We Can Never Forget, and We Must Not Repeat


NEVER FORGET

Remembering the Holocaust in the Time of Trump, When Jews Fleeing Horror Were Denied Asylum in America

A long-buried documentary, co-directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by Sidney Bernstein, provides unequivocal proof of the Holocaust’s horrors. Bernstein’s daughter, Jane Wells, opens up about the film—and why Donald Trump and Jared Kushner should see it.

MARLOW STERN

This Friday marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 72nd anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps that claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people, most of them Jews. President Donald Trump chose to commemorate the occasion by releasing a public statement omitting any mention of Jews or the scourge of anti-Semitism (breaking with past GOP and Democratic tradition), and signing an executive order barring refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, including Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Sudan.

“It’s repulsive,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, told CNN. “I mean, the timing is incredibly offensive. It was during the Holocaust that the world shamefully refused to give asylum to Jews and to others who were being murdered or about to be murdered in Nazi Germany.”

Indeed, during the Holocaust, as millions of Jews were being slaughtered by the Nazis, the United States enforced strict immigration quotas against Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe.

In June 1939, the ocean liner St. Louis sailed into the Port of Miami with 937 refugees onboard—nearly all Jewish and seeking asylum in the United States. They’d already been turned away from Cuba and Canada, and when they were denied entry into America, the ship was forced to return to Europe where many of its passengers were killed in the Holocaust. Even Anne Frank’s family made several desperate attempts to emigrate from Europe to America, only to be denied visas.

This closed-door policy was an extension of the Immigration Act of 1924, which sought to, in the words of dissenting Jewish-American politician Emmanuel Celler, create “a distinct American identity by favoring native-born Americans over Southern and Eastern Europeans in order to ‘maintain the racial preponderance of the basic strain on our people and thereby to stabilize the ethnic composition of the population.’” Both Congress and the public believed that these Southern and Eastern European immigrants, many of whom were Jewish, would take away jobs from Americans plagued by the Depression, and were racially inferior. Asians and Arabs were banned entirely.

A scene from the documentary 'German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.'

COURTESY OF 3GENERATIONS

A scene from ‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.’

There was also widespread paranoia concerning a “fifth column,” or the theory that, should Germany or Japan invade the U.S., embedded spies from those countries would help destroy America from the inside. This led to the cruel internment of Japanese-Americans, and the curbing of U.S. visas to those from Axis countries.

At a June 5, 1940, press conference, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated: “Now, of course, the refugee has got to be checked because, unfortunately, among the refugees there are some spies, as has been found in other countries. And not all of them are voluntary spies—it is rather a horrible story but in some of the other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they found a number of definitely proven spies.”

This fear of immigrant spies was mostly just that. With the exception of a few highly publicized cases, including that of 28-year-old German Herbert Karl Friedrich Bahr, there’s been no evidence of a mass influx of immigrant spies during this time. In fact, there exist striking parallels to the GOP and President Trump’s Muslim immigrant panic of today, given that, of the 784,000 refugees settled in America between September 11, 2001, and October 2015, only three have been arrested for plotting terrorist acts. “And it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible,” wrote Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute. The terrorists behind the San Bernardino shooting, Pulse nightclub massacre, and Boston Marathon bombing were all U.S. citizens.

Earlier this month, the film German Concentration Camps Factual Survey was quietly released into select North American theaters. Produced by Sidney Bernstein, advisor to the British Ministry of Information, and co-directed by his pal Alfred Hitchcock, the documentary is comprised of footage shot by Allied American, British, Soviet, and Canadian combat cameramen as they liberated ten concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Majdanek. The images are unforgettable, from Nazi physician Fritz Klein being interviewed on top of a pile of bodies at Bergen-Belsen to long, uninterrupted pans capturing stacks of eyeglasses, wedding rings, toothbrushes, human teeth, and bags of hair collected by the Nazis. There are even collections of lampshades made of human skin.

“The panning shots were Hitchcock’s idea,” says Jane Wells, the daughter of Bernstein whose non-profit, 3generations, put out Factual Survey. Hitchcock advised Bernstein and his crew of soldier-documentarians by phone, and suggested the continuous takes because “he felt that people wouldn’t believe what they were seeing otherwise.”

