Paul R. Lehman, Changing the criminal justice system and mass incarceration starts at the local level

July 10, 2018 at 4:13 am | Posted in African American, criminal justice, justice, justice system, law, lower class, Michelle Alexander, minority, non-violent crimes, Oklahoma, poverty, race, Race in America, social conditioning, social justice system, The Oklahoman | Leave a comment
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Often times, when something happens involving the criminal justice system that has a negative effect on a segment of society, that part of society that is not seemingly directly impacted will pay little or no attention to the problem Usually, they remain uninvolved and uninformed relative to the criminal justice until it affects them directly. What they do not realize is that they have always been directly affected by the system whether they know it or not. One way they, the public, is affected is through the high rate of incarceration and prison overcrowding that the citizens are financially responsible for paying. However, since they do not receive the bill directly, they give little attention to it. The groups that are forced to pay the bills are the poor and people of color. So, for many years mass incarceration has been about controlling people of color and the poor right in plain sight while nothing was done to correct the injustices that were committed against them.

Studies have been conducted relative to mass incarceration ascertaining that the phenomena are not simply an act of maintaining law and order, but a system of economic profit-making. A number of scholars have referred to the criminal justice system as the prison industrial complex because of the vastness of the system and the many people involved at many different levels. Although this system is a nationwide organization, what keeps it going happens at the local levels of society. So, if an effort is made to replace the unjust system, the initial action must take place at the local level. The first order of business is to re-educate the public and present a transparent picture of what happens to a citizen that is incarcerated at the local level and how he or she becomes part of the bodies working for the system.

Many citizens are led to believe that because a person is arrested, charged, and sent to prison that they deserve to be there because they broke the law. Generally speaking, that would be an accurate assessment. However, what created the present situation of mass incarceration had nothing to do with citizens breaking the law, but with the laws being changed to expand the number of people being incarcerated. When President Reagan instituted his war on drugs and crime, he caused a modification of the charges and length of sentencing. The system has since added the fees, fines, and numerous charges to the sentence of the incarcerated person, making freedom almost impossibility if one happens to be poor or a person of color. So, the more people introduced into the system, the more efficiently it runs. For an in-depth look at the subject of mass incarceration please read Michelle Alexander’s book THE NEW JIM CROW.

The state of Oklahoma is one of the national leaders regarding mass incarceration in general, but number one as far as incarcerating women is concerned. This problem was brought to the attention of the Oklahoma citizens in the form of two state questions that addressed the rate of incarceration of people with drug problems and non-violent crimes. The state actually passed the two questions 780 and 781 that sought to reclassify drug possession and some other lower-level crimes as misdemeanors. The objective of the questions was to use the money saved from not incarcerating people of these types of crimes and use that money for alternative programs. These types of programs are necessary for addressing the problems and redirecting the money.

Kris Steele, a former Speaker of the House, is the chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and leader in attempting to stop the mass march to prison of many citizens. Based on his studies and experiences relative to criminology he understands that prison is not the answer to problems involving drug use and low-level offenses. He expressed some of his concerns in an article, “Justice reform must have buy-in,” (7/9/2018) that underscored the injustice of the sentencing today. He also noted the importance of the people involved in the working of the criminal justice system understanding the problems and helping to overcome many of these problems, not trying to maintain the status quo. Steele noted the need for elected officials and others to accept the programs. He stated that “Unfortunately, some elected officials still haven’t accepted this approach. In the six months after the state questions were enacted, 882 people were sent to prison with drug possession as their most serious offense—directly rebutting the will of voters.”

One of the problems in this matter is the lack of concern of many of the citizens; they either do not care or do not know the seriousness of mass incarceration. Steele noted that citizens pay the price and it is significant: “If each of these 882 people sentenced to prison for drug possession spent one year in prison, it would cost the taxpayer $15 million, and if they were imprisoned for the statewide average for drug possession—25 months—it would cost $32 million.

