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




Friday, June 30, 2017

When free speech is not so free...

By  Charles Brooks


In recent months, there’s been an unmistakable trend amongst college professors who dare to express their political views and opinions.  Professor Lisa Durden was fired from Essex County College because of controversial remarks she made on June 6th as a guest on the Fox news program, The Tucker Carlson Show.   She was invited on the show to discuss her views about a black only Memorial Day event sponsored by a Black Lives Matter chapter, The Black Youth Project 100.  The show host, Tucker Carlson, took issue with Ms. Durden when she expressed her support for the event as the two engaged in a heated exchange on the air.

Well, Ms. Durden’s comments set in motion a series of events that ultimately ended with her termination as an adjunct professor at Essex County College.  She was immediately suspended for six days before a public meeting was held where school administrators decided to terminate her employment.  Essex County College President, Anthony Munroe said in a statement: “In consideration of the College’s mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission, we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct.” 

But when taking a closer look at the actions taken by the College, their actions do appear questionable and contradictory when there’s another line of facts to consider. There’s the matter of her affiliation to Essex County College that was not displayed during the program because she was identified as a political commentator.  Mr. Munroe even admitted as much in his statement when he said that her comments "...was in no way claiming to represent the views and beliefs of the College, and does not represent the College..."  But he went on to say: "The College affirms its right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately and are aligned with our mission,” which clearly applied to Ms. Durden just a few months back when she was hired in January.

In fact, two months after came on board, she was a panelist in the school’s annual conference, ironically under the theme: “Radical Humanities:The Radical Tradition in the Humanities”. Ms. Durden appeared on the “Radical Approaches to Women and Film” panel where her topic of discussion was Women in Media.

But before coming to Essex, she was a frequent guest on Fox News shows as the resident supporter for Black Lives Matter and other topics related to race. She participated on a Black Lives Matter panel, debated pro-police supporters such as Mark Furhman and Bo Dietl, provided biting commentary about Dallas police officers being shot, and she chimed in on the resignation of the University of Missouri President after racism emerged there.

Meanwhile Ms. Durden has taken her case to the court of public opinion via interviews and social media. Her supporters have held rallies and press conferences as well as started an online petition with 2460 signatures.  Even conservative voices have joined the chorus of supporters for Durden and her reinstatement.

Ms. Durden joins a long line of professors who have felt the whip  of retribution - such as Professor's Keeanga Yamatta-Taylor (Princeton University), Johnny Eric Williams (Trinity College), George Ciccariello-Maher (Drexel University),  Katherine Dettwyler (Delaware University), Tommy Curry (Texas A&M), and Lars Maischak (California State University) all have suffered in one way or another because they dared to express their political views. 

Discussion Question: In light of these facts, what are your thoughts about this case? About professors expressing their political views? Should the Essex County College reinstate Professor Durden? What can be done to ensure the freedom of speech and academic freedom for college professors?









Friday, June 23, 2017

What exactly does the CBC want?

By Charles Brooks 

Less than two weeks left with the Obama presidency, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) discussed their plans to be more aggressive with the incoming president, Donald Trump. Well, after just six months of Trump being in office the CBC has seen enough as CBC Chairman Rep.Cedric Richmond (D-LA) rejected the president’s invitation to meet with him at the White House. In his letter to the president and in subsequent media interviews, Rep. Richmond outlined specific concerns around the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle healthcare, resurrect the drug war, disregard consent decrees, and implement billion dollars in cuts to Pell Grants.  The CBC Chair also reminded the president of his failure to respond to outreach to him of eight letters and a policy report submitted during their first meeting back in March.  “Through an objective assessment, we have seen no evidence that your administration acted on our calls for action, and we have in fact witnessed steps that will affirmatively hurt black communities,” wrote Rep. Richmond. In the letter as well as in a number of media interviews explaining their decision, the CBC Chair dismissed the would-be meeting as a “social gathering”.

I think we are clear on what the CBC does not want but what they do want and the path to get there is not as equally clear.  This is disturbing particularly considering their first meeting with the president back in March was viewed as “productive” and “frank” with a commitment for more regularly scheduled meetings to discuss policy issues.  So the first – if not, obvious – question is what exactly is being accomplished by not sitting with the president to address the issues and concerns they’ve outlined in their letters and policy paper? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to meet with the president to discuss these critical issues?  Which brings us to the next question, what is their next move - or in other words what is their Plan B? Well they did submit an alternative federal budget for the FY2018 as they’ve always done since 1981 with little fanfare. But realistically, what are the chances that a Republican majority in Congress will act or much less debate the merits of the CBC’s alternative budget?

