TALK: “Why We Should Abolish Prisons”

text "prisons are for burning" with a lit match under a guard tower

Transcript of talk originally given Feb. 24, 2019

Hi. So, the name of my talk is “Why We Should Abolish Prisons”. I am going to—I didn’t put warning on the announcement, and I should have. There’s going to be some discussion of sexual assault and violence. So, hopefully it’s not gratuitous, but it is kind of necessary to what we’re talking about.

So, as I started doing the research for this, I actually discovered new information—things coming up in the news—and I ended up changing what this subject was going to be about. With your indulgence, I’m actually going to talk about something completely different, which is that, in the People’s Republic of China, they have the largest prison population in the world, and out of every 100,000 adults and children there, about 650 of them are going to be held in some sort of coercive custody. Currently, about double that are going to be monitored by various organs of the nation’s state security apparatus.

While this is something that affects all groups, to some extent, among ethnic Uighurs— among the Muslim Turkic ethnic minority—this is something where they’re going to be about six times more likely to be in a mass re-education camp than, say, a Mandarin, the dominant group. There is about a one-in-three chance that a Uighur man will be seized, confined in a cage, and monitored, sometimes for years. Especially when they’re between the ages of 18 and 29, which is pretty terrible.

Although there are no official sources that keep track of this, private human rights organizations determined that about 465,000 of those that are being forcibly held in the People’s Republic of China have not even had a show trial to justify why their freedom was being restricted. About 350,000 of those that are being held without a trial are not even accused of any violent, antisocial behavior. Primarily, this consists of those who are too poor to bribe a judge with a contribution to an immediate province or locality.

And although this is a pretty massive police state, among OECD nations, only Mexico, Turkey, and Estonia have a higher violent crime rate than the People’s Republic of China, and this is despite the PRC not counting any of the violence that routinely happens within their mass re-education camps. Any statistics, particularly sexual assault, it’s just—it doesn’t exist.

That’s why I think it’s very important for China to reform its mass re-education camps. It needs to do a better job of making sure that they are a little nicer when they seize ethnic Turkic minorities from their homes, and just make it so it’s a little more pleasant for people when they’re forced to be held there, particularly women and children.

Hopefully, all that sounded ridiculous to you; that was the point.

All of those statistics that I just gave were for the United States.

If you map it over, instead of Turkic ethnic minorities, you get Black Americans. Instead of the dominant Mandarins, it’s the whites. It should sound ridiculous to say that “we are going to reform mass re-education camps in China,” but that’s what we often say about prison in the United States. Yet we don’t really think about it that way.

It is my contention that saying “we need to reform prison in the United States” is like saying, “we need to reform the Soviet gulag system”. It’s like saying “we need to reform the Japanese internment camps during WW2”.

Continue reading “TALK: “Why We Should Abolish Prisons””

Until prisons can be guaranteed to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, we must abolish them

Yeah, fuck prisons how dare they lock up murderers and rapists. It’s not their fault that they commit crimes. Let them do what they want. Honestly it’s 2018 you should be HONORED if someone steals your wallet out of all the people in the world they chose you.

Are we attempting to rehabilitate criminals or punish them? Because punishing people doesn’t seem to be working.

Neither as I said just let them do whatever they want clearly they wouldn’t be murdering people if it wasn’t the right thing to do. Human nature is inherently good and therefore no one can do anything wrong. Why punish or rehabilitate people just trying to be themselves?

I’m not convinced we’re locking up many rapists right now, and only some of the murders.

Continue reading “Until prisons can be guaranteed to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, we must abolish them”

White-mansplaining the inherent racism in the Republican Party to women of color (with graphs)

Please, my fellow liberals, stop calling all Trump voters “morons.” Stop calling them “racists.” Stop saying they are “too dumb” to realize that they are “voting against their self interests.”

Rural voters, particularly Midwesterners and Southerners who support Trump and his contingency, reside outside of wealthy coastal enclaves like Seattle, New York, Palo Alto, etc. and they know EXACTLY who is responsible for outsourcing their good-paying jobs and where these C-suite executives reside and thrive. They are not nearly as stupid as many of you seem to think. They ARE voting according to their economic self-interest because their regions are not receiving equitable redistribution of infrastructure investment and job opportunities from the wealthy coastal enclaves where the American oligarchic class lives.

Please, for all of our sakes, learn to make common cause with your fellow working-class Americans and do not allow blind partisanship to prevent you from reaching across the aisle. Or else our oligarchic class will one day be as powerful as Russia‘s and stolen elections will be a foregone conclusion here, just as they are there. “Citizens United” is a leap in that direction, and destruction of the public education system with the return of segregation through tiered “charter schools” is another leap.

