Learning from Juror B-37

By Alan Bean

A week ago I wrote two posts related to the composition of the jury in the George Zimmerman case.  In the first, I said that common sense suggested that the defendant would be found guilty of manslaughter.  The prosecution had only Zimmerman’s description of the altercation between the two men to work with and that made Murder 2 a tough sell.  But the fact that none of the six jurors looked like the victim in this story troubled me.  My fear was that the jurors would understand why Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin’s presence in the neighborhood suspicious and potentially dangerous.  A single Black juror would have challenged this identification and argued for another way of reading the story.

My second post (which also appeared in the Associated Baptist Press) argued that the jury, though conscientious and well-intentioned, lacked the social experience and the cultural competency to sift through a blizzard of legal considerations.

Most readers who bothered to comment were unimpressed. Some felt that race had no bearing on this case, so the racial composition of the jury didn’t matter. Others insisted that Zimmerman received what the Constitution guarantees: a jury of his peers.

As Bill Stuntz observed shortly before his death, Black jurors are commonly tried by predominantly White juries who are inclined to side with authority figures like police officers and prosecutors and subject to racial bias. (more…)

Five ways the Senate’s immigration bill falls short of justice

By Alan Bean

As comprehensive immigration reform wends its tortuous way through the legislative process, we have witnessed a lot of hand-wringing from politicians concerning “border security,” spiking welfare costs, crime, and fairness to those who became citizens the legal way.  Rarely do we hear from the men and women who work with immigrants and advocate on their behalf.  ICA, Immigrant Communities in Action, is a New York-based coalition of immigration reform groups.  Today, they released a response to Senate Bill 744.  They don’t like it.  I am sharing the heart of their statement with you because it captures an emerging consensus within the immigration reform community.  Some organizations worked so hard for so long to get a bill through the Senate that they are willing to hold their noses and live with a deeply flawed piece of legislation.  But most of the reform organizations I monitor are deeply disappointed with the Senate’s immigration bill and this statement explains why.


Statement on the Senate Immigration Bill (S.B. 744)                                                    July 10, 2013

Immigrant Communities in Action

New York City


“A Call to Immigrant Organizations, Workers Centers, and Allies:

Building for a Just, Humane and Inclusive Immigration Reform, and Beyond


On June 27, 2013, the Senate voted to pass its immigration bill with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. While the bill includes provisions that seem to benefit some segments of immigrant communities, we are disturbed by the many provisions that undermine the basic premise of a just, humane and inclusive “comprehensive” immigration reform:

1. S.B. 744 creates an onerous labyrinth of a gauntlet instead of a just a path to citizenship.  While the bill seeks to offer a path to citizenship, and allow the millions of immigrants to come out of the shadows and become a recognized part of the social fabric, the specific provisions place many “thorns on the road” by making the process overly complex, financially unaffordable for many, and with an excessively long waiting period of 10-20 years. As these provisions would exclude millions of immigrants, either from the outset or due to the various obstacles, we will continue to have a large population of immigrants who would become even more marginalized and excluded than the current situation. (more…)

Can You Spare Some Compassion?


By Pierre R. Berastain

I walked through the streets of New York City where incessant noises stand as the backdrop of everything that occurs. “You don’t know what it’s like to be homeless!” screamed a voice painfully, breaking the indistinctiveness of noises, “I hope it never happens to you! I am just hungry.” The woman was responding to a man who had berated her and her plead for money. He had shouted something degrading without looking at her and continued to walk undisturbed.

I hope it never happens to you. The words echoed in my mind as I walked down an entire block.

I hope it never happens to you.

The determined voice in my head insisted on a response, like a nightmare interrupting my sleep or a crying baby pleading for human warmth. I had just been confronted by the other, and that other engaged me with compassion rather than anger. She did not reproach me. She just wished me well. She had called me, named me, and demanded I turn around.

As I walked back to the woman, I recalled the homeless in Harvard Square. How often do we pretend to be busy on our cellphones so that we do not have to engage? How often have we heard, “Can you spare some change?” and avoided the gripping eyes of a person in need, pretending the words fell on inattentive ears? With our actions, the most visible humans in the streets become the most invisible ones in our hearts.

Yet, the woman in New York did not respond to this human neglect with anger; she responded with compassion. She extended it to the man, to me, to everyone around her. Where, I wondered, in the midst of her hunger, did she find the energy and love to show it? Sometimes, the ones who need compassion the most are the ones most willing to extend it.

“May I buy you something from this restaurant?” I asked.

I soon learned she could only have soup because she had lost all her teeth. I soon learned she had not always been homeless, that amidst economic struggles and distressing circumstances, she had lost everything and had no one to turn to. “We are a landscape of all we have seen,” once said Isamu Noguchi, Japanese American artist and architect. If we ignore those gripping eyes, what landscapes and narratives are we missing?

