22 Feb 2008

Fear of the other

had this from Mumia, Thanks Mumia

The Costs of Crime War Myths
[col. writ. 2/14/08] (c) '08 Mumia Abu-Jamal

I caught a brief snippet of the news a few days ago, of Delaware Senator
Joseph Biden's apology for writing, introducing and sponsoring passage of a
1986 Crime Bill which heightened federal penalties for crack usage and

Sen. Biden said he recognized now that the bill was based on myth. Much
of it hyped by the daily press, which in turn fed the National phobia about
drugs, and pushed politicians to support more and more draconian methods of

While Biden should be applauded for his rare political honesty, one
can't help but wonder about the tens of thousands (if not more), who are still
stuck in what are essentially life bits, based on fear and myth.

For crack cocaine, despite its fearsome reputation, differs little from
powder cocaine, except in how the users and possessors of both are treated by
the law.

But fear and myth are the seed corn of American politics, and its prison
system. From the very inception of the American prison, foreigners,
activists and the poor were targeted for imprisonment. As researchers Laura Magnani
and Harmon L. Wray have written in their Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith
Paradigm For Our Failed Prison System (Minn., MN: Fortress Press, 2006):

In 1797, 70 percent of the prisoners in the Walnut
Street Jail in Philadelphia
were immigrants. The first line of action against the
waves of immigrants
who have come to the United States has always been the
criminal justice system.
Prison was used to make "gentlemen" out of offenders who
were largely
immigrants. In other words, our prison system was used
to acculturate these
people whose behavior was not accepted by the dominant
culture. Immigrants
who were active in the labor movement were specifically
targeted for criminal
charges. [p.108]

Magnani and Wray add that we saw similar usages in the state's repressive
machinery after the close of World War II, and more recently, in the wake of

Fear. Myth. Fear of the Other.

Sen. Biden, unfortunately, wasn't alone in the business of making laws
out of myth. Former US President William J. Clinton's Crime bill added some
60 offenses punishable by the death penalty: and his Prison Litigation Reform
act (PLRA), which essentially slammed the doors shut for millions of
prisoners who sought to file suits in Federal courts, was similarly based on myth.

But myths are powerful tools for politicians; the question becomes who
can successfully manipulate these myths to one's political advantage.

And, while a politician may get elected and even re-elected by such
methods, the lives of countless thousands are cheapened and wasted by such myths.

Myths, and press-hyped fear shouldn't be the sources of the law. Reason
should prevail.

But as long as we have the system we have, and the politicians we have,
thousands will suffer from myth and fear.

--(c) '08 maj

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