Ian Manuel | I Survived 18 Years in Solitary Confinement – The New York Times

Mr. Manuel is an author, activist and poet. When he was 14 years old, he was sentenced to life in prison with no parole and spent 18 years in solitary confinement. His forthcoming memoir, “My Time Will Come,” details these experiences.

“Imagine living alone in a room the size of a freight elevator for almost two decades.

As a 15-year-old, I was condemned to long-term solitary confinement in the Florida prison system, which ultimately lasted for 18 consecutive years. From 1992 to 2010. From age 15 to 33. From the end of the George H.W. Bush administration to the beginnings of the Obama era.

For 18 years I didn’t have a window in my room to distract myself from the intensity of my confinement. I wasn’t permitted to talk to my fellow prisoners or even to myself. I didn’t have healthy, nutritious food; I was given just enough to not die.

These circumstances made me think about how I ended up in solitary confinement.

In the summer of 1990, shortly after finishing seventh grade, I was directed by a few older kids to commit a robbery. During the botched attempt, I shot a woman. She suffered serious injuries to her jaw and mouth but survived. It was reckless and foolish on my part, the act of a 13-year-old in crisis, and I’m simply grateful no one died.

For this I was arrested and charged as an adult with armed robbery and attempted murder.

My court-appointed lawyer advised me to plead guilty, telling me that the maximum sentence would be 15 years. So I did. But my sentence wasn’t 15 years — it was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”

Mark Bittman | Black Farmers May Finally Get the Help They Deserve – The New York Times

Mr. Bittman, a former food columnist for The Times, is the author, most recently, of “Animal, Vegetable, Junk.”

“Many white people have become aware in the last year of the discrimination that Black Americans face in policing, voting, health care and more. Few, however, may recognize that systemic racism led to another grave injustice, one that underpins many other forms of exploitation: More than a century of land theft and the exclusion of Black people from government agricultural programs have denied many descendants of enslaved people livelihoods as independent, landowning farmers.

African-American labor built much of this country’s agriculture, a prime source of the nation’s early wealth. In the years since the end of slavery, Black Americans have been largely left out of federal land giveaways, loans and farm improvement programs. They have been driven off their farms through a combination of terror and mistreatment by the federal government, resulting in debt, foreclosures and impoverishment.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comments:
Oops. And when I was young, I thought they must be just lazy or stupid. Thank you Mark Bittman. This was an education.

Gene B. Sperling | The New Debt Prisons – The New York Times

Mr. Sperling was the Director of the National Economic Council under President Obama and President Clinton, and is the author of “Economic Dignity.”

“While controversial calls to “defund the police” have grabbed headlines, we urgently need to examine how we fund the police today. The increasing use of excessive fees, fines, and surcharges to fund parts of our criminal justice system is creating punitive debt traps for millions of low-income Americans leaving prison. Many find themselves in an economic prison: prevented from paying down their debts by the debts themselves. Others are so entrapped that they are actually reincarcerated for unpaid debt. Either way, they are denied the dignity of a real second chance — and a fresh start to pursue one’s purpose and to contribute to family, community and country.

Criminal justice debt has garnered growing attention — including today in Florida, where unpaid fees and fines are being used to deny those with a past felony the ability to vote. But what has gotten inadequate attention is the increasing role these fees play in funding our courts and police departments, and how they crush the chances of millions of Black and brown Americans to make a better life for themselves and their families, through what can be seen, figuratively and literally, as new debt prisons.” . . .

David Lindsay: 

My late son Austin Lindsay was caught up in the racket of police charging huge fines or fees for breaking the law.  He was caught trying to smuggle drugs to sell into the Bonnaroo rock and roll festival in Manchester, Tennessee,  and he was offered the choice of going to jail for ten years, or paying $13,000 for a get out of jail free card. It wouldn’t even go on his record. According to his public defender, he was caught up in a major fund raiser for the local police department. Austin spent a large chunk of his gifts from his grandmother for college to get out of jail. The poor people caught doing the same thing went to jail. Defund the Police was a poor choice for a movement slogan. A better slogan would have been, Fund the Police, stop their collecting fines and fees from poor and middle class people.

Opinion | We Are the ‘Exonerated 5.’ What Happened to Us Isn’t Past, It’s Present. – The New York Times

Yusef SalaamKevin Richardson and 

Mr. Salaam, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Santana were exonerated after spending 13 years in prison. They are now criminal justice activists.

