Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"Confronting Confinement”: Bi-Partisan Commission Criticizes Size, Conditions and Racial Make-Up of U.S. Prison System

From democracy now

"MICHAEL JACOBSON: [The US has the] Largest prison population in the world, and we incarcerate the greatest percentage of our population of any country in the world, and as you said, it's still growing. One of the central findings of the report is that it's simply too big. Too many people in prison. Too many people with mental illness who shouldn't be there. And those that are there are not getting the treatment they need. There are correctional leaders in this country who are trying to do a great job under incredibly difficult circumstances. They don't have the resources they should have. The correction officers aren't paid as well as they should be. It's a very tough, demanding job. And their legislatures keep passing tough on crime laws that keep filling up their prisons, and there's a disconnect between the resources these administrators have to do their jobs, and the number of people that they have to supervise. [...]

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about specifically California and Louisiana?

MICHAEL JACOBSON: Sure, well, California is by far – well, not by far, California and Texas are the two biggest prison systems in the country. California's prison system now houses about 165,000 people, at an annual cost of $8 billion a year. It's the -- it has the budget of a small country. A federal court recently took over the California health care system in their prisons, and one of the allegations that the judge found was true was that one prisoner each week was dying as a result of medical malpractice. That's a huge issue, obviously. And going be a very big challenge for the federal courts to handle. Health care is a gigantic issue in the California prison system. It's not been handled well for years.

Louisiana is a much smaller system, and one of the issues in Louisiana is good news and bad news. Angola, which is a very well known prison and used to be probably one of the country’s most violent. It’s far less so now. There’s been very good management in the institution and it’s a lot better than it used to be. But Louisiana, like a lot of states, pays their officers incredibly low wages. So they have very high turnover. People come in and out. I believe Louisiana is one of the states where one of the drawing cards for being a correctional officer is that your salary is so low, you're still eligible to collect public benefits. And the commission tries to address issues of training, and pay, and leadership in this report, because you simply can't run these facilities, which are amazingly difficult to run -- running these places and working in them is probably one of the toughest jobs in America. And you can't do that if your staff is underpaid and under-trained. (read more)

"Lieutenant Watada's War Against the War"

Jeremy Brecher & Brendan Smith in the nation "Lieutenant Watada's War Against the War"

"In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, First Lieut. Ehren Watada has become the Army's first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal. The 28-year-old announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq in a video press conference June 7, saying, "My participation would make me party to war crimes."

An artillery officer stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, Watada wore a business suit rather than his military uniform when making his statement. "It is my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law," he said. "Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order."(read more)

"Senate Issues Apology Over Failure on Antilynching Law"

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG in NY Times June 14, 2005, "Senate Issues Apology Over Failure on Antilynching Law"

"WASHINGTON, June 13 - Anthony Crawford's granddaughter went to her grave without speaking a word to her own children about his lynching, so painful was the family history. On Monday, Mr. Crawford's descendants came to the Capitol to tell it -- and to accept a formal apology from the Senate for its repeated failure, despite the requests of seven presidents, to enact a federal law to make lynching a crime.

The formal apology, adopted by voice vote, was issued decades after senators blocked antilynching bills by filibuster. The resolution is the first time that members of Congress, who have apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment in World War II and to Hawaiians for the overthrow of their kingdom, have apologized to African-Americans for any reason, proponents of the measure said. [...]

He is James Cameron, who in 1930, as a 16-year-old shoeshine boy in Marion, Ind., was accused with two friends of murdering a white man and raping a white woman. His friends were killed. But as Mr. Cameron felt a noose being slipped around his neck, a man in the crowd stepped forward to proclaim Mr. Cameron's innocence. Mr. Cameron came here in a gray suit and a wheelchair, his voice shaky but his memories apparently fresh.

''They took the rope off my neck, those hands that had been so rough and ready to kill or had already killed, they took the rope off of my neck and they allowed me to start walking and stagger back to the jail, which was just a half-block away,'' Mr. Cameron told a news conference. ''When I got back to the jail, the sheriff said, 'I'm going to get you out of here for safekeeping.''' [...]

Although the Senate garnered praise on Monday for acting to erase that stain, some critics said lawmakers had a long way to go. Of the 100 senators, 80 were co-sponsors of the resolution, and because it passed by voice vote, senators escaped putting themselves on record.

''It's a statement in itself that there aren't 100 co-sponsors,'' Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said. ''It's a statement in itself that there's not an up-or-down vote.'' (read more)

James Cameron

From NPR James Cameron, Human-Rights Activist, Dies

Hear Cameron speaking James Cameron

FINALLY - James Cameron; Survived Lynching, Founded Museum


Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb in The Washington Post" James Cameron; Survived Lynching, Founded Museum"

James Cameron, 92, who at 16 survived being lynched from a maple tree in Marion, Ind., and decades later was present when the U.S. Senate apologized for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching laws, died June 11 of congestive heart failure at a hospital in Milwaukee.