Fight wisely, fight nobly, persevere, my people, fight back. Please don’t give up on American democracy so easily.

We completely disagree, at least on half.

Continue reading “White-mansplaining the inherent racism in the Republican Party to women of color (with graphs)”

Steve Bannon, NAMBLA, and free speech: when ‘neutrality’ is picking a side

‘Steve Bannon Accepts Invitation to Speak at the University of Chicago’

This is bullshit.

I’m calling the administration to register my displeasure, and I suggest you do too if you’re an alumni.

I’m not going to ask the University to block the invitation, but I at least want a statement that he does not represent the University’s views.

If you’re an elite foreign student, someone who’d create a successful business but aren’t white, Bannon doesn’t want you in the United States.

A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

The exact quote starts around 17:40, but the link starts earlier than that for full context.

You should listen to the whole context. It’s a much more narrow scope than you are representing it to be:

“What do you think about this situation where you have American companies, particularly technology companies, that are letting go highly-trained American IT workers, blowing them out, having them train their replacements and hiring foreign workers. Just generally what’s your sense of that?”

That being said, I still disagree with his comment, but I don’t think you are being fair to it either.

Continue reading “Steve Bannon, NAMBLA, and free speech: when ‘neutrality’ is picking a side”

Sports facilities, mass transit, and desegregation

St. Louis will never have an NBA team again. We literally have no basketball culture here.

There are more parks with hoops in the middle of Missouri than there is in all of the parks in St. Louis.

By design. I had a hard time finding a basketball court whenever I lived there. They have tennis courts, golf, and baseball diamonds in forest park but not one basketball court which probably has the smallest footprint of any the mentioned sports… well maybe not tennis.

Our city is actually divided into St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Suburbs are totally normal, but I’ve never have been to a city that is literally divided into a County and a City.

So much so that we don’t have a proper metro system because people in the county don’t want crime in the city brought to their suburbs.

Media likes to portray St. Louis as a crime ridden city, but the real problem is this city just seems barren. I’ve been to a few major cities in the last year, and their downtowns are thriving on random Tuesday nights. We just don’t have that here.

There’s a parallel in mass transit to what happened with community swimming pools.

A lot of racist jokes exist about black Americans not knowing how to swim, but it has a basis in fact, and it’s not a coincidence. Children weren’t allowed to swim in segregated community pools then once the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, cities and counties decided to shut them all down or make them private, or make it so that only people who were wealthy enough to have their own backyard pools could swim.

I don’t think you can underestimate how much racism plays in even to something like opposition to mass transit. All transportation is public transportation, but everyone can use mass transit to get around a city or region. Without it, there’s a barrier for travel put up so that only people who can afford cars, including registration, maintenance, gas, and parking, get the benefit of roads. Which means you have to be even more wealthy already if you want to live in the suburbs and work in the city. It’s an invisible wall for the gated communities out there.

Not every place is dense enough for mass transit to make sense, but I’d argue the largest reason American cities lack the sort of infrastructure cities in European and Asian countries have is that everyone gets to benefit from mass transit, and that’s exactly what people who benefit from racist inequality don’t want.

To take it back to sports directly, but in a less well-thought-out way, this is the major motivation behind moving stadiums and arenas out to less-accessible suburbs like the Atlanta Braves did. They were trying to solve the ‘problem’ the Hawks have of black people attending their games and wanted to go to a place where it was less accessible to MARTA, with both versions of the acronym being appropriate.

Likewise, I think Seattle as a predominantly white city is a major factor in mass transit and stadiums that are downtown and easy to get to via that mass transit.

A rare Internet discussion where both sides prove their point

One of my most favorite and most unproductive things to do is argue on the Internet with people, and I know it’s so, but it feels productive in the sense that I better understand why I feel the way I do. Occasionally, I much later change my mind when I recall some argument without first remembering which side of it I was on.

One of the worst ever to get involved in is abortion because it is not the sort of thing that will resolve in common understanding. I used to wear a T-shirt I made that said ‘LEGALIZE ABORTION’ because that was the joke. It would be like a shirt that said, ‘BAN MARIJUANA’. Back then, both already were common policy and said nothing more than STATUS QUO.

But recently, I engaged with someone on Twitter on the subject of reproductive autonomy and made many mistakes but (of course) don’t feel that I was wrong.

