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Senator Ron Wyden has a petition up at MoveOn.org that reads "Right now, torture is banned because of President Obama's executive order. It's time for Congress to pass a law banning torture, by all agencies, so that a future president can never revoke the ban." It goes on to explain:
"We live in a dangerous world. But when CIA operatives and contractors torture terrorist suspects, it doesn't make us safer -- and it doesn't work. The recent CIA torture report made that abundantly clear. Right now, the federal law that bans torture only applies to the U.S. military -- not our intelligence agencies. President Obama's executive order barring all agencies from using torture could be reversed, even in secret, by a future president. That's why it's critical that Congress act swiftly to pass a law barring all agencies of the U.S. government, and contractors acting on our behalf, from engaging in torture. Without legislation, the door on torture is still open. It's time for Congress to slam that door shut once and for all."
Why in the world would anybody object to this unless they supported torture? Well, let me explain.
Torture and complicity in torture were felonies under U.S. law before George W. Bush moved into the White House, under both the torture statute and the war crimes statute. Nothing has fundamentally changed about that, other than the blatant lack of enforcement for several years running. Nothing in those two sections of the U.S. code limits the law to members of the U.S. military or excludes employees or contractors or subcontractors of so-called intelligence agencies. I emailed a dozen legal experts about that claim in the above petition. Michael Ratner replied "I don’t see where they get that from." Kevin Zeese said simply "They're wrong." If anyone replies to me with any explanation, I'll post it as an update at the top of this article on davidswanson.org -- where I can be contacted if you have an explanation.
For the past several years, the U.S. Congress, White House, Justice Department, and media have gone out of their way to ignore the existence of U.S. laws banning torture. When silence hasn't worked, the primary technique has been proposing over and over and over again to ban torture, as if it were not already banned. In fact, Congress has followed through and banned it a number of times, and done so with new exceptions that by some interpretations have in fact weakened the war crimes statute. This is my best guess where the nonsense about applying only to "intelligence agencies" comes from: laws like the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that claimed to pick and choose which types of torture to ban for whom.
When President Obama took President Bush's place he produced an executive order purporting to ban torture (again), even while publicly telling the Justice Department not to enforce any existing laws. But an executive order, as Wyden seems to recognize, is not a law. Neither can it ban torture, nor can it give legal weight to the pretense that torture wasn't already banned. In fact the order itself states: "Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441 . . . ."
Senator Wyden says he will introduce yet another bill to "ban torture." Here's how the Washington Post is spinning, and explaining, that:
"Torture is already illegal, but Wyden notes that protections can be strengthened. To oversimplify, the U.S. is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in which participating states agreed to outlaw intentionally inflicting severe pain for specific purposes. The Bush administration obviously found a (supposedly) legal route around that."
In other words, because it was done by a president, it was legal -- the worldview of the Post's old buddy Richard Nixon.
"After the Abu Graib revelations, John McCain helped pass a 2005 amendment that would restrict the military from using specific brutal interrogation tactics — those not in the Army Field Manual. (This didn’t preclude intel services from using these techniques, which might explain why CIA director John Brennan felt free to say the other day that future policymakers might revert to using them). In 2008, Congress passed a measure specifically applying those restrictions to intelligence services, too, but then-President Bush vetoed it. Senator Wyden would revive a version of that 2008 bill as a starting point, with the goal of codifying in law President Obama's executive order banning the use of those specific techniques for all government employees, those in intelligence services included."
But let's back up a minute. When a president violates a law, that president -- at least once out of office -- should be prosecuted for violating the law. The law can't be declared void because it was violated. Loopholes can't be created for the CIA. Reliance on the Army Field Manual can't sneak into law the loopholes built into that document. Presidents can't order and un-order things illegal. Here's how the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson responded to the release of the Senate's report summary:
"The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the U.S. Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability. International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the U.S. Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes. As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes."
