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“Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters”: Something Much Bigger Than What One Police Officer Or One Prosecutor Does

Once again we find ourselves reckoning with the reality that we live in a country where justice is applied unequally. But the truth is – unequal justice is no justice as all. To keep our “eyes on the prize,” it might be helpful to step back and envision just what it is we mean by the word “justice.”

Back in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the memorial service for the four little girls who had died in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Imagine with me for a moment if he had said these words about the killing of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Tamir Rice.

And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

When Dr. King quoted the scripture that says “Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” he was referring to something much bigger than what one police officer or one prosecutor does. And it was something much more audacious than what happens in a court room.

Now don’t get me wrong. Dr. King said we should not “merely” be concerned about the murderers. Holding people accountable for their crimes is certainly a part of justice. But the truth is…he had a finger to point at all of us for our complicity.

Too many of us in this country have bought into the idea that jail = justice. If we just send the perpetrators to prison, we can wipe our hands clean and assume that justice has been done. That’s one of the reasons this country has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Yes, I know that its also because of the failed “war on drugs.” But that war was based on the idea that we can effectively deal with a problem by locking people up. So it is our addiction to prison as the solution that is at the root of the problem.

The idea that jail = justice is not something that is simply embraced by conservatives. It finds a home with liberals when we step away from what happens to the poor and start thinking about the crimes of the wealthy. For example, Bailey Miller writes: Can We Please Put Some Bankers in Jail Now? In it, Miller doesn’t grapple with what justice would mean for the activities that led to the Great Recession. The assumption seems to be that – until the bankers are put in jail – justice has not been served.

But Miller does point out that for then-Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (and eventually the Bush administration), the idea of justice went beyond sending the specific perpetrators to jail.

One clue might be the contents of a memo written by Holder in 1999, during his stint as deputy U.S. attorney general. The document, “Bringing Criminal Charges Against Corporations,” urged prosecutors to take into account “collateral consequences” when pursuing cases against companies, lest they topple and take the economy down with them. Holder also raised the possibility of deferring prosecution against corporations in an effort to spur greater cooperation and reforms…

I would suggest that Holder’s concept of justice is more in line with the one articulated by Dr. King. First of all, it took into consideration what justice would mean for all of the innocent people who would be impacted by the prosecution of a corporation. But secondly, more than sending perpetrators to jail, he had his eyes on reforming “the system, the way of life, the philosophy that produced” the crimes.

I’ll leave it to another day to discuss the role prisons should play in our search for justice. Suffice it to say, I agree with Al Giordano.

Prison should always be a last resort, and only for someone who will put others at risk with predatory behavior. It doesn’t work as a deterrent. As a punishment, it is barbaric. My concept of a just and better world has almost nobody in prison, not even people I hate or who have done bad things. The whole thing has to be rethought…

A re-thinking of what justice means would require us to consider the affirmative rather than simply the reactionary. One place to start might be with the words of Bryan Stevenson: “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. Its justice.” When I think about what that means, it gets the brain synapses going in a whole different direction than jail = justice. And I can begin to imagine what it would mean for justice to roll down like waters.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 28, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Eric Holder, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real Deadbeats”: You’re Not The Deadbeat. The Waltons Are The Deadbeats

If you are tired of your taxpayer dollars being used to pay Wal-Mart employees the money that the Waltons refuse to pay them, then you might be interested in the large Black Friday protests that are occurring at 1,600 Wal-Mart stores in 49 states throughout the nation right now.

“I have to depend on the government mostly,” says Fatmata Jabbie, a 21-year-old single mother of two who earns $8.40 an hour working at a Walmart in Alexandria, Virginia. She makes ends meet with food stamps, subsidized housing, and Medicaid. “Walmart should pay us $15 an hour and let us work full-time hours,” she says. “That would change our lives. That would change our whole path. I wouldn’t be dependent on government too much. I could buy clothes for my kids to wear.”

The nation’s largest employer, Walmart employs 1.4 million people, or 10 percent of all retail workers, and pulls in $16 billion in annual profits. Its largest stockholders—Christy, Jim, Alice, and S. Robson Walton—are the nation’s wealthiest family, collectively worth $145 billion. Yet the company is notorious for paying poverty wages and using part-time schedules to avoid offering workers benefits. Last year, a report commissioned by Congressional Democrats found that each Walmart store costs taxpayers between 900,000 and $1.75 million per year because so many employees are forced to turn to government aid.

This isn’t complicated. If you have a job at Wal-Mart and you still need Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized housing, then you aren’t just getting shafted by the Waltons. You’re also being paid your missing wages by the federal government. You’re not the deadbeat. The Waltons are the deadbeats.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal, The Washington Ponthly, November 28, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Minimum Wage, Walmart, Workers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Servants Are Not Like Us”: Ferguson, Immigration, And ‘Us Vs Them’

In his brilliant book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson describes the relationship between servants in mid-19th-century England and their masters/employers: “Perhaps the hardest part of the job was simply being attached to and dependent on people who didn’t think much of you….Servants constituted a class of humans whose existences were fundamentally devoted to making certain that another class of humans would find everything they desired within arm’s reach more or less the moment it occurred to them to desire it.” Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, once poor herself, noted, “The only people I really hate are servants. They are not really human beings at all.”

