PA Blacks Sentenced to Life 18 Times More Than Whites

Pennsylvania courts sentence defendants to life without parole terms at a rate among the highest in the U.S. State Sen. Sharif Street wants lifers to be considered for parole after 15 years — a move that would make 64 percent of lifers eligible for consideration.

For State Sen. Sharif Street, the most promising sign in his quixotic bid to reform Pennsylvania’s life-without-parole system came in the form of a call from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ libertarian political advocacy group. Over the past year, Street has been telling anyone who will listen that a change is overdue. Pennsylvania’s murder rate ranks 25th in the nation. Yet, courts in the state sentence people to life without parole at a rate that’s among the highest in the U.S., and more than double the national average, reports Philly.com. Street has introduced a bill that would allow lifers to be considered for parole after 15 years — a move that would make 64 percent of lifers eligible for consideration.

A new report on the state’s 5,300-strong lifer population from the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Project cites stark racial disparities: black Pennsylvanians are sentenced to life at a rate 18 times higher than white ones. It finds a disproportionate impact on young people: More than half of lifers were 25 or younger at commitment. In Philadelphia, the nation’s leader in life-without-parole sentencing,  one in 294 black residents is serving a life sentence. One-third of lifers are considered “geriatric” by the Corrections Department, and incarcerating them costs an estimated $86 million per year. The report contends that commutation — a mechanism that once released dozens of lifers each year — is broken. The system requires a unanimous recommendation from a board that includes the lieutenant governor and attorney general, plus the governor’s approval. The board has released only eight lifers in two decades. Street’s bill has been sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee for nearly a year. Passing it out of the Republican-run General Assembly with just eight session days remaining is a long shot.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Housing Segregation Fuels Inequalities of U.S. Justice System, says Historian

Richard Rothstein, a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute, said Thursday that systemic residential segregation continues to have a corrosive effect on U.S. justice. Calling for a resurgent civil rights movement in a speech at John Jay College, he charged the biggest obstacle to change was the Trump administration.

Systemic residential segregation continues to have a corrosive effect on U.S. justice, a noted researcher and historian said Thursday

Richard Rothstein, author of “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” told an audience at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that decades of discriminatory federal housing policies had institutionalized racial divisions in communities across America, which in turn exacerbated racial inequalities in the U.S. justice system.

Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein

He called for a “new civil rights movement” to dismantle those policies.

“Some of the nation’s biggest problems—police brutality and mass incarceration, education, income and health disparities—are tied to residential segregation,” Rothstein told his audience, most of them college students.

“Now it’s up to you end it.”

But Rothstein, a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a Senior Fellow, emeritus, at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, also warned that the divisive policies and rhetoric of the administration of President Donald Trump now represent the most formidable obstacles to policy change.

Echoing other Trump critics, he cited the polarizing effect of the president’s hard-line stance on immigration, his refusal to condemn white supremacists after a deadly brawl in Charlottesville, Va. last summer, and his repeated Twitter attacks on professional football player Colin Kaepernick and other players who kneel during the national anthem before games to protests police brutality against African Americans.

“We live in a political climate that is very polarized,” Rothstein said in an interview with The Crime Report after his talk.

“We have both the resurgence or the exposure of white supremacy, but we also have a new conversation about race that is very positive—both are a part of the political climate and I’m hoping the second will overwhelm the first.”

Rothstein’s contention that urban neighborhoods throughout the country remain deeply segregated despite the increasing diversity of the U.S. population was corroborated by a recent Washington Post analysis.

Rothstein chronicles the history of racial segregation in “The Color of Law,” pinpointing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s as the start of a deliberate government plan to create residential segregation. The administration launched one of the first public housing projects, but built separate projects for African Americans, segregated complexes by race, or excluded African Americans from some housing programs.

color of lawThat set the landscape for future lawmakers to roll out policies and programs perpetuating racial segregation.

“The notion that residential segregation happened by accident—that it happened because of personal preferences or as a consequence of socioeconomic status—is a myth,” Rothstein said. “Written government policy created segregation. It’s unconstitutional, but we all accept this as the natural environment.”

Although the president has angrily denied he is a racist, comments and actions attributed to him before he entered the White House and since have suggested the opposite, according to press reviews of his record.

In a case that seems to underline Rothstein’s argument about systemic segregation, the Trump Management Company, Donald Trump and his father Fred Trump, were sued in October, 1973 by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division for allegedly excluding African-Americans and Puerto Ricans from apartments in buildings owned or operated by the company.