I am not suggesting we give money to all homeless individuals or that it is our duty to feed everyone around us. It is our response-ability, however, to recognize the humanity in others. The man did not have to say something disparaging to the woman. He could have simply looked at her and said, “I’m sorry.” We do not have to ignore a ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ from homeless individuals. We can choose to smile and wish them a good day. Sometimes, recognizing the humanity in others is worth more than what money can buy.

Shelley recognized the man’s humanity — his vulnerability and the possibility of his homelessness — and she extended compassion. That Thursday afternoon, as I walked to the subway station, I wondered how much compassion Shelly would extend the rest of the day. And how much she would receive.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

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How a Mexican Cartel Makes its Millions

Introduction by Pierre R. Berastaín

The Mexican cartels are known for their sanguinary wars and inexhaustible supply of narcotics.  Yet, behind the bloodshed and multi-billion dollar industry exist a complex network of power, an innovative machinery for narcotic transport, and mechanisms of survival and protection that ensure the longevity of the cartel and drug production.  In this article, The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe pays a detailed look at the operations of one of the richest, deadliest, and most powerful organizations in the world—The Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico.  The Cartel’s operations reach not only the United States and Latin America, but also Europe and Asia, and its influence ranges everywhere from top national officials to city cab drivers.  As a Drug Enforcement Administration official indicates, “They have eyes and ears everywhere.”  This astonishing account of the cartel’s operations sheds light on underground tunnels, dynastic marriages, systems of bribery, and even insurance for seized drugs.

Cocaine Incorporated
By: Patrick Radden Keefe

One afternoon last August, at a hospital on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a former beauty queen named Emma Coronel gave birth to a pair of heiresses. The twins, who were delivered at 3:50 and 3:51, respectively, stand to inherit some share of a fortune that Forbes estimates is worth a billion dollars. Coronel’s husband, who was not present for the birth, is a legendary tycoon who overcame a penurious rural childhood to establish a wildly successful multinational business. If Coronel elected to leave the entry for “Father” on the birth certificates blank, it was not because of any dispute over patrimony. More likely, she was just skittish about the fact that her husband, Joaquín Guzmán, is the C.E.O. of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, a man the Treasury Department recently described as the world’s most powerful drug trafficker. Guzmán’s organization is responsible for as much as half of the illegal narcotics imported into the United States from Mexico each year; he may well be the most-wanted criminal in this post-Bin Laden world. But his bride is a U.S. citizen with no charges against her. So authorities could only watch as she bundled up her daughters and slipped back across the border to introduce them to their dad.

Known as El Chapo for his short, stocky frame, Guzmán is 55, which in narco-years is about 150. He is a quasi-mythical figure in Mexico, the subject of countless ballads, who has outlived enemies and accomplices alike, defying the implicit bargain of a life in the drug trade: that careers are glittering but brief and always terminate in prison or the grave. When Pablo Escobar was Chapo’s age, he had been dead for more than a decade. In fact, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chapo sells more drugs today than Escobar did at the height of his career. To some extent, this success is easily explained: as Hillary Clinton acknowledged several years ago, America’s “insatiable demand for illegal drugs” is what drives the clandestine industry. It’s no accident that the world’s biggest supplier of narcotics and the world’s biggest consumer of narcotics just happen to be neighbors. “Poor Mexico,” its former president Porfirio Díaz is said to have remarked. “So far from God and so close to the United States.”

The Sinaloa cartel can buy a kilo of cocaine in the highlands of Colombia or Peru for around $2,000, then watch it accrue value as it makes its way to market. In Mexico, that kilo fetches more than $10,000. Jump the border to the United States, and it could sell wholesale for $30,000. Break it down into grams to distribute retail, and that same kilo sells for upward of $100,000 — more than its weight in gold. And that’s just cocaine. Alone among the Mexican cartels, Sinaloa is both diversified and vertically integrated, producing and exporting marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine as well.

Estimating the precise scale of Chapo’s empire is tricky, however. Statistics on underground economies are inherently speculative: cartels don’t make annual disclosures, and no auditor examines their books. Instead, we’re left with back-of-the-envelope extrapolations based on conjectural data, much of it supplied by government agencies that may have bureaucratic incentives to overplay the problem.

So in a spirit of empirical humility, we shouldn’t accept as gospel the estimate, from the Justice Department, that Colombian and Mexican cartels reap $18 billion to $39 billion from drug sales in the United States each year. (That range alone should give you pause.) Still, even if you take the lowest available numbers, Sinaloa emerges as a titanic player in the global black market. In the sober reckoning of the RAND Corporation, for instance, the gross revenue that all Mexican cartels derive from exporting drugs to the United States amounts to only $6.6 billion. By most estimates, though, Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzmán’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook.

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