American Pieta

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As we approach the commemoration of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, I can’t help but think of all the people betrayed by the forces of evil in this country that do not believe in the either the Constitution or the words in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. May the hope of resurrection and reunion bring some small measure of comfort to all the mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers and friends of the betrayed.

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Strong Women, Strong Messages

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Delores Jones-Brown and Jamie Williamson know of what they speak.

In effect, I spent the weekend with these women, 7 hours with Ms. Williamson at a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination training on Saturday and a couple of hours with Dr. Jones-Brown Sunday at a Black Lives Matter lecture.

I was glad to have something useful to do this weekend after the horrific news on Friday of the attacks in Paris. The more work there is going on for, as I believe, the good of humankind, the more evil will lose in the end.

Perhaps more pointedly, I do fear that when such attacks take place, the right wing in this country will take an even harder line against anybody they perceive as different. Amid praying for people whose loved ones are known to be dead and for people who are trying to find out whether their loved ones are dead, I see the evil ripple effects that an Isis attack anywhere will have on this country. So spending a weekend immersed in justice issues and reaffirming that, yes, black lives matter, was healing in its way.

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Jamie R. Williamson

Ms. Williamson is chair of the MCAD. The training was an initial introduction to the work of doing intakes for the MCAD and learning many of the nuances behind what both complainants and responders say in order to determine whether probable cause exists. The full training can’t possibly happen in one day, but it was an excellent dip in the controversial waters of a discrimination complaint and all that has to happen before a determination can be made.

The chairwoman is one of the liveliest people I’ve ever met. She talks at about 80 miles an hour, interspersing her comments with amusing anecdotes or not-so-amusing tidbits about what it was like to grow up black in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1995, Ms. Williamson became the first African-American to serve on the Pittsfield City Council and the first African-American to serve at-large. Yes, that’s right, a mere 20 years ago, no African-Americans had served on that city council until Ms. Williamson came along.

A graduate of Smith College, she was graduated from Smith College, she is the former executive director of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center in Holyoke and since 2005 has served on the Access to Justice Commission, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Dr. Jones-Brown came to the Berkshires at the invitation of the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series, which this year chose Black Lives Matter as its theme. A former New Jersey prosecutor, she is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. The title of her talk was “The American Cop-Out: Police as the (Re)New(ed) Form of Social Inequality.

Delores Jones-Brown

Delores Jones-Brown

“We’re back in a place we thought we’d left behind,” she began, referring particularly toward police violence against black and brown males.

Dr. Jones-Brown teaches and works with many policemen and said that she knows some fine people in law enforcement. The issue of police violence, however, is tainting the good cops at the same time that young men of color are being singled out by the bad ones.

She spoke in detail about the two methods of policing adopted by New York City police commissioners: “Stop and Frisk” under Commission Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg and “Broken Windows” adopted by Commissioner Bratten and Mayor DiBlasio. S&F was an overtly racist method, whereupon NYC police were not only allowed but encouraged to stop anyone of color. That included children who lived in projects where the police had a presence.

Broken Windows is supposed to be based on the idea that if someone commits a small crime, they will likely one day commit a serious crime. However, the list of things for which someone can be stopped under this theory is laughable and has absolutely no connection with any statistics on who commits homicide: 1) riding a bicycle on the sidewalk; 2) carrying an open container; 3) urinating in public; 4) having marijuana in public view; 5) jaywalking.

How many of us could be stopped for at least three of these if not more?

Dr. Jones-Brown profiled the police departments in some cities that she things gets things right, including San Diego, Houston, Orlando and Detroit. With community-based programs, the police not only get to know the people in the areas they patrol, but they help them and are often helped by those people.

She gave a lot of statistics to support her point of view, about which she has written numerous articles, a book (Race, Crime and Punishment), and lectured on. One of the most impressive was through a study done by the New York State attorney general’s office. Of 2.5 million stops of pedestrians from 2009 to 2012, only 150,000 arrests were made. Of those arrests, half the cases were dismissed. Of the remaining cases, less than .10% were because of violent crime.

So 2,425,000 people (though possibly the same people were stopped multiple times) were harassed by the NYC police for no good reason. That is a powerful lot of psychological trauma being created.

