Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Culture of Not Snitching

So Police Chief Weis is lamenting the "code of silence" in the community, and that there is not a "sense of community and civic urgency" to share information with police, as an important reason behind the lack of quick resolution to crimes, particularly Fenger High beatings. Of course people in the community ask the critical question, "what have the police done to earn our trust?".

Shuffling officers into and out of impoverished neighborhoods, where their only focus is on maintaining the peace, often by any means necessary, does practically nothing to develop the kind of relationship that engenders trust and confidence from the people in those communities. And then you add to that the infamous "Blue line" of silence . . . you could almost say the police invented the code of silence. Certainly they enforce that code more tightly than any other structured organization.

As Chief Weis has settled into his position I've noticed him becoming the "Apologist in Chief" as much as anything. Only the most egregious police offense has caused him to sway from that position . . . oh, egregious and caught on tape. I've known enough police in my life to know that many are dedicated to their jobs, and the idea of service to the community. I also know that the vast majority of good police get tainted by the odor of corruption and brutality of the few, when they excuse it and fail to report it. The fact that the Chicago Police Department refuses to release reports of officers abuse accusations, is a testament to the effectiveness of the blue wall of silence.

Until a noticeable and obvious shift in community policing standards and tactics is implemented, one where community relationships are viewed as important and measurable components on an officer's career track record, I'm afraid people will continue to view them with understandable suspicion and often outright disdain. I wish this were not the case, but wishing won't make it go away . . . and neither will words without action.

What do you think?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Back to Basics

Have you ever thought of taking yourself, and even your family "off the grid"? Essentially planting yourself in a rural location far removed from cell towers, electrical towers . . . even water towers. And teaching yourself to live from the land to the extent possible. Well Brother Fred Carter and his family are doing just that in a rural township just outside of Chicago - Hopkins Park, and I had the pleasure of visiting them last week in my work with the Positive Anti-Crime Thrust (PACT).

The Black Oak Center for Renewable Sustainable Living is a living example of of how to make efficient use of our limited resources, and more importantly a place of community values and educational opportunity. The vision that guides their work:
Our vision is to create safe, healing spaces founded on the principles of environmental stewardship and social equality. A place where community can learn skills required to master sustainability to lead a successful transition to a post carbon world. From this, our communities, families, and children will be resilient. Hence, they will be fully capable of being lifeboats thriving during an energy descent.
They have been conducting retreats and hands-on educational experiences for children from Chicago, and have a curriculum that includes Sustainable Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Sustainable Building. In addition they have been instrumental in developing the African American Farmers Co-op, which supports farmers markets throughout Chicago.

One of the projects PACT is working on involves developing a fulfillment capacity for farmers markets that would provide sales and distribution jobs for ex-offenders. The fact is that the African American community suffers from a syndrome commonly referred to as "Food Deserts". This results when there are no opportunities to purchase fresh produce within a given geography (all Micky D's and Liquor stores). One partial solution to that problem is the development and support of farmers markets (my church, Trinity UCC began this year putting on a market every Saturday).

Please consider helping out Black Oaks with a donation this holiday season. It's a great opportunity to support an effort that is unique and forward thinking.

I'd love to hear what you think.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Off With their Heads

A couple of death sentence cases have been in the news lately, one regarding the execution of John Allen Muhammad — the D.C. Sniper, and the other talking about the death sentence given Brian Dugan by a DuPage County jury for the 1983 rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. A Facebook friend, and a preacher and teacher I both appreciate and respect, expressed her gladness that Mr. Muhammed was dead. That was quite surprising and made me think, but I didn't respond . . . until now.

I attended the annual awards dinner of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty last night and was struck by the contrast between this groups actions and my FB friends statement. Their position is No Death Penalty . . . period. No matter what you did, how you did it or even how much you enjoyed it, or if you feel sorry about it or not. Now I'm sure my Rev. friend was speaking from a purely emotional sense, but it still made me consider my true feelings on the subject, and challenge myself to understand why I agree with the CEDP.

My opposition is based on the following:
  1. The state simply should not be in the death business. Executioner is not a job description we should be posting as an open position.
  2. While we have the ability to take a life, we do not have the ability to give it back.
  3. The death penalty is given more often to people of color and the poor, not based on the severity of the crime . . ..
  4. Our criminal justice system has so many flaws, from forced confessions, to police torture, from sloppy forensics to DA's that are only out to make a name for themselves, and
  5. Perhaps the only idea that matters to most folks, it is too expensive. In Texas they estimate it costs $2.2M to execute a prisoner after all is said and done (trials, appeals, etc.) enough to keep the inmate in jail for over 100 years!!!!
In the end, the death penalty serves no one except those seeking revenge. It isn't cheap for the government, it isn't a deterent and isn't reversible.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

" . . . together, the ants ate the elephant."

