily people of color, has soared sevenfold in the last three decades, according to Alexander, from 300,000 to more than 2 million, the largest number, by far, in the developed world. Many millions more are on probation or parole. And no matter what their crime, the inmates never get their citizenship back. The stigma of being an ex-felon brands someone for life as a second-class human being.

But even before the ex-felon label is attached, certain people — young men of color, in particular — are targeted as society’s losers by the police, judicial bureaucracy and prison system. They face the possibility of police harassment, invasion of privacy and arrest, often on the smallest pretext possible, pretty much any time they step outside.

I live in a vital, racially and ethnically diverse Chicago neighborhood and I watch it happen — racial profiling, the stop-and-frisk game. This is not making my neighborhood safer. It’s wrecking lives at enormous public expense and, of course, like the insane war on terror, creating enemies. We don’t need a justice system based on stereotypes and armed bullying.

“His hearing’s at 1? OK,” I said, “I’ll try to make it.”

This was three days ago. Oh God. It was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. I knew what had happened. A few days earlier, a young man, Jerry, who is part of a local discussion and support group I’ve gotten involved with called Circles and Ciphers, had gotten arrested . . . for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.

That’s how it started. Two plainclothes officers stopped him for what legally is known as a petty offense, the equivalent of jaywalking or letting your parking meter expire — and a “crime” committed every day by happy families, children, all sorts of people who want to avoid dangerous street traffic. Jerry, who is a black man, wasn’t simply stopped. He was arrested. After all, he had committed a crime. He was handcuffed, put into the squad car, taken to the local police station.

No one I’ve talked to has any idea what happened to his bike. Was it confiscated? Left at the scene?

He may have been upset by the possibility of losing his bike. He may have been upset by the fact that he was supposed to be starting a new job the following day. In any case, he found himself sitting in handcuffs at the police station. When one of the arresting officers approached him, Jerry allegedly stood up and kicked at the officer, hitting him in the shin. And the petty offense suddenly turned into a felony. He was charged with aggravated assault.

Chicago, crime-ridden city! This is how the statistics swell.

Jerry’s hearing was on Monday. The Circles and Ciphers organizers wanted to get supporters in the courtroom; apparently that can make a difference. I had never done anything quite like this before.

Indeed, the court building is alien territory: the state vs. everyone. I understand the point of metal detectors, airport-style security screenings, and try to have a sense of humor about emptying my pockets, taking off my belt. I tried to maintain the attitude of a citizen: This is my court system. I have a right to be here. But it wasn’t easy. I felt at best warily tolerated and, in fact, unwelcome as a full citizen.

I sat down in the courtroom. When the hearing began, I took a pen and piece of paper out of my pocket and started scribbling notes. Uh-oh. Suddenly the security officer tasked with keeping order in the court gave me an angry stare, pointed at me and shook her head. No notes! I couldn’t believe it, but stuck the Bic pen, dangerous tool, back in my pocket, vowing to check the legality of this restriction later. (There is none.)

The hearing itself lasted all of, maybe, six or seven minutes. A public defender asked the police officer what happened. He explained that the defendant had been arrested for the misdemeanor of riding his bike on the sidewalk, but the judge interrupted him. Riding a bike on the sidewalk is a petty offense, not a misdemeanor, she said. I wasn’t aware there was a category of crime more trivial than a misdemeanor; now I knew. A few questions later — the officer described the alleged assault, testified that he did not require medical attention — and it was all over. Jerry was led from the courtroom. I got up and left.

There’s more to come, of course. Jerry wasn’t released. The case wasn’t thrown out. What hangs in the balance for the young defendant is possible jail time and the lifelong scar of “ex-felon.” To what end? Public safety wasn’t served. No healing took place. Absolutely nothing was accomplished by this elaborate and costly drama except that a broken system perpetuated itself. And Jim Crow won again.

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

Indian legal fraternity invites Pakistan’s CJP


PAKISTAN TODAY

ISMAIL DILAWARWednesday, 5 Jun 2013

Pakistan_india_flags

karachi – The judges and lawyers of the Supreme Court of India (SCI) are keen to invite Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhri to their country before his retirement this year in December.
They also showed their determination to take up with their government in New Delhi the issue of hundreds of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails. “We are interested to invite the chief justice of Pakistan to India,” said Justice (r) AK Ganguly of the SCI.
Justice Ganguly along with Advocates Colin Gonsalves, Prashant Bhushan, Mukul Sinha and Nijhari Sinha are in Pakistan to attend the two-day India-Pakistan conference on “judicial activism, public interest litigation and human rights” which concluded on Wednesday.
Pakistani lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, Karamat Ali Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), and others accompanied the Indian delegation.
“He (CJP) has taken many bold steps to show what important role the judiciary can play in a society,” said Justice Ganguly during a visit to the press club.
KPC President Imtiaz Faran, Secretary Aamir Latif, Vice President Saeed Sarbazi, Joint Secretary Shams Keerio, Senior Journalist Habib Khan Ghauri and members of governing body welcomed the guests.
Advocate Colin Gonsalves said they had decided to invite Justice Ch during the two-day moot in Pakistan where events relating to the inspirational lawyers’ movement for the restoration of CJP were brought to his knowledge.
“We have concluded to invite him (CJP) to India before his retirement,” said Advocate Gonsalves. Chief Justice Chaudhri would retire on the 13th of December this year.
The Indian lawyer was all praise for the CJP for the latter’s suo motu actions with regard to the public interest litigation (PIL). “The exchange of views is very important,” remarked Justice Ganguly.
Quite few people in India knew about the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan in the favour of Justice Chaudhri after he was sacked by the then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
However, a Pakistani lawyer, Advocate Faisal Siddiqui told Pakistan Today that the CJP’s visit to India was just a ‘dream’ now. He, however, believed that such interaction would promote people-to-people contact between the two neighboring nations.
Earlier in a meeting with KPC’s governing body, Justice Ganguly said he had observed that judges in Pakistan were bolder than that of India. This, he said, was because of the lawyers fraternity which had been fighting for the independence of judiciary shoulder-by-shoulder with the judges.
About the two-day moot, Advocate Gonsalves said a weeklong conference would soon be held in India to which 20-25-member delegations would be invited from the South Asian countries.
The lawyer also vowed that his side would take up the issue of around 200 Pakistani fishermen imprisoned in Indian jails with the Indian government.
The Indian delegation viewed that the two countries had common values and culture, so they should live in peace and promote people-to-people contacts. Specially, they said, visa procedures should be simplified. “This is our first step towards building a link between the lawyers and judges” living across the border, said Advocate Gonsalves. The members of Indian delegation were later gifted “Ajrak”, the sign of thousands of years old Sindhi cultural.