The major mistake I made was not recognizing how the person I talked to had latched on to an age that was not rationally important to what I was saying but definitely was viscerally: 10-year-olds should have access to long-lasting contraceptives. Really, I meant anyone with internal reproductive systems should be able to have access to it as soon as they begin puberty and are at risk of becoming pregnant. But the person I talked to fixated on the example age, and I should have given them an off-ramp so their automatic emotional defenses could lower.

The second mistake was to allow any snideness or attack to creep in to what I said. To have a productive discussion with anyone, you can’t call into question their motives, even if their motives have changed throughout the conversation.

Beyond that, what follows won’t be decisive or much use to anyone else, and I’m sure many have had it before, but I was surprised by how quickly someone went from believing that unborn lives were preeminent to finding reasons to prefer everything else.

Continue reading “A rare Internet discussion where both sides prove their point”

Ironic misogyny is a lot less ironic than misogynistic

Lorenzen Wright’s ex-wife Sherra Wright arrested in California, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy

Bitches ain’t shit

I don’t understand why people are reacting so negatively to people disagreeing with these sorts of comments.

Empirically, women are five times as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence like simple assault, sexual assault, and aggravated assault than men are.

Murder, specifically, is nearly as stark:

In 2007 intimate partners committed 14% of all homicides in the U.S. The total estimated number of intimate partner homicide victims in 2007 was 2,340, including 1,640 females and 700 males.

I had trouble finding the detailed data for the FBI’s more recent Uniform Crime Report, but this is a pattern that holds true year after year.

‘Bitches ain’t shit’ ain’t just a meme, a joke, or commiseration: It’s a widespread idea that gets women abused and killed in the thousands each year. Continue reading “Ironic misogyny is a lot less ironic than misogynistic”

‘America: a dangerous blend of diversity and racism’

Not all diversity is good diversity.

It’s like you heard someone say, ‘This smoothie is a mix of powdered glass and fruit’ and you felt the need to say, ‘Not all fruit is fresh fruit’.

Actually, that’s not what I meant.

What I meant was hiring somebody from Saudi Arabia, praising yourself on diversity, then finding out they hate women and LGBT people.

Not all diversity is good diversity — there are plenty of people who come from diverse backgrounds who are bigoted as all hell.

As contemporary events seem to make more apparent by the hour, I don’t think one needs to scour as remote a place as Riyadh to find examples of those things.

The pews of rural Iowa and suburban Houston often underwhelm in their diversity though remaining overblessed in their capacity for hatred of vulnerable groups.

If I say some ‘diversity is bad because it may contain religious bigots’, and to make that meaningful I use it as an excuse to oppose diversity, it’s more likely I’m upset with the diversity or foreignness of them than the bigotry they may share with domestic homogeneous folk. Continue reading “‘America: a dangerous blend of diversity and racism’”

Let’s talk policy: how do we fix police brutality and increase trust in police?

If we want to fix law enforcement, we first have to fix what we’re asking them to do on a daily basis.

We do want law enforcement to catch murderers, to investigate sexual assaults, to follow-up on robberies and burglaries, and to enforce things like domestic violence court orders so that we don’t have to resort to essentially tribal family or neighborhood alliances to do so.

But very little of a police officer’s job is actually doing these sorts of things because we as a society use them for all sorts of activities that even the best examples of society would strain to do well, and we’re not recruiting the best examples of society to police us now.

1. We have to decriminalize drug possession and use.

I can’t think of any single factor that has made cops lazier and more disruptive in communities than the ability to invade people’s homes or vehicles and arrest them on possession charges.

It’s completely atrophied the skills of policing that an officer ought to have, such as keeping violence down and de-escalating interactions because the reward is that you find something that is in itself illegal. It takes a lot of work to solve and then prosecute most crimes. Even burglars with stolen items have to be tracked down and work has to be done to establish that what they have was acquired by illegal means.

Prosecutors who have the option of pursuing multiple charges often use drug charges as leverage, either dropping them to get a plea to something else or using them to get an easy conviction. Easy drug convictions have likewise skewed the criminal justice system toward facile bullshit that punishes the poor and people of color while not doing anything to actually combat drug addiction or its effects.

2. We have to divorce revenue-gathering from law enforcement. 

If asset forfeiture were no longer tied to drugs, that would help in itself, but especially with traffic stops, officers are doing it because they’re expected by their city to get a certain amount of money in fines and penalties.