Unfortunately, the film was never completed for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Imperial War Museum, using the original filmmakers’ rough cut, script, and shot list, finalized the editing process. The 75-minute finished film premiered 69 years after it was shot, at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival.

“I tried to enumerate the different explanations,” Wells tells me, before taking out a notepad and reading from it. “One was the fear it would alienate Germans when they were trying to rebuild Germany after the war. The second one is the British government didn’t want to build support for a Zionist state. The third is they didn’t want to create undue sympathy for Jews in particular, or to single Jews out for poor treatment. And the fourth one, which is the Imperial War Museum’s theory, is that its time had come and it had missed its moment.”

Its shelving was devastating to Bernstein, who refused to speak publicly about what Wells calls his “great secret” until he was interviewed for the 1985 documentary A Painful Reminder, which contained footage from his film. Parts of Factual Survey were also used in Billy Wilder’s 22-minute concentration camp documentary Death Mills (Die Todesmühlen), released in January 1946.

“Unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall,” Factual Survey’s narrator says. And according to Wells, “it’s hard not to see the parallel to today,” given the rise of white nationalism in the U.S. and abroad corresponding with the rise of Trump, candidate Trump dog-whistling to white nationalists during his campaign by sharing anti-Semitic memes that originated on neo-Nazi online message boards, and the ascendance of Steve Bannon, former overlord of the “alt-right” publication Breitbart turned Trump right-hand man, who’s been accused of serial anti-Semitism.

A scene from the documentary 'German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.'

COURTESY OF 3GENERATIONS

A scene from ‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.’

“To me, it’s horrific. I’d love to invite the President and Jared Kushner to come see this film, and love to encourage any Jews who supported Trump to come see this film. I know Jews who voted for Trump, and if you ask them about the rise of white nationalism or the ‘alt-right’ in the wake of Trump, they’ll say, ‘Oh, well his son-in-law is a Jew! His daughter keeps a kosher kitchen, how bad can it be?’” say Wells. “The rise of the ‘alt-right’ is completely awful. The way Jews have been called out on Twitter is horrible and disgraceful. I’d like some of these ‘alt-right’ people to also come see this film and try and explain to me why they think this didn’t happen or didn’t matter.”

“If you see this footage, “ she adds, “there is no way on God’s earth that you can argue this didn’t happen.”

Wells had initially planned to release German Concentration Camps Factual Survey theatrically on Jan. 27, 2015, in honor of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The film didn’t make it to cinemas until January 6thof this year, but she believes that, given the Syrian refugee crisis, it “will have more of an impact today than it would have even then.”

“It is a cry for reconnecting to our humanity, and I think that is a message that is very resonant today,” offers Wells. “When I look at the atrocities that are happening in Syria today, when I look at the situation with Native Americans in North Dakota, when I look at the rise of the fascistic far-right globally, it seems like we have forgotten some of our common humanity.”

 

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WORLD HISTORY ARCHIVE / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

‘BEWARE THE BEGINNINGS’

How the Nazis Took Control of Germany

Hitler was not that popular when he first took office, but the Nazis quickly changed that, for the simple reason that power magnifies the ideas of those who hold it.

PETER HAYES

Today, Jan. 27, marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. That event did not mark the end of the Holocaust—gassings continued until the eve of Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945, and thousands more died of the effects of starvation and mistreatment at places like Belsen even weeks after their liberation.

But Jan. 27 should put us in mind of the beginnings. How did this happen? In particular, how could Germany, by all outward indications a civilized and modern country, become a persecuting society, brutally indifferent to the fates of anyone outside its supposed “people’s community”?

These questions should worry people for all time.

Adolf Hitler was a minority choice to lead his country; when he took office, roughly 55 percent of Germans had never voted for him. Anti-semitism was prevalent in German culture but by no means dominant or respectable. The nation’s elites (the establishment) generally regarded the Nazi führer with disdain and mistrust and doubted his capacity to run a government, given his complete lack of experience at doing so. The consensus about the Nazis’ wild-eyed promises was captured by the oft-repeated German proverb, “Nothing is eaten as hot as it’s cooked.”