I came across this quote as I visited the web site of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, to make plans to attend their 2010 Clergy and Lay Leadership conference a couple of weeks ago, ". . . together, the ants ate the elephant." It struck me, and has stuck with me since.

Immediately I performed a Google search trying to locate the source, which the best I could find was simply an African proverb. In some places the quote was led with "working", as in "working together, . . .". I've since featured it on my Facebook status, and now include it in my email signature. Why? Well, I'm glad I asked. :)

For those of us that have decided to focus time and energy on bringing the basic concepts of fairness, justice, equality, and other high-minded moral constructs such as these to the underprivileged and oppressed, the work often seems completely overwhelming. The battlefield is immense, and it is easy to think, as many do, that one person cannot make a difference, or even more damaging, "I can't make a difference". Everyone can identify examples of one person making a difference, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc., but of course few of us have egos large enough to see ourselves in that esteemed company.

While, yes, there is a place for the force of powerful personalities in moving societies to great change this quote reminds us that the key to making change happen is in our working together toward a common goal. Having a great leader of a movement is important, but only if there is a critical mass of people working together to get the work done. Do we need leaders and spokespersons? Yes. But just as importantly we need people like you and me!

One story I read associated with this quote talked about the ants being particularly peeved that the elephant kept walking all over them, taking lives and destroying homes. One ant eventually began discussing retaliation. Not an easy argument, but eventually the ants agreed to a plan. They would dig a series of tunnels in one spot along the path that the elephant took to the watering hole each day, so that his weight would cause the tunnels to collapse, and trap the elephant. Each ant had a part to play in the plan, and once completed the entire village stood wait for the elephant to arrive. Well, the end is no mystery, the elephant collapsed the tunnels and was trapped, and "together, the ants ate the elephant".

There are many elephants out there. And they are stomping all over the rights of people, humanitarian and otherwise. Luckily there are also many, many ants that if only they/we work together, can bring them down.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Juvenile Life Without Parole - Part Deux

I expect that until this issue is resolved I will return to it on this blog. The video below is from a young lady that was sentenced as a 16 year old for a murder (she's now 29). There is no excuse for murder, no one is arguing that. What the discussion centers around is if a child should be considered an adult by the court system, even though medical evidence tells us that the brain is not fully developed in a child or teenager. Sarah Kruzan, one of the many prisoners in the U.S. (one of the only countries in the world that continues this sentencing practice) sentenced to Life Without Parole as a child tells her story in the video below.

Should Sarah be released? I have no idea. But, what I do know is that at some point, if we are as civilized as we claim to be, one day she will be able to make her case before a parole board that is charged with determining whether or not she has reformed herself.

That's what I think.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Plight of Ex-Offenders

A significant result of the War on Drugs, and the reality of that community crushing propaganda filled effort, has been the declaration of war on Americans that use drugs. The statistics are staggering with America's incarcerated population growing over 300% since the "declaration", and of course most of this growth has been disproportionaly black and brown citizens. Not because they use far more drugs, but primarily because they are easier targets, and the system is harsher in their sentencing.

So now we have huge populations of ex-offenders returning to those communities and our choice as a society is whether they return to resources that are available to help them become productive citizens, or do we abandon them to become community predators.

Yesterday my Prison Ministry at Trinity United Church of Christ held our first Life Expo for "Returning Citizens". This event was a one-stop-shop opportunity for men and women to connect with resources that might ease their reintegration efforts, from veteran's affairs and expungement support from the Wayne County Bar, to housing, education and entrepreneurial training opportunities.

Between the State of Illinois and the Federal Government there are grants made available to agencies working on this issue, but there are still tremendous roadblocks in the way. In Illinois for instance there are restrictions on felons being eligible for licences for a variety of occupations . . . some make sense, others may make you wonder what the hell were our policy makers thinking. For example, felons can not hold the following jobs:
  1. Architect
  2. Athletic Trainer
  3. Auctioneer
  4. Barber (as the kids say WTF)
  5. Boxer
  6. CPA (well, ok I might buy that)
  7. Cosmetologist
  8. Nail Technician (really . . . nail technician???)
  9. Embalmer
  10. Funeral Director
  11. Farm Labor Contractor
And almost 30 more!

In the end, if we are serious about reentry and providing a second chance for folks that have served their time, we need to be serious about bring some common sense to the issue of licensing restrictions on felons.

