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by Medea Benjamin and Cayman Kai
To save a click or two, let's cut to the chase. In deep fiscal crisis, Illinois spent more than $200,000,000 in 2010 enforcing the law against marijuana possession. Enforcement has grown nearly 30% over the decade from 2001 to 2010. Nearly 60% of those arrested are black, despite use rates no higher than whites. Almost 98% of all marijuana arrests were for possession (although prosecutors often trump up charges with the nebulous "intent to deliver.") Illinois has a racial disparity in marijauna arrests that ranks 4th highest of the 50 states, with blacks more than 7.5 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana.
Illinois is a national disgrace.
by Harry Belafonte
There is a crisis that demands our urgent attention. For the last four decades, this country has been obsessed with expanding the number of people we throw behind bars and the length of time we hold them there. Crime rates have been falling for the last 20 years, but still we have a massive and unsustainable prison population, particularly targeting the poor and powerless. We're not strengthening communities, we're using our criminal justice system to throw away certain people's lives – disproportionately the lives of Black and brown men, women, and children. This has decimated communities around the nation and it's gone on for far too long.
Approx. 15 Inmates enter fourth week of withholding food despite prison retaliation, beatings, threat of force-feedings
by Sarah Lazare, CommonDreams staff writer
In the cells of a segregated "High Security Unit" at a southern Illinois prison, inmates have taken the step of going without food to protest their their isolation and inhumane treatment at the hands of "corrections" authorities.
An estimated 15 people who are incarcerated at the the Menard Correctional Center are taking part in the hunger strike, which is stretching into its fourth week, amid reports of prison retaliation against the peaceful protest. This includes the beating of hunger striker Armando Velasquez, according to historian, lawyer, and life-long radical organizer Staughton Lynd, who has been actively supporting the prisoners since they contacted him seeking help.
"The conditions here are inhumane & repressive," wrote an anonymous inmate quoted in Solitary Watch, in a letter announcing the hunger strike before its January 15th start date. "So much that we are forced to make a stand as men in righteous indignation."
Periodic social upheavals as a result of moral panic seem to be the norm for humanity, with large segments of society reacting, or overreacting, with almost virally propagated outrage to perceived threats. The moral panic of our current age, an obsession with sexual inviolability, illustrates our continued susceptibility to emotional and irrational fears.
by Chris Arnade
A week after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, I walked into my old hometown bar in central Florida to hear, "Well if a nigger can be president, then I can have another drink. Give me a whiskey straight up."
Only one day in the town and I thought, "Damn the south."
I had returned home to bury my father, who had spent much of the 1950s and '60s fighting for civil rights in the south. Consequently, my childhood was defined by race. It was why our car was shot at, why threats were made to burn our house down, why some neighbors forbid me to play on their lawn, why I was taunted at school as a "nigger lover".
It was nothing compared to what the blacks in town had to endure. I was just residing in the seam of something much uglier.
by Jennifer Turner
Jason Hernandez says he is still shaking from the news that he will be released from prison in five years. Thursday, his life without parole sentence was commuted to 20 years.
Before Thursday, President Obama had received over 8,700 commutation requests from federal prisoners and granted only one, to a terminally ill woman suffering from leukemia. She died at home in October. Now, eight more people will have the chance to reunite with their families after the President commuted their excessively long sentences.
by Bill Moyers
I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document. By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and -- in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular -- the defense of a free press.
by Chase Madar
If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.
by Desmond Tutu
For 27 years, I knew Nelson Mandela by reputation only. I had seen him once, in the early 1950s, when he came to my teacher-training college to judge a debating contest. The next time I saw him was in 1990.
When he came out of prison, many people feared he would turn out to have feet of clay. The idea that he might live up to his reputation seemed too good to be true. A whisper went around that some in the ANC said he was a lot more useful in jail than outside.