Now, one could try to spin the endless re-banning of torture as part of the process of enforcing an international treaty that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. But banning a practice going forward, even when you ban it better, or ban it more emphatically for the 8th time, does absolutely nothing to fulfill the legal obligation to prosecute those crimes already committed. And here we are dealing with crimes openly confessed to by past officials who assert that they would "do it again" -- crimes that resulted in deaths, thus eliminating any attempt at an argument that statutes of limitations have run out.
Here's a different sort of petition that we've set up at RootsAction.org along with Witness Against Torture and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: " We call on President Obama to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce our laws, and to immediately appoint a special prosecutor. As torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, we call on any willing court system in the world to enforce our laws if our own courts will not do so."
The purpose of such a petition is not vengeance or partisanship or a fetish with history. The purpose is to end torture, which is not done by looking forward or even by pardoning the crimes, as the ACLU has proposed -- to its credit recognizing that the crimes exist. That should be a first step for anyone confused by the endless drumbeat to "ban torture."
Just as a police officer in a heightened state of panic surrounded by the comfort of impunity will shoot an innocent person, the Governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency preemptively, thus justifying violence in response to something that hasn't happened. Bombing Iraq in response to nonexistent weapons and Libya in response to nonexistent threats worked out so well, we may as well try it domestically, the Governor is perhaps thinking. "There Is No Way That This Ends Well" is a headline I actually just read about Ferguson.
Well, why not? Who says it can't end well? The police may want continued impunity. The justice system may be rigged against any sort of reconciliation. The government may want -- or believe it rationally expects -- violence. But all of those parties are capable of changing their behavior, and the people of Ferguson are capable of determining their own actions rather than following a script placed before them.
We should understand that the violence in Ferguson is not new and is not limited to Ferguson. It did not begin with a particular shooting. It did not begin with any shooting. It began with a system of oppression that keeps people in misery amidst great wealth. Just as that injustice is inexcusable, so is any violence in response to it. But the outrage at an angry man knocking over a trashcan conspicuously exhibited by people who cheer for mass-murder in Iraq isn't well thought-through or helpful. And the disproportionate focus on such small-scale violence misses more than the larger picture. It also misses the courageous, disciplined, principled, and truly loving actions of those resisting injustice creatively and constructively. Such actions are not always successful and not always well-planned to the satisfaction of scholars. But they have long been far more common than is acknowledged on the television or in the history books.
Back in 1919 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, some 30,000 textile workers went on strike for decent pay. The mill owners and the police sought to provoke them, infiltrate them, intimidate them, and brutalize them. The workers held strong. The police set up machine guns along the streets, toying with the model of domestic war now exhibited in Ferguson. Organizer A.J. Muste spoke to the workers on the morning that the machine guns appeared:
"When I began my talk by saying that the machine guns were an insult and a provocation and that we could not take this attack lying down, the cheers shook the frame building. Then I told them, in line with the strike committee's decision, that to permit ourselves to be provoked into violence would mean defeating ourselves; that our real power was in our solidarity and in our capacity to endure suffering rather than give up the fight for the right to organize; that no one could 'weave wool with machine guns'; that cheerfulness was better for morale than bitterness and that therefore we would smile as we passed the machine guns and the police on the way from the hall to the picket lines around the mills. I told the spies, who were sure to be in the audience, to go and tell the police and the mill management that this was our policy. At this point the cheers broke out again, louder and longer, and the crowds left, laughing and singing."
And, they won. The powers that owned the mill and put the weapons of war on the streets of that town conceded defeat, and conceded it without the bitterness that would have come had the workers and their supporters somehow been able to defeat the machine guns with violence.
That type of incident is as common as water, but little recounted. It's what organizers in Ferguson are calling for right now, and they are being preemptively ignored by the media. But it doesn't come easy. And it doesn't come without solidarity. If the people of the United States and the world chip in to support the people of Ferguson in their struggle for full justice, if we nonviolently and smilingly take on the forces of militarism and racism everywhere at once, and in Missouri in particular, we need not defeat the police or the Governor. We need only defeat cruelty, bigotry, and brutality. And that we can do. And that would be ending well.
