The criminal justice system is broken. America has the highest incarceration rates on the planet, ahead of Rwanda (#2) and Russia (#3).
The mass incarceration of black men can only be considered an epidemic.
In the 1970’s there were approximately 350,000 prisoners in U.S. Today that figure is 2.2 million.
The rise is attributed almost exclusively to the increase in non-violent drug possession charges related to the “War on Drugs.”
Activists across the nation are fighting to change the draconian drug laws in the U.S. But changing the legal system takes time and money.
Joining the movement to “Hang the Jury” only requires a conscience.
Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation – ten times the total in 1980
Number of people arrested in 2011 in the U.S. on nonviolent drug charges: 1.53 million
Number of students who have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction: 200,000+
In fiscal year 2010, almost half of all drug offenders (48.7%, n=7,716) were convicted of an offense carrying a ten-year mandatory minimum penalty
The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population
Every year 70,000 prisoners are raped
45% of Americans under correctional supervision for drug-related offenses are black
A jury has an unreviewable and irreversible power to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge.
Nullification is a "Juror's Prerogative"
Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? - Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
You don't have to agree that the "War on Drugs" was an intentional war on the poor, disenfranchised people of color in this country to understand that this was the result. Thinking, feeling people know these laws must be changed. And while we, as citizens, must indeed protest, engage in civil disobedience and write to Congress, there is more that can be done and it begins with understanding your rights.
In a New York Times Op-Ed last year, Alexander floated a question raised to her by a woman named Susan Burton. Her question was simple, but brilliant. What if there was a movement to convince "thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out?" Her supposition was that this would theoretically crash the criminal justice system. She's right. But the risk would be enormous given the potential and very legal retribution the system provides for.
But if the black community is examining this option and weighing the risks of such a strategy, it is incumbent upon the white liberal community to do the same on the opposite side of the equation. In this scenario African Americans have everything to lose and white people have nothing to lose. So to possess this knowledge, have nothing to lose and still refuse to be an "upstander" is to be silently complicit in modern day slavery.
Most white Americans have only a casual relationship with our legal system. Their understanding of what is just and what is legal generally comes from watching television crime shows and movies. This is why most people have the impression that the sole responsibility of a juror is to deliver a verdict based upon legal facts and that his or her personal feelings of fairness and justice cannot be considered.
This is patently false.
If you manage to get by "voir dire," the process of questioning jurors to sit for a particular trial, and are fortunate enough to be selected, you can participate in a revolutionary movement. You can hang a jury without ever having to explain why. Jurors such as this are referred to as "stealth jurors." Quiet activists who are guided by conscience not convention.
But first, you have to be in the position to do so. The key to getting through voir dire is to answer honestly without revealing anything ideologically. There is a science to voir dire and cases are often determined by how adroit an attorney is at selecting a jury. So remember these simple facts. 1) Less is more: you cannot misrepresent yourself by exercising restraint during voir dire. 2) You are not the one on trial. 3) Your goal is to get on that jury.
Serving on a jury is tedious, time-consuming and may even be financially detrimental. There is nothing romantic about the inner-workings of our legal system no matter how glorified it is on television. Moreover, only a handful of Americans will actually be selected for a trial that involves drug possession charges for the reasons I stated in the opening of this piece. The goal here is to make enough people aware that the reason our system was designed to have trials decided by a "jury of one's peers" was to prevent unjust laws from unfairly condemning citizens to incarceration or any form of punishment.
Like I said, the chance of being picked for a jury that involves drug possession charges is extremely remote. But our ability to disseminate a simple message of civil obedience to encourage defiance in the face of injustice has never been greater. If millions of Americans know who Joseph Kony is and know how to dance "Gangnam-Style" then they can at least understand their legal right and moral obligation to hang a jury in the case of drug possession charges.
Twitter. Facebook. Smoke signals. Whatever your preferred method of communication, it's time to spread the word and find the "one in twelve" willing to hang the jury.
We recognize, as appellants urge, the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by the judge, and contrary to the evidence.
The sophisticated fascism of the practices of stop and frisk, charging people in inner cities with ‘wandering,’ driving and walking while black, ZIP code racism – these and many other de facto practices all serve to keep our prisons full.
Michelle Alexander publishes The New Jim Crow galvanizes members of the black community around the concept of incarceration as a new form of slavery.
Percentage of black children with an incarcerated parent soars above 10%. Blacks are arrested for drug violations at rates three to six times higher than whites. 7 million Americans are under correctional supervision.
The Clinton administration institutionalizes punitive measures such as lifetime bans on forms of welfare including access to food stamps, government jobs and public housing.
The media declare crack an epidemic. Crack makes the cover of Newsweek Magazine.
“Crack” made of cocaine smuggled from Nicaragua floods the streets of black neighborhoods.
The Reagan administration increases anti-drug funding for the FBI, DoD and DEA tenfold; almost the exact size of the funding decrease to federal drug treatment, rehabilitation and education programs.
Despite the historically low prison population, the government’s drug war prompts the formation of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the first privately held prison corporation in the U.S.
Despite the absence of a drug problem in America, Ronald Reagan declares the “War on Drugs” a top national priority. Simultaneously, the CIA begins operations to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals recommends “no new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juveniles should be closed.”
“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
For all media inquiries or information on booking Rev. Roger Williams and Jed Morey to speak please click here to email Jed Morey.
Rev. Roger Williams is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Glen Cove, NY and president of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. Jed Morey is the publisher of the Long Island Press and a board member of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County.
As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.