We know that mass incarceration is a feature of the criminal justice that keeps the system going; we also know that the system is unjust and unfair to people of color and the poor. We realize that we can start to resolve the problem if we work together. Steele noted that “Once this cultural change is embraced by those responsible for implementing reform, Oklahoma can safely reduce its incarceration rate, boost public safety and strengthen families.”  Oklahomans must keep the pressure for corrective action open and out front for change to occur.

Along with addressing the problem of mass incarceration is the need for prison reform from a national perspective. Michael Gerson in an article “An idea that should succeed in Washington,” (7/9/2018) citing the need for prison and sentencing reform referenced two scholars, Steven Teles and David Dagan who identified reform as “an example of ‘trans-partisanship,” and “a agreement on policy goals driven by divergent, deeply held ideological beliefs.” Everything depends on how people view crimes and criminals. They stated that “Liberals look at mass incarceration as see structural racism. Libertarians see the denial of civil liberties, Fiscal conservatives see wasted resources. Religious activists see inhumane conditions and damaged lives.”

Gerson summed up the solution for mass incarceration, prison, and sentencing reform by making one simple statement—“ All these convictions converge at one point: We should treat offenders as humans, with different stories and different needs, instead of casting them all into the same pit of despair.” Easy to say, harder to accomplish.

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Paul R. Lehman, An investigation of the Baltimore police by the DOJ will reflect systemic problems

May 8, 2015 at 12:08 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, Baltimore, Bigotry in America, blacks, criminal activity, democracy, Department of Justice, discrimination, entitlements, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, Freddie Gray, justice, justice system, law enforcement agencies, lower class, minority, police force, poor, poverty, Prejudice, President Obama, social justice system, socioeconomics | Leave a comment
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The mayor of Baltimore has asked the Department of Justice to look into the practices of the police force in her city. Although the results of such an investigation might help improve the community relations, the real problem that leads to conflicts time and time again is never mentioned—the system invented and managed by the majority society. We have heard the terms system and culture many times when the condition of the police and community relations is discussed. Unfortunately, discussing both the system and the culture of any city and its supporting elements does not focus on the cause of the problem and therefore cannot offer a remedy for the problems. A few observers recognize and understand some aspects of the system. For example, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post Writers Group, wrote in an article, ”The intricate knot of urban poverty,” about the problems facing Baltimore and how different aspects of the system affects its progress.

Gerson commented on an aspect of police attitude in Baltimore:”An element of the police—on the evidence, a relatively small element—became desensitized during its daily application of power. One result can be dehumanization, which may help explain Freddie Gray’s long, last trip.” He continued: “But some of the worst outcomes are not found in abuses of the system but in its design: a cycle of incarceration and return that reinforces criminality.” Actually, Gerson confuses the system with the culture when he references “abuses of the system.” What he does not understand is that the system was invented to dehumanize people of color as well as people of low socio-economic status. The abuse is actually a manifestation of the system expressed through the local culture. The police did not develop a concept of viewing people of color in a denigrating way prior to joining the force; society had already accomplished that part of the training.

To his credit, Gerson does recognize other conditions contributing to the problems of poverty and incarceration, but noted that “So, the imposition of order in impoverished communities through police and prisons is possible but costly, prone to abuse and probably unsustainable at the scale we have seen.” He then asked the question “What can be done to encourage economically and healthy communities where order is self-creating a imposed?” He answered the question by referring to the government’s role in why these poverty-related problems exist: “The reason reflects the complexity of the problem. Large economic trends, particularly globalization and the technological revolution, have pushed the blue-collar economy in many places into a permanent slump. Wages have stagnated or declined and workforce participation has fallen.”

He further noted that “At the same time, the connection between child-bearing and marriage has been broken. Chronically stressed parents—often single parents—have less time and fewer resources to invest in their children. Community institutions, including public schools, are weak.” He next associated these conditions with the police: “When children get into trouble, there is little support structure for addiction treatment and legal help. We cannot expect police power to confront these complex, interrelated difficulties.” For help in these circumstances, Gerson added:” But someone, in addition to local religious and community leaders need to try.”

