“That’s a white man mourning the loss of his slaves”

My colleague Crip Dyke has a wonderful way with words:

While The Advocate includes all this in its coverage, what is more interesting is what The Advocate leaves out: Prator is unhappy with the new law and its somewhat-earlier release of people who carry around the leaves of plants that grow like weeds just about anywhere in the US because it’s the best prisoners that will be released early, and he counts on being able to force those prisoners to work:

I don’t want state prisons. They are a necessary evil to keep a few, or to keep some [people] out there. And that’s the ones that you can work, that’s the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs — but guess what? Those are the ones that they’re releasing! In addition to the [cough]. In addition to the bad ones [waves some manilla folders, presumably holding details of people like the current prisoner who has been arrested 52 times] – and I’m calling these bad – In addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to, to wash cars, to change the oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that where we save money … well, they’re going to let them out!*3

That’s right. No efficiencies of private enterprise, please. The Sheriffs have a good thing going where they can force people to work, and the better you are at doing that work, the more they want to keep you locked down. If you’re uncooperative, you’re a bad prisoner and need to be held longer. If you’re cooperative? Well, then you’re a good worker, and you need to be held longer.

This isn’t a law enforcement official concerned about good law enforcement policy. This is a fucking white man mourning the loss of his slaves.

Crip Dyke is a legal insider of some variety (I don’t remember her exact capacity, but she can get much more detailed on analyzing law and law enforcement). Her series “Fascist Policing” demonstrates how policies and enforcement that are perfectly legal in a supposedly robust human rights country are nonetheless deeply unethical and outrageously unjust.

You should read more here. Caine picked up on this too.

Law enforcement are the shock troops in class warfare. Prator’s only exceptional because he’s (implicitly) admitting he’s at war to begin with.

-Shiv

I’m sure the frozen peachers are right around the corner

I’m going to keep dredging this up because every time there is a development in this case, I am positively floored by how draconian and authoritarian the prosecution is.

The case against the J20 protesters–over 200 people who were kettled and mass arrested because they wore the same colours as someone who broke a window–has been repeatedly described as “unprecedented.” For starters, there is the simultaneous charge of both conspiracy to commit rioting and having committed the riot itself. Instead of evidence of intent factoring into sentencing provisions, the prosecution, by pressing both, is trying to bilk the defendants for a maximum sentence of 20 years instead of 10.

This is on top of the evidence for the third felony charge–inciting a riot: “Anti-capitalist slogans.” Also a 10 year max sentence. The indictment clearly describes that there were half a dozen defendants who are alleged to have actually carried out property destruction, so it is unclear how the half dozen could be accused of inciting the riot, or the 194 alleged inciters of committing it.

Yep, those freeze peachers will be here any second now, I’m positive.

Lastly, the five counts of property destruction (5 years max a piece) clearly name which defendants they accuse of directly perpetrating the action, and yet the prosecution has gone ahead to press all five charges to all 200 odd defendants. This includes a defendant who didn’t actually participate in the protest, but merely organized it.

And they’re being tried collectively. (emphasis added)

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Anti-fascism declared terrorist activity

Recently revealed by Politico, “antifa”–a reminder that this is simply “anti-fascist” truncated–was declared a “domestic terrorist group” in April of 2016. Analysts credit Trump’s violent rhetoric for inflaming “antifa” activities.

Media outlets, as ever, refuse to acknowledge that white supremacist organization is on the spectrum of violence, and the Department of Homeland Security apparently deems “antifas” (I keep scare-quoting because anyone against fascism is ostensibly “antifa”) the “primary instigators.”

Just to make things clear: So-called antifa organizations are not in a hierarchy, have no formal structure, and largely improvise their planning. They assemble and disband constantly. The groups are so loosely defined that the definition of an anti-fascist can be expanded at will for anyone that’s inconvenient. In fact if any protest gets rowdy the FBI could use evidence of organization as evidence of “anti-fascist membership.” This is hardly implausible–Canada tried the same with the G20 arrests in 2015, and the American federal government is doing it with J20 right now.

Enjoy your FBI dossier.

Conference organizers: Just assume I’ll be denied at the border.

I’m sure all those frozen peachers are right around the corner. Any second now.