Six years later, most Germans were acquiescing, and many of them were trying to benefit from, the complete humiliation and dispossession of German Jews, their demotion to “subjects” of the Reich, and their forced expulsion from the country. Three more years on, most Germans, including those elite corporate leaders and civil servants who scorned Hitler in 1933, were not just turning a blind eye to, but facilitating enslavement and mass murder… and finding a great many helpers in the Axis-occupied and Axis-allied regions of Europe.

The key to understanding the transformation of Germans’ behavior is straightforward: power magnifies the ideas of those who hold it. Power enabled the Nazi regime to unleash the haters, to intimidate the squeamish, and to change the moral valence of prejudice from something frowned upon to something glorified as patriotic. Once that happened, individual self-interest took care of the rest.

Above all, power enabled the propagandists for Nazism to divide the world relentlessly into Us vs. Them and to shut down more nuanced perspectives. To Germans, the world became a perpetual struggle between poor, virtuous, and victimized Us, and malevolent, conspiratorial, and implacable Them. In such an unforgiving environment, all means of self-defense were justified, including preemptively striking Them—taking their rights away, concentrating them in camps and ghettos, wiping them out—before they supposedly had a chance to do their worst.

Demonization of “Them” is always the first step toward persecution and genocide. And an essential prerequisite for demonization is its proponents’ sense of victimization, of having been or being about to be robbed of a birthright. The adherents of modern anti-semitism, not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe, were people displaced and diminished by the Industrial Revolution and threatened by the specter of communism. In our own day, the devotees of nativist populism, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, are people declassed and disoriented by the digital revolution and alarmed by the rise of Islamism. Will they go the way of the Nazis toward ever escalating paranoia and persecution?

Only if governments help them. Populist movements, on their own, can’t make persecuting societies or generate genocides. These phenomena need office-holders to countenance, stimulate, and implement hatred. Only when powerful leaders choose to let discrimination and violence take hold, and then to accelerate these lusts, does systematic degradation, let alone mass murder, result.

That is the challenge the Holocaust poses all these years later: Which way will political leaders go? Toward feeding angry and vengeful segments of public opinion or toward promoting pluralism and progress? Because the prospects look chancy right now, we should all recall the words of another German proverb—“Beware the Beginnings”—and be ready to act on it.

Peter Hayes is professor of history and German and Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation professor of Holocaust studies emeritus at Northwestern University. W. W. Norton & Co. published his new book,Why? Explaining the Holocaust, on Jan. 17.

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I am sharing this with you because we just celebrated Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump made a statement in which he mentioned all of the victimized people except the Jews. The Jews do know they weren’t the only people to be targeted; so were the Gypsies and  the Poles, the disabled, Catholics and homosexuals. Six million Jews were gassed, burned, died due to medical experiments, died from starvation, disease and exposure to the elements.

 

It is very dangerous when a leader goes after one particular group of people; when people in power say the “others” were less than human, responsible for all of the things that Germans found wrong with their lives; these “others” were sneaky and not to be trusted. We now have a man in the White House who is targeting Muslims, refugees, homosexuals and non-Christians, in exactly the same way, with most of the same rhetoric. How much is he capable of doing? Is he able to begin to round up people from these groups? Only time will tell.

 

In the meantime, I want to remind everyone that we all live here on this fairly small planet. I do believe in science, and science tells us the planet is suffering from our lack of proper stewardship. We are all brothers and sisters despite the minor differences between us. Whether you are black, red, brown, yellow, or white, we are all equal. Yes, I know that some people  say there is a difference but they are wrong. Those who savor their entitlement want to be at the top of the heap, but we all make a beautiful colorful mix together at the bottom.

 

No one race is better than another, no one religion is better than another. There is no reason to defile Islam by shedding innocent lives. There is no reason to condemn Shiites or Sunnis. Each is a journey to Allah.  Or Adonai. Or Buddha. Or any of the other Beautiful Names which people use when they speak of God. We are all children of the Universe, made from stardust. It matters not by what name we call God. Our prayers are heard, our petitions are accepted, and our gratitude pleases.

