criminal justice system

~How Far Have We Come & And Where Are Blacks Going In America?~

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Eric Garner

A New York City grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the case of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old unarmed black man who died July 17 in a police choke-hold.

The grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was attempting to arrest Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

Amid crowds gathering tonight to protest in Manhattan and growing discord on social media about the decision, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department is opening a federal civil rights inquiry.

Holder, while urging calm in the aftermath of yet another controversial grand jury action, promised that the federal inquiry would be “independent, thorough and fair.”

President Obama said the grand jury decision will spark strong reaction from the public, especially in the wake of a similar decision in Missouri last week not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown.

The biggest crime in the U.S. criminal justice system is that it is a race-based institution where African-Americans are directly targeted and punished in a much more aggressive way than white people.

Saying the US criminal system is racist may be politically controversial in some circles. But the facts are overwhelming. No real debate about that. Below I set out numerous examples of these facts.

The question is – are these facts the mistakes of an otherwise good system, or are they evidence that the racist criminal justice system is working exactly as intended? Is the US criminal justice system operated to marginalize and control millions of African Americans?

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Information on race is available for each step of the criminal justice system – from the use of drugs, police stops, arrests, getting out on bail, legal representation, jury selection, trial, sentencing, prison, parole and freedom. Look what these facts show.

One. The US has seen a surge in arrests and putting people in jail over the last four decades. Most of the reason is the war on drugs. Yet whites and blacks engage in drug offenses, possession and sales, at roughly comparable rates – according to a report on race and drug enforcement published by Human Rights Watch in May 2008. While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.

Two. The police stop blacks and Latinos at rates that are much higher than whites. In New York City, where people of color make up about half of the population, 80% of the NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. When whites were stopped, only 8% were frisked. When blacks and Latinos are stopped 85% were frisked according to information provided by the NYPD. The same is true most other places as well. In a California study, the ACLU found blacks are three times more likely to be stopped than whites.

Three. Since 1970, drug arrests have skyrocketed rising from 320,000 to close to 1.6 million according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice.
African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rate for whites – according to a May 2009 report on disparity in drug arrests by Human Rights Watch.

Four. Once arrested, blacks are more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites. For example, the New York state division of criminal justice did a 1995 review of disparities in processing felony arrests and found that in some parts of New York blacks are 33% more likely to be detained awaiting felony trials than whites facing felony trials.

Five. Once arrested, 80% of the people in the criminal justice system get a public defender for their lawyer. Race plays a big role here as well. Stop in any urban courtroom and look a the color of the people who are waiting for public defenders. Despite often heroic efforts by public defenders the system gives them much more work and much less money than the prosecution. The American Bar Association, not a radical bunch, reviewed the US public defender system in 2004 and concluded “All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring…The fundamental right to a lawyer that America assumes applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the US.”

Six. African Americans are frequently illegally excluded from criminal jury service according to a June 2010 study released by the Equal Justice Initiative. For example in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from serving on death penalty cases.

Seven. Trials are rare. Only 3 to 5 percent of criminal cases go to trial – the rest are plea bargained. Most African Americans defendants never get a trial. Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people caught up in the system, as the American Bar Association points out, plead guilty even when innocent. Why? As one young man told me recently, “Who wouldn’t rather do three years for a crime they didn’t commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn’t do?”

Eight. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project reports African Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.

Nine. The longer the sentence, the more likely it is that non-white people will be the ones getting it. A July 2009 report by the Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of the people in the US with life sentences are non-white. In New York, it is 83%.

Ten. As a result, African Americans, who are 13% of the population and 14% of drug users, are not only 37% of the people arrested for drugs but 56% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. Marc Mauer May 2009 Congressional Testimony for The Sentencing Project.

Eleven. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concludes that the chance of a black male born in 2001 of going to jail is 32% or 1 in three. Latino males have a 17% chance and white males have a 6% chance. Thus black boys are five times and Latino boys nearly three times as likely as white boys to go to jail.

Twelve. So, while African American juvenile youth is but 16% of the population, they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons. 2009 Criminal Justice Primer, The Sentencing Project.