Credit…Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

“On Dec. 19, 2002, a judge vacated our convictions for the brutal attack of Trisha Meili, who many know as the “Central Park jogger.” On that day, our 13-year fight for justice came to an end. The lies that we were told by detectives to wrongly convict us were finally exposed and ceased to hold power over us. Now, we are fighting to prevent others from facing the same fate.

At the time of our arrests in 1989, we were just boys — Kevin and Raymond, the youngest among us, were only 14 — and we came to be known as the “Central Park Five.” Now we are known as the “Exonerated Five,” and, largely because of Ava DuVernay’s series “When They See Us,” the world knows our stories.

But what people may not realize is that what happened to us isn’t just the past — it’s the present. The methods that the police used to coerce us, five terrified young boys, into falsely confessing are still commonly used today. But in its coming session, New York State legislators have the power to change that.”

NYT Editorial | To Hold Police Accountable, Ax the Arbitrators – The New York Times

By 

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

“Since the death of George Floyd sparked a wave of national protests, at least 42 of the 50 largest cities in the country have adopted new rules aimed at curbing abuses by the police, according to a tally by Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability who is affiliated with the University of Nebraska Omaha. From May through August, 15 cities banned chokeholds. A dozen passed “duty-to-intervene” statutes, requiring police officers to act if they see a fellow officer endanger a civilian. Still others banned so-called “no knock” warrants or changed policies related to the use of force.

Those reforms are important in and of themselves, and they also serve as a reminder of the power of collective action to influence new policies. Yet this list’s potential to create real change will be seriously limited unless city leaders and state lawmakers take on an entrenched barrier to reform: labor arbitrators. These are the men and women who routinely reinstate abusive officers who have been fired for misconduct.

Labor arbitrators have ordered police chiefs to rehire officers fired for deeds as outrageous as sexually assaulting a teenager in a patrol car, driving the getaway car in a murder and fatally shooting an unarmed driver, according to a 2017 investigation by The Washington Post.

Cases like these have a corrosive effect on society, serving as proof to many Americans that the current system cannot be reformed. These cases also demoralize mayors and police chiefs who have worked hard to remove problem officers, only to face orders from unelected arbitrators to give those abusive officers their badges and guns back. It doesn’t matter how much a police department overhauls its use of force policy, or how strictly a police chief enforces those new rules if unelected arbitrators reverse the punishments of officers who violate the rules.”

“. . . .  Much more needs to be done to rein in the power of labor arbitrators, but at least it is a start. Cities that are interested in taking this on could look at municipalities in California, like Burbank and Cathedral City, that have hybrid systems where arbitration decisions are nonbinding. Officers still have the right to argue their cases before a neutral body, but the ultimate decision to terminate an officer is left in the hands of the city manager, who is accountable to the community. That’s where it belongs.”

Opinion | To Get Police Reform, ‘Defund the Politicians’ – By Miriam Pawel – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“LOS ANGELES — In late August, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shot a Black man, Dijon Kizzee, whom they had stopped for a suspected traffic violation as he rode his bicycle. He became the seventh man killed by deputies in Los Angeles since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend.

On the same afternoon, state legislators in Sacramento raced to the end of their 2020 session. The most significant police reform measure, heralded in the days of the Black Lives Matter marches that filled the streets, did not even come up for a vote.

A centerpiece of the agenda would have set up a process for yanking the badge of any officer found to have committed serious misconduct. California is one of only five states that has no process for certifying police officers, which among other things enables bad cops to move from department to department with impunity.

Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses. Major newspapers in California editorialized in favor of a slew of police reform bills. Polls showed support. In one of the bluest states in the country, all indications pointed toward action on reform.

But in the end, even here, it was essentially business as usual in a State Capitol where police unions have long wielded enormous power. The measures that passed this year were either noncontroversial or so diluted as to have little if any immediate impact.”

Efforts to Channel Protests Into More Votes Face Challenges in Kenosha – By John Eligon – The New York Times

“KENOSHA, Wis. — Gerald Holmes, a forklift operator from Kenosha, Wis., was so passionate about the importance of the election four years ago that he drove people without rides to the polls. But this year, Mr. Holmes says he is not even planning to vote himself.

The outcome in 2016, when Wisconsin helped seal President Trump’s victory despite his losing the popular vote and amid reports of Russian interference, left Mr. Holmes, 54, deeply discouraged.

“What good is it to go out there and do it?” he said. “It isn’t going to make any difference.”

As protests have unfolded across the country this summer over the death of George Floyd and the police treatment of Black people, activists and Democratic leaders have pleaded with demonstrators to turn their energy toward elections in November.