The similarities between mass incarceration and mass murder have been haunting me for a while, and I now find myself inspired by Maya Schenwar's excellent new book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. This is one of three books everyone should read right away. The others are The New Jim Crow and Burning Down the House, the former with a focus on racism in incarceration, the latter with a focus on the incarceration of youth. Schenwar's is an overview of incarceration in all its absurd and unfathomable evil -- as well as being a spotlight leading away from this brutal institution.
Locked Down, Locked Out is both an incomparably put together report incorporating statistics and studies with individual quotations and anecdotes, and a personal story of how incarceration has impacted the author's own family and how the author has thought through the complex issues.
Yes, I did recently write an article specifically criticizing the widespread habit of calling everything a "war," and I do still want to see that practice ended -- but not because the linguistic quirk offends me, rather because we make so many things, to one degree or another, actually be like wars. As far as I have seen, no other practice bears remotely as much similarity to war as does prison. How so? Let me count the ways.
1. Both are distinctly American. No other nation spends as much on its military or its prisons, engages in as many wars or locks up as many people.
2. Both are seemingly simple and easy solutions that don't solve anything, but seek to hide it away at a distance. Wars are waged thousands of miles from home. Prisoners are stored out-of-sight hundreds or thousands of miles from home.
3. Both are fundamentally violent and dependent upon the notion that a state "monopoly" on violence prevents violence by others, even while the evidence suggests that it actually encourages violence by others.
4. Both rely on the same process of dehumanizing and demonizing people, either enemies in a war or criminals in a prison. Never mind that most of the people killed by bombs had nothing to do with the squabble used as motivation for the war. Never mind that most of the prisoners had nothing to do with the sort of behavior used to demonize them. Both populations must be labeled as non-human or both institutions collapse.
5. Both are hugely profitable and promoted by the profiteers, who constitute a small clique, the broader society actually being drained economically by both enterprises. Weapons factories and prisons produce jobs, but they produce fewer and lower-paying jobs than other investments, and they do so with less economic benefit and more destructive side-effects.
6. Both are driven by fear. Without the fear-induced irrational urge to lash out at the source of our troubles, we'd be able to think through, calmly and clearly, far superior answers to foreign and domestic relations.
7. Both peculiar institutions are themselves worse than anything they claim to address. War is a leading cause of death, injury, trauma, loss of home, environmental destruction, instability, and lasting cycles of violence. It's not a solution to genocide, but its wellspring and its big brother. U.S. prisons lock up over 2 million, control and monitor some 7 million, and ruin the lives of many millions more in the form of family members impacted. From there the damage spreads and the numbers skyrocket as communities are weakened. No damage that incarcerated people could have done if left alone, much less handled with a more humane system, could rival the damage done by the prison industry itself.
8. Both are default practices despite being demonstrably counter-productive by anybody's measure, including on their own terms. Wars are not won, do not build nations, do not halt cruelty, do not spread democracy, do not benefit humanity, do not protect or expand freedom. Rather, freedoms are consistently stripped away in the name of wars that predictably endanger those in whose name they are waged. The nation waging the most wars generates the most enemies, thus requiring more wars, just as the nation with the most prisoners also has the most recidivists. Almost all prisoners are eventually released, and over 40% of them return to prison. Kids who commit crimes and are left alone are -- as many studies have clearly and uncontroversially documented -- less likely to commit more crimes than kids who are put in juvenile prison.
9. Both are classist and racist enterprises. A poverty draft has replaced ordinary conscription, while wars are waged only on poor nations rich in natural resources and darkish in skin tone. Meanwhile African Americans are, for reasons of racism and accounting for all other factors, far more likely than whites to be reported to the police, charged by the police, charged with higher offenses, sentenced to longer imprisonment, refused parole, and held to be violating probation. The poor are at the mercy of the police and the courts. The wealthy have lawyers.