Thirteen. Remember that the US leads the world in putting our own people into jail and prison. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the US has five percent of the world’s population but a quarter of the world’s prisoners, over 2.3 million people behind bars, dwarfing other nations. The US rate of incarceration is five to eight times higher than other highly developed countries and black males are the largest percentage of inmates according to ABC News.

Fourteen. Even when released from prison, race continues to dominate. A study by Professor Devah Pager of the University of Wisconsin found that 17% of white job applicants with criminal records received call backs from employers while only 5% of black job applicants with criminal records received call backs. Race is so prominent in that study that whites with criminal records actually received better treatment than blacks without criminal records!

So, what conclusions do these facts lead to? The criminal justice system, from start to finish, is seriously racist.

Professor Michelle Alexander concludes that it is no coincidence that the criminal justice system ramped up its processing of African Americans just as the Jim Crow laws enforced since the age of slavery ended. Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sees these facts as evidence of the new way the US has decided to control African Americans – a racialized system of social control. The stigma of criminality functions in much the same way as Jim Crow – creating legal boundaries between them and us, allowing legal discrimination against them, removing the right to vote from millions, and essentially warehousing a disposable population of unwanted people. She calls it a new caste system.

Poor whites and people of other ethnicity are also subjected to this system of social control. Because if poor whites or others get out of line, they will be given the worst possible treatment, they will be treated just like poor blacks.

Other critics like Professor Dylan Rodriguez see the criminal justice system as a key part of what he calls the domestic war on the marginalized. Because of globalization, he argues in his book Forced Passages, there is an excess of people in the US and elsewhere. “These people”, whether they are in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or US jails and prisons, are not productive, are not needed, are not wanted and are not really entitled to the same human rights as the productive ones. They must be controlled and dominated for the safety of the productive. They must be intimidated into accepting their inferiority or they must be removed from the society of the productive.

This domestic war relies on the same technology that the US uses internationally. More and more we see the militarization of this country’s police. Likewise, the goals of the US justice system are the same as the US war on terror – domination and control by capture, immobilization, punishment and liquidation.

What to do?

Martin Luther King Jr., said we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
A radical approach to the US criminal justice system means we must go to the root of the problem. Not reform. Not better beds in better prisons. We are not called to only trim the leaves or prune the branches, but rip up this unjust system by its roots.

We are all entitled to safety. That is a human right everyone has a right to expect. But do we really think that continuing with a deeply racist system leading the world in incarcerating our children is making us safer?

It is time for every person interested in justice and safety to join in and dismantle this racist system. Should the US decriminalize drugs like marijuana? Should prisons be abolished? Should we expand the use of restorative justice? Can we create fair educational, medical and employment systems? All these questions and many more have to be seriously explored. Join a group like INCITE, Critical Resistance, the Center for Community Alternatives, Thousand Kites, or the California Prison Moratorium and work on it. As Professor Alexander says “Nothing short of a major social movement can dismantle this new caste system.”

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May and I are really concerned for our family and our community. I know my faith will see us through this American experience and we will have answers from on high on how to empower our grand children and God’s gifts of human beings in our life. We strive to know His will for our life to help others. Pray without ceasing for us and our world.

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We Have A Heart Full Of Dreams and A Mind With A Huge Vision

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False thinking and false ideologies, dressed in the most pleasing forms, quietly – almost without our knowing it – seek to reduce our moral defenses and to captivate our minds. They entice with bright promises of security, cradle-to-grave guarantees of many kinds.

Ezra Taft Benson

I have been impregnated with this vision to be apart of the struggle to reduce recidivism. Trying to gain leverage from the various circles of churches and people has been another area of agreement I have yet to convince them is of the greatest importance. While there is the reality of thinking that suggest this isn’t my problem and I am not interested in aiding anyone that made bad choices that propelled them to become a endangered species.

An exploding prison population is a concern not only for the criminal justice system, but, also for the communities where ex-offenders live after their release. Branded with the stigma of incarceration, ex-offenders struggle to find housing jobs and acceptance. Half of the ex-offenders released from prison in California are located in the harshest areas of depravity in every area of California .

