Monday, August 13, 2007


For years conservatives have used crime and the so-called "revolving door of justice" as a key "wedge" issues. They organize around it. They gather support. The use it to show just how tough they are compared to the wimps on the left.

Meanwhile, over here on the left, we condemn their law and order campaigns as a mask for what we say is a racist appeal. Very often it is just that.

However, ordinary citizens are really concerned about crime, in their cities, in their neighborhoods, coming into their houses. And that concern is not always racist. In fact, it generally is not. The issues of crime is a concern to all races , but touches mostly poor and working class Americans more than anyone else.

Its impact on the poor and the working people is as one report from South Africa stated is, "severe and pernicious since the thugs and other petty criminals feed off - and often with extreme violence - those who have little, rendering them poorer in more ways than can be described." That fact is equally true for us here in the good old USA.

People want to get rid of their fear of violent crime now. While we talk of long range solutions, the right talks of jails and more police power.

Of course, we are correct to analyze the root causes of violent criminal actions if we are ever to alleviate the problem.

However, having said that, it is time that the left stand up to the immediacy of the situation in so many people's lives. Victims and potential victims of criminal assault can't wait, so to speak, for the Revolution. They can't wait another fifty years to rid to take the bars off their windows, to unlock their doors, to go for a walk at night. They deserve better than that.

It'd be nice if we woke up to that fact and, at least, demonstrate that we understand it.

While the right fills up prisons with mostly non violent offenders, others whose crimes are more brutal often get a pass. It's absurd.

Do we have a suggestion?

It doesn't seem like it.

It seems that we are afraid to deal with the issue for fear of appearing to cave in to the right wing hocus pocus, for fear of being labeled racist, or uncaring, or dumb.

But go into the urban neighborhoods. Ask around. Hell, ask your next door neighbor what they think and you'll get an earful.

People are tired of reading about some rapist whose been arrested fourteen times before, about some wife beater whose ignored time again a restraining order, about some poor old lady whose been assaulted on the street by some loser who was just released from jail after serving little time for his fifth conviction of violent assault.

And they aren't just tired of it, tired of being victims. They're pissed off. And because only the right seems to be concerned with them, they look to the right for answers.

Meanwhile those most impacted by violent crime think of the left as concerned about the well being of the guy who shot their brother or raped their daughter, but not about them.

So they become easy marks of right wing rhetoric...since its the only thing out there.

The longer WE don't deal with the issue of violent crime, the more hay the right will make out of it...and the longer the very folks whose interests we always say we are looking out for, will be victimized by it.

We should be the one's speaking to those marching on Night Out Against Crime, or at anti-crime rallies. Our voices should be heard. Most of the time though we can't get ourselves involved in something so mundane and so identified as a right wing issue.

The unfortunate fact is, some behavior, such as a random act of violence, especially when it is demonstrated time and again, deserve real punishment. Like removal from society, i.e. jail! We ought not to be afraid to say that.

It's time we listen to working folk, to poor folks, be they black, brown, white, yellow, or doesn't matter...These are the people whose lives are most impacted by the violence on the streets of their neigbhorhoods.

The crime is too often we refuse to hear them. We're too busy with larger matters.

The following piece is from the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

Arrested, released
... arrested again

By Chris Joyner

For years, frustration has mounted in Jackson over Hinds County's perceived revolving-door system of justice, and a recent review of city arrest records lends some credibility to that claim.

Take, for instance, 37-year-old Donald Norris. Starting in 1988, Norris has been arrested 28 times and was charged with 15 felonies, including 11 for felony drug possession.

But Norris has been indicted in Hinds County only twice. In 1996, he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and received a two-year sentence, all but six months of which was suspended, and was sent to a rehab program. He was indicted again in 1998 on cocaine possession charges, but that case never went to trial.

Norris describes himself as a recovering addict and said most of those charges came from when he was young.

"I don't do that anymore," he said.

He was arrested in October on cocaine and marijuana possession and simple assault charges, then again June 23 for an outstanding warrant and a contempt citation for unpaid fines. When asked how he could face so many felony charges without going to prison, Norris said he thinks the outcome was fair.

"I don't need to do no time. That stuff is not that serious," he said.

The data on Norris and 34 others is from a study by The Clarion-Ledger of arrests made by the Jackson Police Department over a 24-hour period in June. Most of those arrested during that day were held on misdemeanor charges and released shortly thereafter, in part because of jail crowding.

