Hunter-Judges: Refining their Craft for Over 400 Years

Hunter-Judges: Refining their Craft for Over 400 Years

May 2020 – The Year of Unrest

As I have been observing my sons growing up and enjoying viewing certain cartoons, I quickly noticed how early the idea of the good guy-bad guy gets introduced into their theoretical framework.  Usually little ones want to be a hero and pick being a good guy.  Someone usually gets stuck playing the bad guy and gets chased around the house, but thankfully it is all make believe – or is it? I push my sons critical thinking skills to question the images and ideas they encounter while reading or watching television or the internet.  However, in reality while my sons are playing in the living room as “good guys”, when they are older, will some people consider my sons’ bad guys by default?

Each one of us may have a different response to the question, based on diverse variables, but at the end of the day we live in a race-based country that thrives on the process of “Othering”.  Just as kids have ingested the cartoon programming of good and bad, we grow up ingesting ideologies that develop distinct frameworks that allows us to function in our environment. Rarely does one question or investigate these ideas until well into adulthood. For the most part, these ideas fall by the wayside and the utility of their importance subsides without affecting others as we transition into adulthood and develop newer frameworks.  However, there exist theoretical frameworks such as white supremacy, based on fallacious grounds, that pervade practically every major institution in this country.

As of this moment though, I want to examine a facet of “our” society in which the aforementioned perspective is subtly integrated into the “others’” psyche and has wielded a horrific and often, deadly type of power over the “other” that we have been eye witnessing too often these days as a result of social media.  I am referring to the imposed institution of law enforcement we have come to call the police.  The police have their origins steeped in drunkards in the form of volunteer night watchmen and slave catchers in the South dating back to the 1600’s.  By the 1880’s all major cities across this nation had municipal forces of some form or fashion in place.  A description of the Southern states style of American policing, known as the “Slave Patrol” is eerily reminiscent of how modern police function today.  The slave patrol had three primary functions: 1) hunt down, apprehend and return “runaway” slaves to their so called owner, 2) to establish a form of organized terror to deter revolts or uprisings of any kind, and 3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law if anyone broke any of the rules of the plantation they found themselves on. [1]

This brings us to the function of policing today in comparison to the slave patrol.  Are communities with diverse ethnicities hunted down today? If so, how?  Former officer Christopher LaForce said, “I got tired of hunting Black and Hispanic people because of arrest quotas,” in his affidavit, explaining his decision to retire in 2015. [2] Officers were caught in a debate of overpolicing and the criminalization of poverty via pressure coming down on officers to enforce low level violations against what they refer to as Black and Hispanic people, while discouraging the same enforcement to White and Asian folks.  Across the nation officers patrol specific neighborhoods to see who they can catch.  This is what modern-day slave catching looks like today, because if you don’t pay your tickets, where do you go?  Of course, the modern-day plantation known as the county jail.

A deeper terror begins to really unfold when we look at how some of these petty stops for low level offenses have turned deadly.  These reoccurring scenarios we have been witnessing of police officers becoming judges and meting out death sentences in the streets, usurping the very law they are supposed to be upholding.  It seems we get an idea of why the institution of policing at its core believe in the use of deadly force for illogical reasons on folks with darker skin, its mother is slavery and its father is capitalism.  As a result of the spirit of humanity fighting back in the form of civil unrest and protests, in order for police to keep a countenance of legitimacy, they have had to change their techniques of oppression just a tad to keep cynicism at bay and the scent of wickedness tamed to keep their departments funded.  Armed with qualified immunity as a wild card to combat the voice of the voiceless, they murder on our streets for all to bear witness. [3] When looking at a white woman, selling cigarettes, or failing to use your turn signal are the reasons you can face death on the streets or in the plantation we know nothing has changed from the inception of the institution of policing.  Policing in some communities is not a vision of safety but rather a symbol of death and punishment and a system communities have sadly come to depend on as a default resource.  Its time for a new way of dealing with matters and policing people is not the modality.

I do not want to leave my thoughts without mentioning a resource for folks to dive deeper into this conversation about police presence in their respective communities on their own.  An investigation of other modalities is worth understanding for the purposes of pondering and putting forward an alternative to replace the current structure we have, to truly make our communities a safe and sacred space where life and love thrive.

http://aworldwithoutpolice.org/study-guide/

With Love and Strength,

Airto

[1] The History of Policing in the United States, Part 1,  Dr. Gary Potter: https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/nyregion/nyc-police-subway-racial-profiling.html

[3] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-police-immunity-scotus/

Illustration by: Eddye Vanderkwaak

Raising up ALL voices – We must flatten the curve behind the wall, too!

Let’s Stop Potential and Unintended Death Sentences

As the Coronavirus or COVID-19 as it has now been designated, makes its way to the western world, it has infected 214,915 (and counting) and killed 8,733 while simultaneously exposing deficiencies in diverse facets of society’s infrastructures along the way.  The United States has been able to take some steps to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 by relaying the message to the public at large of the importance of social distancing, isolation and quarantine.  While many have taken heed to that message, folks incarcerated within local county jails/juvenile detention centers and prisons across the nation find themselves in a seriously vulnerable situation with no real ability to address the situation from a position of power and immediate change to keep themselves healthy and coronavirus free.  It is only a matter of time before the majority of the U.S. population becomes infected with a guesstimated death toll within the next 12-18 months of 1.5 million Americans.

As advocates for youth and adults behind the wall, we have noted some modalities of how the system is approaching this pandemic and want to amplify that effort and call for more relief for our folks on the inside, a voice that is so often drowned out.  The process of flattening the curve is an impossibility within a correctional setting due to the overcrowding, less than adequate health care and architectural designs of some institutions, which in effect make perfect breeding grounds and killing fields for the coronavirus.  

Below are some examples of actions that have been or should be taken on a national level to flatten the curve for our community behind the wall to weather this storm as we are out here.  We hope that jurisdictions across the nation follow suit and work rapidly to save lives:

Immediately release people from jails and prisons

  • San Francisco, California
    • The release of folks awaiting pretrial that are facing misdemeanor or drug-related felony charges.
    • Prosecutors have also been encouraged by the district attorney to “strongly consider” credit for time served in plea deals to increase jail releases.
  • Cuyahoga County, Ohio
    • Judges have begun expediting hearings to reduce the jail population.  They have released 38 people from the Cuyahoga County Jail and may release at least 200 more people charged with low-level, non-violent offenses. 
  • Los Angeles County, California
    • The Sheriff has reported they have released more than 600 folks to mitigate the risk of virus transmission in crowded jails.
  • Travis County, Texas
    • Judges have begun to release more people from local jails on personal bonds focusing on preventing people with health issues, charged with non-violent offenses.
  • Hamilton County, Ohio
    •  Sherriff is expected to release people with nonviolent offenses from the county jail.

Reduce jail admissions

  • Bexar County, Texas
    • Cite and release and “filing non-violent offenses at large,” rather than locking more people up.
  • Los Angeles County, California
    • The Police department has reportedly reduced arrests from an average of about 300 per day to 60 per day by utilizing citations rather than booking people.

Reduce unnecessary contact, visits to crowded offices, and technical violations for people on parole and probation

  • California Department of Adult Parole Operations 
    • Lowered the number of required parole visits to protect staff and the supervised population by suspending office visits for people 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions.

Eliminate medical co-pays

In various states, incarcerated folks are expected to pay $2-$5 co-pays for any medical visits. Incarcerated folks usually do not get paid for the work they do while in custody.  This is highly problematic during this pandemic. Some states recognized the harm and eliminated these co-pays. 

Reduce the cost of phone and video calls

Most federal prisons, state prisons and many local jails have decided to drastically reduce or completely eliminate friends and family visitation so as to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in facilities. While many facilities have suspended in-person visitation, only a few have made an effort to supplement this loss by waiving fees for phone calls and video communication. 

  • Shelby County, Tennessee
    • Waiving fees for all phone calls and video communication.
  • Montgomery County, Ohio
    • One free phone call per day and 2 free emails per day.
  • Connecticut 
    • 2 free phone calls per week for the next 30 days.
  • Florida 
    • One free video call, two free phone calls (up to 15 minutes) per week, four free JPay stamps each week, and they have reduced the cost of outbound videograms reduced by 50%.
  • Harris County, Texas
    •  Two free phone calls per week for the next 30 days.
  • Middlesex County, Massachusetts 
    • Four free phone calls (up to 20 minutes per call) to all people in the Middlesex Jail and House of Correction.

California Advocates have made specific demands to Governor Gavin Newsom:

  1. Release all medically fragile adults and adults over the age of 60 to parole supervisionJailsand prisons house large numbers of people with chronic illnesses and complex medical needs, who are more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill and requiring more medical care with COVID-19. And the growing number of older adults in prisons are at higher risk for serious complications from a viral infection like COVID-19. Releasing these vulnerable groups from prison and jail will reduce the need to provide complex medical care or transfers to hospitals when staff will be stretched thin. Individuals who do not have families or others that can offer housing should be released to re-entry facilities. 
  2. Release all people who have anticipated release dates in 2020 and 2021 to parole supervision. People who have been sentenced to determinate sentences and who would be released soon should be released immediately. This will limit overcrowding and free up beds in facilities that will be needed to care for the sick. These people are overwhelmingly in low-level (Levels 1 and 2) security. 
  3. Expedite all review processes for people already found suitable for release, lift holds and expedite the commutation process. For all people who the Board of Parole Hearings have been found suitable for parole by, we ask that you expedite the review process and release these parole candidates. Similarly, you should lift all current holds by CDCR for anyone who has been resentenced pursuant to Penal Code sections 1170(d)(1) and 1170.95. We ask that your office also direct increased resources to addressing the commutation applications that are currently before you and grant the many worthy applications expeditiously. 
  4. Immediately suspend all unnecessary parole meetings. People deemed “low risk” should not be required to spend hours traveling to and from meetings, often on public transportation, to wait in administrative buildings for brief check-ins with their parole officers. As many people as possible should be allowed to check in by telephone. Further, people on parole who have been under supervision for three years or longer and have not had an arrest within the last 12 months should be discharged from supervision. 

CDCR has stated that they will use the same protocols they use for other illnesses, which often means widespread lockdowns or isolating people without care. This approach is both cruel and inadequate.

  1. Eliminate parole revocations for technical violations. Parole officers and others should cease seeking warrants for behaviors that would not warrant incarceration for people not on parole. Reducing these unnecessary incarcerations would reduce the risk of transmitting a virus between the facilities – jails and prisons – and the community, and vice versa. 
  2. Lift all fees for calls to family members. As CDCR has limited visits to people who are incarcerated, it is critical that these individuals be able to communicate with their family members and loved ones. All phone calls made by those who are incarcerated to their family members and loved ones should be made free during such time as family visits are limited. 
  3. Insist that CDCR adequately address how they will care for people who are incarcerated. In addition to taking steps to immediately address overcrowding, all people who remain in custody should be cared for. We note that in all of the CDCR information released thus far, there is a shocking lack of concrete details given as to the exact steps CDCR is taking to prevent infections, or to care for those who get sick. CDCR has stated that they will use the same protocols they use for other illnesses, which often means widespread lockdowns or isolating people without care. This approach is both cruel and inadequate. At the very minimum, all people who are incarcerated must have access to soap and running water. Hand sanitizer should be made widely available and possession of hand sanitizer should be allowed. Appropriate medications and treatment should be available to all without cost. People who are sick should be cared for by appropriate medical staff.

Author: Airto Morales.