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“Black, Latino, Native American, and many Asian youth are portrayed as the purveyors of violence, traffickers of drugs, and as envious of commodities that they have no right to possess. Young black and Latina women are represented as sexually promiscuous and as indiscriminately propagating babies and poverty. Criminality and deviance are racialized.”—
Excerpt from “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex”
Injustice For Cameron D'Ambrosio
Every time I look at this young man’s photo, my heart breaks apart for him and his family:
Cameron D’Ambrosio should not be in handcuffs. He should not be in a court room. He should not have been arrested, and he damn well sure should not have been accused of Communicating a Terrorist Threat, or threatened with 20 years in prison for making what amounts to poor word choices.
This entire case is shot through with injustice:
Before charges were even formally filed, local newspapers were already posting pictures from Cam’s facebook and pointing to “disturbing” posts like “Fuck politics. Fuck Obama. Fuck the government!” and “satanic” imagery (like some image from a metal band’s poster.) All of this is free speech that is 100% protected by the 1st Amendment.
And then there’s this:
Fox News went so far as to say that Cam’s facebook profile had images that they “couldn’t show on TV.” They and other media outlets frequently and intentionally printed only a small section of the lyrics that Cam was arrested for allegedly writing, and took them out of context to make rap metaphors sound like a real threat.
The media printed:
“(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous”
The actual line is:
“(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous rapping”
Notice something? The context completely changes the meaning of the line. Suddenly something that sounds like a threat of violence is clearly just bragging about how good Cammy Dee is going to be in the rap game. Last we checked, teenage dreams of grandeur were not a crime.
Such omissions are scandalous. You can see one example here (they also incorrectly stated that Cameron pleaded “guilty.” He pled “not guilty.”). The source above also reported that Cameron was arrested on a previous assault and battery charge, but neglected to mention that those charges were later dismissed.
This case involves a number of horrifying breaches of journalistic ethics, paired with a complete, utter failure to exercise prosecutorial discretion. A young 18-year old man with his whole life ahead of him may spend the next 20 years of his life in prison for doing nothing more than posting uncouth status updates on his Facebook page. As Rob D’Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University, said recently:
When I was young, calling a bomb threat to your high school because you didn’t want to go to school that day was treated with a slap on the wrist. Try that nowadays and you’re going to prison, no question about it. They are taking it more seriously now[.]
And then there’s this gem from the local police chief:
“There are no more threats that are high school pranks,” said Joseph Solomon, police chief, during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “If they’re thinking that way, they need to get their heads into 2013.”
This is the incarceration nation in motion. The fear of legitimate threats is used to extend the scope of punitive executive scrutiny to cases that otherwise would’ve been dealt with outside the criminal justice system. Stupid mistakes and ill-timed remarks become serious felonies with decades in prison as the penalty.
Cases like this highlight the need for people to push back against the overcriminalization of America. We need to stop sending our kids to prison for dumb mistakes. We need to stop traumatizing 18-year olds by making them do the perp walk, and then telling them they’re facing 20 years in prison for being oafish online. None of this is necessary. All of it is unjust, improper, and counterproductive.
“Currently in the legal system there's this myth of equality. And the assumption is if you are over 18 and you have an IQ of over 70 then all brains are created equal. And, of course, that's a very charitable idea but it's demonstrably false. Brains are extraordinarily different from one another. Brains are essentially like fingerprints; we've all got them but they're somewhat different. And so by imagining that everyone has the exact same capacity for decision-making, for understanding future consequences, for squelching their impulsive behavior and so on, what we're doing is we’re imagining that everybody should be treated the same. And, of course, what has happened is that our prison system has become our de facto mental health care system. Estimates are that about 30 percent of the prison population has some sort of mental illness. ”—neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito
So they’re charging Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in federal court as a criminal defendant, so he’s not an enemy combatant, meaning he gets a trial, an attorney, no indefinite detention, etc. (Despite him being Muslim and being charged with using weapons of mass destruction.)
So please tell me more about how he doesn’t get white privilege.
“U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday condemned racially charged language used by a federal prosecutor in Texas. The justice, appointed to the court by President Barack Obama in 2009, took the relatively unusual step of writing a statement to accompany the nine-member Supreme Court's announcement that it would not take up a criminal case. Sotomayor took issue with the unidentified prosecutor who, while questioning an African-American defendant in a drug case, asked: "You've got African-Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you - a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, this is a drug deal?" The first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Sotomayor wrote that the prosecutor had "tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our nation." The question was "pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence," she added. Sotomayor also accused the Obama administration of playing down the issue.”—Lawrence Hurley, “Sonia Sotomayor Condemns Prosecutor’s Racially Charged Question,” Huffington Post 2/25/13
10 Facts Everyone Should Know About New York City’s ‘Stop-And-Frisk’ Policy
1. In 2011, NYC officers made 685,724 stops as part of the “stop-and-frisk” policy. Of that group, 605,328 people were determined not to have engaged in any unlawful behavior. [NYCLU]
2. Only 5.37% of all stops in a recent five-year period resulted in an arrest. In short, many people stopped did nothing wrong. [NYT, 5/17/12]
3. In 2009, 36% of the time officer failed to list an acceptable “suspected crime.” Reasonable suspicion of a crime is required to make a stop. [NYT, 5/17/12]
4. More than half of all stops last year were conducted “because the individual displayed ‘furtive movement’ — which is so vague as to be meaningless.” [NYT, 5/14/12]
5. Of those frisked in 2011, a weapon was found just 1.9% of the time. Frisks are supposed to be conducted “only when an officer reasonably suspects the person has a weapon.” [NYCLU]
6. 85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population. [NYT, 5/17/12]
7. Young black and Latino men account for 4.7% of NYC’s population but 41.6% of the stops in 2011. [NYCLU]
8. The number of stops involving young black men in 2011 (168,124) exceed the city’s population of young black men (158,406).[NYT, 5/15/12]
9. Even in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, police stopped more blacks than whites.[NYT, 5/15/12]
10. In 2012, police are on pace to make more than 800,000 stops, more than twice the population of Miami. [NYT, 5/15/12]