The Trumps filed a $100 million countersuit accusing the government of defamation. The case ended after the company signed a consent decree in 1975, requiring it to institute safeguards to ensure race, color, religion, sex or national origin were not used to determine who could live in its buildings.

Under the agreement, the Trumps did not admit to any wrongdoing. But the FBI has since released 400 pages of documents pertaining to the suit, which included interviews with supervisors who said they were told to quote a rent more than twice the amount listed to would-be African-American renters in order to dissuade them.

Meanwhile, Ben Carson, Trump’s appointee as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has allegedly been waging a stealth campaign to dismantle fair-housing policies established during the Obama administration. In May, HUD announced it was withdrawing a computer mapping tool that could be used by communities to gauge the extent of neighborhood segregation. HUD claimed the tool was “confusing, difficult to use, and frequently produced unacceptable assessments.”

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Don’t Mistake Punishment for Justice’

A journalist whose brother was sent to prison for murder recounts the long-term impact on his family and community in “My Brother Moochie.” In a conversation with TCR about his book, Issac Bailey explains how the experience informed his own perspective about race and incarceration in the American South.

my brother moochieWhen Issac J. Bailey was nine, he watched his brother taken away in handcuffs for the crime of murder. Now a veteran journalist, Bailey explored the mixed feelings of guilt and shame experienced by his family in My Brother Moochie, a very personal account of the long-term impact of incarceration in the racially polarized climate of the American South.

In a conversation with The Crime Report, Bailey, a 2014 Nieman Fellow at Harvard and a veteran reporter at the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C. whose work has been published in Vice, Politico, and the Washington Post, discusses what it was like to grow up with a brother he saw as a “hero” behind bars for a heinous crime, what the experience revealed about the distrust between black communities and police in America, and why he subtitled his book, “Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty and Racism in the American South.”

The Crime Report: You talk about the pressure black people face in America, and not wanting to validate stereotypes when you or someone you care about in the black community commits a crime or does something that’s reprehensible. That sounds like a difficult thing to constantly have to deal with

Issac Bailey: It’s a huge piece of it, and what it does, is it constantly shames you.  I’ve been a journalist for the past 20 years, and have actually written for white, conservative audiences. What made it even more difficult is when I’m trying to humanize characters who do awful things, one pushback that I get is this idea that black people are more violent, and therefore we should be in prison more, etc.  Some of them have brought up my own families’ problems, and that stings.  So that’s been one of the reasons why it has been so difficult to try to shake some of this black shame.

TCR: Your brother Moochie faced decades of prison time, can you talk about his experience in jail, things he and other inmates face in jail, how he stayed mentally healthy, and how he coped?

Bailey: One of the things that stood out to me first, when initially during his sentence we were still young and still visiting every weekend and the holidays, he mentioned having to stuff things under his doors just to keep the rats out of his cell. He actually talked about how he would do anything necessary not to get raped, but at the same time he wouldn’t carry a shank because he said it would be too tempting to use it. He said there were constant physical threats daily.

For him, though, the mental part was even more difficult, especially when he had to spend seven years in solitary. He became a new person in prison; he actually came to see himself as a kind of African warrior. Stuff like that helped him to serve those decades in prison. Also, lots of reading and meditation helped him to try to hold on to some of his sanity.

TCR: Can you elaborate on his time in solitary?

Bailey: Once he became a Rasta he grew his dreadlocks out. In 1995 or so, the prison adopted a new grooming policy, where each inmate needed a short haircut, and he actually said no to that. He held out for seven years, but then once he cut it he got out of solitary.

TCR: Your mother is another huge character in your book, she seemed like the main force keeping your family together through tough times, and she grew up under tough circumstances as well. Where do you think she got her inspiration from?

Bailey: I do think she’s naturally tough, and even though she only had a fifth-grade education and didn’t get her GED until she was 65, she was the smartest person in the family. But her faith is her foundation for everything.

TCR: You talk about southern Christianity, and it seems to take this dual nature in your book. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian, but there are white supremacists who also say they’re Christian advancing racist ideologies. How do you currently view Christianity in light of your experience and the current social and political climate?

Bailey: My views on Christianity have really changed and been challenged over the last couple of decades. What I’m finding too often, especially when it comes to race, is that there are so many white Christians who would pray for your soul, but don’t want to fight for racial justice. In 2016, many of them whom I knew and went to church with for about 17 years or so, constantly made excuses for (President) Trump’s bigotry and still are.