The answers aren’t easy, but there are groups trying to turn the situation around, she said. Cure Violence (www.cureviolence.org) is one. She also suggested becoming familiar with New York’s Right to Know Act, through which a policeman actually has to introduce himself, and she gave www.policeandcommunity.org as a resource.

Both Ms. Williamson and Dr. Jones-Brown are younger than I am by a fair amount. It made me feel so hopeful knowing that strong women with strong messages are out there and have attained positions where they have influence and the authority to get their message out.

The Moral Universe – “Oppression of the Oppressed”

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Mass incarceration in the United States is a subject fraught with implications for who we are as a nation, who we are as North Americans, who we are as members of a global society, and who we are as inhabitants of a smallish planet in the Milky Way galaxy.

One activist is trying to reach hearts and minds on this subject through his creative talents. The result, a play called “The Oppression of the Oppressed” by Máximo Anguiano, will have a staged reading on September 19 in San Antonio, Texas.

I first came across Mr. Anguiano’s name while writing a blog post a year ago about the little-known (to white people) history of Latino lynchings. He had reviewed an article by Richard Delgado. I have since been following his Facebook posts.

At least since Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, came out a few years ago, the subject of mass incarceration in America and privatized prisons has been in the forefront of issues addressing discrimination against black and brown people.

How Mr. Anguiano came to the subject is perhaps different from most people.

“A few years back I was asked to assist with the Latino population inside of a state prison,” he said in an interview. “There were many disputes of gang warfare, intercultural fighting, and things of the like there. The purpose of my assistance was to help with a cultural program and to help cease much of the fighting. This event is what really opened my eyes to what was going on inside the prison walls. . .”

The main themes of his play address the war on drugs, mental health of prisoners/inmates, disproportionality of blacks and Latinos incarcerated, solitary confinement, capital punishment and privatization among others. The play is inspired by true events, Mr. Anguiano said, adding that he has spent about 100 hours in the last few months on the phone talking to people coming out of prison.

He points out the well-known and alarming statistics of incarceration in the US: With 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prison population at a cost of more than $63 billion a year. There are almost seven million people imprisoned in the US, and the majority of them are people of color. We also know now, thanks to the Herculean efforts of people like Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, that many of them are innocent, are children sentenced under adult guidelines, and are even people who are languishing in prison without being charged of any crime and/or imprisoned for being too poor to pay a fine for something as insignificant as a traffic violation.

Does this not sound like Soviet stalags or what happened in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power? Donald Trump’s lunatic bellowings on immigration have empowered every racist in the country to show their true colors. (Note: I wrote this sentence two weeks ago. It is a main headline in the NYT of 9/13/15.)

The lead character in Mr. Anguiano’s play, he said, is loosely based on Hakim Nathaniel Crampton, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. “He was sentenced to life for murder and finally set free because of a false confession.” (You can read more about Mr. Crampton, a poet and activist, here: Convicted on false confession

But Mr. Anguiano does not sentimentalize the level of violence he witnessed in prisons. “Some of these men are savages,” he said. But, “were they that way before they were locked up?”

He also addressed privately owned prisons: “Private prisons are a business. They have to keep enrollment up.” Such prisons don’t address rehabilitation because they need the prisoners to turn a profit. And it’s not just the prisons themselves that need prisoners, but food, clothing, and linen vendors; anyone who supplies anything to a prison has a stake in mass incarceration.

Maximo Anguiano

Maximo Anguiano

Mr. Anguiano has been able to capture various audiences with outspoken perspectives and motivational expressions, crediting much of his work from the mind’s images, societal issues, the Hip Hop culture, and forgotten history. He often performs on stage theatrically and poetically, in addition to consulting educationally & politically. As a leader & trendsetter in fashion, athletics, and current events, Mr. Anguiano is a mobilizer for progressive ideas and awareness.

Where is the hope for Mr. Anguiano in the travesties of justice that mass incarceration lead to?

“We need to continue to have these voices cross over,” he said. “We need to get the information to people who aren’t in the chair. We need to keep open minds and communicate the humanity of prisoners.”

In the end, if we don’t address the societal ills that put people in prison, the poverty, the racial injustice, “we’re all going to pay for this together.”

Visit Mr. Anguiano’s RAW profile to see videos of his work: Independent Creative Services