When Law and Justice Part Ways

At the time this piece was published, four people had been arrested in Durham for allegedly taking down a Confederate statue.  They allegedly broke the law.  Now let’s talk about justice.

History has painfully provided us with countless examples of how law and justice, though they are two related concepts, can be different.  Far too often, they are.  It is easier to denounce lawful injustice when we can hide behind decades of separation, so perhaps it can be useful to start with examples of individuals who fought for justice generations before us.

Many currently highly regarded activists of the past have broken the law in the name of justice, in the United States and elsewhere.  History has been kind to the activists of the Boston Tea Party.  Slave Rebellions were lead by currently widely celebrated heroes who not only fought for their freedom, but helped others escape slavery.  Civil Rights activists of the 1960s who compromised their personal safety to participate in sit ins and marches parted ways with the law in the name of justice.  And notably, they did not count on the law to be enforced in ways that would protect them.  Many of us are far too familiar with images and stories of protesters being spat on, beaten, and killed with impunity.

And then there is the present.  We cannot afford to lounge in complacency about what is happening in our country today.  We cannot simply rely on hindsight when we discuss the distinction between law and justice.  Hatred’s heroes have become much more visible, more powerful.  How far will the law take us towards justice?  Most importantly, what do we do when we feel that the law and true justice have parted ways?  Who has the power to achieve justice?

The Carolina Justice Policy Center, in keeping with a commitment to true justice, wants to hear your thoughts.  But more importantly, we want to hear what you are doing to enact your vision of justice.  If you are concerned about justice in your community and are planning to do something about it, we want to help you share your plans and call others to action.  Please consider writing for our blog by submitting your thoughts to thale@justicepolicycenter.org with the subject line “CJPC Justice Blog.”  Let’s talk about justice.  And then let’s make it happen.

Sincerely,

B. Tessa Hale

Associate Director

Carolina Justice Policy Center

Lawmakers Respond to Prison Corruption Investigation

In response to a Charlotte Observer investigation regarding prison corruption, Senate leader Phil Berger has said that he plans to call for a legislative inquiry on prison corruption. Moreover, Governor Roy Cooper has called upon Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks to identify ways to address the issues identified in the investigation. The investigation exposed a host of problems. These include officers physically abusing inmates, permitting or encouraging attacks on inmates, having sex with inmates, and running contraband rings inside prisons.  Learn more at http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article155319679.html

DEA Proposal Reminiscent of War on Drugs

The DEA has proposed action that is reminiscent of the unsuccessful “War on Drugs” of the 1980s. This “War on Drugs” involved draconian and discriminatory sentencing for drug offenders. The current proposal is that the DEA hire a separate prosecutor corps of as many as 20 prosecutors to prosecute cases related to drug trafficking, money laundering. The proposal, according to DEA spokesman Rusty Payne, is in response to the opioid crisis. Opponents of the plan, including the Drug Policy Alliance, fear that the plan exceeds the DEA’s authority under federal law and represents movement away from treating drug addiction as a public health crisis.  Learn more at http://www.npr.org/2017/05/04/526784152/dea-seeks-prosecutors-to-fight-opioid-crisis-critics-fear-return-to-war-on-drugs

Congress Pushes Back of Jeff Sessions’ Regressive Approach to Criminal Justice

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy have pledged to fight back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vow to seek the longest possible sentences even for non-violent drug offenses. Paul, Leahy, and Democrat Jeff Merkley have introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would allow federal judges the discretion to give out sentences below the mandatory minimum in some cases. The Senators noted the failure of increasing incarceration to lower crime rates, as well as the extraordinary cost to taxpayers. They also noted the ineffectiveness of Sessions’ approach for treating opioid addiction.

Former Civil Rights Attorney Takes the Lead Towards Becoming Philadelphia’s Next DA

It is possible for prosecutors to be champions of progressive criminal justice reform. Larry Krasner, a former civil rights attorney who has never been a prosecutor, has taken the lead to win the Democratic nomination over several experienced prosecutors and a former city manager. He will run against one Republican candidate in the fall. Krasner is a strong opponent of mass incarceration and the death penalty. He has fought hard against the death penalty while advocating for his clients. In 25 years of defending capital cases, none of his clients have been sent to death row. He seeks to work towards “a criminal justice system that works for everyone” and a “society that builds people up instead of tearing them down.”

 

North Carolina need to identify and support candidates for district attorney who are willing to create a judical system that works for all citizens, like Krasner.