 

I believe Trump wants to divide people even more than they already are. I believe it is important to unite together to give support to each other, so no one ever has to stand alone. I am ready to register as a Muslim. I hope many of you will be also. Let us do what is right not what is expected.

 

Namaste

Barbara

Obama’s Simple Decency


Obama’s act of simple decency

Scott Lemieux in The Week
Pete Souza, courtesy The White House Flickr
It was an act of simple decency. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was serving a 35-year sentence for leaking a large trove of classified information. This was unquestionably the right thing to do, and helps redress a civil liberties record that is a relative weak spot in Obama’s legacy.

This is not to say that the decision to charge Manning was, in itself, indefensible. There is no question that Manning giving classified materials to WikiLeaks was illegal. Should she have been exempted from prosecution as a whistleblower? It’s not an absurd argument. Certainly, much of the information she released — such as video of an appalling helicopter attack on a crowd in Baghdad that killed two Reuters reporters whose cameras were misidentified as guns — was unquestionably in the public interest.

But one problem with that argument is how indiscriminate Manning was about the information she chose to release. As the political scientist Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky observes, it would be impossible for her to make crucial distinctions about what materials should be leaked because “she lacked sufficient expertise in the subject matter to tell the difference between material that was properly and improperly classified.” Information the state had a legitimate interest in keeping confidential was leaked alongside information that should have been made public.

Given these factors, it was unrealistic to expect Obama to pardon Manning, which would have absolved her of guilt. But there are two reasons — each of which would be sufficient in itself — why the case for commuting Manning’s sentence was not merely plausible, but compelling.

First, Manning’s sentence was grossly disproportionate. Prosecuting leakers is very rare, although Obama went after whistleblowers to an unprecedented extent. The seven people prosecuted for leaking information to the media by Obama constitute 70 percent of the people prosecuted for this crime in the history of the United States. And there is certainly no precedent for anything remotely resembling a 35-year sentence for leaking information to the media. Sentencing Manning to time served would have been towards the harsh end of what was potentially justified. Arbitrarily singling out Manning for an extraordinarily harsh punishment is exactly the kind of injustice the commutation power should be used to redress.

And, second, not only has Manning been in prison much longer than her offense merited, the conditions she was subjected to in prison were a vile abuse of human rights. She was held in solitary confinement for extended periods, treatment that amounts to torture in practice, even if it’s not defined as such in law. She remained in a man’s prison despite announcing her gender identity as a woman in 2013. She detailed the effects of this treatment in her letter to Obama: “I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life.” She was actually punished for her suicide attempt with more time in solitary confinement, an act of astonishing cruelty.

The disproportionate length of the sentence given to Manning and the cruelty she was subjected to in prison make commuting her sentence a no-brainer.

This doesn’t mean that Obama’s opponents didn’t attack it. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Obama’s commutation “outrageous,” asserting that “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.” The idea that seven years of hard prison time in often deplorable conditions doesn’t constitute “accountability” reflects an appalling lack of human decency.

The harsh treatment given to Manning is particularly hard to justify given that most of the people responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 and all of the people responsible for the torture of prisoners under the Bush administration got away scot-free. While it’s too late for many of the worst villains of the first decade of the millennium to be held accountable, it’s important that other injustices be addressed.

Obama made the right call in commuting Manning’s sentence, and it’s a sobering reminder of a general commitment to decent values that Obama’s successor utterly rejects. Obama didn’t always do what the liberal wing of the Democratic Party would have liked, but he often still did what was right.

 

To Obama, from a conservative: Thank you for being a great role model

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
 Barack Obama is leaving the White House. As a conservative, I don’t think he’s been a good president. But I’ll readily admit he’s been a terrific role model.

As the orange id approaches the threshold of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — God help us all — I find myself reflecting on this more and more. And even if Obama is a master image manipulator, as any successful politician must be, who cares? He projected the right image.

As the author J.D. Vance pointed out, Obama gives hope to those of us, like him, who come from broken homes and strive to build stable, loving ones for their children.

Michelle and Barack Obama clearly and obviously love each other and are tender towards each other. They find ways to humorously poke fun at each other. They visibly work as partners leading the difficult endeavor that was Obama’s political career, presidential campaigns, and mandate as president.

