BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, anarchist, atheist who likes the letter A
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Cooperation is the Problem

February 26, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

When I speak to people about a cooperative society, I often get a lot of push back. I’m told that people are competitive. I’m given examples of scary people, violent people, sociopaths. I’m told that cooperative society is against human nature.

I generally respond by telling people there is plenty of scientific evidence out there that cooperation is actually what humans, and other species, do naturally. We wouldn’t have survived very long without cooperation and mutual aid.

Today, as I am serving jury duty, I am struck by how incredibly cooperative people are. Unfortunately, people are often cooperative with the wrong people and for the wrong reasons.

The jury receives its instructions almost entirely from the prosecutor’s office, the exception being the judge who swore us in. That judge, to his credit, told us that we did not work for the prosecutor’s office and said several times that we were a buffer between the state and the accused. But since that initial moment with the judge, all of our information has favored the prosecution and the jury wants to cooperate.

They tell us that our job is only to find probable cause and that a jury will later determine the facts. They don’t mention that a mere 3% of federal cases go to trial. They tell us that the defendant will be represented by counsel. They don’t mention that they aren’t entitled to good counsel. They tell us that we should not concern ourselves with what will happen to the person at the end of the line. I’m sure that’s what they told the person stamping transport documents in Nazi Germany too.

People are mostly inclined to go along. They are inclined to follow the rules (maybe especially in a place like DC where so many work for government or nonprofits or were class valedictorian).  But it isn’t just that they acquiesce to authority, it is that they also don’t want conflict. And this is how you have relatively decent people who have some doubts about the process, or at least feel uncomfortable with the system, going along with it.

People want to cooperate. They don’t want to be hated. They don’t want to make the nice lady in the prosecutor’s office job harder. They don’t want to hold everyone up from going to lunch because there is more to discuss. Fighting against the current – whether majority opinion or bureaucratic process – goes against most people’s desire to cooperate.

The only small positive thing I have to say is that every person who is non-cooperative makes it just a little harder for people to go along. The more we can tip the scales, the less it becomes about whether or not to cooperate and the more it becomes about who or what to cooperate with. The more it becomes about the difference between cooperation amongst equals and deference to authority. And then, maybe, we can start having some real talk.

A Little Help? Anarchist on Grand Jury Duty

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Marisa Tomei in My Cousin VinnyI’m on grand jury duty starting Monday and lasting five fucking weeks. This isn’t the first time I’ve been called for grand jury duty. The last time went like this.

My fellow grand jury members and I were put in a room. A jovial prosecutor explained a wee bit about what was going to happen. We would hear witnesses and then we would decide if there was enough evidence to send the accused to trial. Oh wait. Did I say witnesses? Sorry. I meant witness.

You see, I was on a “special” speedy grand jury where each case had only one witness – a cop. Almost all the cases were bullshit drug cases.  For example, a cop comes in and says he found some dude on the street with a crack pipe. My fellow grand jury members would raise their hands to say that they should go to trial. End of case. Next.

Presumably, they needed to institute this speedy process to go through all the black people they are picking up for weed.

In a grand jury, you don’t need to have a unanimous decision. It isn’t like I could vote no and nullify. So I just refused to participate. After a couple of days of me sitting in the hallway reading books and a mild interrogation by the lead prosecutor, they dismissed me.

But here we are again.

I’ve started to do a little grand jury research. But I could use some help. I’m specifically interested in information about how I can fuck up the process. So send it my way. If you don’t want to share it in a comment, email me at mel (at) broadsnark.com

Thanks!

Cops Break up NSA Spying Press Conference

June 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Change

I interrupt my regularly scheduled post to share what happened today at a tiny press conference and rally about the NSA spying.

Capital police decided that we did not have the proper permit to be there. The speakers kept speaking. The cops warned us that we would be arrested. They then started harassing media. Cameras started shutting down. Speakers started cutting their speeches short. After the second warning, as I don’t think anybody was prepared for arrest threats at a press conference, everyone split up so that no group was more than 25 people.

The last protest that I went to was in Guatemala. You know that Central American country that people refer to as “third world” or “developing.” The place many people only know about because of civil war and genocide. That place. Well, I imagine we had a permit for being in the central plaza. But I seriously doubt we had a permit to block the road and door in front of the presidential palace and then drum annoyingly.

Amazingly, nobody was threatened with arrest.

Aren’t you estadouidenses glad that you live in a country that is a beacon of freedom for the world?

I’m tempted to go into a long diatribe about the protest, prisons, criminalization, social control, and our shrinking spaces. But I’m going to have to save it for a day when I have more time. I will just say this.

