News Update :

On the Day of Chicago NATO meeting, About 35,948 arrested across the U.S.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Last Friday, the day the three of NATO, about 35 948 people were arrested across the United States. On Sunday, when at least 45 protesters were arrested during demonstrations in Chicago at the NATO summit, about 35,948 Americans - the number stopped on a daily basis in the United States, according to FBI statistics, were handcuffed, read their Miranda rights (perhaps), carted off to jail and booked. The plurality of these people were arrested for crimes nonviolent drug. Some of these people will be charged, convicted, prosecuted and jailed.

When bond is posted, some of these people will have relatives or friends who are able and willing to bail them out. Many will not. For most, there is no guarantee fund of the base, no support team jail waiting for the other side of the barbed wire fence.

Unlike NATO 3 (or the Chicago Seven, or Eight Haymarket), these people will eventually become a part of an extensive near-silent crowd of 2.3 million Americans incarcerated, many of which are visible only in the dark mugshots displayed their state Department of Correctional Services Web site.

On this site, parents and friends who know how to look can see the height of their relatives, weight, race, tattoos, scars, an offense, sentence length and the number held. No phone number is listed, because these people - call them 2.3 million U.S. - no longer have a phone number (or e-mail, or blog, or message box Facebook or Twitter account) that can be achieved.

Secel Montgomery, left, who is serving a life sentence, is caring for an elderly prisoner at the colony of men from California to San Luis Obispo, California, September 16, 2011. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

Stating these facts, I hear objective way to minimize the significant abuse civil anti-NATO activists have experienced during the last week. Both NATO and the three U.S. $ 2.3 million worth civil liberties, human rights and fair treatment. And I can not overstate my admiration and support for veterans and peace groups who - in the face of threats and media Rahmian scare tactics - thousands of people gathered in the streets to resist the doctrine NATO's war without end.

I also know that civil disobedience and the willingness to risk arrest strategic tools are essential to the success of nonviolent movements. (My conscience as both a journalist and was trained by my direct involvement with the voices Action Group for Creative Nonviolence.)

However, I wonder if these moments in the wake of mass arrests of activists - especially when vocal activists (some of them the white and middle class) were arrested by the dozen and thrust into the eye the public - could be a moment likely to spread awareness of the injustices perpetrated every minute across the country, on behalf of the "criminal justice".

When people who are not usually arrested (and whose friends, allies and civil society freedoms of lawyers are empowered and franc) are subjected to violations of civil liberties, institutionalized brutality, inhumane prison conditions and prevalence of disgusting moldy Baloney sandwiches behind bars, a single point contact is triggered. This is an opportunity for genuine empathy and empathy is the mother - or at least, the cousin - of the action.

In the interest of truth out: I do not even remotely journalistic "objectivity" when it comes to this subject. I had two close relatives sent to prison in recent years, one of which is currently incarcerated. When I worked as a journalist, I covered the prison policy and developed ongoing pen-pal friendships with prisoners, two of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment and would be forever relegated to the pen of the state- pal. I dream about the prison system. (Dream? This is one of those moments that I want "a nightmare" were a verb.) When I pass the plate Boloney in the supermarket, my stomach turns, even if it expires according to the labels and back to the future.

But maybe this is all part of the point - if empathy is essential for action, mass arrests to provide action-oriented home with someone resonant springboard to advocate for systemic transformation. When our friends or major activists are imprisoned, we were hit with tough questions: What do the prison for the inmate and society? What people do to end up there? How do other people who do these things to avoid incarceration? Are New, Out-of-the-box ways to accomplish the objectives of the company that prison is supposed to achieve?

There is precedent for this kind of eye-opening-turned-defense. Kathy Kelly - Co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, three time Nobel Prize nominee, likely saint-in-waiting and my hero - was sent to prison for three months for his nonviolent resistance to the School of the Americas Fort Benning, Georgia. Kathy has had the opportunity to write a detailed account of his experiences, sharing stories of his fellow prisoners and his ideas on possible alternative justice systems.

