Recently I came across an article about a ridiculous initiative of the Paterson NJ City Council – a local loitering ordinance establishing a potential $2000 fine for loitering. Not realizing the news was a year old I proceeded to write the following on it – including commentary from local human rights / Decarceration activist Akbar McEntyre who works with formerly incarcerated men and women to assist their successful return to the community, local medical worker and medical marijuana advocate Deb Madaio and a state steering committee member of the 15 Now movement – fighting for full employment and livable wages for the lowest paid among NJ’s working class Lizbeth Ramirez.
At the time of writing article, I did not think the ordinance was much enforced. But now there is a report on a major dragnet by the undercover Paterson cops – posing as dope dealers, working with the Passaic County Prosecutor and apparently using rudimentary entrapment methods to ensnare almost 100 people mostly charged with “loitering to commit a drug offense” (purchase drugs) – the ensnared including local Paterson residents and out of towners as well – judging from the names – including multiple races and ethnicities.
The other charge of "obstructing a government function" seems like a made up charge just used to pump up a rap - the article does not describe what that offense consists of but perhaps it is nothing more than alerting people that cops are dragnetting.
While some might reasonably be sick of the street dealing – including of both the sellers and the buyers – the decades of using these sort of tactics and the fact that drugs are not prevented from being bought and sold and abused – by these types of low level street operations demonstrates their ineffectiveness. All these operations do is raise revenue off of some destitute and some middle class, create professional opportunities for prosecutors, sheriff departments and local police, give cops overtime hours and excise a tax against those dragged up by the operation – and per the charge of “loitering to engage in a drug crime” some of those are likely innocent yet will be unable to defend since they will be unable to afford the cost of an adequate attorney.
Paterson local government should know better – as should the county of Passaic.
It is the impoverished, the Black and Brown of NJ that have filled NJ prisons. Across the whole state and nation there is clamoring for reducing the incarceration rates. In NJ, 66% of the incarcerated population in state facilities are Black. The US incarcerates an average of 4 times as many people as the rest of the planet yet it calls itself a “free” country.
The local government of Paterson has the power to step it back – to put a moratorium on the loiter law and then to roll it back. It also has the ability to oversee the priorities of the local police force to shift away from the retail level of crime. This type of enforcement and the entrapment is low level bottom feeding at its worse. It is not the way to Decarceration.
HSBC is one of those huge financial institutions that is too big to fail and too big to jail. Fairly recently – the bank institution was so bad at money laundering (all of the major banks do it and the Justice Department looks the other way) that it was caught red handed laundering billions of dollars for the top murderous drug cartels of Mexico and elsewhere. Did anyone go to jail? Did anyone even get criminally charged? No and no. The war on drugs is a farce and the US has no intention of rooting it out because it would have to take down the major financial institutions that own both political parties.
Yet local politicos can play up drag net attacks against alleged small time would be users (and possibly those that just happened to be in the wrong place while the cops were dragging the bottom) to attempt to win political favor from voters while at the same time – when the opportunity arises – espousing their view that there are “too many prisoners” and we got to do “something” about it. Too bad that the something and the doing never occurs but the round ups and amassing of the caged continue.
Of those ensnared – some will likely beat the rap at the cost of legal defense, some will likely get assessed hefty fines and court fees that they can not afford and those on probation, parole or with a sheet could actually end up with some time from this. Those that get fined – some will likely be unable to pay and the fine can lead to a lose – lose – go to jail for contempt for not paying or do something to try to get the money to pay – get caught and go to jail for that.
Decarceration work is a national fight – we need to make demands for national shifts in policies – a statewide fight – we need to fight for sweeping initiatives like our NJ Decarceration Act and a local fight –where we need to hold local governments accountable for their “quality of life”,stop and frisk, broken-window – type policies (like Paterson’s loiteringordinance and now its enforcement).
It’s time for a full court press to DECARCERATE THE GARDEN STATE!
Join us! Decarc@DecarcerateNJ.org
Join us! Decarc@DecarcerateNJ.org