At least 30,000 or more children have previously experienced or are currently living through often debilitating emotional, economic, and social consequences stemming from the arrest, detention and/or imprisonment of a parent. Second Chance Alliance (May & Aaron partners) seeks to mitigate these negative effects by assisting individuals and families whose lives are roiled by incarceration. We will advocate on their behalf, promoting innovative programs that demonstrate that over-reliance on imprisonment is a costly and counterproductive approach that fails to recognize or support the basic capacity of people to transform their lives.

May And Aaron( Second Chance Alliance) is promoting independent living for ex-offenders. It means taking risks and being allowed to succeed and fail on your own terms. It means participating in community life and pursuing activities of your own choosing. Independent living is knowing what choices are available, selecting what is right for you, and taking responsibility for your own actions. These best practices are what we used to overcome our position in life as disenfranchised educated individuals.

For people with disabilities affecting their ability to make complicated decisions or pursue complex activities, independent living means being as self-sufficient as possible. It means being able to exercise the greatest degree of choice in where you live, with whom you live, how to live, where you work, with whom you work and how to use your time.

For many years ex-offender strategies have been based largely on theoretical or ideological assumptions about “what works,” in the absence of objective, scientific evidence. Indeed, so many ill-conceived strategies were so often found to be ineffective, that many ex-offender prevention critics popularized the cynical view that “nothing works,” such a pessimistic view is no longer tenable. We are proof that these principles and core values work.

The mission of the Second Chance Alliance program is to serve the welfare of young adults and adults and their families within a sound frame work of public safety. Second Chance Alliance and its partners that we are still praying for are committed to providing the guidance, structure and services needed by every ex-offender under our supervision.

Through the partnership of the  Courts of California and the District’s  Police, we hope to:

1. Identify the needs of offenders regarding education, employment, parenting, job training and social skills:

2. Link offenders with caring and supportive adults capable of meeting those needs:

3. Offer the courts additional sanctions to deal more effectively with the issues of drugs and violence.

4. Teach offenders about the life-long consequences of violent and dangerous actions, instill a sense of empathy between offenders and those who have suffered the effects of violence.

5. Demonstrate the need for alternatives to violent or criminal behaviors, provide support and recognition to victims and their families and educate the community on the debilitating effects of violence.

Second Chance Alliance is going to be a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization, founded in 2013 and hope to be incorporated in 2014. Our mission is to aid the development of the holistic person by providing supportive services designed to enhance the physical, mental, spiritual, nutritional, social and educational well-being of families. The services provided will improve the quality of life in the community and promote healthier and happier individuals.

I thank you in advance for reviewing our request/supporting literature and anxiously look forward to establishing an ongoing collaboration with you. None of this will come to pass without you the partners we are praying will see the attractiveness of such a company.

LAND OF SECOND CHANCES?
Roughly one in five people in America have a criminal history.’ Over seven million people are under the active supervision of the criminal justice system.  Every year 650,000 people, enough to populate the City of Los Angelas, come out of jail or prison to face the challenge of re-entering society in a healthy, meaningful and productive capacity.There has been a five-fold increase in the number of incarcerated individuals over the last thirty years. Two parallel trends, beginning in the 1970s and continuing today, account for this increase. First, rehabilitation as a penological goal was “publicly and politically discredited.  Second, a stronger commitment to incarceration led to the rapid construction of new prisons and a move from indeterminate to determinate sentencing.’  Incarceration has grown from a penological tool applied only to “the most violent and incorrigible offenders” to one routinely affecting many persons.” Incarceration and other contact with the criminal justice system is no longer abnormal. Though it has become much more common, having a criminal history continues to mark individuals for treatment as second-class social, political and economic citizens. Collateral civil consequences of conviction, generated by structural inequality, social stigma, criminal and civil penalties, and improved information technology, combine to create ex-offenders’ second-class citizenship.

While serving time is not necessary to place individuals into the ex-offender class, the incarceration experience itself can profoundly dis-empower inmates beyond their actual sentence and warrants elaboration. To begin, many inmates enter correctional facilities with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems that often go untreated during incarceration.
The conditions of incarceration-inmate violence, sexual predation, correctional discipline and abuse, and enforced solitude in higher security facilities  or during administrative detention-can further degrade inmates’ mental health.

Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and tuberculosis also thrive in correctional facilities, infecting inmates at rates far higher
than the general population, and limiting ex-offenders’ ability to transition into society upon release. In addition to their damaging mental and physical health effects, penal facilities grossly fail to prepare inmates for re-entering society as stable
and productive citizens. Upon release, it is not unusual for a formerly incarcerated person to possess nothing more than a bus ticket and $125.8 The counties to which corrections departments assign inmates for parole are often host to impoverished communities offering little opportunity for gainful employment.

These conditions would be ones to which even the well-educated and well-connected would have difficulty adapting. Affluent college graduates would face awkward questions about unexplained gaps in their resumes. Time away from work would also force affluent college graduates to lose a step or two due to atrophied job skills and industry developments.
Ex-offenders, however, are rarely affluent college graduates. The latest comprehensive survey of state inmates, conducted in 1991, revealed that 65% of state prison inmates had not completed high school, and 53% earned less than $10,000 during the year prior to incarceration.” According to a study of California inmates, 50% are functionally illiterate and prior to incarceration 25% were unemployed. Furthermore, the prison vocational training programs that might give inmates a decent chance at securing
lawful employment have been cut back severely as more and more correctional resources have been diverted to expansion and construction of new jails and prisons.

Second Chance Alliance Development Corporation is going to be a not-for-profit organization that accepts donations which are tax-deductible. Contact us today and help us develop our community and educate our citizens. We will forever be grateful and you will be able to say you changed the world for the better. Are you mean because you have money? Am I mean because I need your help? The Ted talks video revealed some interesting concepts. Click the GofundMe insignia to view our vision of Second Chance Alliance development Corporation.

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Napolitano:How the Government Breaks the Law

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It should be against the law to break the law. Unfortunately, it is not. In early 21st-century America, a dirty little secret still exists among public officials, politicians, judges, prosecutors, and the police. The government – federal, state, and local – is not bound to obey its own laws. I know this sounds crazy, but too many cases prove it true. It should be a matter of grave concern for every American who prizes personal liberty.
When I became a judge in New Jersey, I had impeccable conservative Republican law-and-order credentials. When I left eight years later, I was a born-again individualist, after witnessing first-hand how the criminal justice system works to subvert and shred the Constitution. You think you’ve got rights that are guaranteed? Well, think again.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, particularly when it comes to the American criminal justice system. Nowhere else does the state have greater raw power over an individual’s life, liberty, and property. And nowhere else are our constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms under such a relentless, subtle, and ultimately devastating attack.

The deck is grossly stacked in the government’s favor. No wonder, as a recent New York magazine cover story put it, referring to the government’s long winning streaks in criminal trials, “The Defense Rests – Permanently.” No wonder that in 2003 fewer than 3 percent of federal indictments were tried; virtually all the rest of those charged pled guilty.

Being an American means having certain rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s what it has always meant, and that’s what it will continue to mean in the troubled times before us. Most of us take these guaranteed rights and liberties for granted. Most of us live comfortable lives that never bring us in conflict with the criminal justice system. But in many ways, that’s a bad thing, for if you had seen the system as I did, you would never take your guaranteed rights for granted again.

Breaking the Law to Enforce the Law:

As a judge, I once heard an infuriating case involving the owner of a small Italian restaurant, an immigrant from Italy who was visited by two well-dressed gentlemen who introduced themselves and asked for weekly payments of a hundred dollars. In return, they promised the restaurant owner that his garbage would be collected on time, he would not have any trouble with labor unions, he would not be the victim of any crime, and no competing restaurant would open in his neighborhood.He threw them out. They returned unannounced about six times and every time their demands increased, eventually to a thousand dollars a week, each. After he rebuffed that demand, they said they’d be back the following week with guns, and he’d better get one. Terrified of this threat, and afraid as most immigrants are to involve the police, the restaurant owner borrowed a friend’s gun.