It strikes me that many reactions we’ve seen to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and President Obama’s recent executive action on Immigration are bound by a common attitude: ignorance, disregard, and dehumanization by a white majority of an underclass of people of color. The Caucasian (and rapidly shrinking) majority in America is largely ignorant of the lives led by African Americans and undocumented Hispanics. There seems to be a proactive disregard for knowing or caring about their lives and plight. And this ignorance and disregard are enabled through a dehumanizing of both groups—not overtly, of course (we at least know how not to sound racist)—and an attitude that all too often is in agreement with Millay’s sentiment that “they are not really human beings at all.”

Humankind has a really bad track record with those who are regarded as “other” by the majority. Perhaps the attitudes toward and treatment of those considered to be “other” have their roots in prehistory. When competing tribes of homo sapiens encountered one another, there was often survival payoff in regarding the opposing tribe as being utterly “other,” not like “us,” and to be resisted at all costs. Such sentiment is at the heart of every war.

There may even be a physiological basis to our apprehension about the “other.” After all, our bodies are hard wired to recognize the difference between “me” and “not me.” That is what allows us to recognize bacteria and other foreign matter in our bodies and answer with an aggressive immune system response which attacks and rids the body of these threats to our well-being.

The problem, of course, is that the “me vs. not me” response can serve us poorly in the more social sense. When we assign a primitive “not me” status to another individual or social group, it can—and does—take us down a destructive path. Taken to its logical conclusion, the “not me” judgment can lead us to regard other human beings as not human at all! And that is where the trouble really begins.

The disdain that masters once showed for their servants is today more apt to be played out systemically on a classification or group of people, rather than on individuals. “They” are not like “us.” I can remember during the Vietnam War, it was fairly common to hear Americans say about the Vietnamese (and Asians in general): “they just don’t value human life the way we do.” In other words, while we value our soldiers and remember that each one of them is a husband/son/father, the same humanity doesn’t apply to our enemies.

Broad generalizations are made about African-Americans, born out of attitudes from the days when slavery treated them as non-human chattel to be bought and sold, and Jim Crow laws perpetuated their status as underlings. Immigrants from Central America are characterized as brazen gold diggers who come here to “drop” their babies on American society and its social safety net.

Today’s hot debate about the fate of millions of undocumented people in America, most from countries to the south, belies a similar dehumanization. Opposition to the President’s executive order, and the resistance to dealing with immigration legislatively, both involve an inherent “they’re not like us” attitude. And yet, the yearning for a better life for oneself and one’s children—the overwhelming explanation given for coming north—is a sentiment known to every human being and family on earth. Yet, many do not find in this shared, human yearning a reason to regard immigrants as “like us” rather than “not like us.”

Oddly enough, many who hold this “not like us” attitude are religious people. And yet, a central teaching of the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is that all human beings are children of God, equal in value and worth to God. Isn’t it strange that religious people would embrace a “not like us” stance toward people of color, in direct and overt opposition to the teaching of their religions, all the while claiming to be faithful adherents?

Religion could—and should—be part of the solution here, rather than part of the problem. Significantly, many churches are actively and aggressively advocating for the justice and compassion for those in our midst who are undocumented. Some churches are serving as “sanctuary” for those fleeing injustice—an encouraging return to a time when church buildings were “safe houses” for those fleeing unjust treatment by the authorities.

It is significant that President Obama alluded to scripture in making his case for better treatment for the undocumented in his executive action. In his address, the President noted, “We were strangers once, too.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, Jews are reminded that they too were once treated as strangers and “the other,” enslaved by Egypt, and in return must welcome the stranger and treat them with compassion and respect. And with the exception of Native Americans, all of us here in the United States came here as immigrants, as the President reminded us (making the case for “us” over “not like us”).

The outraged reaction all across America to the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown is an appropriate response to being treated as “other,” and “not really human beings at all.” That kind of treatment leads to rage—at first, quietly borne internally, and eventually erupting in an outward expression of sheer “out-rage”; that is, an outward expression of the rage within the victim of such treatment.

White America would do well to focus not on the burning of a couple of cars and vandalism (no one is excusing such behavior), but on the reasons such rage is felt in the first place. This has long stopped being primarily about the death of an unarmed young black man in St. Louis. It is about the victimization of an entire group of people at the hands of a white majority who views them as “other” and “not really human beings at all” in a country that has broken its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

The secret to solving our immigration “problem,” as well as the “problems” posed by race in Ferguson and all across America, begins with overcoming our tendency to extrapolate from our obvious differences to a broader, more dangerous, “not like me” attitude that borders on complete dehumanization. Our wariness of difference and diversity all too often leads us into “not like me” thinking. Instead, we need to focus on the reality that although almost everyone is different from me in some respects, we remain far more alike than different.

At the end of the day, this is not “us versus them.” Because there is no “them.” Only “us.”

