Monday November 18, 2013
The ACLU's new report, A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses, points to 3,278 people sentenced to life imprisonment for without parole for nonviolent offenses. And you need to read the whole thing.
A few victims of mandatory-minimum laws:
- Stephanie Yvette George, who was sentenced to life imprisonment at 23 because her boyfriend hid drugs in her attic.
- Clarence Aaron, sentenced to life at 23 for being present at a drug sale. He did not buy, sell, or manufacture the drugs, and both the buyer and seller have been released from prison after serving their sentences.
- Sharanda Purlette Jones, a single mother sentenced to life at 30 for asking a friend if he knew where drugs could be purchased.
79% of the offenders were sentenced for "drug-related" crimes. These crimes do not necessarily involve the sale, purchase, or manufacture of drugs.
The U.S. prison industry is already the largest in human history. As private prisons continue to lobby lawmakers for new contracts with higher minimum occupancy quotas, stories like these will become increasingly common.
This doesn't seem to bother us, as a country. Should it?
Related: Timeline of the War on Drugs
Thursday October 31, 2013
The Public Religion Research Institute has documented what many of us already suspected--that, PR to the contrary, the Tea Party is not a civil liberties movement. As MacKenzie Babb puts it:
[O]n the whole, Tea Party members are not libertarians ... About one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are libertarians. Twice as many Americans who identify with the Tea Party (52 percent) say they are a part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement.
The Tea Party is undeniably a state's rights movement, and it's a small-government movement in the sense that it supports lower taxes, but it has no serious underlying commitment to libertarian social policy. In fact, given the 2:1 ratio of Religious Right adherents to libertarians, it's a pretty safe bet that the Tea Party is against libertarian social policy.
What does this mean, in practice? Well, it means that I need to revise my understanding of what the Tea Party is. While I'd long suspected that it was a Republican anti-Obama movement, I had assumed the Ron Paul constituency held it together--and since Ron Paul was the Libertarian Party's 1988 presidential nominee, it would stand to reason that most Tea Party adherents would also identify as libertarians. That no longer appears to be the case. The Tea Party is more socially conservative than socially libertarian. It is, in other words, more Michele Bachmann's movement than Ron Paul's.
Related: What is a Libertarian?
Monday September 30, 2013
Angela Corey, the state prosecutor in charge of holding George Zimmerman accountable
for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin last year, didn't try very hard to obtain a conviction
Whether her office meant
to throw the case, as medical examiner Shiping Bao alleges in his lawsuit
, is a separate question--I'd have to be a mind-reader to know for sure--but it's clear that, at minimum, they were unmotivated. And that should come as no surprise; Corey is very active in the racially charged world of Florida Republican politics
, and convicting Zimmerman would have effectively destroyed her clout in those circles, if not her career (she's up for reelection in 2016).
But there are some people she does
feel comfortable throwing the book at--such as a young black mother named Marissa Alexander
, who was initially sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to ward off an abusive spouse. Last week, an appeals court gave her a new trial
after learning that the trial judge had instructed the jury to either convict her or prove her innocence on grounds of self-defense beyond
a reasonable doubt, which is not generally how criminal prosecutions are supposed to work. The trial judge's error isn't strictly the prosecutor's fault, but they used the same "beyond
a reasonable doubt" line in the closing argument, which suggests that both the prosecutor's office and trial judge were comfortable misrepresenting the content of Florida's self-defense statute to jurors (and, for reasons that are not immediately clear to me, misrepresented it in exactly the same way).
The U.S. Department of Justice still needs to take a hard look at the Sanford Police Department for sweeping the Trayvon Martin shooting under the rug--but while they're in the neighborhood, an aggressive investigation into Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit state prosecutors also seems to be in order.
Monday September 30, 2013
Left-wing and right-wing civil libertarians may not agree on most issues, but I don't think any of us would call Mike Bloomberg
a political role model.
If you're conservative, you're probably not pleased with his gun control initiatives
or his ridiculously paternalistic ban on sugary soft drinks
. And if you're progressive, you're probably not all that crazy about his defiantly racist
stop-and-frisk policy or his unhinged and suppressive
reaction to the Occupy movement.
There's an old saying to the effect that if both political parties are angry at you, you must be doing something right. Bloomberg disproves that adage. If this is the record of an efficient centrist, let's stick to partisan gridlock.