Proposition 36 on the 3 Strikes Law: A Poverty Skolar's Report. PNN Election Issue
October 23, 2012
I will support any proposal that will alleviate the suffering of low-income individuals and People of Color. As an African-American living in a low-income community, the Police are not friends of my community. We are disproportionately effected by the disease of Police Brutality. My mother was one of the most law-abiding and generous people I know, and like many people in our community she had issues with calling the Police.
I have seen many friends, family and neighbors whose lives were ruined by what the great intellectual, professor, activist and civil-rights attorney Michelle Alexander calls “the New Jim Crow.” In his work “Lockdown 2000,” activist-author Christian Parenti also explains one of the primary purposes of the prison industrial complex, which includes the police force, is to create a separate and unequal caste system in Amerikkka.
Proposition 36 will abolish the most insidious portions of the 3 Strikes Law that is so hurtful to my community and so central to the way the Police impact our lives. Under the 3 Strikes Law, if an individual with two convictions of violent felonies is convicted with a third felony, District Attorneys and judges are authorized to sentence them with 25 years to life regardless of whether the third felony is violent or serious. For example, under State Law a petty thief with a prior petty conviction is vulnerable to the 3 Strikes Law.
The enactment of the 3 Strikes Law was an emotional and irrational response to the murder of Polly Kauss by ex-felon Richard Allen Davis, who had a history of 3 decades of violent felonies. The Conservatives used this murder as an opportunity to fuel fear and pass the 3 Strikes Law. The emotional and irrational response to a death led to wild and irrational prison sentences.
People have been severely and harshly sentenced by the 3 Strikes Law. Over 3000 inmates have received sentences of 25 to life for non-violent and non-serious felonies. Make no mistake: everyone in the in Belly of the Beast and Behind the Wall is guilty. Many individuals are represented by overworked, underpaid and sometimes incompetent public defenders that fail to explain defendants' rights, or might simply escort them to their slaughter. The rich and the well-off have the resources to hire a private attorney to represent them the most effectively. The rich never spend time in jail awaiting trial because they have the resources to bail out of jail. On many occasions, young and less sophisticated innocent defendants plea guilty even when they are not guilty because the D.A. offers to let them go or gives them a short prison sentence. These young people only realize after they're arrested again that they just sold their souls with the previous guilty conviction.
Many brothers and sisters have changed, with the story of Malcolm X as an example of such a transformation. Many of my friends are now responsible fathers, grandfathers, brothas, sistas, uncles and relatives, who have committed crimes in the past that are classified as serious and/or violent and face the possibility of serving 25 to life for non-violent and petty offenses.
There is that old axiom, “come to California on vacation, and leave on probation.” This statement shows the overzealous nature of the Police Department and District Attorneys that has always harmed us, the poor and People of Color. The 3 Strikes Law has been used as a tool to get innocent folks to plead guilty to crimes they have not committed. If defendants are eligible for sentencing under the 3 Strikes Law, the D.A. will offer a plea bargain; they plead guilty and receive a sentence for a crime they did not commit because of the threat of receiving a 25 to Life sentence.
It has been said California spends $55,000 to incarcerate someone, and many feel that these resources could be better spent. It is difficult to argue with this logic, but regardless of what the cost is we should be against the 3 Strikes Law because the law negatively effects our communities regardless of the cost. The passage of the 3 Strikes of Law is part of the War on Communities Color and the criminalization of poverty. The results of a draconian law are defendants getting 25 to life sentence for allegedly stealing a slice of pizza, a carton of cigarettes and/or 3 golf clubs. This law operated part and parcel with the War on Drugs, which was a war on Latinos and Black folks.
The repeal of the 3 Strikes Law with Proposition 36 will take a tool the away from the Police and D.A.s that have been used to oppressing low-income and People of Color Communities. Any respite from the oppression of racism and capitalism on poor folks is worth voting for. So I say yes on Proposition 36.