When the two gentlemen returned and asked if he had a gun, the restaurant owner reached into a drawer, pulled out the gun, and pointed it at them. They immediately slapped handcuffs on him! Unbeknownst to him, they were New Jersey state troopers who were trying to either shake him down for money or coerce him into breaking the law.
His prosecution for carrying a gun was assigned to me, along with a similar case involving a nearby Italian bakery.

Before the cases began, I ordered the troopers to appear in my courtroom, to inquire if their schemes were self-directed or authorized by their supervisors. They refused to be so interrogated, whereupon the prosecutors asked me to dismiss both cases, which I did.

The bakery owner was so delighted, he proclaimed in a classic Sicilian accent: “The Judga, he can eata for free for the resta his life!” I never took the owner up on his offer, but I appreciated his sentiments.

Torture and Psychological Abuse

Political ambition can be a powerful motivating factor for government abuse of our rights. Consider one of the cases that helped propel Janet Reno to national stardom. In 1984, Reno faced a serious challenger in her bid for reelection as Dade County’s state attorney. In August of that year, Frank Fuster and his wife, Ileana Fuster, were arrested for sexually abusing more than 20 children who attended their home daycare center. Reno began the case by soliciting Laurie and Joe Braga, both billed as “child abuse experts” with no psychology training, to interview the children.

The Bragas used suggestive and misleading interview techniques to elicit false accusations from the children in the case. The children were brainwashed with fantasies of sexual abuse involving masks, snakes, drills, and other objects, and eventually came and other objects, and eventually came out of the interviews thinking they were victims.

Of all the children alleging sexual abuse against Fuster, Reno’s office only presented physical “evidence” that one child was abused. The prosecution invoked a laboratory test suggesting that a child had tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. However, the lab test that was performed is very unreliable and often gives false positives. Reno’s agents tested for the family of bacteria to which gonorrhea belongs rather than specifically for gonorrhea; other bacteria that could have caused the false positive are harmless and are frequently found to live in children. Of course, the state ordered the lab to destroy the evidence three days later, thereby preventing the defense from challenging the state’s “evidence.”
Recognizing that the case against Fuster was weak, Janet Reno’s final straw was to torture Ileana Fuster physically and mentally to the point where she could be coerced into implicating her husband.
Reno had Ileana isolated from the prison population and placed in solitary confinement, naked. Ileana described her treatment in a 1998 interview: “They would give me cold showers. Two people will hold me, run me under cold water, then throw me back in the cell naked with nothing, just a bare floor. And I used to be cold, real cold. I would have my periods and they would just wash me and throw me back into the cell.”

Late one night, the naked Ileana, according to her lawyer, received a visit in her darkened solitary cell from an intimidating 6-foot-2 woman. The woman told Ileana that she knew that Ileana and her husband were guilty. “But how can that be? We are innocent,” Ileana proclaimed. “Who are you?” “I’m Janet Reno,” the woman said. Ileana repeatedly told Reno that she was innocent, and Reno kept repeating, “I’m sorry, but you are not. You’re going to have to help us.” Reno made several more solitary, nightly visits to the naked Ileana, each time threatening Ileana that she would remain in prison for the rest of her life if she didn’t tell Reno what she wanted to hear.
Finally, Reno hired two psychiatrists from a company called Behavior Changers Inc., who met Ileana 34 times in a one-month period. These psychiatrists claimed to be able to help individuals “recover memories,” but their technique was simply to hypnotize Ileana so that she could be brainwashed into believing that Frank Fuster was a child molester. The coercion eventually worked: with the psychiatrists present and with Janet Reno squeezing her hand, Ileana implicated her husband.

Ileana’s trial testimony against her husband put the final nail in Frank Fuster’s coffin. Reno won the conviction, her reelection bid, her name in the newspaper headlines, and a stepping stone to a position as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. However, Ileana Fuster has repeatedly retracted her confession and testimony, swearing that she and Fuster never abused any of the children, and that her confession was the product of brainwashing.

Yet, thanks to Janet Reno, an innocent Fuster remains incarcerated for 165 years without the possibility of parole.