10. The majority of the casualties, in both cases, are not those directly and most severely harmed. Injuries outnumber deaths in war, refugees outnumber the injured, and traumatized and orphaned children outnumber the refugees. Prisoners' lives are ruined, but so are the greater number of lives from which theirs have been viciously removed. A humane person might imagine some leniency for the convict who has children. On the contrary, the majority of U.S. prisoners have children.
11. Both institutions seem logical until one imagines alternatives. Both seem inevitable and are upheld by well-meaning people who haven't imagined their way around them. Both appear justifiable as defensive measures against inscrutable evil until one thinks through how much of that evil is generated by optional policies and how extremely rare to nonexistent is the sort of evil dominating the thinking behind massive industries designed for a whole different scale of combat.
12. Both war and prisons begin with shock and awe. A SWAT team invades a home to arrest a suspect, leaving an entire family afraid to go to sleep for years afterward. An air force flattens whole sections of a city, leaving huge numbers of people traumatized for life. Another word for these practices is terrorism.
13. Both institutions include extreme measures that are as counterproductive as the whole. Suicidal prisoners put into solitary confinement as punishment for being suicidal are rendered more suicidal, not less. Burning villages or murdering households with gunfire exacerbate the process of making the aggressor more hated, more resented, and less likely to know peace.
14. Both institutions hurt the aggressor. An attacking nation suffers morally, economically, civilly, environmentally; and its soldiers and their families suffer very much as prisoners and prison guards suffer. Even crime victims suffer the lack of apology or restitution or reconciliation that comes with an adversarial justice system that treats the courtroom as a civilized war.
15. Both horrors create alternative realities to which people sometimes long to return. Prisoners unable to find work or support or friendship or family sometimes return to prison on purpose. Soldiers unable to adapt to life back home have been known to choose a return to war despite suffering horrifically from a previous combat experience. The top killer of U.S. soldiers is suicide. Suicide is not uncommon among prisoners who have recently been released. Neither members of the military nor prisoners are provided serious preparation for reintegrating into a society in which everything that has been helping them survive will tend to harm them.
16. Both war and prisons generate vicious cycles. Crime victims are more likely to become criminals. Those imprisoned are more likely to commit crimes. Children effectively orphaned by incarceration are more likely to become criminals and be incarcerated. Nations that have been at war are more likely to be at war again. Solving Libya's problems three years ago by bombing it predictably created violent chaos that even spilled into other nations. Launching wars on Iraq to address the violence created by previous wars on Iraq has become routine.
17. Both institutions are sometimes supported by their victims. An endangered family can prefer incarceration of a violent or drug-addicted loved one to nothing, in the absence of alternatives. Members of the military and their families can believe it is their duty to support wars and proposals for new wars. Prisoners themselves can see prison as preferable to starving under a bridge.
18. Both institutions are disproportionately male in terms of guards and soldiers. But the victims of war are not. And, when families are considered, as Schenwar's book considers them so well, the victims of incarceration are not.
19. Both institutions have buried within them rare stories of success, soldiers who matured and grew wise and heroic, prisoners who reformed and learned their lessons. No doubt the same is true of slavery or the holocaust or teaching math by the method of applying a stick to a child's hands.
20. Both institutions are often partially questioned without the possibility of questioning the whole ever arising. When Maya Schenwar's sister gives birth in prison and then remains in prison, separated from her baby, people ask Schenwar "What's the point? How is Kayla being in prison helping anyone?" But Schenwar thinks to herself: "How isanyone being in prison helping anyone?" Candidate Barack Obama opposed dumb wars, while supporting massive war preparations, eventually finding himself in several wars, all of them dumb, and one of them the very same war (or at least a new war in the very same nation) he had earlier described in those terms.