That makes me wonder is it really a good faith to have? I’m still struggling with that. I have seen this faith strengthen my mom through really tough times, so I can definitely see the good in it, but on the other hand, I’m seeing it used for bigotry, and that has been a massive disappointment.

TCR: You say in the book that “punishing crime is a necessary evil but building stronger communities and families require no longer mistaking punishment for justice.” Would you elaborate?

Bailey: Too many of us think justice means actually locking somebody away for doing something awful. But if we don’t actually fight to end all the sort of ripple effects of it, then all that we’re doing is actually sort of making more problems. When someone does something wrong, they must face some sort of real consequence, but if you don’t account for the effects on vulnerable families, then I think you are seeding the ground for more awful things to happen later.

TCR: You talk about attending Moochie’s first parole hearing. It sounded very cold; you were speaking to people through a TV for example. What was that like?

Bailey: It just felt really belittling. Especially because you have no real control or no real say in it, even though they let you speak. You get the sense that they’ve made up their minds long before you walk into that room. Also, what makes it such a tough thing is that you actually know going in that most people are turned down. You try to balance having some hope and trying to be realistic at the same time. You’re trying to convince yourself that you can actually say something during that hearing that will actually make a difference, even though you know that’s not true.

TCR: What do you think they’re really looking for in those parole hearings?

Bailey: That’s a great question, I got the sense that what they want to be able to say later on is that you apologized and showed real remorse. If you do that and if something bad happens later on, they can at least say that you said the right words. But really, they look at your record beforehand and decide then.

TCR: I’m guessing those years he spent in solitary did not help his chances.

Bailey: Yes, during that time he couldn’t take any classes or do any sort of training etc., which they also use to evaluate your progress inside.

TCR: Switching gears here, how do you think the media in general covers race today? Do you think it could be improved?

Bailey: I think we have a lot of problems with the coverage, with mainstream media in general. When I got into the business, I was told not to write about certain kinds of people because the audience would not be able to relate to them. So they were talking about families like mine essentially. Many journalists today actually don’t have a rounded view of race or crime. On the other side, some journalists are so sympathetic they write in misleading ways, and sometimes they write people into these caricatures that always need to be protected. We need more rounded coverage of the criminal justice system itself so we can actually deal with the truth as it is.

TCR: You talk about police brutality and young black men getting shot in the U.S. While abuse has likely decreased since previous decades, I assume you would agree there’s still major problems with police brutality and institutional racism?

Issac Bailey

Issac J. Bailey

Bailey: Yes, even right now, I meet young black dudes who tell me they’ve been beaten by cops or harassed etc., and they actually still don’t report it because they don’t trust the system enough that these cops will be held accountable. I think it’s still being under-counted. Many black dudes just take it in stride and don’t tell anyone about it, even now.

TCR: In the book, one of your younger brothers says, “Real men go to prison.” I found that pretty shocking.

Bailey: Yeah, they had gotten so deep into this prison and street mindset, they really believed you cannot actually be a real man until you have gone to prison and survived it. For them, any man who hasn’t gone to prison can’t be a really strong man. They don’t think that way any more, fortunately.

TCR: You write that former President Barack Obama was making some good steps towards criminal justice reform. Can you expand on that?

Bailey: I would say he got the ball rolling again, in addition to his record number of commutations which were also huge. But the biggest thing was the Department of Justice’s strong oversight of police departments. If you can get more accountability there, than you can try to reestablish trust, at least between the cops and those affected neighborhoods. For me that was a major move. Given time, that would have benefited everybody. That’s why Trump’s move to pull back from that is one of my major disappointments in this era.

TCR: What do you think of neighborhood policing strategies that try to build more trust between police and the communities they serve?

 Bailey: I think it’s good in theory at least, where you are actually trying to establish bonds between the cops and the residents. I actually think that breaks down, once you see a cop who does something wrong and not get punished for it. That kind of law enforcement is seen as a Trojan horse where they’re more out to get you than help you. As long as that distrust is there between the cops and the residents, it’s going to be difficult for these programs to really take hold. If accountability is not there, then these attitudes and distrust will fester.

TCR: Have you seen any accountability when a cop kills a black man unjustifiably?

