Nuestras Naciones, Nuestras Iglesias

A Radical Response to a Reactionary Situation: Jury Nullification a Campaign!

The prison industrial complex, together with the criminal justice system in our country, are perhaps the most inhumane, unjust and corrupt entities in our society. These injustices are exacerbated by the privatization of prisons which has resulted in intolerable conditions with little future prospects for Latino/African-American and low income White populations. The increased incarceration rates of undocumented immigrants provide further evidence of this reality. In 2005 there were approximately 280,000 undocumented immigrants held in detention centers throughout the United States, whereas by 2010 there were approximately 400,000 immigrant detainees. The rapid rise in the detention rates of undocumented individuals has unfortunately accelerated under a the current democratic administration, and is undoubtedly correlated with the role that private detention center lobbyists have played in advocating with local and federal legislators for more vigorous enforcement of immigration policies, including longer sentences. In addition the policy of partnership between federal, state and local enforcement agencies referred to as “Secure Communities” has added a whole new layer of abuses in dealing with undocumented people.

As a result of these profit-driven and draconian enforcement policies, Latinos, who comprise 16% of the U.S. population, now comprise 50.3% of the Federal Prison population. These stricter enforcement policies and longer sentences have been very profitable for privately operated prisons/detention centers. In NYC during 2010, 86% of the 50,383 people arrested for marijuana possession were either black or Hispanic, despite the fact that the use of narcotics occurs at equal rates proportionate to their populations by whites, blacks and Hispanics alike (as many studies have consistently shown). This begs the question: Why are the overwhelming numbers of arrests for drug violations people of color? The practice of “stop and frisk” in NYC has resulted in a high number of juvenile arrests for black and Latino youth, damaging their lives for years to come. These arrests often result in permanent criminal records for our young men and women of color, and ensuing repercussions with future financial aid, possible loss of child custody, loss of public housing/inability to obtain rental assistance and diminished professional/employment opportunities. In many regions of our country, Hispanics are less likely to have their cases dismissed than are whites.

This dire situation faced by communities of color leads me to advocate for a campaign, in support of “jury nullification,” a concept which is by no means new. White supremacists used this practice when refusing to convict white southerners who committed crimes against blacks and it continues to be used today to protect police officers who commit crimes against persons of color. This has been evident when the atrocities of police officers against persons of color are recorded and/or witnessed by many bystanders, yet the officers are still exonerated by juries of their white peers, who nullify the law and the reality of their guilt in perpetrating the atrocity. U.S. Presidents nullified jury verdicts many times throughout history. Lewis “Scooter” Libby former advisor to V. P. Dick Cheney was convicted of a felony by a jury of his peers and sentenced to a prison term of 30 months, but President George W. Bush commuted his sentence, which is legalized jury nullification, most often applied and utilized to benefit the rich and famous.

It is time that jurors of color or poor whites begin to refuse to convict any person of color or poor whites except for a violent crime against an oppressed person, such as rape or child sexual abuse. Our youth should be advised not to enter into any plea bargaining agreements for their cases, which would essentially bankrupt the judicial system with countless numbers of trials. Never again should a Latino/a, African-American or a low income White person agree to collude with a criminal justice system that is enslaving our people while making many rich investors even wealthier with each case of degradation afflicting our citizens of color.

Situational Sovereignty

I have always been an admirer of the notion of situation ethics, although like most other ideas about life, morality etc., it has its challenges/problems. This way of understanding ethical behavior is attractive to me because there are really no black and white situations in life, despite what some might have us believe. Although at first I was chagrined by President Obama completely ignoring the sovereignty of the Pakistani nation in order to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, eventually I became capable of seeing the benefits of having a more situational understanding of the sovereignty of nations. The safety and well-being of our people in the U.S. demands that we maintain flexibility and to become situational when we view/understand geo-political matters. This is a lesson and way of interpreting geo-political borders and notions of sovereignty that our Latin American sisters and brothers have been trying to teach us for many years, but we continuously fail to understand (do not get it). Sovereignty is sovereignty only until it impinges upon our families, our ability to be safe, our ability to feed our families, and the possibility of accessing life-saving health care. I am grateful that President Obama has learned the lesson so quickly. Just remember, Pres. Obama, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander. “

The Immorality of Internal versus External U.S. Policies!

Should I vote for a second term for president Obama based solely upon his policies towards U.S. citizens or should his policies towards non-U.S. citizens matter? I ask this question because the hypocrisy involved in the dichotomization of human rights and dignity for U.S. citizens, compared to the lack thereof for foreigners is simply, in my estimation, immoral and anti-Christian. The association of human rights/dignity with U.S. citizenship in our country has created a rationale and justification for the violation of human rights of so many human beings here among us and throughout the world. Within our geographical parameters we can see this dichotomy–lets call it the doctrine of superiority of U.S. citizens–in operation in Guantanamo and among the population of non-U.S. citizens (i.e. undocumented immigrants) living within our borders. Unfortunately, human rights have become associated primarily with citizenship. Basic human rights are no longer interpreted as the inalienable rights of all human beings, regardless of where they were born or raised. Therefore, if you are not a U.S. citizen you are not “worthy” of the right to have charges brought against you and to undergo due process. Instead, you can be held in prison indefinitely and without representation. In terms of their lack of rights, immigrants seem to be viewed and treated as enemy combatants. Since when have artificial geo-political borders determined the human dignity and rights of individuals? How else can we justify the deportation of parents by our government without considering the plight of children left behind? There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of children in school, literally abandoned with no one to pick them up at the end of the school day. They are then turned over to child protective service agencies throughout the United States. Countless families have been dismembered and destroyed, even while one spouse is a legal resident or U.S. citizen. How can President Obama now move on to expand the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against other countries not only for “protection against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,” but to include “values and commerce?” Should I and other people of faith solely be concerned with the implications of our policies on our lives as U. S. citizens or should we consider the humanity of others?

