Paul R. Lehman, Actions speak louder than words.

April 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Posted in African American, American Indian, criminal activity, discrimination, education, equality, European American, justice, law enforcement agencies, lower class, minority, Oklahoma, police force, poor, poverty, public education, Public housing, race, social justice system, socioeconomics | 4 Comments
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What can be frustrating to many people who attend public panel discussions that focus on a particular concern is the lack of resolution to the problem; that is, they leave the event with a few new data, but nothing to build or act on. For example, a recent public panel discussion on the “Mass Incarceration in Oklahoma: When Will It End?”Featured on the panel were representatives from the clergy, the state legislature, and the criminal justice system. The obvious and over-riding question for the panel was “Why are so many people being sent to prison in Oklahoma?”

The first panel member was from the clergy and he spoke to the problems involving the laws that place an unfair hardship on poor people and people of color. He mentioned the laws that treat minor violations as major ones such as small quantities of marijuana or drugs found in the possession of first-time offenders. In Oklahoma the law involving possession of drugs calls for prison time regardless for the person’s criminal record or lack of one. He continued in casting blame on the state and what was referred to as the “Criminal Prison Complex System,” that view prison as economic engines and fosters a climate of greed. References were made to the State’s high ranking nationally for incarceration in general, but also for the disparity of African Americans and Hispanic Americans in the prison population compared to the general population. The number one national ranking of women incarcerated in Oklahoma was underscored. The basic response of the clergy’s representative to the question was simply greed.

The second panel speaker represented the state legislature and non-profit organizations working to decrease the rate of the poor being incarcerated. The audience was greeted with information relative to the number and variety of programs that are meant to help relieve the number of people in poverty who are constantly being incarcerated for lack of funds to pay fees and fines. He focused on the need for attention and treatment of the mentally ill and drug addicts who would benefit greatly from pre-prison programs which would not destroy their efforts to rebuild their lives without a prison record. His response to the question of mass incarceration was a lack of funding for the programs that could help to eliminate the prison over-crowding conditions. He lamented that unfortunately, with the state suffering from a budget deficit of over one billion dollars, the likelihood of any programs receiving relief was slim to none at the present time.

The third and final panel speaker represented the criminal justice system; he brought with him many years of service in the law enforcement area. He defended the system by first disagreeing with the clergy with respect to the lack of fairness towards the poor and people of color. He maintained that every person in prison was there because he or she committed a crime or was found guilty by a jury. In essence, the people in prison are there because they deserve to be there. In his staunch defense of the system he never made reference to the system of poverty and neglect that the low socio-economic level of society experience or the exploitation they receive because they are easy prey. As far as he was concerned the system of criminal justice was totally impartial towards all citizens and made no difference because of ethnic, social, or economic status. His response to the question of mass incarceration was due to a lack of family values, education, and unemployment.

The responses of each panel member were offered to show how an audience can become frustrated when no one actually addressed the question. Each representative had a response, but not an answer to the question of why the mass incarceration. What they had to say was related directly to the problem of incarceration, but more to the effects of the system in place rather than an alternative to the system to decrease the prison population. If all we had to do in order to solve a problem is to say the words that identified how it could or should be resolved, then no problem would too big to solve.

Unfortunately, the panel never approached the real issue involving mass incarnation because they were talking at each other rather than communicating with one another. An example should underscore the problem. If the three panel members were riding in a car and suddenly to car started to move erratically, one might suggest that the cause is the rough road; another might say the cause was maybe a flax tire, still the third one might suggest in might be a problem with the car. All three individuals might be correct to an extent, but they will never know for certain until they stop the car, get out and look for the cause of the problem. If it turns out to be a flax tire, they must decide if they will changes the flax tire and put on the spare, or call the auto club to come and fix the problem or should they call someone to come and pick them up and deal with the car later. First, the three people must agree that the problem is the flat tire. Once they agree on that, they must also agree on what plan of action to take. Finally, they must put the plan of action into effect or all their efforts will have gone for nothing.

What panel discussion organizers and participants should keep in mind when offering problem solving information are plans that can be put into effect to address solving the problem. Most people know what the problem is and how it manifests itself with them and the community. They want to know how to go about resolving the problem—do they sign petitions, join protest groups, donate money to organizations fight for the cause, start groups, write letters? The people want to be given an avenue of approach for working toward resolving the problem. Words are important, but change comes from action.

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4 Comments »

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  1. […] Source: Paul R. Lehman, Actions speak louder than words. […]

  2. I like the example of the car problem. That is a good illustration of what you experienced.

  3. Well said, sir.

  4. Clarity and good examples make for a good piece.


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