Video Bar

Loading...
Showing posts with label gun control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gun control. Show all posts

Monday, July 24, 2017

Are mandatory minimums the answer?

By Charles Brooks

The triumvirate of political leadership in Baltimore City has proposed controversial legislation in their tough approach to address the rising crime and murder rate.  On July 14th, Mayor Catherine Pugh, City Council President Bernard Young and Police Commissioner Kenneth Davis were joined by a group of supporters in announcing the proposed measure. “We are proposing that we will make it a misdemeanor crime punishable by a mandatory sentence of one year and a fine of $1000 for possessing an illegal handgun within 100 yards of a school, church, a public building or a place of public assembly, said Mayor Pugh. She cited the need for the proposal by offering the following crime data: a gun was used in 90% of murders; nearly half of the 184 victims of crime have been arrested for a crime involving a handgun; and in 2016 60% of years imposed through sentencing was suspended. Current state law calls for a 30-day minimum sentence eligible for suspension.    

There are plans for additional proposals to the state General Assembly to impose even stiffer penalties for illegal gun possession in Baltimore City such as an upgrade to a felony.  “…we’re going to ask them to push this forward and we will not stop until we get the law that says 5 years minimal penalty…” asserted Council President Young. The police commissioner dismissed concerns about criminal justice: “This isn’t about mass incarceration or locking up more people.  It is about holding the right people accountable and putting the right people in jail.” 

Although the mayor contends that this measure is just “one step” – there were several steps taken before this one.  For one, the commissioner was unsuccessful last year to get similar legislation passed by the General Assembly. Just last month in apparent frustration, Commissioner Davis announced that every patrol officer, detective, and administrative officers will put on uniforms and begin patrolling the streets in 12 hour shifts. There was also the mobile forensic unit borrowed from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for immediate identification of repeat offenders and to build cases for sentencing.

Less than a year ago, the Gun Violence Enforcement Unit was created with the mission to get more convictions. At the time, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said: "to ensure the aggregation of intelligence that's extracted from my criminal strategies unit and the Baltimore Police Department is used to not only apprehend and charge, but to convict those who are administering gun violence in the city."  In addition, there are the remnants from the former Mayor Sheila Dixon's term in office ten years ago such as GunStat, a gun task force and the gun offender registry.  There is also the myriad of issues surrounding the defunct jail system.

Meanwhile in light of the current climate around policing, this controversial proposal has certainly ignited debate and criticism. There are op-eds expressing outrage, activists and community leaders are alarmed while media reports indicate that several members of the Baltimore City Council are not in support of the measure. Adam Jackson, the CEO of the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS) had this to say about the proposal: “We think this bill is a tremendously short-sighted approach to stemming violence in Baltimore. This “one-size-fits-all” approach leads to severe unintended consequences e.g. targeting those trying to protect themselves as opposed to violent criminals, constructive possession traps innocent people who had nothing to do with the weapon, etc. Jackson continues, “Cases will be pled out to lower sentences not because of weak prosecutors/judges but because of bad policing.” Jackson also pointed out that Baltimore City has not invested in black people around the anti-violence movement in Baltimore, citing examples such as the Baltimore Cease Fire movement, or Safe Streets Baltimore or the Kujichagulia Center.

Discussion Question
There is an 18 year old, who was recently arrested for illegal firearm possession.  He was in a car with two other people, in the back seat when the car was stopped and pulled over.  The arresting police officer stopped the car because he smelled marijuana from the car.  When the officer searched the car, he found a loaded .22 hand gun under the drivers seat. He was searched and no drugs or weapons were found - nothing illegal at all was found.  He was arrested on two counts of illegal firearm possession and denied $10,000 bail despite no criminal history.  If the proposed legislation was in place - he would spend a year in jail.

What are your thoughts about this case - should he have to spend a year in jail considering the circumstances, i.e., no criminal history, nothing found from search, etc. 

Update:
The initial proposal has been amended to apply mandatory sentences on the second offense with a gun or in connection with violent crime.


Further Reading




Thursday, January 9, 2014

End of Year review for 2013 - Part II

Part II
On the national political scene, 2013 opened up with President Obama ready to start his second term while Republicans gathered to debate their apparent demise during the November 2012 elections. But this GOP introspection didn’t last long as their long-term strategic objective – solid obstructionism – was back in play. Throughout the year, the nation was witness to both GOP obstructionism and Obama capitulation play out for all to see. There were several failed attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act, the federal government 16-day shutdown that cost upwards of $24 billion to the elimination of unemployment benefits and food stamp benefits for millions of people. Another casualty of GOP obstructionism was effective gun control legislation – after yet another school shooting, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012 and episodes of gun violence occurring throughout the nation. The gun violence in Chicago became nationalized when young Hadiya Pendelton was shot dead less than two weeks after playing in a band at the presidential inauguration ceremonies. The president was subsequently criticized for failing to show similar emotion in reacting to Hadiya’s death compared to his shedding a tear on national television in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. African Americans across the nation began to sound the drumbeat in asking the president to do something – say something...First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett – all three are from Chicago.

The nation stood witness to the headlines and stories dominated by the Affordable Care Act all year long, particularly when the ACA rollout faced an avalanche of problems associated with the website, Healthcare.gov. The rollout was characterized by the chaos that followed revelations of number of major technical problems, insurance plans for millions of folks were dropped, and poor management decisions from the Obama administration, just to name a few. In short, the rollout was a disaster and a rather bitter pill for the president to swallow. The Affordable Care Act is his signature piece of legislation and has been under constant attack from Republicans since the president signed off on it. There were repeated efforts to undermine Obama’s key legislation through attempts at defunding and repealing ACA – every attempt unsuccessful.

As 2013 came to a close, the Obama administration reported that slightly more than two million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Although, they may be severely challenged in meeting the seven million target – it does appears that the worse is behind Obama’s team. However, that has not stopped opponents of ACA who are encouraged by declining poll numbers for both Obama and ACA. For example, results from a December 2013 Gallup poll disclosed that ACA is both President Obama’s greatest achievement (22%) as well as his biggest failure (36%). Republican opponents of ACA continue their efforts to undermine the nearly four year old law with online petitions to repeal and defund ACA.

But the reality is that ACA has clearly forced a paradigm shift in America where for the first time, there is a national effort to provide health insurance coverage to the nearly fifty million Americans without health insurance. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act is such a HUGE step forward not only in providing coverage for the uninsured but the protections as well as preventive care that will now be provided. For example, pre-existing conditions are now covered; preventive care is free; coverage is extended for young adults until they reach twenty-six years old; and lifetime and yearly limits are eliminated. See a complete listing here for all protections provided The free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, Type-2 diabetes, HIV – and particular for women – screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer, mammograms, Hepatitis for pregnant women are just a scant few examples. See a complete listing here for a listing of all available screening for women. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke with several mothers about ACA and the president said, “I think this conversation really drove home in a very personal way why this is important,” President Obama said. “Sometimes here in Washington, this is a very abstract conversation or an entirely political conversation. But when you boil it down to stories and people hear what it means to have the security of solid health insurance at an affordable price when you need it, it reminds me at least of why we've been fighting so hard to get this done.”

2013 ended with Hillary Clinton declared the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race – although she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy. While end of the year Gallup polls underline her popularity – is this a legitimate consideration for the highest office in the country – before consideration of her politics and policy proposals? The voter must critically think for themselves and disregard Clinton popularity over policy; become more interested in policy proposals and ideas while ignoring celebrity and elitist endorsements. For example, while we know of Hillary’s advocacy for women issues - what do we know of her positions on the economy, unemployment, education, voting rights and affirmative action? What about her views on Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East? Where does she stand on the use of drones – both domestically and internationally, and the NSA surveillance on American citizens? Taking into consideration the fallout between Blacks and Clinton during the 2008 campaign – what will be Black America’s political reaction if Hillary disagrees and then criticizes President Obama policies? Hillary Clinton served as the First lady for two terms, went on to become a US Senator and then the Secretary of state – but voters, progressive voters must ask these and other necessary questions before a decision to support her candidacy is made.

NSA and government surveillance
There was also the jaw dropping revelations published by The Guardian about the National Security Agency commonly known as the NSA, who were actively collecting and storing phone record data on millions of Americans. While these revelations may not rise to the shrug your shoulder level – but should we really be surprised about this? After the September 11 attacks, there were several disclosures about the Bush presidency and government surveillance, not to mention the long sordid history of being watched or listened to by the government. We’ll get to this momentarily but getting back to the Bush presidency – there were similar revelations. For example, when he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants required for domestic spying. Or in 2006 when we found out that the NSA was secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to analyze calling patterns to detect terrorism.

But what should be quite disturbing was the revelation of a Pew survey measuring the public's view around combating terrorism vs. privacy - the results are interesting. The survey showed 56 percent of people believe the NSA tracking of telephone calls is an acceptable way to fight terrorism. That includes 53 percent of whites, 62 percent of blacks and 63 percent of nonwhites in general. In fact, the survey noted the following, "...finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy."

The question here is why is there so much acceptance of government surveillance, considering the sad history of government spying on US citizens and related abuses? Is there any awareness of the dangers of surveillance? For example, didn’t COINTELPRO demonstrate for all to see the connection between surveillance and political imprisonment – do you think this is the next natural step after accusations are made and charges levied? COINTELPRO was a domestic covert operation used by the FBI under the notorious J. Edgar Hoover. The covert operation was designed to repress political expression outside the mainstream. For example, victims of COINTELPRO were activists in the American Indian Movement, the Black Liberation Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Socialist Workers Party, Students for Democratic Society, and the Communist Party USA, to name a few. The FBI infiltrated these groups, used the legal system and the local police department to levy false criminal charges and carry out sting operations and murderous raids. Maybe – just maybe is it possible the acceptance of government surveillance, as indicated from the results from the Pew survey cited earlier – is based on fear? Do you think this begins to explain why there hasn’t been a strong national movement in this country, such as the social movements outlined earlier, since the sixties