A block party on Tuesday honoring Jacob Blake, a Black resident of Kenosha who was left paralyzed after being shot in the back by a white police officer, included voter registration booths near where the shooting occurred. And Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for president, was scheduled to visit Kenosha on Thursday, two days after Mr. Trump appeared in the city in the wake of unrest over the shooting.

But people like Mr. Holmes reflect the challenges that Democrats face as they try to channel their anger over police violence into voting. In interviews with more than a dozen Black residents in the Kenosha area, many said they were outraged over the shooting of Mr. Blake, but some said they had grown dispirited and cynical about the political system. The shooting was further evidence, some residents said, that decades of promises from politicians have done little to alleviate wide racial inequalities or stem police abuses, leaving them seeing little value in one more election.

“Let’s say I did go out and vote and I voted for Biden,” said Michael Lindsey, a friend of Mr. Blake’s who protested for several nights after the shooting. “That’s not going to change police brutality. It’s not going to change the way the police treat African-Americans compared to Caucasians.”

Mr. Lindsey, 29, who lives just outside of Kenosha, said he had never voted in a presidential election and did not plan to start this year, as much as he despises Mr. Trump and is fed up with feeling like he has to live in fear of the police because he is Black.

Many factors have slowed voting. The state’s high rate of incarceration of Black people — among the highest in the nation — strips many African-Americans of their voting rights. Wisconsin’s voter identification law and other strict regulations, such as a shortened early voting period and longer residency requirements compared with 2016, also present major hurdles.”

Opinion | Trump’s Racist, Statist Suburban Dream – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Joseph Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

“Conservatives do love their phony wars. Remember the war on Christmas? Remember the “war on coal”? (Donald Trump promised to end that war, but in the third year of his presidency coal production fell to its lowest level since 1978, and the Department of Energy expects it to keep falling.)

Now, as the Trump campaign desperately searches for political avenues of attack, we’re hearing a lot about the “war on the suburbs.”

It’s probably not a line that will play well outside the G.O.P.’s hard-core base; Joe Biden and Kamala Harris don’t exactly come across as rabble-rousers who will lead raging antifa hordes as they pillage America’s subdivisions.

Yet it is true that a Biden-Harris administration would resume and probably expand on Obama-era efforts to finally make the Fair Housing Act of 1968 effective, seeking in particular to redress some of the injustices created by America’s ugly history of using political power to create and reinforce racial inequality.”

Opinion | How Has the Electoral College Survived for This Long? – By Alexander Keyssar – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Keyssar is a professor of history and social policy at Harvard and the author of “Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?”

“As our revived national conversation on race has made clear, the legacies of slavery and white supremacy run wide and deep in American society and political life. One such legacy — which is particularly noteworthy in a presidential election season — has been the survival and preservation of the Electoral College, an institution that has been under fire for more than 200 years. Our complicated method of electing presidents has been the target of recurrent reform attempts since the early 19th century, and the politics of race and region have figured prominently in their defeat.

It is, of course, no secret that slavery played a role in the original design of our presidential election system — although historians disagree about the centrality of that role. The notorious formula that gave states representation in Congress for three-fifths of their slaves was carried over into the allocation of electoral votes; the number of electoral votes granted to each state was (and remains) equivalent to that state’s representation in both branches of Congress. This constitutional design gave white Southerners disproportionate influence in the choice of presidents, an edge that could and did affect the outcome of elections.

Not surprisingly, the slave states strenuously opposed any changes to the system that would diminish their advantage. In 1816, when a resolution calling for a national popular vote was introduced in Congress for the first time, it was derailed by the protestations of Southern senators. The slaveholding states “would lose the privilege the Constitution now allows them, of votes upon three-fifths of their population other than freemen,” objected William Wyatt Bibb of Georgia on the floor of the Senate. “It would be deeply injurious to them.”

What is far less known, or recognized, is that long after the abolition of slavery, Southern political leaders continued to resist any attempts to replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote. (They sometimes supported other reforms, like the proportional division of each state’s electoral votes, but those are different strands of a multifaceted tale.) The reasoning behind this opposition was straightforward, if disturbing. After Reconstruction, the white “Redeemer” governments that came to power in Southern states became the political beneficiaries of what amounted to a “five-fifths” clause: African-Americans counted fully toward representation (and thus electoral votes), but they were again disenfranchised — despite the formal protections outlined in the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which stated that the right to vote could not be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” White Southerners consequently derived an even greater benefit from the Electoral College than they had before the Civil War.”