21. Both institutions churn along with the help of thousands of well-meaning people who try to mitigate the damage but who are incapable of redeeming fundamentally flawed systems. Reforms that strengthen the system as a whole tend not to help, while actions that shrink, limit, or weaken support for the whole machinery of injustice deserve encouragement.
22. Both are 19th century inventions. Some form of war and of slavery may go back 10,000 years, but only in the 19th century did it begin to resemble current war and incarceration. Changes through the 20th and early 21st centuries expanded on the damage without fundamentally altering the thinking involved.
23. Both include state-approved murder (the death penalty and the killing in war) and both include state-sanctioned torture. In fact much of the torture that has made the news in war prisons began in domestic prisons. A current war enemy, ISIS, had its leadership developed in the cauldron of brutal U.S. war prisons. Again, the aggressors, the torturers, and their whole society are not unharmed.
24. Crime victims are used to justify an institution that results in more people being victimized by crime. Victims of warlike abuse by others are used to justify wars likely to harm them and others further.
25. Prisoners and veterans often leave those worlds without the sort of education valued in the other world, the "free world" the prisoners dream of and soldiers fantasize that they are defending. A criminal record is usually a bar to employment. A military record can be an advantage but in other cases is a disadvantage as well in seeking employment.
26. Beyond all the damage done by war and prisons, by far the greatest damage is done through the trade-off in resources. The money invested in war could pay for the elimination of poverty and various diseases worldwide. A war-making nation could make itself loved for far less expense than what it takes to make itself hated. It could hang onto a much smaller, more legitimately defensive military like those of other nations while attempting such an experiment. The money spent on prisons could pay for drug treatment, childcare, education, and restorative justice programs. A nation could go on locking up violent recidivists while attempting such a change.
27. Restorative justice is the essence of the solution to both war and prison. Diplomacy and moderated reconciliation are answers to the common problem of writing an enemy off as unreachable through words.
I might go on, but I imagine you get the idea. Huge numbers of Americans are being made seriously worse citizens, and almost all of them will be back out of prison trying to survive. And, if that doesn't do it for you, consider this: when incarceration is this widespread, there's every possibility that it will someday include you. What if you're falsely accused of a crime? What if somebody puts a link on a website to illegal pornography and you -- or someone using your computer -- clicks it? Or you urinate in public? Or you use marijuana in a state that legalized it, but the feds disagree? Or you blow the whistle on some abuse in some branch of the government that you work for? Or you witness something and don't report it? Or you work so hard that you fall asleep driving your car? An injustice to one is an injustice to all, and injustice on this scale is potentially injustice to every one.
What to do?
Californians just voted on their ballots to reduce prison sentences. Get that on your ballot. For the first time ever, this week, a prosecutor was sent to prison for falsely convicting an innocent person. We need a whole reworking of the rewards and incentives for prosecutors who have long believed that locking people up was the path to success. We need activist resistance to prison expansion, divestment from for-profit prison companies, and educational efforts to begin changing our culture as well as our laws. Locked Down, Locked Out provides a terrific list of organizations to support, including those that can help you become a prisoner's pen-pal. Schenwar explains that there is nothing prisoners need more, as long as they are locked up. Those not receiving mail are seen as the easiest targets for abuse by guards and other prisoners. And our receiving their letters may be the best way for us to learn about the hidden world in our midst.
A note from David Swanson:
I would not have guessed that people cared so much and so well about U.S. prisoners. The Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign into law a dangerous precedent that we all need to speak out against and put a quick stop to. In the first day since posting the following petition, over 10,000 people have signed it and added quite eloquent reasons why. It can be signed here.
We stand against the passage, in Pennsylvania, of the so-called "Revictimization Relief Act," which affords virtually unlimited discretion to District Attorneys and the state Attorney General to silence prisoner speech, by claiming that such speech causes victims' families "mental anguish." Politicians are claiming a power that if granted to them will be difficult if not impossible for citizens to check.