Basically, Kathy wrote, "the flaw in the cruel prison system lies in the intention of punishing people instead of helping them." His time in prison made her think deeply not only on the injustices perpetrated against her and her friends, but also on the pretenses and faulty logic tragically wrong on which the prison system as a whole is built.

"Entering prisons offers an opportunity to better understand how the war once praised poverty has become a war against the poor," Kathy writes in his book, "Other Lands Have Dreams."

This is painfully true: Not only is poverty a primary motivator for the crime, but it is often the determining factor for whether or not offenders will be able to avoid a prison sentence. Money signifies bail. The money means fancy lawyers. Money means a way out. Thus, an overwhelming majority, the poor go to jail.

In many ways, the U.S. $ 2.3 million is an invisible one percent of 99 percent: they go to jail the poor, they work for slave wages, they are deprived of basic rights and dignity they can not vote (thus waiving even the smallest semblance of democratic participation) - and then they are released, even the poorest, with little support, sporting a stain on their record that will likely deter employers potential.

Despite the fact that the U.S. sees a drug-related arrest every 19 seconds - and 81.9 percent of these arrests are for simple possession) - prison drug rehabilitation programs are massively underfunded. Rehabilitation programs, designed to prepare inmates for life outside, often perfunctory. For 2.3 million U.S., all signs point to a devastating conclusion: they are not only punished, raped, dehumanized and foes - they are also abandoned. Tracing the roots of this neglect, Kathy Kelly asks, "What happens when compassion dies?"

With images of high-profile arrests of still vivid in our memories and on our screens, I want to ask: what happens when compassion is on? That would be a popular movement for prison reform to cultivate new ways of thinking about justice look like? Where to begin?

When I talk with people in prison, the chorus is the most common pain-consuming isolation: broken links with family, long lost friendships, broken links to their communities and society as a whole. The first semi-reliable channel for communication at their disposal is the mail service and letter writing can become demoralized when the call arrives empty-mail a few weeks in a row. Phone calls are carefully limited, and in many state prison systems, the recipients of inmate appeals must pay in advance before they can accept. (In Illinois, it's ten dollars for each short pop in call state.)

In-person visits in prisons and jails are sometimes so restrictive that they remind prisoners of their loneliness and isolation. (For example, visiting an inmate in Chicago's Cook County Jail means to be piloted in a small, cramped, musty room with more than a dozen family members of inmates. Inmates appear on the other side a hard, plastic wall. For the next 15 minutes, prisoners and family members are allowed to shout back through holes in the wall, straining to hear and be heard over the screams of other family members and prisoners.)

Civic participation, of course, is universally rejected. They can not vote. They can not attend public meetings. They can not call the Congress and would be difficult to boycott companies that provide their food and corrupt services. They certainly can not walk the streets.

Given these obstacles, any solidarity movement for the prisoner must begin with the communication connection with real human beings that make up the U.S. $ 2.3 million and hear their stories.

An easy way to get started: Write a check prisoner, prisoner solidarity or project correspondence and acquire a corresponding thePrisoner your own prison. As activism goes, it is not too glamorous - in all likelihood, it will not make a public splash - but it will almost certainly take a dip in the private life of someone. (In the words of, "Overall, a letter is the brightest spot of the day for most prisoners.")

Reach out to a prisoner, one by one, opens the door to the interaction with the wider society in which they were abandoned. Under just cope by name (instead of the number or offense), ask questions and share your own stories, you will be grateful for their humanity. Moreover, these relationships will allow you - if you wish - to build bridges that open the way for a broader movement.

Picking up a pen or pulling up a Word document and write a one page note to a random prisoner is one of the purest forms of direct action you can take. You will be intrusions into the barbed wire fence, break the barriers of digital rights deprivation and disconnection and economic discrimination and phone calls from $ 10 to perform a radical act of communication. An added bonus: chances are, you will not be stopped.
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