Meanwhile, the Obamas have also been assiduous at protecting their daughters from the public eye and have refrained from using them as props. Famously, President Obama has drawn a red line around family dinner time and respects it. This is a red line he’s actually kept, and it rightly puts all of us dads to shame. If the freakin’ president of the United States is not too busy to spend dinner with his family, neither are you.

In an era where scripts for fulfilling gender roles get ever more twisted in knots, there are much worse scripts for a heterosexual male to follow than that of Obama, who is faithful, loves books as much as sports, and isn’t afraid to shed a tear in public.

Even Obama’s much-derided aloof, professorial demeanor is not a bad pointer. While it probably didn’t serve him well in politics and (especially) foreign affairs, an anecdotal survey of those around me suggests a lot of families could do with less drama.

In recent years, people have warned about the imperial presidency, by which they mean the ever-expanding powers of the executive branch. But there is another aspect of this phenomenon worth mentioning, which is the increasing expectation that the president not only act as king, but symbol-in-chief and national therapist. This is a trend we should all resist. Still, given that that so many eyes fall on the president, it’s worth acknowledging that it’s a part of the job that Obama did brilliantly, and one which we may find ourselves very much missing in the coming years.

Thanks, Obama.

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Interfaith Leaders Pledge to Support American Muslims


Interfaith Leaders Pledge To Stand By American Muslims, No Matter What

Christian, Jewish and Buddhist leaders attended prayers at a Washington, D.C., mosque to emphasize solidarity.

11/19/2016 04:41 pm ET

RON SACHS CNP
Catherine Orsborn, campaign director of Shoulder to Shoulder, speaks at The Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C.

Christian, Jewish and Buddhist leaders joined their Muslim neighbors for Friday prayers at a Washington, D.C., mosque, sending President-elect Donald Trump a strong statement of interfaith solidarity.

The religious leaders spoke out against Islamophobia and in support of American Muslims, who have been feeling fearful and uncertain about their future in Trump’s America. They also called on Trump to forcefully denounce anti-Muslim hate crimes, which the FBI reports shot up by 67 percent in 2015.

“We must promise that no one will ever make another American afraid ― not the bigots, not the alt-right, not the chief strategist of the next administration, not the president of the United States,” Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the advocacy group Interfaith Alliance, said at a press conference at the Masjid Muhammad. “No one will make the precious children of this community, of any community, afraid.”

After speaking with media, the interfaith leaders attended a prayer service at the mosque. Also known as the Nation’s Mosque, it’s about two miles away from Trump’s future address at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

RON SACHS CNP
Imam Talib Shareef is president of Masjid Muhammad, also known as the Nation’s Mosque.

The interfaith rally was organized by Shoulder to Shoulder, a coalition of over 20 national religious groups that have pledged to do what they can to stomp out anti-Muslim sentiment. In a letter signed by representatives from Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish traditions, as well as the evangelical, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other Christian traditions, the leaders said they wanted to see Trump live up to his promise to be a president for all Americans.

“We, the religious institutions of this great nation, stand shoulder to shoulder with each other in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” the leaders said in the letter. “No one should fear for their own safety in this country because of how they dress, how they pray or how recently they arrived.”

In the days since Trump’s election, many American Muslims have watched with trepidation as the president-elect tapped members for his new administration who have professed negative and dangerous attitudes about Islam ― from potential attorney general Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who has endorsed banning Muslims from the country, to Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has called Islam a “cancer.” Other Trump supporters have pointed to the country’s World War II-era imprisonment of Japanese Americans as a precedent for creating a Muslim registry.

Kristin Garrity Sekerci, program coordinator at the Bridge Initiative, Georgetown University’s Islamophobia research project, said that she’s been shocked to see “notorious propagators and exploiters of fear and misinformation” offered high-level appointments in Trump’s administration.

“We must be vigilant in the face of such vitriol and fear not only in our nation and its elected leaders, but within our own faith traditions as well,” Sekerci said at Friday’s rally. “This fear and misinformation cannot be normalized.”

