Tag: drugs

Perceptions on Race and Crime…

What’s the difference between a joyride and stealing a car?

The elements are the same: the taking of a car with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of its use. Unfortunately, what is considered a “joyride” in a white community becomes “grand theft auto” in a community of color. 

The outcome can be different depending on the defendant. If you have a white defendant that comes in with a fancy lawyer, who is arguing that it was a childish prank and points at the future the young man has ahead of him while the young man is crying in open court — the case may either be dismissed or result in a diversion program. 

Meanwhile, the defendant of color may not have anyone vehemently arguing on his behalf. His family does not have the money for a lawyer or to pay the fee for a diversion program. The overworked public defender cannot delve as deeply into the case.  He’s sorry for the stupid act; but maintains a stiff upper lip in front of the judge, because in his culture, men don’t cry — it’s perceived as weak. His outcome ends up being more severe with a criminal conviction. This now means he will have difficulty getting a job, obtaining student loans, living in public housing, or even joining the military. His life is over before it gets started. 

This is even assuming that the white defendant is even arrested — he may be brought home by the police with a stiff warning, and the car returned to the rightful owner. 

Similar scenarios play out across the country due to stereotypes some people have that people of color have no future.

So how do we make the justice system more colorblind?

All first time offenders of non violent crimes should be given a diversion program. All addicts should be placed into a drug court that requires treatment. It should not be a matter of whether or not your lawyer advocates on your behalf for a program. The Task Force on 21st Century Policung, convened but the White House after the events in Ferguson, issued a report that in part urges police departments to return to community policing, where they get out of their cars and get to know the residents. This way, you can bring young Johnny home to his family — or if there are issues at the home, the officer is aware and find another solution for a young person acting out. 

It happens regularly in white communities; with a little creativity the same can be done in communities of color. 

My friend Courtney Swan wrote a riveting piece on our criminal justice system from a Canadian perspective. She makes some great points backed by statistics that show the disparity brought on by the history of racism in America. She comes to similar conclusions as seen in my recent discussion on the War on Drugs. We are moving forward, but we still have some work to do! 

The War on Drugs is Killing Black America 

By guest blogger Courtney Swan

Since President Richard Nixon coined the term in a press conference in June 1971, the ‘War on Drugs’ has been a forceful weapon for nationwide, institutionalized discrimination and racism in the United States.

Nixon declaring to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” was the start of the country’s longest ongoing war, along with the notoriously detrimental effects of its repercussions.
Just to get it out of the way right now, because I know many of you are wondering what my stance is on it… the War on Drugs is a race issue. 
But please understand that this isn’t just my stance. This isn’t my opinion reflective of my own personal biases.
This is a cold, hard fact, and this series is going to extensively break down and analyze the many truths surrounding this.
The War on Drugs is a crisis which over the last 45 years has brutally and unjustly targeted and devastated communities of color all across America.
One of the most frequent responses to the pleas for criminal justice reform to solve the epidemic of mass incarceration of people of color is, “Well, the real issue we need to resolve is black-on-black crime!”
But, here’s the thing… black on black crime is in itself a twisted, and quite frankly racist expression used to represent the completely bogus idea that more black people are in prison because more black people are criminals.
This idea needs to be shut down.
What the idea of ‘black on black crime’ does is enable American citizens to turn a blind eye to this form of institutionalized racism by encouraging us to justify it. It allows us to diminish the value of black life and black freedom with implications that it is undeserved. . . that mass incarceration has nothing to do with systemic racism and everything to do with the shortcomings of black people in America.
So let’s debunk the myths.

Myth #1: Black on Black Crime Is Worse Than White on White Crime

Read the rest here

Mental Illness and the Law: A Rocky Relationship

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Mental Illness is now back in the news, as a result of the video of a California Highway Patrol officer punching a mentally ill woman. The family of the woman plans to sue the police department for the officer’s actions.

Here is a piece I wrote regarding the painful issues that loved ones of mentally ill people deal with. These are actual stories, with the names omitted.

A 76 year old man was diagnosed late in life with schizophrenia. One of the side effects of this disease is that you do not believe you are ill or need medication; this elderly man was no different. After the death of his wife, he began to lose touch with reality. He began to neglect himself, not eat, and sit in an apartment during a heat wave, refusing to turn on the air conditioner. He was involuntarily hospitalized under the laws of the state, since it was found that he was a danger to himself. He received medication, was stabilized, and after two months, released back to his home with a care plan.

Approximately 1 in 4 adults across America suffer from some form of mental illness. Every state in the country has some version of what we call in Florida “the Baker Act”. If a friend, family member or neighbor sees someone who has mental health issues that are becoming out of control, they can call a local hospital, who visits the person in question. The police have the power to make this call as well. A psychiatric team visits the person, making observations about the person’s behavior, hygiene and surroundings. The team will ask questions, and determine whether or not the person is a danger to themselves or others. If the person is considered a danger, the law gives the team authority to have the person hospitalized (even against their will) for a minimum of 48 hours. The police are allowed to take the person by force if they refuse to go.

Several months later, the elderly man decided he was well, and stopped taking his medication. He became more and more angry, yelling at his daughter, and refusing to let the members of the care team into his home. He even physically pushed the aide who bought him groceries on a regular basis out the door of his house, because he was paranoid about why she was there. The difficult decision was made to call the medical team again to assess him. They determined he was a danger…but this time, he refused to go. The police came, and he fought. He fought with every fiber in his 76 year old being…until he was placed in a chokehold, handcuffed, and dragged out of his home of 40 years. At the hospital, he refused medication and refused to bathe. After going to court, the judge gave permission for the doctors to inject him with medication. So by force, he was held down and injected.

Medical intervention with the mentally ill is not always pretty. The question becomes, will this person harm themselves or others? It is even more difficult for the family, who has to stand by the sidelines, helpless and watching. The law allows for force to be used, as ugly as the result may be.

An attorney struggles with bipolar manic depression. When he is on his medications, he is the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. Generous, friendly, and great in the courtroom. However, when he stops taking his meds, he becomes violent and angry…almost a “Jekyll and Hyde” scenario. He hits his wife, ignores his children, and ends up stealing from a client. He is arrested, prosecuted, and loses his ability to practice law ever again.

Some mentally ill people end up in the criminal justice system. They may use illegal drugs to self medicate, in order to “make the voices stop”. They may commit crimes of violence against family members, law enforcement, and regular citizens. Some are less violent, but live in their own version of reality.

The other issue is the family. While the family suffers the ill effects of the person’s actions, they are struggling with the fact that deep down, the person is not bad, but ill. The age old question of “if your family member had cancer, would you stop speaking to them? How is mental illness different?” makes the struggle more difficult.

The criminal justice system, which is designed to punish, is slowly becoming more sensitive to these issues…but there are no easy answers. You can have a million programs in place to help the person struggling with mental illness. But the problem that remains is keeping the person on medication, when the disease tells them that they are fine.