 

By: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC; The Daily Beast, November 27, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Immigration Reform, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gridlock Only Gets You So Far”: Voters Will Catch On To The Fact That The GOP Is Using Obstruction To Win Elections

There are three reasons that the Republicans pursue gridlock: ideological purity, hatred of President Barack Obama and because it helps them win elections. The first two they may be able to get over, but not the third.

Republicans discovered in 2010 that by opposing anything and everything of any consequence that Obama proposed, gridlock would ensue and the public’s anger and cynicism toward Washington would grow. Rallying around the tea party’s themes and the deep economic frustrations from the near depression, they swept out incumbent Democrats by the score.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell made it known that his number one goal was the defeat of Obama in 2012. That did not work out so well, but the Republicans quickly pivoted to 2014, where there was clearly fertile ground to elect more of their party. Part and parcel of this strategy was to not pass any meaningful legislation on immigration reform, job creation, education, tax reform or to improve America’s infrastructure and, finally, doing their very best to rally the base against anything having to do with government. The growing anger towards Washington and the party in control of the presidency – the Democrats – provided another windfall.

The difference now is that the anger which pollsters determined in 2010 created a majority for “standing up for principle” has now shifted to “it’s time to compromise, to get things done.” In short, voters want government to work and are sick and tired of the obstruction and gridlock.

Despite their efforts to shift blame, the Republicans now are boxed in, because it is pretty clear that they are the problem, not the party proposing solutions. Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, respected political analysts, have laid this out very clearly in their writings, including the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” So even if Republicans decide that the “shut the government” caucus led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz should be hidden away in the basement of the Capitol, they are still confronted with many political players who believe they were elected by being obstructionists.

The goal of the Democrats, then, should be to revise and reinvigorate the plans to legislate and solve America’s problems and convince the voters that the Congress, controlled by Republicans, is once again blocking progress. When the Republican leadership is convinced that gridlock is now a losing game politically, they may actually change their behavior. Their rigid ideology and their hatred for Obama will give way to a new political reality – the public is on to them and, much like President Harry Truman in 1948, the “do-nothing Congress” label will be laid at their feet.

The Republicans have to confront these past six years and change their behavior. They will only do so only if it becomes crystal clear that the public understands and is sick and tired of their embracing of Washington gridlock.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, November 26, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Gridlock, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Consequential And Far-Reaching”: Why The Supreme Court Should Be The Biggest Issue Of The 2016 Campaign

Supreme Court justice and pop culture icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg left the hospital yesterday after having a heart stent implanted and expects to be back at work Monday. Despite various health issues over the years, Ginsburg insists that she is still of sound body at age 81 (her mind isn’t in question) and has no plans to retire before the end of President Obama’s term to ensure a Democratic replacement. If she keeps to that pledge, and presuming there are no other retirements in the next two years, the makeup of the Supreme Court could be a bigger campaign issue in 2016 than ever before. It certainly ought to be.

Ordinarily, the Supreme Court is brought up almost as an afterthought in presidential campaigns. The potential for a swing in the court is used to motivate activists to volunteer and work hard, and the candidates usually have to answer a debate question or two about it, which they do in utterly predictable ways (“I’m just going to look for the best person for the job”). We don’t usually spend a great deal of time talking about what a change in the court is likely to mean. But the next president is highly likely to have the chance to engineer a swing in the court. The consequences for Americans’ lives will probably be more consequential and far-reaching than any other issue the candidates will be arguing about.

As much as we’ve debated Supreme Court cases in recent years, we haven’t given much attention to the idea of a shift in the court’s ideology because for so long the court has been essentially the same: divided 5-4, with conservatives having the advantage yet liberals winning the occasional significant victory when a swing justice moves to their side. And though a couple of recent confirmations have sparked controversy (Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor were both the target of failed attempts to derail their nominations), all of the retirements in the last three presidencies were of justices from the same general ideology as the sitting president. The last time a new justice was radically different from the outgoing one was when Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall — 23 years ago.

Whether a Democrat or a Republican wins in 2016, he or she may well have the chance to shift the court’s ideological balance. Ginsburg is the oldest justice at 81; Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 78, and Stephen Breyer is 76. If the right person is elected and the right justice retires, it could be an earthquake.

Consider this scenario: Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2017, and sometime later one of the conservative justices retires. Now there would be a liberal majority on the court, a complete transformation in its balance. A court that now consistently favors those with power, whether corporations or the government, would become much more likely to rule in favor of workers, criminal defendants and those with civil rights claims. Or alternately: The Republican nominee wins, and one of the liberal justices retires. With conservatives in control not by 5-4 but 6-3, there would be a cascade of even more conservative decisions. The overturning of Roe v. Wade would be just the beginning.

Look at what the Supreme Court has done recently. It gutted the Voting Rights Act, said that corporations could have religious beliefs, simultaneously upheld and hobbled the Affordable Care Act, struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act and moved toward legalizing same-sex marriage, all but outlawed affirmative action, gave corporations and wealthy individuals the ability to dominate elections and created an individual right to own guns — and that’s just in the last few years.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, there is probably no single issue you ought to be more concerned about in the 2016 campaign than what the court will look like after the next president gets the opportunity to make an appointment or two. The implications are enormous. It’s not too early to start considering them.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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