There are risks involved with doing the right things, the necessary things. The system has been increasing those risks. I think that means we are all going to need to so some serious thinking about what risks we can take and then be willing to take them. Because their plan can backfire. They are counting on us to not make sacrifices. But if we all take the risks, thoughtful and strategic risks, then we can crash the justice system and all the other systems too.

If nothing else, we should all probably prepare to be arrested for pretty much anything that we do from now on – press conferences, walking downtown, doodling on a school desk,  wearing a thong bathing suit, asking to see a warrant, being too poor to pay a debt, your kid skipping school

I mean if we are going to get arrested for that kind of bullshit anyway, shouldn’t we at least make it worthwhile?

Thanks NRA

December 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

On Friday, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA held a press conference about the school shooting in Sandy Hook. Naturally, his suggestion was to put armed guards or police in every school. The liberal internets were immediately abuzz slamming one of their favorite bad guys. But nobody seemed to be mentioning the fact that this “crazy” idea from the “far right” NRA isn’t an idea at all. It’s already here.

“In 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of American students reported the presence of security guards or police officers, or both, in their schools,” says the NYT. But those students aren’t being protected by the “good guys” with guns. They are being abused.

A Houston cop broke a kids jaw on the school bus. Another Texas 12-year-old was arrested for spraying perfume. In Connecticut, a kid was tased for allegedly trying to steal a Jamaican patty in the lunchroom. A California 5-year-old was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer. (Yes. You read that correctly. A 5-year-old.) Another California child, this time 7, was pepper sprayed for climbing on a bookshelf. A New York 12-year-old was arrested for the terrible crime of doodling about loving her friends.

These are not isolated incidents. During a three month period in 2011, an average of 5 students per day were arrested in New York. The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing Birmingham schools for their consistent use of pepper spray on students. Civil rights attorneys are suing Meridian, Mississippi for abusing their students’ civil rights so egregiously that even our sad justice department had to intervene. And then, of course, there are all the students and parents who end up in truancy court.

I could spend the rest of my year finding and posting stories like this, despite that fact that most of the incidents don’t get media attention and juvenile cases are sealed for their “protection”. Not that getting rid of school police and security would make all the abuses go away. The Government Accountability Office found hundreds of cases of kids being abused or killed by school staff.

Some students are far more frequently targets for school cops and administrators. More than 90 percent of arrests in New York in the 2011-12 school year were of black and Latino students. All over the country, students of color and students with disabilities are arrested and disciplined at higher rates“Gay and transgender youth, particularly gender nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their heterosexual counterparts.” 

And if those kids are unlucky enough to end up in juvenile detention, the abuse will only get worse. 12 percent of youth in juvenile facilities say they have been sexually abused, most often by staff. They are also beaten up, denied access to medical care, denied education, put in restraints, locked in solitary for days or weeks at a time, and sometimes killed. This state by state summary is just the tip of the iceberg.

After everyone started commenting on the NRA press conference, I tweeted that New York Times article and said, “Hey buttheads: 68% of students already have sec guards or police in their schools and it is a fucking disaster”. It got more retweets than anything I’ve ever put out there – by a landslide. I followed that up with some of those incidents above and people even tweeted those.

The thing is, I tweet and blog about these things all the time. In fact, almost everything in this post I have put out before. Nobody pays any attention. It seems people only care about this stuff if the NRA says it is a good idea. So thanks, NRA. Perhaps if you had a press conference every day to suggest that we inundate schools with police, arrest all the students of color, and torture kids for not being perfectly socialized automatons then people would notice. Maybe they’d even want to do something about it.

Victims, Villains, and Heroes

September 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

Clint EastwoodWhen I first started delving into the drug war and criminal injustice system, I saw it as a process of dehumanization that I couldn’t ignore. While I had friends who were caught up in the system, as one of the least targeted people, the only connection I saw to my personal life was what I had learned as the grandkid of holocaust refugees.

People ask how atrocities could happen and a whole society be blind to them. While I don’t want to make comparisons between concentration camps and prisons, it isn’t hard for me to see how a whole country could have shut their eyes. People are tortured, raped, and murdered behind bars in this country now and most of us don’t even notice.

But the more I learned about how this particular dehumanization works, the more I realized the special role that I play in it. I’m the victim that excuses the violence.

If you have never read Ida B. Wells on lynchings, you need to. Despite the fact that the majority of black men who were lynched were not even accused of rape, the defenders of lynchings always used the rape of white women as their cover for murder – or as one Southern newspaper put it “the barbarism which preys upon weak and defenseless women.”