 

 

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Despite the fact that we are concerned and worried about our country being led by a racist, bigoted, sexist man, we have to remain positive and hopeful that our message will reach the White House and that our actions show that our words are filled with the kindness, compassion and empathy that we demand of our leaders.

Actions often speak louder than words, but words like Love, Faith, Hope, Justice and Equality are powerful in and of themselves, and spur us all to act for others.

 

Namaste,

Barbara

 

Playing for Change


This year’s sixth annual Playing For Change Day is September 24, 2016.

Here’s some of what happened in 2012, as musicians around the world Played to make the world a better place.

Sing along, dance along, hum along, work for change!

Namaste,

Barbara

 

 

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Justice in the Juvenile Detention System


Give Cyntoia Brown A New Trial

Cyntoia Brown is serving a life sentence in Tennessee Prison for Women for the murder of Johnny Allen. However, there is evidence to support that she did this is self-defense, she was also 16 at the time the incident AND was tried as an adult.There is also evidence to suggest that Cyntoia has some mental and emotional disorders as a result of being abused s a child. Please help her get a re-trial so that the mistake of giving her a life sentence can be corrected.

In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was arrested for murder. There was no question that a 43-year-old man is dead and that she killed him. What mystified filmmaker Daniel Birman was just how common violence among youth is, and just how rarely we stop to question our assumptions about it. He wondered in this case what led a girl — who grew up in a reasonable home environment — to this tragic end?

Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story explores Cyntoia’s history and her future. Without attempting to excuse her crime as youthful indiscretion nor to vilify her as an example of a generation gone off the rails, Birman simply follows Cyntoia through six years of her life after the crime, and searches for answers to persistent questions.

In a world where children are finding themselves caught in the chaos and fear of abusive parents leading abusive lifestyles, is it any wonder so many children are finding themselves facing lengthy prison sentences.

Cyntoia Brown is one of these children, born into a life of parental drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and eventually being placed in foster care.

She was influenced early on in life that the way to treat others was the way she herself was treated, that to survive prostitution was not a quick way to earn money but a survival tactic.

Society continually condemns and screams for change where children are physically and sexually abused, emotionally abused, Unless it seems this very child commits a crime viewed as so heinous no one should reach out and try to save her.

Placing children in Adult Prisons has become a very matter of fact procedure in the court rooms of the US, placing them in situations of fear and abuse very much identical to the life they rebelled against on the street.

If a child commits a serious crime of cause they must be punished, but the focus should be on rehabilitative not retributive.

Meaningful Prison Reform


Originally posted at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/criminal-justice/locked-up-in-america/senators-seek-to-curb-federal-prison-sentences-for-drug-crimes/

Corrections officer Travis Conklin, right, looks on as prisoners move through the state prison Thursday, March 3, 2011 in Jackson, Ga. Conservative legislators who once heralded strict three-strikes laws and other tough measures that led to bloated prisons are now considering what was once deemed unthinkable: Reducing sentences for some drug and non-violent offenders. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Corrections officer Travis Conklin, right, looks on as prisoners move through the state prison Thursday, March 3, 2011 in Jackson, Ga. Conservative legislators who once heralded strict three-strikes laws and other tough measures that led to bloated prisons are now considering what was once deemed unthinkable: Reducing sentences for some drug and non-violent offenders. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Senators Seek to Curb Federal Prison Sentences for Drug Crimes

October 1, 2015, 4:09 pm ET by Sarah Childress

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a comprehensive proposal on Thursday that would reduce federal prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and seek to cut down on recidivism.

The bill would be among the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in decades. It comes as support for reform has been growing on both sides of the aisle, both because of the overwhelming financial burden of mass incarceration and a push among legislators towards rehabilitation rather than punishment for drug offenses.

The bill’s major provisions would:

  • Reduce enhanced mandatory-minimum sentences for repeat drug offenders, including removing mandatory life sentence for three-strike offenders.
  • Limit offenses that trigger mandatory minimums to serious drug felonies.
  • Offer more discretion for judges to sentence low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.
  • Limit — though not prohibit — solitary confinementfor juveniles in federal custody.
  • Allow some nonviolentjuveniles to seal or expunge their convictions.
  • Apply several sentencing reforms retroactively.
  • Require the Bureau of Prisons to come up with research-based programsto reduce recidivism.

