Category: The politics of crime

Prison profits drove Arizona’s immigration law

By Alan Bean

“NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.”

Since the prison building boom of the 1990s, the gifted entrepreneurs in the prison-industrial complex have practiced a “if-we-build-it-they-will-come” approach.  When America is already locking up six times as many of her citizens as most western democracies, how can you keep the flow of prisoners coming?  First, you keep stoking the drug war.  Secondly, you demagogue the immigration debate, order police officers to arrest undocumented aliens and your supply problem is solved.

Among other things, mass incarceration is a big-government mechanism for transfering money from urban centers to struggling communities in the hinterland.  Rarely has the cynical machinery been so easy to trace.  Thanks to NPR for doing the leg work on this story.  It almost makes up for all those fund raisers.

Read the NPR story (replete with terrific photography) here.  The text is reproduced below. (more…)

Tim Wise: Obama’s post-racial road to nowhere

By Alan Bean

Friends of Justice believes in dragging “subtle” racism out of the shadows.  Our narrative campaign in response to the Curtis Flowers case, for instance, asserts that everyone associated with the prosecution of this case grew up in a Jim Crow world where black people like Fannie Lou Hamer could be tortured by police officers with impunity.  When Mississippi state senator Lydia Chassaniol delivered a keynote address to the proudly racist Council of Conservative Citizens, the regional media gave her a pass.  Her views, we suggested, were too mainstream to be criticized.   

Our approach flies in the face of the prevailing liberal doctrine of colorblind universalism.  When discussing public policy issues related to criminal justice, for instance, colorblind universalists make two claims: racism isn’t nearly as bad in 2010 as it was in 1963; and, white racial resentment is so strong that the case for criminal justice reform must be presented in strictly race-neutral terms. 

The logical contradiction here should be obvious: if racism has diminished so much, why should be so concerned about white racial resentment? (more…)

Freedom Riders stand up for the Scott Sisters

By Alan Bean

Thirty-eight freedom riders who rode buses to Jackson, Mississippi in 1961 to set up a tug-of-war between Jim Crow and new federal law have signed a petition on behalf of Gladys and Jamie Scott.  The Scott sisters were sentenced to double life sentences for a robbery that allegedly netted $11.  They have always maintained their innocence.  But, guilty or innocent, a growing number of Americans, the freedom riders included, consider the sentences an outrage.  The article from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger is pasted below. 

Just one word of editorial comment: It would be great if more civil rights veterans would step up and condemn the New Jim Crow known as the war on drugs.  Just a thought. (more…)

Democrats and the Drug War

By Alan Bean

New York Times columnist Charles Blow asks why Democrats have shown such loyal support for a drug war that targets one of its core constituencies.  Here’s the salient quote:

“It is, in part, callous political calculus. It’s an easy and relatively cheap way for them to buy a tough-on-crime badge while simultaneously pleasing police unions. The fact that they are ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men and, by extension, the communities they belong to barely seems to register.”

Exhibit A is the Obama administration’s staunch support for the Byrne Grant program.  The Tulia drug sting (which created Friends of Justice) was funded with Byrne money.  This partly explains why George Bush made drastic cuts to the program–it had embarrassed the Lone Star State.  Barack Obama knows that most Byrne funding is channelled into statistic-generating narcotics programs that (a) lock up disproportionate numbers of poor black men and (b) do absolutely nothing to address the harms associated with drug abuse. 

Tragically, support for the drug war has always been a cheap way for democrats to play the tough-on-crime card.  (more…)

Was Juan Williams sacrificed for our sins?

You have probably heard that Juan Williams has been sacked by National Public Radio.  I have mixed feelings. 

Like Bill Cosby, Juan Williams panders to white America (and a large portion of prosperous black America) by wailing on the black under-caste.  For instance, Williams recently penned a screed lamenting the sorry state of black America: “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It”.

Williams is an authority on the civil rights movement and has been involved with some excellent work in this connection, most notably PBS’s “Eyes on the Prize” series.  But, like far too many civil rights aficionados, he is inordinately fond of comparing the courage, intelligence and resilience of the civil rights generation with the irresponsible, dependent and self-destructive tendencies on display in poor black neighborhoods.  (more…)

Frontline’s “Death by Fire” is superb television

The Frontline treatment of the Cameron Todd Willingham saga is gripping, balanced and provocative.  Don’t worry if you missed it; you can watch the entire program online.

Hour-long documentaries are frequently crammed with fluff and filler, but the Willingham case demands in-depth treatment to be understood and “Death by Fire” delivers.  Here are some of the conclusions: (more…)

“Death by Fire”: Frontline tackles the Willingham Case

Cameron Todd Willingham and Governor Rick Perry

The PBS program Frontline will be airing a program on the Cameron Todd Willingham story, “Death by Fire“, beginning October 19.  Click on the link to watch a 30 second promo.  I have pasted the text version of the teaser below.

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Several controversial death penalty cases are currently under examination in Texas and in other states, but it’s the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham — convicted for the arson deaths of his three young children — that’s now at the center of the national debate.

In Death by Fire, FRONTLINE’s season premiere, airing Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE gains unique access to those closest to the Willingham case — meticulously examining the evidence used to convict Willingham, offering an in-depth portrait of those most impacted by the case, and exploring the explosive implications of the execution of a possibly innocent man. (more…)