How ironic that white men used the rape of white women as their excuse. How many of us in the colonized world are a product of the rape of black and indigenous women by white men – what the Mexicans like to refer to as La Gran Chingada (the great rape)? But women of color are not generally the victims of our national narrative. They are mostly invisible.

As a white woman it is my job to be a victim to excuse the bloodthirst. The boxes people have tried to cram  me into my whole life – weakness, dependency, purity – are really just about playing that role. If you refuse to be defenseless. If you refuse to be appropriately dependent. If you refuse to be fallen. Then there is hell to pay. It isn’t just about control of women and their sexuality. It is that our role as victims is key in a narrative that holds up the authoritarian system.

If there are no victims and no villains then what need do we have for heroes? Our heroes are, of course, violent. Usually, they wear a uniform. Sometimes they might take it off for a night to do their lynchings undercover. But whether it is a cop or a soldier or a vigilante, we accept the armed and violent hero only because we believe in the helpless victim.

The racialized and genderized victim/villain/hero narrative undergirds everything. It is part of the lynchings of 100 years ago. It was there when we were accusing Chinese men of defiling white women to get opium laws passed. It is built into the criminal injustice system that targets men of color. It is part of every war that we fight, the way we use women as an excuse to bomb countries.

And what does it do to the people who are trying to live up to their role as hero by picking up those guns? In order to fit into that hero/man box you have to become a killer. You have to be broken down until whatever it is in you that recognizes another person’s humanity is gone. There is no coming back from that, certainly not for the thousands of soldiers who come back and kill themselves. Not likely for the prison guards either.

I’m not trying to infer equivalency between the experiences of someone sitting in solitary confinement and what is going through the head of the person who put them there. I’m not saying that a white woman’s fight to get out of the victim box can be compared to being lynched. The full weight of the system does not hit us all evenly.

Nor am I saying that people are never victimized, that some of the people in prison have not done horrible things. But most of those people have also been victims. We can all be victimized, villainous, or heroic. The system needs to wedge us into narrow categories in order to feed itself. It needs to provide a narrative that makes it seem like the armed thug’s job is something besides protecting the power and privilege of a handful of people.

We need to understand the connections. If we don’t, we will inevitably end up fighting against one part of the narrative while upholding another.

White women who fight the violence against them in a way that supports, rather than challenges, the racist criminal injustice system will never make life better for women. Black men who fight the criminal injustice system but hold a view that tries to put black women on the same purity pedestal that white women are chained to will never make life better for black people. Anti-authoritarians who don’t understand the role that racism and sexism play in upholding the state will never see it smashed.

For me, understanding the connections means being a really terrible victim. It means refusing the accept the villainization of men – especially men of color. It means refusing to accept the heroization of people with guns – even the ones I may have some sympathy for. It means focusing on the criminal injustice system and the war machine and any other victim/villain/hero narrative that keeps this state alive.

Because if we break those narratives we all get out of our boxes, real and metaphorical. We break the fear. We stop so much of the torture and violence and suffering.

No more victims. No more villains. No more heroes.

Obey or Pay…Unless

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day OffI came across this truancy scare video the other day. The video talks about how truancy leads to dropping out and how dropping out leads to a “lifelong inability to find gainful employment (and) make a meaningful life.” It has kids talking about how they were rebellious (the horror). They talk about abusing drugs, about violent boyfriends, about being homeless.

And then there is this asshat. She’s a clinical psychologist who is trying to scare twenty-somethings into getting serious about their lives. Apparently, if you don’t get your shit together by the time you are 25, you will be playing catch-up forever. And by playing catch-up she means that your career, house, spouse, children, dog, and picket fence will be a few pottery barn items short of perfect.

Did you get the message everyone? Are you clear on what success looks like? Are you fully convinced that education overcomes everything, as the woman in the truancy video claims? Oh, and about that 50% of recent grads who are unemployed or underemployed. No need to worry about that, says the asshat, you just focus on getting yourself into that other 50%. Fuck those other people.

We are inundated with messages every day about how we as individuals can end up on top (or at least not on the bottom) of this big, hot mess we are in. We are told that, if you do the right thing, you will be rewarded. Maybe, as in the case of that video, some people with their hearts in generally the right place will acknowledge that there are social circumstances that lead people to “end up” in the criminal (in)justice system.

People don’t just end up in prison. They are targeted. You will not be rewarded for doing the right thing. In fact, you will generally suffer for it. You might be rewarded for obeying the rules, depending on who you are. Or maybe, if you just stay in your place and don’t raise too much hell, people won’t actively go after you. You might be congratulated if you define success as some formerly truant kid going back to school with a desire to join the Coast Guard. (Hey, now instead of going to jail, that kid can spend his life putting drug runners and immigrants in prison. Success!)