Finally, Gerson pointed to individuals on the “right,” Rep. Paul Ryan, and Sen. Marco Rubio who offered suggestions relative to the problems of urban poverty. On the “left,” he listed President Obama and Hillary Clinton and their suggestions to deal with the problems as well. He noted that all of the suggestion offered by both the right and left were “insufficient to the scale of the problem. Much about the justice and unity of our country will depend on the increased ambition of their next iteration.” What next iteration? The system converts any and all new ideas into feeding itself. Apparently, Gerson does not understand that all suggestions regarding urban poverty, the police, incarceration, employment, education, and justice are all part of the system—a system that has always viewed people of color and others as having little or no social value, and that viewpoint has served to justify the treatment they have experienced over the years.

Regarding the system and the police, if education and instructions focusing on systemic changes are not required for the police force to treat everyone justly and fairly with clear and definitive repercussion for failure to do so, the officers will exhibit the lack of value society has told them to exert towards people they regard as have little or not social value. The system provides the concepts and attitudes toward the people; the culture of each department determines how those concepts and attitudes will be manifested.

If some people were surprised to see three African Americans pictured along with the three European American officers arrested from Baltimore and wondered how that was possible, the answer has to do with the culture in the department and the importance of group identity and solidarity. In most local departments the culture is usually established by the majority before the minority members are employed. If the minority members buck the culture, they are ousted.

If the Department of Justice decides to investigate the Baltimore Police Department, chances are it will discover what has been discovered in most police departments—a pattern of discrimination against African Americans and other people of color over and beyond their percentage of the total population. That discrimination results in arrests, fines, and finally, incarcerations. Gerson suggested that the reason has to do with poverty, and that certainly has some impact on the problem, but to get at the primary cause one has to examine the nature of the system that created the problems. We do not have to look far to recognize bigotry as the main ingredient that continues to engage in a system of control over people of color as well as people of low socio-economic status.

If progress is to be made with respect to the plethora of social injustices that are presently represented in the lives of many American citizens, then the cause of these injustices must be discovered and addressed. Unfortunately, when one discovers the cause of the injustices, another problem is added to the ones already at hand. No one seemingly wants to be made uncomfortable if it means relief and benefits for another for whom one apparently holds little social value.

Paul R. Lehman, Ferguson, Missouri will represent a positive change in America.