Bailey: At least from what I’ve seen, most often no. It is rare for officers to face any criminal charges at all, and when they do, juries will find them not guilty anyway. In 2015 or so, there was a drug unit who broke into a guy’s house, shot him nine times, paralyzed him for life, and then lied about the details of it, saying they knocked first. At the end of it, none of the cops faced any charges or any kind of discipline. Once you have those kinds of situations, I can’t stress enough how much distrust that generates.

TCR: Are there any organizations or people you like to follow in terms of criminal justice reform?

Bailey: I’m actually focused on something that doesn’t feel like criminal justice reform but it really is. My wife founded a nonprofit called Freedom Readers, where she’s just trying to improve literacy in really tough neighborhoods. She’s been able to bring in all sorts of volunteers in terms of educators like teachers, cops, and business men and women, all kinds of folks. What she’s been able to do is let outsiders see a more rounded view of these kids and their neighborhoods. That will go a long way in making it easier to have deeper conversations as to why criminal justice reform is so important.

TCR: Finally, how is Moochie doing?

Bailey: He’s been out for almost four years now. And he is getting better day by day, even though there are tougher days than others, which I can trace back to his time in solitary honestly. At least for us, we have a pretty large family, so he’s been able to call on each one of us at various times in order to help and guide him. I think that has been very helpful, but he still has more adjusting to do.

Dane Stallone is a TCR news intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

A New O.J. Simpson Innocence Theory From F. Lee Bailey

F. Lee Bailey, attempting to recast his reputation for winning O. J. Simpson’s acquittal in 1994, is publishing a book arguing that Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman were killed by Cuban or Colombian hitmen.

It’s been 24 years since O.J. Simpson’s acquittal in the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman divided public opinion in a way that perhaps no other verdict in U.S. history has. At 85, F. Lee Bailey, one of the “dream team” of lawyers many excoriated for representing Simpson, is attempting to recast his reputation with a book intended for a generation too young to have lived through the “trial of the century,” reports the Boston Herald. “There has been a polarization as bad as I’ve ever seen,” said Bailey. “A lot of white people have berated me for prostituting my talents; blacks were happy with the outcome (of the trial). I finally decided millennials are large in number. I can reach them.”

The book suggests the murders were carried out by hitmen sent by Cuban or Colombian drug dealers to collect a $30,000 debt from Faye Resnick, who was staying at Brown’s California condominium until Resnick checked into a drug rehab center three days before her friend was found with her throat slit. “The killers were told to kill a blond woman,” Bailey said. “They probably assumed Nicole was Faye.” Bailey concedes he has no proof for that theory. He argues not only that hitmen mistook Brown for Resnick, but also that Mark Fuhrman, a white former Los Angeles police detective, planted a bloody glove at Simpson’s estate as part of a racially motivated plot against him. “The glove could not have been dropped there by O.J.; he simply didn’t have time to commit the murders,” Bailey said. “Mark Fuhrman dropped it there.” When asked under oath whether he had planted or manufactured evidence in the case, Fuhrman invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Unite the Right’ Outnumbered by Police, Protesters in D.C.

Only 30 people representing a loose coalition of groups including white supremacists and neo-Nazis appeared for a rally in Washington, D.C., on the one-year anniversary of the deadly clash in Charlottesville, Va. Hundreds of police were on duty in Charlottesville itself on Sunday.

Police and counterprotesters significantly outnumbered a small group of “Unite the Right” participants Sunday in Washington, D.C., at a rally on the one-year anniversary of the clash in Charlottesville, Va., that left one person dead, reports Politico. About 30 rallygoers, representing a loose coalition of groups including white supremacists and neo-Nazis, arrived in Vienna, Va., and took a public transit train into the city, where they headed to Lafayette Square across the street from the White House. A sea of counterprotesters met the group during the  hourlong gathering. Dozens of police officers were in the area, some on horseback. The far-right group had a permit to protest in the park until 7:30 p.m. but left shortly after 5 p.m., as it began to rain. Some protesters threw eggs at police officers. Chants of “Go home Nazis” echoed through the park. Jason Kessler, who organized the Unite the Right event, said he did not care about the low turnout, commenting, “We had to prove the point we could do this rally and people would be safe.”