 

Sweeper mother gets first class, daughter scores 80% #againstallodds


, TNN | Jun 8, 2013,

MUMBAI: A sweeper in a Nalasopara school secured a first class in the SSC board exam. She is not the only one to clear the exam in her family – her daughter, too, passed it with 80% this year. Both appeared together.Neeta Waghela (34) works as a sweeper with Mother Teressa school in Nalasopara. When her daughter Aarti, a student of Mother Mary High School in Nalasopara began her Class X studies, Neeta too got interested.

She had been unable to study beyond Class IX due to family problems. Aarti encouraged her mother to appear for the exam. Despite having schooled in Gujarati medium, Neeta decided to complete her Class X in Hindi medium.

“Both of us had the same exam centre in Naigaon. I appeared in Hindi medium and my daughter gave her papers in English,” said Neeta, who is elated at their success.

Neeta always wanted to be a teacher.

“Every time I watched a teacher in class, I wanted to become one. My daughter encouraged me to go for it,” said Neeta who now wants to pursue a teachers’ course after completing Class XII. Neeta has already cleared a Montessori course with a score of 72%

 

Take Action to Improve Conditions for Dalit Women- UN Special Rapporteur #Vaw #Womenrights


Women and Girls Facing Caste-Based Discrimination Need Special Protections
JUNE 7, 2013
  • Many [Dalit women] experience some of the worst forms of discrimination. The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization, which perpetuates their subordinate position in society and increases their vulnerability, throughout generations.
Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women

(Geneva) – United Nations member states should focus urgent attention and decisive action to improve conditions for Dalit women, four international nongovernmental organizations said today. The combination of caste and gender makes millions of Dalit women extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence, including rape, forced prostitution, and modern forms of slavery.

“Many [Dalit women] experience some of the worst forms of discrimination,” said Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in a written statement. “The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization, which perpetuates their subordinate position in society and increases their vulnerability, throughout generations.”

Following a side event on June 4, 2013, at the UN Human Rights Council on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women and women from similarly affected communities, IMADR, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group International, and the International Dalit Solidarity Network called on UN member states to support efforts to eliminate gender and caste-based discrimination. The multiple forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women have mostly been neglected until now, but some UN human rights bodies, including Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have begun to pay attention to this serious human rights issue.

Dalit women leaders from four caste-affected countries in South Asia took part in the side event and made strong appeals to the international community as well as their own governments to address discrimination. This was the first time that a UN event focused exclusively on the situation of Dalit women, whose courageous struggle for human rights has come a long way over the past decade.

Addressing the event in a written statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reiterated her “fullest commitment in contributing to the eradication of caste discrimination and untouchability and the correlated deeply rooted exclusion, exploitation and marginalization of Dalit women and other affected groups” through the work of her office.

Pillay, who has spoken out strongly against caste discrimination on a number of occasions, also called on UN member states to “take on the challenge of addressing caste-based discrimination and the human rights violations flowing from this seriously and by mobilizing all of their relevant institutions to this end.”

The ambassador from the German UN Mission, Hanns Heinrich Schumacher, said he had been “shocked” when gathering information about the situation of Dalit women and came to realize the “urgency, the dimension of the problem.”

The fact that numerous states co-sponsored the event demonstrates the increased international attention to the situation of Dalit women – an interest that now needs to be transformed into concrete action by the international community as well as caste-affected countries.

One such country is India, home to almost 100 million Dalit women. Although there are laws in place to protect them, implementation remains an obstacle.
“New laws are useless unless they are implemented, as we have seen with previous efforts to ensure protection of Dalit rights,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Many of the speakers noted that the lack of implementation of legislation that is meant to protect Dalits is a key problem. Manjula Pradeep, director of the Indian Dalit rights NGO, Navsarjan Trust, stressed the importance of more data about the situation of Dalits and said that, “It is time to look at the intersection of caste and gender.”

Many victims of the combination of caste and gender-based discrimination live in South Asia where they are known as Dalits. Similar forms of discrimination occur elsewhere as testified by Mariem Salem, a parliamentarian from Mauritania and herself a member of a group targeted for discrimination, the Haratines, who are descendants of former slaves.

Salem noted that the pervading social attitudes and perceptions which stigmatize Haratine in general are “a key challenge for Haratine women.” She added that “specific types of work continue to be assigned to them on the basis of their hierarchical status,” a description that could also have been applied to Dalit women in South Asia.

 

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