The bill doesn’t do away with mandatory minimum sentencing entirely, something that a full 77 percent of Americans say they support. The federal prison population has boomed over the past 30 years, from 24,600 in 1980 to more than 200,000 last year, in part because of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.

The bill also introduces new mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes, such as violent felonies, some violent firearm offenders, those who commit interstate domestic violence or provide weapons or other materials to terrorists.

That’s one critique of the bill from some reform advocates, who say that minimum sentences are costly and mostly end up targeting low-level, nonviolent offenders.

“We believe that punishments must fit the crime and that a cookie-cutter approach too often gets in the way of justice,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.

The senators said the bill would impact at least 6,500 people in the federal prison system. The bulk of the roughly 2.2 million people who are incarcerated today are in state prisons and jails.

Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said the bill could go further, but added: “There’s going to be a lot of families who will benefit from this law and a lot of people who are going to get a lot of years back.”

The bill still must pass the Senate before moving to the House of Representatives for consideration. The White House hasn’t yet weighed in on the bill, but President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

 

Prisons should not be money making ventures by business. Minor crimes should allow a person to have a real second chance.

Cleveland to Overhaul Police Department


I saw this at TheRoot.com, and felt that I should share, as this is my town at least for now. This problem is everywhere and must be fixed. Protests have been peaceful so far and I hope that continues but the investigation into Tamir Rice’s death is ongoing. He was twelve and playing with a toy gun and the police shot and killed him.

Cleveland to Overhaul Police Department in Agreement With Justice Department

An 18-month investigation by the Justice Department concluded that the Cleveland Police Department exhibited a pattern of “unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force.”

Posted: May 26 2015 7:18 AM
474532988-people-march-in-protest-to-the-cuddell-recreation

People march in protest May 23, 2015, to the Cuddell Recreation Center in Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police. The march was in reaction to Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo’s acquittal on manslaughter charges in a separate case in which he shot two people in a fatal 2012 incident during which police officers fired some 137 shots at the pair.RICKY RHODES/GETTY IMAGES

Updated Tuesday, May 26, 5:45 p.m. EDT: Specifics of the agreement between the Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland over abusive and excessive use of force by police have been released, according to Yahoo News, and they include a substantial overhaul of police procedures and policies.

An independent monitor will oversee changes in the Cleveland Police Department, which include community policing and getting officers more involved in their neighborhoods; modernizing technology; training to avoid racial stereotyping; and implementing new procedures to investigate misconduct allegations.

According to the website, Mayor Frank Johnson says that he hopes the agreement will be a model for other cities. Groups, including the NAACP and the police union, are still reviewing its details.

Earlier:

The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the city of Cleveland after an 18-month investigation into the city’s Police Department found “a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force,” the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, specifics of the settlement have not been disclosed, but the investigation, which ended in December 2013, was prompted after a 2012 shooting involving several officers who fired more than 130 shots at two unarmed people—Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams—inside a vehicle.

News of the settlement comes just days after Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo was acquitted for his role in the 2012 shooting. The Times notes that while several officers fired some 137 shots into the vehicle after a high-speed car chase, Brelo was charged with manslaughter for reportedly waiting until the car came to a stop and then jumping onto the hood and firing another 15 shots into the car’s windshield. Both Russell and Williams died from gunshot wounds.

Some 71 demonstrators were arrested after hundreds of people gathered Saturday to protest the officer’s acquittal.

According to the Times, the most damning portion of the Justice Department’s investigation cited several incidents during which officers used excessive or deadly force.

“Investigators said officers unnecessarily used deadly force; used excessive force against mentally ill people; and inappropriately resorted to stun guns, chemical sprays and punches,” the Times reports.

The investigation was concluded before the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a Cleveland park near his home.

The Times notes, “The Justice Department has opened nearly two dozen investigations into police departments under the Obama administration. Federal investigators found patterns of unconstitutional policing in cities including Seattle, Newark, Albuquerque and Ferguson.” An investigation has been launched in Baltimore in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died from injuries suffered while in police custody.

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