As someone who made truancy into something of an art form, when I first watched the video I just wanted to write a post telling people how much bullshit school is and to fuck up all they want. I did not skip school because I was suffering outside of school. I skipped school because I was suffering in it. It was boring and authoritarian and I was not going to waste any more precious minutes of my life in that place. I don’t regret for one minute any day that I ditched for the beach. If I had to do it all over again, I would have been absent all 45 days that one quarter instead of just 43.

Despite skipping school, getting kicked out, and generally doing my best to fuck up as much as possible, I’m not in prison. I’ve managed to support myself since I was seventeen. I haven’t killed anybody or overdosed on heroin.

Do you know why I am not in prison? I’m not in prison because, when I was caught stealing or drinking or smoking or… (well let me keep some secrets), the police were usually not called. Even when they were called, I never saw the inside of a police station. At worst, they called my parents. Usually, they didn’t even do that.

These kids are not “ending up” in prison because they have a bad home life and are not staying in school. They are ending up in prison because the criminal (in)justice system targets them in ways that it never targeted me. Our schools are filled with cops just itching to get more fodder for the prisons/work camps/torture chambers. They are arresting kids for throwing paper airplanes and six-year-olds for tantrums.

Some of us can fuck up quite a bit and still make a reasonably comfortable life. Some of us can spend a few decades with whiskey and cocaine and still go to an ivy league school and become president. And some of us can get busted one time with a few joints and have the rest of our lives ruined for it.

The grand trick is that we pretend like there are rules that apply to everyone. But they don’t. Uber-privileged people ignore the rules and are fine. Marginalized people get fucked even when they obey them. The rest of us are impregnated with fear of fucking up and misdirected into pursuing some illusory goal of personal achievement instead of focusing on the obedience training system that funnels us into our proper place.

I can’t in good conscience tell people to just go forth and fuck up. Some of us don’t have the luxury. But don’t respond to the unemployability of dropouts with criminal records by making some half-assed attempt to get some of them back into the funnel. Question what the hell is going on with our criminal (in)justice system. Ask why people without alphabet soup at the end of their names can’t make a living. Get pissed that half the people with alphabet soup at the end of their names can’t even get work.

Disobey as much as you possibly can.  The rules were not made for your benefit.

Poor Man Can’t Eat, Rich Man Can’t Sleep

December 28, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I used to shoplift as a kid.  When I was about fourteen, I was busted with a purse full of makeup and banned from Rite Aid for life.

My father was unusually rational about the whole incident.  Clearly, all the crap I had in my room could not have been purchased with my babysitting money.  And my parents weren’t giving me money to buy clothes or makeup or anything else.  I don’t think my father had lost his business or had his stroke yet, but it was only a short time away.  I suspect he was feeling guilty or inadequate about not being a good “provider”.

So instead of my parent’s usual tirade and grounding my father simply explained to me that I was hurting people.  He said it probably didn’t seem like a bit of makeup from a huge company would even be noticed, but thousands of people doing what I did added up.  And that company, he said, wasn’t going to let their profits suffer.  They were going to raise prices or lower wages to make up for it.

I never wanted to hurt anyone.  And I never stole anything again.  But if I were starving and couldn’t see another option, I would steal.

I confess my past (and possible future) thievery because of a post last week on The Freethinker.  Apparently, a Yorkshire vicar told people that they should shoplift if they need to. A couple of us godless actually had to side with the vicar on this one.  Not surprisingly, others objected.  One commenter, Ash Walsh, pointed out that

Criminality only entrenches poverty. If a Thief gets a Criminal Record, the Thief will find it a lot more difficult to get a job thus starting a poverty cycle that is difficult to break out of.

That is absolutely true.  But why do we place the blame squarely, and solely, at the feet of the thief?  Doesn’t the community also bear some responsibility?  If the thief was stealing out of necessity, the community failed in providing its members with the things they need to survive. If the thief (like my fourteen-year-old self) just didn’t see the harm they were doing, then the community failed to educate them.   If the thief didn’t care that they were doing harm, then the community failed to teach them morals.

And if our system of retribution ensures that a thief has virtually no opportunity to turn their life around, then the community has failed yet again.

I was lucky.  My father felt some responsibility for what had happened and so reacted with compassion instead of just harsh judgment.  And it wasn’t just him.  Had the manager of that Rite Aid called the cops, I might have ended up in juvi instead of home with my parents.  Things could have gone very badly.

