Wednesday, April 8, 2015

SJ Times Offers Critical Support to Goals of Decarcerate the Garden State

The South Jersey Times offered critical support for the clarion call that is the name of our statewide organization : Decarcerate the Garden State.  

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/04/reducing_the_number_of_prisoners_behind_bars_still.html

While there are factual errors and misrepresentations of our position, as well as disagreeable political points in the SJ Times piece, Decarcerate the Garden State very much welcomes it as a strong and positive contribution to the discussion that must be busted wide open across the state of NJ.

The editorial is a response to our event that occurred in Bridgeton on April 4 – which was reported in that news outlet:
http://www.nj.com/cumberland/index.ssf/2015/04/prison_reform_group_calls_out_bridgeton_city_leade.html

One misnomer of the editorial, a minor one, is the reference to our organization as a “North Jersey-based" group.  Indeed in 2015, three out of four of the panel discussions we have put together so far have actually been in South Jersey, in Camden, at Rowan University and in Bridgeton.  We are also in discussion with communities in Atlantic City, Williamstown, Asbury Park and other southern Jersey communities.  In Camden, at Rowan and in Bridgeton we have memberships and community members that played an active role in organizing the events, planning, publicizing, providing food and otherwise supporting.  Decarcerate the Garden State has almost 700 members from every corner of the state participating in our Facebook group and our demand is a widely held sentiment throughout the state.  We also have made contact with incarcerated persons inside South Woods facility, in Bridgeton, that helped spread the word for our event.   

While it is a minor detail, implying that we are a northern NJ organization makes the suggestion that we are outside meddlers – that is the furthest from the truth.  We were invited to organize this event on April 4 by Bridgeton community members and we held 3 planning meetings inside Bridgeton with Bridgeton and other area community members as well as outreached to visitors to South Woods and to the incarcerated themselves.  While it is likely a small factual error on their part, a clarification is most important since we are not about to be isolated from any section of NJ – we will be EVERYWHERE!

The editorial implies that our demand is somewhat na├»ve – that we want to simply unlock doors and set people free.  Our proposal for the NJ Decarceration Act – which is a starting point proposal – is spelled out right in our newspaper.  It is spelled out on our blog site and our newspaper is available on line.  I believe the reporter (who did a fine job reporting our event) has a copy of the paper.  Before accusing us of naivety – it would behoove the good editors in SJ Times to actually look up and read what we actually say.

http://decarceratenj.blogspot.com/2014/07/nj-decarceration-act-initial-draft.html
 
Firstly – you CAN release those for drug offenses, those that served most of their sentence, the elderly incarcerated, those that have been incarcerated for decades.  Our demand in the NJ Decarceration Act proposal addresses the issue of “you can’t just let them out” – we call for the $53,000 per year per incarcerated person to follow back to the community to create livable wage employment opportunities and to provide re-entry support projects.  We also call for monitoring of such allocations to assure that it does not lead to the creation of corrupt slush funds.  The SJ Times responded to the sound bite without taking the time – as journalists should and must – to research what we actually stand for.  

As far as law enforcement “can’t turn the other way” from a crime – it is done every single day by law enforcement.  Every single police department has corrupt elements, skimming, stealing evidence, planting evidence, test-a-lying in court – and the rest of the department knows about it.  Whenever police kill – much of that going on in Cumberland County lately – the police magically become mum and the prosecutor refuses to release the information – unlike when on the other hand they decide to charge a whole bunch of people for a miniscule amount of some illegal substance held by a single person during a raid – then its full misstatement.  Police in Cumberland County release factually incorrect releases and SJ Times dutifully reports it without critique.

There is no law that says that every crime must be charged.   Police regularly ignore crimes even for perfectly good reason when focused on some other investigation or looking to build a case on an individual or focusing on a different sort of crime.  It would behoove the police in communities where violence is common place to focus almost exclusively on the violence and not to waste time, money, effort in trumping up small scale marijuana or other small scale drug possession raps, bike horn and jaywalking ordinances or other street shakedowns.  Let’s not make believe that something else is going on.

Likewise – South Jersey Times suggests that it would be illegal for the mayor to direct the police to not charge low level crimes.  A mayor can do much to determine what sorts of crimes are enforced and what are not.  The study of Ferguson by the Justice Department showed exactly what is going on in many cities – where the impoverished and Black population was used as a revenue source with over enforcement of low level crimes – putting impoverished into further debt.  Is similar policing going on in Bridgeton?  I don’t know for sure but in our meetings with Bridgeton residents I have heard many tales of overzealous policing and shakedown type policing.  My guess is that what Justice found in Ferguson is fairly typical.  It’s how NJ ends up with a state prison population that is 66% Black while whites and Blacks commit crimes at comparable rates.

We certainly agree 100% with SJ Times that the mayor and council can legislate changes.  We have called upon Bridgeton to decriminalize marijuana in small amounts ( and make several other changes to how laws are enforced locally).  That is one of our petition demands.  Philadelphia has done it.  That measure would free the police up for more important matters and could lead to eventual savings if it is found that less police are needed.  SJ Times did not explicitly address that issue.  That would be a measure that could lead to more harmony in Bridgeton.

The preachy tone of the SJ Times:

“One thing that people often fail to mention is the old-fashioned option of following the law and avoiding being arrested in the first place.”

I hear that all day long everywhere.  I do not know how the SJ Times says that is not being said – there is a diatribe under every article about our work in the comments that is stating this over and over.  Truth be told – most people break laws at one time or another, traffic laws, maybe a tax deduction that is not 100% true but not verifiable, acting on a tip to make a stock purchase, cutting corners on worker safety or environmental compliance, not respecting tenant rights, proffering phony foreclosure paper . . . lots of laws are broken and not enforced.   The screechy preachiness of many who engage in minor infractions of laws that are not enforced or they don’t get caught is high and mighty.  The truth is that law in NJ is enforced in a racist way resulting in the skewered racial statistics – something we made clear in our presentation on April 4 but is not appearing in the SJ Times articles.

Is the SJ Times not at all concerned with the racial break down of the incarcerated rolls in NJ which is among the worse of states across the whole of USA?

The other point that needs to be made is that Decarcerate the Garden State is a focused organization with a focused agenda but our organization is part of a wider movement with partner organizations making demands for livable wages and for an end to police violence against largely NJ’s Black, Brown and impoverished communities.  If there is full employment available paying livable wages – that would drive down the resort to crime by those whose debts mount without any possibility of “legit” income to pay them down.  Our movements are in congruence with each other and we are fighting for over all systemic and social transformation – the pieces must go together.

All that said – I LIKE the editorial – it is MOSTLY on POINT!  And I agree 100% with the bottom line:

“Decarcerate makes some valid points in its campaign, but before prisoners are freed en masse, there must be accommodations -- treatment, etc., available for them.
The state Legislature would have to examine current New Jersey laws and it appears that examination is due.”

Here are the videos from our event – that includes more than just the sound bites:

 Bob Witanek presentation video:



Dawn Felton announces formation of Southwoods Family United – Talks about near murder and frame up of her son by police:


Walter Hudson updating us on rash of in custody deaths in Cumberland County:


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