August 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Posted in African American, American Dream, American history, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, Civil War, Constitutional rights, desegregation, discrimination, Equal Opportunity, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, freedom of speech, justice, liberty, lower class, minority, public education, race, Slavery, socioeconomics, Southern states, state Government, The Oklahoman, upper class | 2 Comments
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We have seen and heard about the treatment of African Americans by the police establishment from the East coast to the West coast and many places in between. Sometimes the question “why does this pattern of aggression by the police against African Americans exist? Whether than trying to answer that question now, we must first take a look at why the attitude and behavior of the police establishment is in question in the first place. Then, we will understand what is going on in our society relative to the African American community and the police today.
When slavery was in its early years in America, race and color were insignificant because the objective was profit. Slavery was always a business and the only value slaves had to their owners was measured in dollars. However, the English brought over to the new world the concept of Africans as a lower order of humans and were not viewed as equal to the Europeans. Most slaves were treated equally bad except with respect to the European (white) slaves. Even as slaves, they were given special treatment as we learn from history:
In 1705, masters were forbidden to ‘whip a Christian white servant naked.’ Nakedness was for brutes, the uncivil, the non-Christian. That same year, all property—horses, cattle, and hogs’—was confiscated from slaves and sold by the church wardens for the benefit of poor whites. By means of such acts, social historian Edmond Morgan argues, the tobacco planters and ruling elite of Virginia raised the legal status of lower-class whites relative to that of Negroes and Indians, whether free, servant, or slave (The Making of the Negro in Early American Literature, p.35).
So, from the very beginning, people of color were discriminated against in favor of Europeans. The term “Christian” was used as pertaining to people from Europe who were considered civilized. The importance of this history is to note the lack of social value or respect given to people of color and especially Africans and African Americans.
When we move ahead one hundred and fifty years to the Civil War period, we find the same attitude and sentiment regarding the lack of social value and respect withheld from the African Americans by the majority society. The need to keep total control of the African Americans after the Civil War by the majority society can be seen in the laws that were created by the various states; those laws were known throughout the South as the Black Codes. These codes further established and endorsed the devaluing of the African American as we see in the reference to the Mississippi Black Code:
The status of the Negro was the focal problem of Reconstruction. Slavery had been abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, but the white people of the South were determined to keep the Negro in his place, socially, politically, and economically. This was done by means of the notorious “Black Codes,” passed by several of the state legislatures. Northerners regarded these codes as a revival of slavery in disguise. The first such body of statues, and probably the harshest, was passed in Mississippi in November 1865. (http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/122/recon/code.html)
The perception of respect and social value of the African Americans began to change after the Brown v Topeka Board of Education case in 1954, and continued on through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-1968. America’s changes were starting to become more inclusive of African Americans regarding Constitutional and Civil Rights, much to the dismay of many did not like or want the changes. Throughout America’s early history the need to recognize and respect the presence and rights of the African American were so low that the phrase “A ‘n’ ain’t worth shit” pretty much summed-up the sense of value society had for the African Americans.
When we look at the relationships the police nation-wide have with communities of color, especially African Americans, we see reflected the same old attitudes and perceptions that have long been a staple of the European American mind-set. Regardless of the visible changes occurring in America today edging more towards an ethnically diverse society, many Americans refuse to accept the change. The police departments generally reflect the attitude of the majority society and therefore, see not a unified community, but two—one European American (white), and those who are not—generally people of color.
What the nation is experiencing in Ferguson, Missouri is not something totally unexpected, but an example of a changing society. As we morn the loss of the many African Americans to the bigotry and biases of the old mind-set expressed through law enforcement agencies, etc…, we can take heart in the fact that they do not die in vain, but in an effort to bring to the fore the problems that must be addressed in society to meet the changes that must take place. Ferguson, as well as the nation, will be a better place for all to live once the problems of representation and cooperation are addressed—problems that would have remained hidden without the tragedy of loss. As a society, we have yet to recognize and debunk the fallacy of race. No problems of equality, fairness, and justice will ever be resolved in America as long as people see themselves as black and white. No such races exist except as part of an illusion.
To underscore the lack of understanding of this problem, we turn to a comment made by Michael Gerson in a recent article, “The paradox of diversity,” where he noted concerning Ferguson, Missouri:
“But events in Ferguson demonstrate the paradox of American diversity: An increasing multicultural nation remains deeply divided by race and class. There are many more friendships and marriages between white and minority Americans (about one in 12 marriages is interracial)—but at the same time racially charged suspicions and anger persists among millions. And a broad perception of our own racial acceptance has created a different form of isolation—a self-satisfaction that obscures or masks deep social divisions. (The Oklahoman, 8/16/2014)
Gerson’s comments represent the problem and the solution in that the nation is divided, but changing to a less racial society. The changes will come as a result of the actions of the people who are adversely affected by the problems that are uncovered when the actions of the society, or a police force, raises their, as well as the rest of society’s consciousness. As a nation, we must continue to tear down the wall of races that separates us unnecessarily. The times are changing, and we cannot stop that.

Paul R. Lehman, Opinion writer tries to label Obama as the “Great Divider”