In seeking to silence the legally protected speech of prisoners, the state also damages citizens' right and freedom to know -- in this case, to better understand an area of U.S. life physically removed from public scrutiny.
This legislation emerged following the failure of the Fraternal Order of Police and its allies to stop prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering an October 5, 2014, commencement address. This bill sacrifices the rights of all prisoners in Pennsylvania in order to silence Abu-Jamal -- an unethical deployment of collective punishment by those in power.
Victim relief is not served by denying fundamental rights to those convicted, especially because prisoner freedom of speech is crucial for redressing wrongful convictions and the current crisis of harsh sentencing that is often disproportionate to alleged crimes. Our society is currently engaged in a full-scale debate on the problems of mass incarceration that could not have developed without prisoners' voices.
Here's a PDF of the names and comments of the first 10,000 plus people to sign this. Flipping through the first few pages, these comments jump out at me:
Lawrence Fine NY This is an ill-conceived bill.
Christopher Scerbo ME Democracy is never served by silence.
Robert Post NJ The only proper answer to bad speech is good speech!
Ellen Kirshbaum NY Why does speech frighten these corrupt politicians? Let all prisoners SPEAK!
Jenefer Ellingston DC Why is our local or national gov't afraid of Free Speech?
Allan Carlson NJ This is a FASCIST law. It represents that antithesis of the intent of the Founding Fathers who penned the U.S. Constitution.
Jesse Reyes NJ This bill only makes sense if it is known, beyond all shadow of doubt, that the incarcerated person is actually "guilty." The Innocence Project and several other high profile cases ("The Central Park Jogger" case) has proven that far too many incarcerated people are not guilty of the crimes they were sent to prison for. I would not want to deny anyone their rights on that basis alone. This bill is wrong and should not be signed by anyone who actually cares about our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.
Jan Clausen NY This bill threatens to make Pennsylvania a poster child for the unconstitutional curtailment of the free speech rights that are known around the world as one of the great strengths of U.S. system. Pennsylvanians and all U.S. citizens need to wake up and soundly reject this ill-conceived measure that threatens the freedoms of all.
Dallas C. GalvinNY Censorship for the state that promotes itself as the site of the U.S. Constitution and home of Benjamin Franklin and William Penn? Deeply troubling behavior. Rethink, then reject. Mr. Jamal (let's be clear about motivation here) has been able to show the corruption and disingenuousness of the D.A., the state senate, and police. Clean up your own acts, then you need no longer fear free and unfettered speech.
David Drukaroff NJ I have tried to win exoneration for a wrongfully convicted inmate for the last 25 years. People have a right to know how this inmate feels.
Chad Sell PA Does anyone care about the constitution anymore?
Katharine Rylaarsdam MD Public officials are servants of the law, not demigods who should be granted unlimited arbitrary power.
Edward Costello CA This is outrageous.
Julimar CastroMN Wrongful and disproportionate convictions exist. To prevent these people from speaking is outrageous. I suspect those proposing this law care more about silencing convicts and preventing them from telling the truth regarding the system, than about the families themselves.
Robert Belknap NC This is theft of rights, pure and simple.
Paul Palla PA Have you heard of the Constitution? You know, that thing that guarantees everybody FREEDOM OF SPEECH??!?
NancyNorton NY I used to visit prisoners in our local jail. It is too easy to forget these people, members of our community and citizens of our county. The right of free speech should not be abridged because a person is serving a sentence in prison or jail. We need to remember these people and not dismiss them as a group we can ignore.
J. R. Jarvis WA I believe in justice, human rights and the constitution - this ain't it!
ralph Calabrese NY Too many of our freedoms are being taken from us.
Sean Murphy FL These abuses of power must be stopped and we must resist the 1% from using criminals and other hot topics to pass laws that ultimately will affect us all.