Messing with Texans
It is unfair, unwise, and un-American for police to break the law in order to enforce it. A corrupt police officer in Tulia, Texas, a small rural town of about five thousand people, engaged in what one commentator deemed an “ethnic cleansing of young male blacks.”

Thomas Coleman, an undercover narcotics officer, committed one of the worst police atrocities in recent years by arresting 46 people on July 23, 1999. Of those arrested, 39 were black, which amounts to approximately half of the town’s adult black population. Many others were involved in the family or personal relationships with black Americans in an otherwise overwhelmingly white community. Coleman’s previous law enforcement employers knew that Coleman himself had once been arrested for theft during an undercover operation, that he used racial epithets, and that he had a widespread reputation in the Texas law enforcement community as being unreliable and untrustworthy.

Nonetheless, on the basis of Coleman’s testimony, 38 individuals arrested on that day were found to be guilty of drug dealing. Some were sentenced to up to 90 years in prison! Some were coerced into accepting plea bargains under the threat of lengthy imprisonment.

What is most shocking is that the prosecution’s only evidence against these defendants was the testimony of Coleman, the dirty cop. The testimony was uncorroborated: no witnesses or other police officers could confirm that Coleman bought drugs from these defendants. And Coleman could not offer any audio or video surveillance verifying his undercover drug purchases. Not even fingerprint evidence was introduced.

Coleman’s testimony was based solely on notes he scribbled on his stomach and his leg. He did not keep a permanent notebook. At the time of their arrests, these 46 supposed drug dealers possessed no guns, no drugs, and no money. Coleman claimed to have purchased $20,000 worth of cocaine from these “dealers.” Furthermore, some of the individuals who were arrested established that they were miles away from Tulia that day. A few of them neither worked nor lived in Tulia. All of the people arrested that day were either convicted by juries or pleaded guilty. In 1999, Texas attorney general John Cornyn – now a U.S. senator – named Coleman the outstanding law enforcement officer of the year.
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The Tulia, Texas, debacle attracted national media attention and a coordinated, multidefendant habeas corpus campaign, coordinated by the NAACP and many law firms. About four years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals exonerated the victims of Coleman’s fraud. Coleman had previously acknowledged that the convictions were based on nothing more than his testimony. While he stated that he was “pretty sure” that all the defendants “deserved” to be behind bars, he admitted to several “mess ups” and stated that some of his own sworn testimony was “questionable.” It is a rare anomaly that police abuses such as that perpetrated in Tulia, Texas, are overturned. You can’t help but wonder how many wrongfully convicted defendants never had the luxury of seeing justice served. It shouldn’t be a luxury.

Coleman currently faces trial for perjury, but the buck does not stop at Thomas Coleman. Coleman’s activities were financed by the federal government’s war on drugs, as he was part of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force. The Department of Justice encourages officers like Coleman to rack up as many arrests as possible, since the money is allocated to the task forces on the basis of number of arrests, not convictions. Because there is no distinction between high-quality and low-level arrests, the federal government creates an incentive for officers like Coleman to engage in sloppy investigations against low-level offenders, and against the innocent.
Rights No More

The war on terrorism has increased the need to protect vigilantly our civil liberties. In July 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice held a celebration at which it handed out honors and praises to federal agents and lawyers involved in the prosecution of the Lackawanna Six.

It should have handed out indictments instead, because those prosecutors – or at least some of them – violated their oaths to uphold the Constitution in order to coerce six soccer-playing young men from Lackawanna, New York, with no criminal records, into accepting long jail terms, well out of proportion to their alleged crimes.
The six – all Arab Americans in their early 20s, five of whom were born here – were charged in federal court in the Western District of New York with providing aid and support to a terrorist group, before September 11, by attending camps in Afghanistan, learning about weapons, and listening to Muslim clerics preach hatred toward the United States.

They were charged with listening to others – including, in the case of one of them, Osama bin Laden himself – talk about causing America harm and with training for some undefined jihad, even though they said that once they arrived and met the people in the camps, they wanted nothing to do with it. The government actually told a federal judge that since the clerics being heard by the six were preaching violence, the six had committed crimes of violence.