At last year’s rally, participants, who were protesting the planned removal of a Confederate statue, had violent clashes with opposition groups. The tensions came to a head when a man allegedly rammed his car into a group of protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The man, James Fields of Ohio, has been charged with a federal hate crime. A report after last year’s deadly protest found police were unprepared when white nationalists converged on the college town. It appeared police took a different approach Sunday afternoon, with hundreds of officers in locations throughout the city, some wearing riot gear including helmets. At a protest led by University of Virginia students in Charlottesville on Saturday night, police also wore riot gear.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sen. Warren: US Justice System Is Racist ‘Front to Back’

Speaking in New Orleans, the Massachusetts senator cited disproportionate arrests of African-Americans for petty drug possession; an overloaded public defender system; and state laws that keep convicted felons from voting even after their sentences are complete.

Speaking at a historically black university, potential Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren delivered what she called “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It’s racist … I mean front to back,” reports the Associated Press.  The Massachusetts senator identified some of the system’s failures: disproportionate arrests of African-Americans for petty drug possession; an overloaded public defender system; and state laws that keep convicted felons from voting even after their sentences are complete. Warren was participating in a Q&A session Friday hosted by Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond at the historically black Dillard University in New Orleans.

The stop is the latest sign of Warren’s effort to forge ties beyond her largely white political base in Massachusetts and avoid the fate of fellow progressive icon Bernie Sanders, who struggled to win over African-Americans during his failed bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Facing re-election to the Senate this year, Warren did not directly address her 2020 plans. But when Richmond asked her what might have changed since she decided not to run in 2016, the senator was ready. “Two words: Donald Trump,” Warren said, before shifting to warn the audience that the November midterm vote is the immediate fight as Democrats try to break GOP control of Congress.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Court Upholds Order Stemming from Arpaio Profiling

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against Maricopa County, Az., arising from former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling tactics and a contempt finding against him for willfully violating a previous order to stop the practice. The case has already cost the county more than $100 million for training and technology and to compensate victims for rights violations.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 injunction against Maricopa County, Az., stemming from former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling tactics and a contempt finding against him for willfully violating a previous order to stop the practice, the Arizona Republic reports. The injunction has already cost the county more than $100 million for training and technology and to compensate victims for violations of their constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Judge G. Murray Snow initially enjoined Arpaio from enforcing federal immigration law in 2011 in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Latinos targeted by Arpaio’s office.

The case settled in 2013 with findings that Arpaio’s deputies engaged in widespread racial profiling in traffic stops of Hispanics who then were turned over to federal immigration authorities. Arpaio ignored the injunction and publicly defied the judge’s preliminary injunction for more than a year, which landed him back in court to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court. Snow found Arpaio to be in civil contempt of court and issued a second injunction in 2016 to remedy the damage one.  Snow appointed a monitor to make sure the Sheriff’s Office complies with the order and mandated training and technological updates to prevent further problems. Arpaio later was found to be in criminal contempt, though he was pardoned last year by President Trump before he could be sentenced. County attorneys appealed Snow’s order to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the court had overstepped its authority.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

White Nationalists Face Divisions Over Aug. 12 Rallies

The alt-right hopes to hold rallies in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of last year’s shocking demonstrations. But the key organizer says fear of violence and internal bickering likely will tamp down attendance.

White supremacists hope to hold rallies on the Aug. 12 anniversary of  last year’s demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., that turned into a riot that left one woman dead and shocked the nation, reports USA Today. They hope to focus on “white civil rights” with rallies in Charlottesville and Washington, D.C. But the alt-right faces internal divisions and seems unlikely to rally in the same large numbers as last year. Jason Kessler, who organized the 2017 event under the banner “Unite the Right,” was denied a permit to gather in Charlottesville this year. He will fight that decision in a court hearing Tuesday. In Washington, Kessler’s permit application for an Aug. 12 rally received initial approval, and details are being worked out. Only American and Confederate flags–and no neo-Nazi paraphernalia–will be allowed at the D.C. event, Kessler said.

“What I’m really trying to do is start a new movement,” Kessler said. “I feel like the ‘alt-right’ has been a symbol for neo-Nazism.” Kessler said he expects fewer people this year. “A lot of people are going to be very scared for their safety,” he said. The group also faces internal struggles to turn an Internet-focused movement into a viable political force. “I think the hope was that they would step away from their computers and enter into real politics,” said George Hawley, a University of Alabama professor who has written a book about the alt-right. “And that was not the result.” ThinkProgress, a left-wing website, has reported that white nationalists are bickering over the details of the planned demonstrations. “The Alt-Right is poor, disorganized and lacking in conviction,” Kessler wrote in a May 13 Facebook message.

from https://thecrimereport.org