More than two-thirds of those picked up that day had been arrested before. A dozen have past multiple felony charges.

Records showed just nine indictments out of 59 total felony charges, despite those arrested having a long string of prior arrests stretching back two decades.

Five of those resulted in a verdict, and those verdicts produced scant jail time.

"That is the problem. That is exactly the problem. Not only with people who are arrested for felonies but also people who are arrested for misdemeanors," said Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who routinely harangues the criminal justice system on the issue of repeat offenders.


Of those in The Clarion-Ledger sample, Jackson resident George Carmichael was arrested the most times, having been picked up 33 times since 1987, always on misdemeanor charges.

That Carmichael has never been charged with a felony makes him somewhat unusual among people clogging Jackson's criminal justice system. That he remains free and was arrested again does not.

With so few felonies resulting in an indictment, the blame for problems inside the Hinds County justice system would lie in one of two places. Either police are not making solid arrests, or prosecutors aren't building cases that can convince a grand jury.

Each side points a finger at the other.

"Once we arrest them and the case goes to the DA's office then it's her case," Jackson Police Chief Shirlene Anderson said.

"We've been trying to explain to the public that the police are making the arrests," Melton said. "After the arrest and investigation is done by the police, what happens after that, we have no control of it."

Chief Assistant District Attorney Philip Weinberg shrugs off the mayor's criticism.

"The mayor says a lot of stuff that has no effect on us and very little veracity to it," he said.

Prosecutors receive a number of "low-quality" cases that would stand no chance if brought to a grand jury, he said. It's up to the arresting agency to build a proper case.

"If there is not enough (evidence), it is sent back to the law enforcement agency who prepared the case," he said.

Some felony arrests never make it to the district attorney's office, and those that do commonly take three or four months to move from the Jackson Police Department across the street to District Attorney Faye Peterson's office, Weinberg said.

"People get arrested all the time and then end up getting cut loose. It's totally subjective with each case," he said. "There are a lot of felony arrests that never end up with a prosecution. We don't even get a lot of them over here."

According to a report posted on the Web site of Peterson's re-election campaign, Peterson's office returned 318 cases to their arresting agencies "for further investigation."

According to the report, half of those cases were reworked by the agency and returned to Peterson's office for prosecution.

Weinberg said his office takes to the grand jury more than half the cases delivered to it. "There are far more that get indicted than we send back," he said.

Peterson, in office since 2001, will face Jackson lawyer Robert Shuler Smith in a runoff later this month. Smith said it's the district attorney's responsibility to fix problems with the system, not just return cases.

"I don't know how so many cases slip by and they are not addressed. It's either intentional, or it's negligent," he said. "Either you go there and you clean it up, or you don't."

Records examined by The Clarion-Ledger date to the late 1980s, predating the administrations of Peterson and Melton.

Jackson resident Linda Kay Mangum was arrested for the sixth time in 14 years when police picked her in the early morning hours of June 23 for violating laws on open containers and possession of drug paraphernalia. She was released two days later from the crowded Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond.

A review of her arrest record shows she has been charged with felony counts of house burglary, possession of crack cocaine and shoplifting, but her Hinds County Circuit Court records show meager jail time.

In 1998, on her third arrest for house burglary, Mangum pleaded guilty and received a five-year sentence, four years of which were set aside. She also received credit for the nearly four months she waited in the county jail, leaving her with a little more than eight months to serve.

Coincidentally, Smith, a public defender at the time, was Mangum's attorney, and Ed Peters, who has endorsed Smith, was district attorney.

In 2006, Mangum was back in Hinds County Circuit Court on a probation violation for another burglary. She received six more months and another year of probation.

From The Clarion-Ledger's sample, Mangum's experience is the rule, not the exception.

Trisha Raymond, executive director of the crime watchdog group SafeCity, said the paucity of indictments and convictions is "scary." And there is plenty of blame to go around, she said.

"You can only indict according to the evidence that you receive. A case isn't indictable unless it has decent evidence, which goes to the investigative procedure," she said.

Raymond said the most common complaint among residents victimized by crime is that police are not responsive.

"We hear way too often that a crime isn't being investigated, and there is no follow up," she said. "That's a huge part of the breakdown."

At the same time, she said arresting and rearresting the same people hurts police morale. Only public pressure will disrupt that cycle, she said.

"The media and organizations like us have to shine light on the problem. Hopefully people get angry enough that they demand better from the government," she said. "Personally I think we are reaching this point."

No comments: