Judicial Integrity Unit Needed Here

BY SHERRY CANNON

I completely agree with the premise in the September Community Word’s editorial by Clare Howard. In it Clare stated that a democratic nation cannot exist without a fair and functioning judiciary. Trump’s Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has shown its primary objective is to dismantle and/or rollback many of the civil and human rights won during the Civil Rights Movement.

During a recent speech, Dr. William Barber told us that we can and should endorse the removal of statues erected during the Jim Crow Era and some as late as the 1960s memorializing Confederate leaders of the Civil War. Dr. Barber went on to say the policies or statues we should be even more concerned with are those being enacted under this current administration.

There has been a systemic bias against poor and especially black people ever since the abolishment of slavery. Poor people have been wrongly condemned and trapped in our broken justice system. Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. Though he never stood trial or was found guilty of any crime, he spent three years in the jail complex, nearly two of them in solitary confinement. Six months after he was released, Kalief committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom at his parents’ home. The physical and emotional abuse he endured at Rikers made this young 19-year-old unable to cope with living.

Today there are 2.3 million people incarcerated in this country. This country’s mass incarceration and extreme punishment have no historical parallel according to Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, winner of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in social justice and a professor at NYU.

In this century, 1-in-3 black men will be imprisoned. The privatization of prisons, prison healthcare and prison commerce has made mass incarceration a money-making industry. Private profits have corrupted the prison system and judicial system. State and Federal private prisons have contracts requiring 90 percent occupancy. The millions of lobbyist dollars have created new laws, harsher sentencing and longer incarcerations. Many states have abolished the parole system. Hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders have been forced to spend decades in prison. The judicial system is no longer about justice; it’s about privatized financial earnings. More black men have been permanently disenfranchised at levels
higher than before the Voting Right Act was passed in 1965. The collateral damage of mass incarceration trickles down to a lifetime of punishment for many brown and black people.

Don Jackson’s call for a judicial integrity unit mimics the words of the Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke who said, “all persons
possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with the idea that they act in trust and that they are to account
for their conduct in that trust.”

We are in a time when even the Supreme Court of this country has been politicized. It is critical that our judicial system have oversight.

A final thought comes from Burke, who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”



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