Sharyn Diaz OR prisons have replaced the poorhouses in America and now you want to silence the common folk...shame on you...all of you who support just another try at control.
r. tippens MA This is a law straight from Stalin's text book. Please...do not embarrass this democracy.
BetseyPiette PA Once again Corbett & Co. will waste millions of tax dollars to defend their criminal violation of citizens' Constitutional Rights but can't find money for public education?
Dave JeckerTX Being a prisoner is bad enough and their punishment is that given to them for their actions. Words should never be silenced and that is a human right. We have seen how governments silent individuals and groups and it leads to nothing except rebellion. Right to speech is everyone's human right, it is not something you can take away.
Samuel Perry NJ Prisoners are on the front line of our civil liberties battles. The rights that oppressive governments first strip from prisoners are the rights the same regimes will later strip from "non-citizens" and finally "citizens" themselves. Free speech doesn't come from Government and cannot be taken away by government. Philadelphia should know that.
DonnaFriedman FL So many in prison for drug use, mental illness and even falsely accused. They should have the right to say what goes on there.
Joanne Snyder CA No lessons learned about corrupt Pennsylvania judges who sentence juvenile offenders in exchange for money? Who is paying for this?
Rev. Jake Harrison TX Freedom of speechdoes not exclude inmates - and some of the most poignant voices in history were those of inmates.
Casey Lyon VT Let us not forget the insightful words of Dostoyevsky: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
JG Tentler NY This dangerous precedent must not be allowed to be established.It's implications are chilling and are clearly designed to muzzle the free speech of one Political Prisoner,at the expense of every wrongly incarcerated petitioner who is stifled by it.
Carol Stanton NC We must not become a gulag state.
This Wednesday is a day of action that some are calling a national day of action against police brutality, with others adding "and mass incarceration," and I'd like to add "and war" and make it global rather than national. This Tuesday, the Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign a bill that will silence prisoners' speech, and people are pushing back. A movement is coalescing around reforming police procedures and taking away their military weapons. And a powerful book has just been published called Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.
Saving Trayvon Martin would have required systemic reforms or cultural reforms beyond putting cameras on police officers. This young man walking back from a store with candy was spotted by an armed man in an SUV who got out of his vehicle to pursue Trayvon despite having been told not to when he called the police. George Zimmerman was not a police officer, though he wanted to be one. He'd lost a job as a security guard for being too aggressive. He'd been arrested for battery on a police officer. He had left Manassas, Va., and its climate of hatred for Latinos in which he participated, for Florida, where he was a one-man volunteer neighborhood watch group in a gated neighborhood. He'd phoned the police on 46 previous occasions. He apparently expressed his contempt for Trayvon Martin in racist terms. When the police arrived, they let Zimmerman ride in the front seat (no handcuffs, of course) and never tested him for drugs, testing instead the dead black boy he'd murdered. When public outrage finally put Zimmerman on trial, his defense displayed a photo of a white woman living in the neighborhood who had nothing to do with the incident but who was used to represent what Zimmerman had been "defending." He was found innocent.
Killing Trayvons is a rich anthology, including police records, trial transcripts, statements by President Obama, accounts of numerous similar cases, essays, poetry, and history and analysis of how we got here . . . and how we might get the hell out of here.
Recently I was playing a game with my little boy that must have looked to any observer like I was secretly spying on people. I found myself thinking that it was a good thing I wasn't black or I'd risk someone reporting me to the police, and I'd find myself struggling to explain the situation to them rather than yelling at them, and they wouldn't listen. "What do I tell my son," wrote Talib Kweli, "He's 5 years old and he's still thinking cops are cool / How do I break the news that when he gets some size / He'll be perceived as a threat and see the fear in their eyes." I remember a character of James Baldwin's explaining to a younger brother on the streets of New York that when walking in the rich part of town you must always keep your hands in your pockets so as not to be accused of touching a white woman. But a set of rules devised by Etan Thomas in Killing Trayvons includes: "Keep your hands visible. Avoid putting them in your pockets." Opposite advice, same injustice. I can recall how offended I was when, as a young white man, I became old enough for a strange woman in a deserted place to hurry away from me in panic. Maybe if I'd been black someone would have prepared me for that. Maybe I'd have experienced it a lot earlier. Maybe I'd have experienced it as racist. Maybe it would have been. But would I have come around to the conclusion, as I have, that there's nothing I have a right to be indignant about, that people's fear -- wherever it comes from -- is more important to reduce than other people's annoyance?