But all too often thieves receive no compassion at all.  They are dehumanized and vilified to the point that we accept whatever is done to them.  We don’t blink when someone gets a life sentence for theft or shot by people “protecting” their property from “looters” after Katrina.

We live in secure buildings in gated communities with alarms and trained dogs.  We authorize armed guards, police, and mercenaries to shoot anyone who breaches security.  We are terrified of being robbed by our fellow citizens.  And all the while, the biggest thefts are happening behind the scenes and are perfectly legal.  Where’s the guard to protect your pension from Goldman Sachs?

Not long ago, a would be robber in Long Island was thwarted by the owner of the store he was trying to rob.  The store owner showed him some compassion, gave him some money and bread, and didn’t call the police.  Months later, the robber repaid the store owner and sent the man a letter saying that he got his life back together.

I’ll bet they both ate that day and slept really well that night.

Carnival of the Godless

August 24, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc, Religion

Hello all.  There is a new Carnival of the Godless up over at Radical Atheist.

I particularly enjoyed reading Slaughter a Cow Every 28 Days: How the Bible Ruined Western Society over at Greg Laden’s blog.  My favorite quote:

We don’t admit the possibility that the main difference between a criminal and a non criminal is not what they did but what you as an observer, friend, relative, cop, employer, or whatever happen to know about the person.

Also, the Atheist Blogger links to a hilarious video of flying rabbis.  It is not to be missed.

Should Drug Users Lose Their Right to Vote?

April 06, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Politics

More than five million Americans could not vote in the last election because they were convicted of a felony. Only two states allow felons to vote. In many states, former felons are barred permanently from voting. In others, felons can get their voting rights back, but the process is so arduous that few do.

I doubt many people are losing sleep over whether Charles Manson can vote. I’m guessing many people would approve of the idea that criminals lose their rights as citizens after acting against the citizenry. But we aren’t talking about Charles Manson here. More than half of federal prisoners are in prison for drug crimes.

Let’s take a state like California. California has the nations largest prison population and an overcrowding problem so bad that federal judges have ordered the prison population decreased. While Prop 36 has caused a decrease in the percentage of prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, they still constitute more than 20% of the prison population in California.

Recent polling shows that more than 50% of California voters are in favor of marijuana legalization. A vote would be close. All those people barred from voting, the very people who lost their freedom and civil rights due to drug prohibition, could tip the scales.

Drug laws have been broken at least once by 40% of Americans. If that many people are breaking the law, there is something wrong with the law. Would we strip 40% of Americans of their voting rights? What kind of democracy is that?

Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced a House bill intended to restore voting rights to all ex felons within thirty days of being released from prison. The bill is languishing in committee right now. If your representative is on the House Committee on the Judiciary, call and tell them you want to see that bill move.

Portugal Proves that Decriminalization Does Not Increase Drug Problems

April 03, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drug use. Much like in the U.S., the naysayers claimed that decriminalization would lead to increased drug use and drug tourism. Glenn Greenwald went to Portugal to find out if the dire predictions were true. They weren’t.

Portugal in the 1990s was experiencing an increase in drug abuse and related problems. A commission was convened to decide what to do about it. Drug legalization was taken off the table because international treaties force countries to keep drugs illegal. Barring legalization, the commission was tasked with looking at the evidence and making a rational decision. The commission decided that the best way to get the drug problem under control was decriminalization.

They had identified two obstacles that decriminalization would help them to overcome. The first was that criminalization made people hesitant to go to the state for help with their drug problem. Fear of jail, a criminal record, or simple stigma kept people away. By removing those obstacles, they reasoned, people would be more willing to get help.

Additionally, they were pouring money into the criminal justice system to prosecute drug users. Portugal, as one of the poorest European countries, didn’t have money to waste. Decriminalization freed up resources to be used for treatment and education instead of for the criminal justice system.

As Greenwald pointed out in his conference at the Cato Institute on Friday, supporters of prohibition use scare tactics to justify their position. They will grudgingly acknowledge that our efforts have not resulted in less drug abuse or related problems, but they always claim that legalization or decriminalization would make matters worse. For Greenwald, the central question is “is this assumption accurate.”

All the evidence from Portugal shows that it is not. According to his report Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, drug use in the 13 – 15 year old and 16 – 18 year old groups has decreased for most drugs. Newly reported HIV and AIDS cases related to drug use have declined. Drug related deaths have declined. In fact, “in virtually every category of any significance, Portugal, since decriminalization, has outperformed the vast majority of other states that continue to adhere to a criminalization regime.”

Greenwald sent a draft of his report to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy asking why, given higher drug use here than in Portugal, we continue to pursue criminalization. They didn’t respond.