Now, there is a legitimate interest in our roads being safe, including making sure drivers aren’t intoxicated or distracted and that vehicles aren’t broken in some way dangerous to others. But a rich person has nothing to fear from speeding, and would rather just take the ticket every few months and pay it off than not get everywhere as fast as they want. As is well known, it ends up being a burden on the poor, often forcing them to pay to private companies far more than they would have otherwise, and allowing police to arrest them on warrants for unpaid fines. A

s with bail bonds, fines should be based on a person’s ability to pay them, similar to the Norwegian system, and this would immediately solve the problem because wealthy people would not want police to have an incentive coming after them to make up municipal shortfalls. 

3. We have to invest in non-violent emergency personnel.

People call police for all sorts of things that they’re not trained to do. Whether they have guns or just clubs, they’re not necessarily going to be equipped to handle mental welfare checks or people overdosing on drugs.

It may be possible to train all officers better until they are able to do these things, but there ought to be an opportunity for people who are unable to handle a situation themselves to call a professional to help without having it on their conscience that those professionals are likely to abuse or kill someone. It would be a dangerous job, but so is lumberjacking and nursing. Humans are capable of surprising virtue.

4. We have to invest in afterschool and summer school programs, personal housing for homeless people, and mental welfare in general.

If children have things to do, especially those most at risk because their parents can’t afford to pay money to look after them while the parents are at work, it will have an effect immediately on the sorts of petty crimes bored kids get into and into the future because they won’t be getting arrested and pushed further into a trajectory of anti-social behavior or developing skills useful for crime but not so much putting on a resume.

If homeless people have their own place to sleep and keep their things, if they can have an address to apply for jobs, if social services can be concentrated on those areas in particular, you’re spending money up front instead of having police be called to ‘deal with’ people asleep in front of businesses or “causing problems”.

And relatedly, we want to spend money on people dealing with issues of mental health before they need to go to the hospital or we jail them for crimes almost by definition we know they aren’t responsible for committing.

5. We have to be OK with having fewer police.

We can train them better, compensate them better, and hold those we do have to higher standards, but there will be fewer bodies available to do work that’s not a priority. As it is, insurance companies rely on police to determine who was at fault in traffic collisions, but if no one is seriously injured, maybe police aren’t able to do that.

Police reports for burglaries might have to be filed online, and graffiti or vandalism probably won’t lead to an officer coming out. That’s already a reality in many areas for other reasons, but it would have to become the norm.

6. We need local civilian oversight and a federal bureau devoted to police misconduct.

If we can do the other things to make it easier for police to do their real jobs, then we should be able to much more strongly punish them when they step out of line.

For smaller events, local civilian oversight should be enough. Complaints about an officer’s tone or use of force in an arrest should not be internal matters where we expect police to do the right thing among themselves. They’ve demonstrated they’re not trustworthy in that. A civilian oversight board would be complicated in its own right, but should operate on a standard of guilty until proven innocent when it comes to complaints.

By that I mean, if there’s a complaint about you and you “forgot to turn on” your camera when the interaction happened, that should be taken as evidence of malfeasance in itself. Police officers need to be Caesar’s wife in these things.

But, for more serious accusations and offenses, it should be a federal investigation, likely through the Civil Rights Division and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys, because they’re the absolute best in the country and not beholden to local law enforcement to make their cases or be re-elected. In an administration like this one, we wouldn’t be able to rely on that federal bureau, but that would still be a step forward from what exists at present.

In return for federal criminal justice funding, local agencies would also need to report police-involved shootings and homicides, and use of force statistics, as part of their Uniform Crime Reporting numbers. To make it meaningful, if it could be demonstrated that these numbers were intentionally skewed by local departments, they’d be on the hook for back-pay, similar to lying about your unemployment. 

That’s not going to solve everything, but it would go a long way toward re-orienting the incentives of the people involved away from violence and abuse of people in favor of public safety.

‘Why are white people hated but Jewish people aren’t?’

They [Jewish people] benefit from the same institutional racism as white people, hold the same position of privilege, and—actually—look down on all gentiles, yet every time you mention this you’re instantly painted as anti-Semitic.

Jewish people are considered white people, but Jewish people can also experience anti-Semitism. Just as a white, gay man can be called white, he can also be harassed for being gay. The issue is entirely contextual.

I don’t think there are many Jews who would claim they have it worse in America than black people.

Adding to this, in the United States, ‘whiteness’ is a concept that expands and contracts as needed, always at the exclusion and in opposition to people identified as ‘black’. Italians and Greeks and Slavs are white now when, 100 years ago, to be white was explicitly in opposition to those groups.

Those groups have been allowed to escape from targeted discrimination and, in fact, now benefit from it.

Continue reading “‘Why are white people hated but Jewish people aren’t?’”