-Shiv

 

 

Bad survivor

Whenever “call out culture” is critiqued I typically approach the piece with skepticism–it’s a term so loosely used to the point of being useless at this point, and I just want people to define their terms precisely. Regardless of what we actually call it, this piece is about non-state methods of community policing, and has some valuable observations on how messy the process can be:

Content Notice: Abuse, threats of violence.

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Why do you hate prisoners?

Mike Epifani has a compelling piece on antipathy towards prisoners:

Over 6.74 million people are supervised by US adult correctional systems, and tens of millions of people have a criminal record. And to many, their rights don’t matter because “they must have done something wrong.”

Let’s start with the fact that “we spend billions to keep 480,000 people locked in cages without a conviction.” And that abhorrent criminal justice system practice is the tip of the iceberg — this is getting worse, not better. Jeff Sessions just recently reinstated the practice of allowing law enforcement to seize personal property without a conviction or even an indictment.

Did you know that around 95% of convictions are obtained through guilty pleas, and, more specifically, through plea bargaining? That means that only 5% of prisoners receive a fair trial. Most of us have seen it on television: the prosecutor comes in, says that if they really want to take it to trial, they’ll push for the maximum sentencing, but if they plead guilty, they’ll be charged with a lesser crime or receive a shorter sentence. Given the fact that many people who are arrested do not have the resources (time and money) to feel confident in their legal counsel’s chances in front of a jury, they’ll go with the guilty plea just to be on the safer side, guilty or not.

So, if the punishment really fits the crime, what is the justification behind making a deal to release them sooner?
Or does the punishment not fit the crime?
Or are they admitting that, in large part, prisons fail to rehabilitate?
Or is there often not enough evidence to lock up a cash cow (inmate), so intimidation tactics are required?

If you argue that the prosecution wouldn’t even bother proceeding with the process if the evidence wasn’t there to make a conviction…okay…but 95%? Only 5% of people convicted of a crime enact their 6th Amendment right to a trial in front of a jury of their peers? That seems right to you? Well, it’s not right. In fact, prosecutorial strategies when someone decides to take it to trial can be downright abhorrent, including blatantly adding additional charges.

Read more here.

-Shiv

Behind the walls of America’s prisons

Heather Ann Thompson has completed a comprehensive review of policies and case law that affect the American incarceral system, and it’s a disturbing read:

There is, in fact, a long history of the public being kept away from prisons so that corrections officials could run them as they wished. For much of the 19th and into the 20th century, state politicians’ deeply ingrained fear of federal encroachment on their power more generally translated into the so-called “hands-off doctrine” when it came to how they ran their prisons. Prison authorities, it was understood, had the right to do what they wanted to those in their charge.

Of course prisoners routinely tried to bring attention to the abuses that happened to them. But time and again, and most notably in the infamous 1871 case Ruffin v. Commonwealth, their bid to be treated as human beings was formally denied. In fact, according to the court in this case, prisoners were “slaves of the state.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, though, in response to escalating protests in penal facilities and in cities across the country, prisoners finally gained some rights. In turn, the public began to learn a bit more about what was happening to them behind bars.

It was, for example, deeply significant when the Warren Court opined in a 1974 case, Wolff v. McDonnell, that

“a prisoner is not wholly stripped of constitutional protections when he is imprisoned for crime. There is no iron curtain drawn between the Constitution and the prisons of this country.”

However, at the moment that more light was being shone on prison conditions because of specific judicial rulings, it was also clear that serious limitations on the public’s access to these institutions would remain and, overtime, actually increase.

In 1974, the court ruled in Pell v. Procunier that prisoners’ First Amendment rights were in fact limited. In this case the court held that journalists, the people who might hear prisoner accounts of abuse and share them with the public, “have no constitutional right of access to prisons or their inmates beyond that afforded to the general public.” As Ted Kennedy noted passionately before his colleagues in the Senate, this decision was alarming since, as he pointed out, “the public cannot regularly tour the prisons and interview inmates.”

Another significant blow to the public’s access came in 1987 when a decision was rendered in the case Turner v. Safley. The court ruled that prisoners’ rights to speak to the media existed only to the extent that prison authorities didn’t have a reasonable justification for restricting those rights. And the lid on access lowered even farther in the 2003 case Overton v. Bazzetta. The court ruled, in short, that if prison administrators wished to bar visitors to prison, their desires trumped other constitutional considerations such as the First Amendment rights of prisoners.