The Thin Line Between Modernity/Post modernity and So-Called “Primitivism”

Upon reading about the abhorrent intentional infecting of Guatemalan mentally ill patients with STDs by the Unites States Government during 1946-48, I was reminded of the deceptive and forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women that resulted in the sterilization of 1/3 of all Puerto Rican women by 1965. I could not help but wonder how deceptive is the notion that with the enlightenment and modernity the western world entered a much more humane and “civilized” reality. In fact, when it comes to nation-state brutality perpetrated against humanity, we have created much more sophisticated, creative, subtle, and misrecognized ways to kill and dehumanize people. In a recent class discussion a student made an insightful observation when discussing the work of anthropologist Renato Rosaldo and his experience with the Ilongots tribe of the northern Luzon, Philippines. Rosaldo’s inability to understand how they could justify the beheading of members of other tribes when they experienced the loss of a loved one from their own tribe, was the focus of the discussion. Rosaldo discovered that this was how the Ilongots let out their anger! To us Westerners that sounds so far-fetched and savage! Well the student pointed out that this scenario is not so unlike what we have done after 9/11. We have taken out our anger against people who had nothing to do with the deaths or destruction of those buildings and our military has slaughtered thousands of innocent people. I wonder if many in our country, like the Ilongots, have been placing their rage that springs forth from grief and fear, on people from different tribes (i.e. those building a religious center). How far have we truly advanced from the “brutal past?”

Urban Centers: Immigration and the New Frontier

How can it be that such virulent and harsh attitudes and treatment of newly arriving economic and political refugees/immigrants exist in a country that was founded by immigrants, who once felt free to occupy and take possessions of lands without reservations? Even more egregious and hypocritical is that our country, individuals and corporate entities continue to invade or cross into international and local sovereign borders without requesting permission and without the legal status to do so, but simply because of our might. Lets take a critical view of the perspective of President Barack Obama towards Pakistan, one that sounds eerily similar to that of former President Bush.

 President Obama has been asked if he believed that it was okay to ignore the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan in the pursuit of terrorists. To this he replied that if the intelligence was there and the security of the state was threatened, he considers it permissible to cross Pakistani borders without going through the UN or Pakistani government. This view seems to have the same logic of our former President George W. Bush with his doctrine of pre-emptive strike. I would submit that both of these positions of illegal border crossings can only be taken from a position of power. In other words the violation of sovereign borders seems to be a violation only for the powerless or those with lesser military might. As the saying goes: “Mas puede la razon del poder que el poder de la razon”(More powerful is the reason of power than the power of reason).

Our collective history as a nation indicates that every time a perceived lack of space has been an issue since early in the colonial period, expansionism has been sought and accomplished through varied means. During the mid 19th century with the theological and ideological underpinnings of “manifest destiny” the great expansion into western lands was completed and heralded as a triumph of civilization and God’s blessing. Obviously the carnage and human suffering that were caused were ignored or may have been simply considered collateral damage.

It seems to me that for over thirty years now we have entered a new expansionistic phase in our country; one led by the well-to-do, developers, their supporting political friends and higher educational institutions. This new expansionist agenda promises development, prosperity and modernization to the “underdeveloped urban centers” throughout our country. It is not surprising that real estate advertisements for Sunset Park, Brooklyn seeks “new pioneers.” Just like their predecessors  ideologues of expansionism during the mid 19th century, these new pioneers do not feel the need to respect the property of the urban dwellers, because like the expansionist before them they see the working class urbanites just like the earlier pioneers viewed the native peoples before them as ignorant and powerless roadblocks to progress. They also expand and try to move into urban territories, because like Bush and Obama they have the power to do so. The displacement of so many working class and poor people from
their homes and urban territories after they have sustained these geographical areas when urban centers were at one time considered undesirable is simply as immoral as what was done to the indigenous peoples.

My only hope is in the power of the powerless, in their ability to cross borders with or without permission. Can they be stopped? I doubt it. Can they be harassed? Yes! Can we ever suggest a moral equivalency between crossing a border for the safety and well being of your family with that of crossing of borders for oil and economic development profits? Only if we have become as immoral as a society that we can no longer distinguish evil from good. I think we need to reframe the whole discussion on immigration reform by admitting that border crossings are happening on all sides and that some crossings have greater moral standing than others. Urban dwellers might need to build a wall to keep all the greedy developers from trespassing into our territories.