February 12, 2013 at 12:23 am | Posted in African American, Bigotry in America, blacks, Congress, Democrats, Disrespect, European American, fairness, GOP, justice, Media and Race, Prejudice, President, The Oklahoman, the Republican Party, whites | 2 Comments
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The title of the main article on the “Opinion” page of The Oklahoman (2/10/13) reads “President has earned ‘Great Divider’ label.”Both words of that moniker carries with them a variety of interpretations that rely on other associations to have them bear fruit; namely, how does one arrive at the superlative “Great,” and what has been divided? What we discover in reading the article is a text that reflects Arrogance, ignorance and bias.
When one decides that he or she has the where-with-all to predict what history will do and the reasons for doing it, he or she usually rely on facts and empirical evidence to underscore the prognostication. However, when one’s information is based on personal assessment and interpretation, the cause of concern regarding intent and accuracy is called into question. The “opinion” writer stated that history will pin the nickname “The Great Divider” on President Obama because he has earned it. The writer stated that “The sobriquet isn’t overtly partisan: Much of the man’s political success owes to his penchant for dividing people into camps and appealing to one group by diminishing the other. This has been good for his career. But, it has not been good for the United States of America.” The writer then proceeded to present examples where President Obama failed to unite. For example, we learned that “Obama solicited ideas from diverse coalitions—on health care, deficit reduction, business growth—but refused to listen.”
The writer was true in part, the part that the President did solicit ideas from a variety of coalitions; the other part involved the President not willing to abandon his own ideas for those that did not address the problems as he saw them. Take health care, for example. The plan that the President offered to Congress was the same one used in Mass., created and implemented by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This plan was rejected by all Republicans in Congress. Other examples of the results and reactions to the President’s offers all fell short of Republican approval. The writer never mentioned this side of the great divide because the blame was displaced, not just on the President. However, the writer evidently believes whatever he or she says should be accepted as true, no questions. That is arrogance.
The lack of information or ignorance comes through in the article when the writer made that statement: “The essential thing we’ve learned about Barack Obama is his belief that his way is the only way, dividing the populace into the Enlightened Ones who agree with him and the less-Than-Worthy who don’t. Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson calls this ‘the invincible assumption of his own rightness,’” One would get the idea that America is governed by a dictator who is at liberty to do anything and everything he wants. Enlightened readers know that this tacit is a ploy to try and discredit the President for doing things he has not the power to do. The fact that we have three branches of government never enters the picture. One would expect the President to have his own ideas and plans because as leader that is part of his responsibility. Why would he be criticized for being able to think and plan and labeled a “divider” simply because some do not agree with him. That is just plain ignorant.
A number of things that are missing from the article that shows a different side to this argument showed a degree of bias on the writer’s part. When the President is told his first day in office that all efforts by one party will be in trying to prevent his serving another term, then the idea of bipartisan agreement becomes impossible. To underscore the point of a one-sided effort to deny the President any success, the Republican Party usually voted as a unit as in the health care bill where he received zero support from them. In addition, whenever a bill was offered in the Senate a filibuster was initiated to prevent its coming to the floor for a vote. A record of filibusters was set during President Obama’s first term by Republicans. The President made numerous invitations to the leaders and other members of the Republican Party for causal meeting; all were rejected. What does that say about who is responsible for the division in Washington?
The name “The Great Divider” is an attempt to discredit the President for things her had little or no control over. The writer wanted to picture President Obama as being in total control of everything that goes on in Washington and then create a negative perception of it. If the writer were honest, he or she would admit that he or she is angry and frustrated by the fact that the majority of Americans elected an African American for President. Whatever President Obama does will never be good enough for the writer and like-minded people because they cannot accept the fact that society is changing and people who still live in the 19th and 20th century are being left behind. These people are biased because they were taught to be so by the society in which we live. Some segments of our society refuse to accept the progress that has taken place socially and scientifically. In essence, they see President Obama as a symbol of a change they are not ready or willing to make.
As the “Opinion” writer demonstrated, any excuse will do if one is trying to avoid the real one, if the real one will uncover the nature of the excuse maker. Any criticism generally made about the government or Congress or Washington will usually filter down to President Obama because he is the “elephant” in the room. People will use the unfounded accusations that Washington has out-of-control-spending, or the Obama policies hurt the middle-class, or the deficit will place a tremendous burden on our grandchildren to try and show that Obama is not fit to be President. If these Obama critics could in some way prove that President Obama is not fit to be President, then they believe that they have been vindicated in their bigotry and can regroup to prevent any new challenge to their view of a “divided” America with them still in charge. The name for what the “Opinion” writer tried to do in labeling President Obama the “Great Diver” is called projection.

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