The court even found that prison officials could prevent visits between prisoners and their kids if the restrictions on visitation were related to “valid interests in maintaining internal security.”

Read more here.

-Shiv

The most pressing issue of contemporary Canadian politics

Duels are being re-legalized.

The Liberal Bill C-51* revisits anachronistic, centuries old laws scattered about the Criminal Code, which includes oddities like pretending to practice witchcraft (actual witchcraft was presumably permitted?), blasphemy (fuck the Pope!), falsely claiming a Royal Warrant and several other oddball-to-modern-standards laws.

More seriously, the Code is being cleaned up in a few ways:

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Signal boosting: “The Disappearing Trial”

fairtrials.org is documenting a 300% increase in the use of plea-bargaining across the world, suggesting that the United States’ practice of over-charging suspects for intimidation followed up by a “bargain” that looks good in comparison is spreading.

What is the Problem?

The trial is the archetype of criminal justice: just think of the dominance of court-room drama in film, TV and literature. But, in reality, the trial is starting to disappear. People are increasingly being incentivised to simply plead guilty and to waive their right to a trial.

The use of trial waiver systems like plea bargaining, abbreviated trials and cooperating witness procedures have increased about 300% since 1990. It’s also happening in more places than ever before. Of the 90 countries studied by Fair Trials and Freshfields, 66 now have these kinds of formal “trial waiver” systems in place. In 1990, the number was just 19.

We are not opposed to this in principle but these out-of-court mechanisms can impact fair trial rights and the criminal justice system more widely in serious ways, including:

  • Innocent people can be persuaded to plead guilty: an estimated 20,000 innocent people are in US prisons alone, after taking a deal.
  • Easier convictions can encourage over-criminalisation and drive harsher sentences.
  • Inequality of arms and a lack of transparency where “deals” are done by prosecutors behind closed doors.
  • Public trust in justice can be undermined.

fairtrials suggests ways to mitigate the troubling disadvantages of plea-bargaining here. Their position, in summary, is that the concept is potentially defensible but needs safeguards.

…But that’s often the case with institutional power, isn’t it. I’m not 100% sold (my experience is that “the safeguards” need safeguards), but I thought y’all might like to check out their findings anyway.

-Shiv

Signal boosting: “The guards were organized criminals”

Concern over the treatment of inmates is generally my litmus test for how thought-out someone is with the concept of social justice. They’re an incredibly easy group to demonize–hell, even being accused is all it takes for some juries to condemn some defendants–and once that work is done, otherwise knowledgeable people can fumble and overlook the human rights abuses. Often the temptation is to immediately think of the unrepentant serial criminals, especially the violent ones, rather than appreciating that a wide range of individuals are imprisoned for a wide range of activities, some of which have relatively low social cost.

Even so, I have objected to the mistreatment of high-profile murderers in my local prisons because I have good reason to believe it doesn’t stop there.

Susan Ashline, on behalf of an inmate named Jon Fontaine, posted Fontaine’s writings on his lawsuit against the prison that housed him. What’s quite remarkable is that Fontaine screencapped his former guards’ public Facebook postings, which actually helps him corroborate some of his accusations.

Over the past four years, I’ve communicated with a few dozen people by mail, most wanting to know what prison is like. I’d tell them if they’ve seen any “reality” shows about prison, New York prisons are nothing like that. There is no professionalism, no respect. I’d write them, “They literally put unconvicted criminals in charge and let them do anything they want. It’s legal organized crime.”

I’d go on and list all the things officers do, from singular assault to gang assault, murder, rape, planting weapons and drugs, selling weapons and drugs, extortion, and more.

Some believe me, some don’t.

If the public isn’t convinced by the criminal prosecutions now that the Office of Special Investigations was formed to replace the Inspector General’s Office (which was made up of former corrections officers);

If they’re not convinced by the federal charges brought by the US Attorney General’s Office, which stated brutality in New York’s prisons has reached critical levels;

If they’re not convinced by the tens of millions of dollars New York pays out each year to settle lawsuits brought by inmates;

Just look at the corrections officers’ own public statements. They’re playing their positions.

Many thanks to those officers for contributing to my credibility.

Read more about it here.