Mr. Cameron, who kept a piece of the rope that had scarred his neck moments before he was spared, was the only known survivor of a lynching attempt. An astute student of history, he lectured widely and in 1988 founded the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.

The museum, one of the first of its kind in the country, explores the story of African Americans from slavery to the present. Mr. Cameron started the museum in his basement, and it gained widespread support as a venue of reconciliation. [...]

In his autobiography, Mr. Cameron recalled the raw, inhuman sound of the mob, which included members of the local Ku Klux Klan. He once said he still could remember the faces of the 2,000 white people who gathered there, some with their children. Some eating. He prayed for his life.

Then, as the noose grew tighter around his neck, a voice called out: "Take this boy back. He had nothing to do with any raping or shooting of anybody."(read more)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Patricia J. Williams on "Borrowed Bodies"

"Last June Nicholas Minucci, a young white man, spotted Glenn Moore, an African-American man, walking down a street of Minucci's neighborhood of Howard Beach, Queens, an area that is generally described as "all white." Minucci leapt out of his car, accosted Moore and, employing a baseball bat he just happened to be armed with, beat Moore while spewing racial epithets, then stole his sneakers. Moore ended up with contusions on his body and two skull fractures. [...]

Inside the courtroom, Minucci has been immersed in studies of the history of the N-word. He has armed himself with a copy of Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy's provocatively titled book Nigger and peruses it conspicuously while seated at counsel table, cracking his knuckles intermittently. In that book, Kennedy flatly claims that the word "nigger" has lost its sting, that it is just part of American idiom, that usage by hip-hop musicians and high-fiving basketball players has rendered it little more than the currency of facile badinage. Minucci likes this a-contextual take on the word; indeed, it is the cornerstone of his defense against the hate crime charge. Minucci just loves hip- hop and high-fiving and basketball to death--the bat notwithstanding. As a soulful born-again, neo-kinsman of Ludacris, he claims to have utilized the N-word's most casual and nonconfrontational connotation when inquiring if Mr. Moore might possibly have lost his way. (read more)

James Cameron (1914-2006) -James Cameron surivivor of a lynching in Marion Indiana died Sunday

Thanks KGH.

From yahoo news "Founder of Black Holocaust Museum dies"

MILWAUKEE - James Cameron, who survived an attempted lynching by a white mob and went on to found America's Black Holocaust Museum, died Sunday at the age of 92.

Cameron had suffered from lymphoma for about five years, said Marissa Weaver, chairwoman of the Milwaukee-based museum's board.

In 1930, in Marion, Ind., Cameron and two friends were arrested and accused of killing a white man during a robbery and raping the man's companion.

A mob broke them out of the local jail and hanged Cameron's two friends, then placed a rope around his neck.

"They began to chant for me like a football player, 'We want Cameron, we want Cameron," he recalled in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. "I could feel the blood in my body just freezing up."

The 16-year-old shoeshine boy was spared when a man in the crowd proclaimed his innocence. ("read the rest).

See also: ("Anatomy of a Murder" - Lynching)

More Madness

Devon Carbado, "Defending "Nigger"?" on blackprof

Some of you might recall that a few years ago Professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School authored a book titled: Nigger: The Strange Career of a troublesome Word." Perhaps not surprisingly, the book engendered a fair amount of controversy, and we explored some of that controversy on this blog. (See The Role of "Nigger" (or "Nigga") in Public Discourse). For the first time, Professor Kennedy testified in court about the use of the term. The case involves a white man, Nicholas Minucci, accused of beating a black man, Glenn Moore, with a baseball bat. According to law enforcement officials, the defendant swirled racial epithets --including Nigger--at the Moore as he physically abused him, and told Moore that he would be taught a lesson for attempting to rob a white person. Because the crime is being prosecuted as a hate crime, Minucci faces up to 25 years in prison. Part of the defense's strategy is to suggest that the term "Nigger" has multiple meanings, and that it is not necessarily associated with racial violence. This is precisely the point that Professor Kennedy makes in his book and made as an expert witness for the defense: "It [Nigger] is used by all sorts of people, black and white, and other groups as well." When Minucci's lawyer, Albert Gaudelli, asked Professor Kennedy to be a witness for the defense for no fee, he initially declined. Gaudelli did not give up: "Do you believe what you wrote. Are you willing to stand by it?" Indeed Professor Kennedy was: " I do not feel I was championing anybody's cause," Professor Kennedy told the New York Times. He testified "to advance the aims of justice." Reflecting on how things went, Gaudelli commented: "I think I did good. I got a Rhoddes Scholar to testify for nothing and all I had to do is drive him to the airport." (read entire piece)


IN FULL. Corey Kilgannon NY Times "Epithet 'Has Many Meanings,' a Harvard Professor Testifies"

The witnesses in the trial of a white man accused of a racially motivated beating of a black man in Howard Beach last summer had been typical for an assault case in Queens. Until yesterday.