This apparent public display of defiance by the CBC actually raises more concerns about their effectiveness and, yes their relevance. For eight years, they served with a muted voice while providing a protective shield against Republican attacks on President Obama. Equally troubling was their refusal to endorse one of their own, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md) for the open Senate seat in Maryland. And then we learned about their ties to corporate interests during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Authors of the CBC Report Card 2016, Glen Ford and Patrice Johnson brings into question the CBC’s leadership with an extensive analysis of ten key votes between September 2015 and September 2016.  Their report states the following: “What the CBC Monitor Report Cards bring into focus is that the Black Caucus is simply an appendage of Democratic leadership in the House. It has no independent existence or policy, and is therefore not a leadership institution for Black America. Rather, it is the Black face of the Democratic Party. Only about one-third of its members (the 14 that voted against the internet “terror” bill, last December, for example) are willing to break with their party on occasion.”
for 
In his letter to the president, Rep. Richmond left the door open for the President to invite individual CBC members for future meetings with him and cabinet officials. 

Discussion Question: 
Should individual members of the CBC pursue individual meetings with the president? What plan of action should the CBC pursue in this age of Trump?

Further Reading:



Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Big Business of Poverty pimps the poor


Two years ago, during the aftermath of police violence and protest demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, the nation witnessed a militarized police force, and learned of dismal police-community relations, as well as a scheme resembling debtor prisons.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated and issued their report, "Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department". 

They found practices that were unlawful, deeply-entrenched and unconstitutional: “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community.” While the report shows a link between debtor prisons and the prison industrial complex – there’s also strong link to the growing poverty industry as well too.
  
Daniel L. Hatcher has written a new book on this topic called, The Poverty Industry: The exploitation of America’s most vulnerable citizens.  Mr. Hatcher recently visited the Busboys and Poets Bookstore and CafĂ© in Washington D. C., on June 29th, to talk about his new book.  For roughly thirty minutes before a question/answer session, Mr. Hatcher provided a glimpse into the poverty industrial complex and how this massive network manages to divert funds from, who Mr. Hatcher appropriately characterizes as America’s most vulnerable citizens – impoverished families, abused and neglected children, and the disabled and elderly poor. “My hope to getting this book out is to provide awareness because with awareness you have the potential for change.  So in the poverty industry, I’m hoping to expose and explain several of these revenue maximizing practices that states and state agencies to use on the most vulnerable populations,” explains Mr. Hatcher.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hillary wins...and the black vote loses

By Charles Brooks


The South Carolina primary was to be a test of black vote for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – and the black vote lost.  Despite Hillary Clinton’s commanding win in South Carolina with record turnout from black voters, the 2016 election cycle is slowly shaping up to be yet another lost opportunity – another disappointment. Exit poll data shows blacks made up 61% of the electorate, voted for Clinton 84%-16% while 82% came from black men and 89% from black women.



There continues to be an obsession with the black vote by the Democratic Party as black voters still have yet to realize the magnitude of their vote. The exit data shows a lock step approach largely driven by whether Hillary Clinton is “electable” or if she’s the “lessor of two evils”.  An approach that sidelines the black voter unable to build any leverage.  So what goes unnoticed is the spectacle the 2016 primaries have become that’s largely driven by two critical issues for the black voter.  The very public display of Clinton’s naked pursuit of the black vote on one hand and on the other hand, a base of black voters whose allegiance to the Clinton campaign shows no signs of eroding.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What really happened to Sandra Bland?

By Charles Brooks



We paid attention and took notice of the disturbing trend.  We read the stories and saw the videos of not only blatant police harassment but of vicious police violence visited not on black men – but on black and brown women.  All across the country we saw it over and over - black women pushed, punched, kicked, and at times suffering this violence while being handcuffed by the police. In those cases that did managed to reach national attention, we saw that these black women were college professors, house wives, bathing suit clad teenagers and yes – even pregnant black women felt the brunt of this police violence. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Throwaways: who are they?

 
 
Curiously, let’s start with the name of the film – The Throwaways.  What immediately comes to mind when you think of term throwaways - what comes to mind first? Items, things that you no longer want or need. An item that is no longer working or has passed its usefulness to you.  Items or things that do not meet your needs or demands any more. Spoiled food, batteries, shoes, clothes…the list can go on and on for sure. This film, The Throwaways is not about things but about people – people who are routinely dismissed, neglected, and yes – thrown away. Think about that for minute or two - the high school dropout, unemployed, the homeless, the drug addict, and yes, your convicted ex-felon are your typical throwaways.  There’s this notion that they are less than human with little or no value.  Simply put, they’re not look upon in the same way as those whose humanity is recognized. Featured in the film is Michelle Alexander, author of widely acclaimed, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Age of Colorblindness explains it this way in the film:”… That’s ultimately what The Throwaways is all about, right… groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away…”