What do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Drug Test Welfare Recpients?

The question was posed to me on one of the Facebook polls this morning: "Should you have to take a drug test for welfare?"

An initial emotional response can easily be "yes". If the government is going to assist individuals surely we have the right to know that they are drug free, that our tax dollars are not being used to support bad behavior. This type of policy would work to reduce the welfare rolls and our subsequent wasted tax dollars. Ideally it would force welfare moms to clean up their act.

Or, just maybe, this type of policy would increase the misery of a population that is obviously struggling to meet the day to day sustenance requirements of life. Perhaps this would result in the perpetuation through the generations of this poverty and helplessness as the children in these households also suffer the consequences of their parents' bad decisions.

Of course, if drug testing was used as an intervention tool, one that led to treatment for the drug problem, that would be entirely different, and from my view positive. As a society we need to move away from the punitive nature of drug policy, toward one based on the recognition that it is a medical issue. There is a plethora of medical research that lends support to this argument and we need to work to have the scientific evidence hold sway over the propaganda from the absolutely failed policies of the "war on drugs".

In the end a recognition of the drug problem as a medical issue will save thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans from a life of misery on the fringes of society, from leaving families and children in their destructive wakes, and reduce our prison populations and the increasing percentage of tax dollars going to run those prisons. This seems like a left/right win-win if I ever saw one.

What do you think?

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's compassion got to do with it?

If I were not such an optimist, I would just give up discussing Health Care Reform (no, really, I was a member of Optimist International for many years when I lived in Detroit).

One of my Facebook friends mentioned that he saw a lack of compassion among his "right-leaning" friends, specifically involving the health care reform debate, speculating that only 10% of this set of friends had "compassion". What was interesting was that they quickly rose up . . . and proved his point. The discussion quickly ventured off into the various propaganda espoused by opponents, "what has the government done for me?", or "has the government every created a program that worked?", and forgetting the question of compassion as it relates to this issue.

One definition I found for compassion: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. For me, that does it. It's like empathy with an action orientation. Romans 6:1-2, the Message Bible translation, reads as follows:
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, "How can I help?"
If compassion is a characteristic you feel is part of your personality . . . an aspect of who you are, how could you not be willing to support health care for everyone?

I'm not trying to preach, but I am confused by the vehemence of the opposition.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Positive Anti-Crime Thrust, Inc - New Web Site

I've just finished launching a new web site for the Positive Anti-Crime Thrust (PACT) a project that is long over due (I'm not going to say how long, but my good friend and mentor in criminal justice issues HS knows). This is just the incentive I need to stay current with my blog (at least weekly is my goal).
I know that for now I am just talking to myself, but hopefully with the launch of the new PACT site a few folks will be tempted to see what I've got to say here.
Two additional things for today:
  • My Prison Ministry at Trinity UCC held our 15th annual clothing giveaway on Saturday September 5th. It was a lot of work but we must have received 150 bags of useful clothes, and many more that were on hangers. It was a wonderful example of community effort and the donors provided an abundance that was a blessing to those in need. Pictured below is the morning organizing (pre shoppers).
  • On September 15th the Trinity UCC Prison Ministry will be hosting an Expo for Returning Citizens. This event will provide a "one stop shop" of sorts where resources from housing and employment, to health and counseling will be available for those who need to make contact with sevices vital to keeping them on a path to good citizenship. It is our first time trying something like this, so if you pray, please includes this program in your prayers.
Until next time . . .


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Juvenile Life Without Parole - JLWOP

OK, one more time I'm going to try to be more diligent with the blog.

One of the issues we are beginning to address in my prison ministry is the sentencing of children from 13-17 to life in prison with no possibility of parole. As you might imagine, I think this is a ludicrous situation, but I'm not alone in my line of thinking - the United States is currently the only country in the world that allows this sentence to be rendered.

There are approximately 2,500 of these individuals. While no one is asking for a blanket pardon for these individuals, many of us do believe that these individuals deserve to have a chance to have their cases reviewed by a parole board and considered for parole. Imagine a 14 year old serving as a lookout when a murder was committed. Of course there is no excuse for the conduct, and certainly even children should be held responsible for their actions, but are we to assume that that child, now a 45 year man is the same person. After 30 years in prison, literally growing up there, should he still carry the full burden of guilt from the awful decision he made as a child.

Well, I server a God that allows 2nd, 3rd . . . Nth chances and I believe we can be rational enough to allow a review of a childhood sentence to asertain if a person is fit to be given a chance to re-enter society.

What do you think?