All of the previous witnesses — the hardened detective, the newsstand owner, the pizza maker, the career criminal and other assorted neighborhood characters — had offered plain-spoken testimony about Nicholas Minucci, 20, who is charged with using a racial epithet while attacking Glenn Moore with a baseball bat on June 29, 2005.

But the final witness for Mr. Minucci was a stranger to him, to Howard Beach and to the State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, Queens. The defense got the Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy to travel from Boston to testify about the current usage of the racial epithet, sometimes referred to in court as the "n" word.

The epithet has become central to the trial, as a measure of whether Mr. Minucci attacked Mr. Moore because of his skin color. Several witnesses have testified that Mr. Minucci repeatedly spewed the epithet in anger while chasing Mr. Moore and beating him on the head. Mr. Minucci insists that Mr. Moore was about to commit a robbery and that he used the word as a form of benign address before subduing him with a few swats to the side and legs.

Mr. Minucci's lawyer, Albert Gaudelli, said he hoped Professor Kennedy's testimony would convince the jury that the mere use of the epithet did not constitute racism. On the stand yesterday, Professor Kennedy's explanation of the modern usage of the word seemed to support Mr. Gaudelli's claim.

"The word is a complex word," he testified. "It has many meanings."

Professor Kennedy had just taken the stand in a packed courtroom and rattled off his impressive credentials — which include attending Princeton, Oxford and Yale, a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and his membership in the Bar of the Supreme Court.

He said the epithet was "a word that can be put to many different uses," ranging from a pejorative term to a friendly salutation.

Mr. Gaudelli asked Professor Kennedy, who is black, about his book on the subject.

"My second book is entitled, 'Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word,' " the professor responded. Mr. Gaudelli handed him a copy of the book, and had it entered into the case as Exhibit W.

Professor Kennedy said that in modern parlance, the word could have many different meanings and was no longer restricted to use by or about black people. In fact, he said, many new immigrants use the word casually after learning it from movies, music videos and popular songs. In San Francisco, he said, the word is commonly used among young Asian immigrants.

"It is used by all sorts of people, black and white, and other groups as well," he said.

Later, outside the court, Professor Kennedy said it was the first time he had testified in a criminal trial about the use of the word. He said he had agreed to come to Queens to testify "to advance the aims of justice," but not to take Mr. Minucci's side.

"I do not feel I was championing somebody's cause," he said. "I was asked to speak as an expert witness about a particular issue. Somebody's liberties are at stake here."

Mr. Gaudelli said that when he phoned Professor Kennedy and asked him to testify, for no fee, the professor initially declined. But Mr. Gaudelli persisted.

"I said: 'Do you believe what you wrote? Are you willing to stand by it?' Do you want to deprive my client of a fair trial?' " Mr. Gaudelli recounted. "He said, 'I'll call you in the morning.' "

Asked how the testimony went, Mr. Gaudelli said: "I think I did good; I got a Rhodes scholar to testify for nothing and all I had to do is drive him to the airport."

Early on, Professor Kennedy said the epithet, which dates to the 17th century, derived its name from the Latin niger, meaning black. It "seeped into English" through Spanish and Portuguese, he said.

In the cross-examination, Mariela Herring, a Queens prosecutor, asked Mr. Kennedy, "Are you here to tell us the "n" word is no longer a derogatory term?" She then asked more directly, "Is it a derogatory term?" Professor Kennedy responded, "It can be."

She asked Professor Kennedy if he had chosen the title of his book, published in 2002, for "shock value," and she cited a newspaper interview in which he said the "catchy title" would grab attention.

Professor Kennedy said the meaning of the epithet depended on the context in which it was used. Ms. Herring asked him to assume that the context was a white man wielding a baseball bat, about to attack a black man. Justice Richard L. Buchter disallowed the question, saying Professor Kennedy could not conjecture as to what the attacker would be thinking.

Justice Buchter also denied Mr. Gaudelli's attempt to enter a chapter of Professor Kennedy's book — "The Use of the Word Today" — as evidence, for the jury to consult.

Mr. Gaudelli maintains that Mr. Minucci, growing up in Lindenwood, a racially diverse neighborhood adjacent to Howard Beach, grew up with many nonwhite friends and used the term as part of his regular vocabulary.

The lawyer insists that his client, encountering a black man carrying a bag of tools at 3 a.m. in a middle-class white neighborhood, decided that Mr. Moore was about to commit a robbery and decided to use "reasonable force" to stop him. Mr. Moore has admitted that he and his friends intended to steal a car that night.

During yesterday's proceedings, Mr. Minucci responded to a question from the judge by saying that he would not take the stand. Five of the 19 counts against Mr. Minucci were eliminated, to streamline and simplify the indictment.

Both sides are to give their closing arguments today, and the judge is expected to give the case to the jury in the afternoon.(read entire article)