But what about fear that leads to murder? What about white fear of black violence that leads to the killing of so many African Americans -- and many of them women, suggesting that fear isn't all there is to it? Police and security guards kill hundreds of African Americans each year, most of them unarmed. In most cases, the killers claim to have felt threatened. In most cases they escape any accountability. Clearly this is a case of fear to be doubted and treated with appropriate skepticism, fear to be understood and sympathized with where real, but fear never to be respected as reasonable or justified.
We need a combination of addressing the fear through enlightenment and impeding the violence with application of the rule of law in a manner that does not treat murdering black kids as what any reasonable person would do. We need to rein in and hold accountable individuals and institutions -- groups like the NRA and ALEC that push racist policies on us. Police and neighbors should not see a black boy as an intruder in his own house when his foster parents are white. They also shouldn't spray chemical weapons in someone's face before asking him questions.
The editors of Killing Trayvons, Kevin Alexander Gray, Jeffrey St. Clair, and JoAnn Wypijewski put killing in context. What if Trayvon actually got into a fight with his stalker superhero? Would that have been a good reason to kill him? "It takes a jacked-up disdain for proportionality to conclude the execution is a reasonable response to a fistfight. And yet . . . high or low, power teaches such disdain every day. Lose two towers; destroy two countries. Lose three Israelis; kill a couple thousand Palestinians. Sell some dope; three strikes, you're out. Sell a loosey; choke, you're dead. Reach for your wallet; bang, you're dead. Got a beef; bang, you're dead."
This is exactly the problem. High and low includes supreme courts that kill black men like Troy Davis, and presidents who kill dark-skinned Muslim foreigners (some of them U.S. citizens) with drones, leading Vijay Prashad to call Zimmerman a domestic drone and Cornel West to call President Obama a global Zimmerman. Two bizarre varieties of murder have been legalized at the same time in the United States. One is Stand-Your-Ground killing justified by fear and applied on a consistently racist basis. The other is drone missile killing justified by fear and applied on a consistently racist basis. Both types of murder are much more obviously murder than other instances that have not been given blanket legalization.
Stand-your-ground murders are facilitated by racism; and racist propaganda that blames the victims protects the killers after the fact. Drone murders are driven by profit, politics, power lust, and racism; and the guilt of President Obama is sheltered by the prevalence of racist hatred for him -- which comes from generally the same group of people who support stand-your-ground laws. (How can Obama be guilty of any wrong in overseeing a global kill list, when racists hate him?) Millions of Americans think of themselves as above the ignorant whites who fear every black person they see, and yet have swallowed such a fear of ISIS that even giving ISIS a war it wants and benefits from seems justified. After all, ISIS is barbaric. If it were civilized, ISIS wouldn't behead people; it would have its hostages commit suicide while handcuffed in the backseat of police cars.
Brad Friedman is the investigative blogger, journalist, broadcaster, trouble-maker and muckraker from BradBlog.com. He is a regular contributor to Salon.com and elsewhere; host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's BradCast and the nationally-syndicated Green News Report with co-host Desi Doyen. We discuss war and peace, the environment and its destruction, and voting and everything done to prevent it. As Michael Moore says: It's a comedy!
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
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Kevin Zeese (at right in image) is an organizer at http://PopularResistance.org We discuss activist journalism, stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saving the climate, and ending the wars.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at