The court rejected that argument out of hand. After reviewing the evidence against the six, the judge wrote that these defendants – like all defendants – are guaranteed due process, and that federal courts should do more than just pay lip service to the guarantees of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; they should enforce them.

“We must never adopt an ‘end justifies the means’ philosophy,” the judge wrote, “by claiming that our Constitutional and democratic principles must be temporarily furloughed or put on hold in cases involving alleged terrorism in order to preserve our democracy. To do so would result in victory for the terrorists.”
But within mere yards of where this fair judge sat when he wrote those words, the government lawyers who once swore to uphold the Constitution were plotting to put it on hold.

According to a lawyer for one of the six – himself a former federal prosecutor – the government lawyers implicitly threatened the six during plea negotiations that if they did not plead guilty, if they did not speak up as the government wished, if they did not cooperate in their own prosecutions, if they insisted on their due process rights, the government would declare them to be enemy combatants.

In that case, the so-called defenders of the Constitution threatened, the six would have no due process rights, no trial, no lawyers, no charges filed against them, and they would receive solitary confinement for life.
There is no reported case in American history in which a court allowed a defendant to be told that his insistence on due process would result, not in prosecution and conviction, but in punishment without trial. It has always been the case that when entering a guilty plea – and when negotiating for that plea – the defendant’s fears of punishment were limited to that which the law provides. Today, for the government to threaten that the punishment can be increased by fiat by the president after the crime has been committed is not only unconstitutional, it is tyrannical.

Liberty: Void Where Prohibited

It is only a warped view of American history, culture, and law that could seriously suggest that constitutional rights are discretionary – that any president can strip a person of his due process rights. Let’s be clear: There is no Supreme Court case supporting or authorizing presidential enhancement of punishment, and the Justice Department knows that.

So if it is constitutionally impossible for the government to strip a person of his due process rights, why did the lawyers for the Lackawanna Six let their clients plead guilty and accept six-to-nine-year jail terms? Because they knew that the government had suspended rights before and gotten away with it. They knew that the president had actually declared three people to be enemy combatants and kept them locked up without charges and away from their own lawyers. And before the Supreme Court stepped in, he appeared to be getting away with it.

Protecting Freedom

Ultimately, the fate of American liberty is in the hands of American voters. Though we are less free with every tick of the clock, most of us still believe that the government is supposed to serve the people – fairly, not selectively.

There are some surprisingly direct ways to address the excesses I’ve described. First, Congress and the state legislatures should enact legislation that simply requires the police, all other law enforcement personnel, and everyone who works for or is an agent of the government to be governed by, subject to, and required to comply with all the laws.

That would eliminate virtually all entrapment, and it would enhance respect for the law. If the police are required to obey the same laws as the rest of us, our respect for them and for the laws they enforce would dramatically increase, and their jobs would become easier. In short, it would be against the law to break the law.
Second, Congress and the state legislatures should make it easier to sue the federal and state governments for monetary damages when they violate our constitutional liberties.

The federal government and many states have rendered themselves immune (called “sovereign immunity”) from such lawsuits if the lawsuit attacks the exercise of discretion by government employees. That is nonsense. You can sue your neighbor for negligence if his car runs over your garden or your dog. You can sue your physician if he leaves a scalpel in your belly. You should be able to sue the local police, state police, and the FBI under the same legal theories if they torment you, prevent you from speaking freely, bribe witnesses to testify against you, steal your property, or break the law in order to convict you.

If the Constitution is enforced selectively, according to the contemporary wants and needs of the government, we will continue to see public trials in some cities and secret trials in others; free speech suppressed on inexplicable whims; police targeting the weak and killing the innocent; and government lying to its citizens, stealing their property, tricking them into criminal acts, bribing its witnesses against them, making a mockery of legal reasoning, and breaking the laws in order to enforce them.

This is not the type of government we, the people, have authorized to exist, and it is not the type of government that we should tolerate. We can do better. If government crimes are not checked, our Constitution will be meaningless, and our attempts to understand it, enforce it, and rely on it will be chaotic.