Evolving Public Opinions Affects on Justice(?)

More often than not I find myself listening to some of the most insightful personal testimonies all the while traversing around town accompanied by my ever expanding podcast playlist; which infuses my day with knowledge, informative stances from ‘others’ perspectives and in turn increases my awareness, allowing me to grow in directions that seems unfathomable to others.

On one said trek about town I tuned into his-story; “an American poet, memoirist, and teacher” known by the name of Reginald Dwayne Betts. And on that particular audio episode of Fresh Air, entitled: In ‘Bastards Of The Reagan Era’ A Poet Says His Generation Was ‘Just Lost’, I learned more about the grevious impacts public opinions have on the fate of those that find themselves caught up in the miscarriages of societal justice.

Needless to say, that something as simple, yet so complex as words have the explicit ability of creating shifts in the evolving intersections of public opinion. For example, during what was known as the ‘Reagan era’ on October 27, 1986, “Reagan signs The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.” In doing so, former President Reagan signs, “an enormous omnibus drug bill, which appropriates $1.7 billion to fight the drug crisis. $97 million is allocated to build new prisons, $200 million for drug education and $241 million for treatment. The bill’s most consequential action is the creation of mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses. Possession of at least one kilogram of heroin or five kilograms of cocaine is punishable by at least ten years in prison. In response to the crack epidemic, the sale of five grams of the drug leads to a mandatory five-year sentence. Mandatory minimums become increasingly criticized over the years for promoting significant racial disparities in the prison population, because of the differences in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine.” When the ink dried on this new bill, it forever changed the lives of millions of people around the world. — (Frontline: Thirty Years of America’s Drug War a Chronology)

When I think back on it, I suppose the reason why his-story resonated within me – is because as I young girl, I recall how the famed basketball star Michael Jordan’s father (James Jordan) came to his untimely death due to a murderous carjacking that drew even more attention to this type of criminal act.  Due to the sensationalism of these heinous acts they became deemed as a hybrid offence, by the US Justice Department. Meaning that in the US, “…the prosecuting attorney has discretion in deciding which category to charge the defendant. Prosecutors may strategically file such offenses as felonies, agreeing to refile the charge as a misdemeanor should the defendant consent to a guilty plea.”  Which appears to be what happened to Dwayne Betts and many others like himself.

In most instances carjacking has been seen as, “…a crime of opportunism and spontaneity rather than carefully planned, probably due to the mobility of their targets. The term carjacking was virtually unknown until the early 1990s when several atypical, albeit well publicized and horrific carjacking cases brought national attention to the subject. In the wake of these events, media reports described carjacking as a national epidemic brought on by a new type of auto thief whose misdeeds  resembled a symbolic attack on the fabric of people’s lives.” –(Encyclopedia of Social Problems, by Vincent N. Parrillo)

–(For most people that are sent to prison, life effectively ends. Yet for poet Dwayne Betts, getting sent to jail for eight years when he was still a high school student was the start of a remarkable journey to become a writer, speaker, and poet. We had an opportunity to interview Dwayne while he was speaking at the Virginia Piper Center for Creative Writing. His story is inspiring and a great reminder of the power of your dreams. Edited by: Christina Cooper, video Intern at ASU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Executive Producer: Erik Holsinger.)

To this day ‘we’ still find ourselves fighting this war! Matter of factly, on December 18, 2015 Senate member, “Mrs. Shaheen introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Appropriations”.

TITLE ILAW ENFORCEMENT PROGRAMS

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Office Of Justice Programs

-state and local law enforcement assistance

For an additional amount for “State and local law enforcement assistance”, for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program as authorized by subpart 1 of part E of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (except that section 1001(c), and the special rules for Puerto Rico under section 505(g) of title I of such Act shall not apply for purposes of this Act) for expenses relating to drug treatment and enforcement programs, law enforcement programing, and drug addiction prevention and education programs, $200,000,000, to remain available until expended: Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (2 U.S.C. 901(b)(2)(A)(i)).

Community Oriented Policing Services

-community oriented policing services programs

For an additional amount for “Community Oriented Policing Services Programs” for competitive grants to State law enforcement agencies in States with high rates of primary treatment admissions for heroin or other opioids, $10,000,000, to remain available until expended:Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (2 U.S.C. 901(b)(2)(A)(i)). –(Congress.gov S.2423 – A bill making appropriations to address the heroin and opioid drug abuse epidemic for the fiscal year ending September 20, 2016, and for other purposes.)

One might wonder, how those funds will be utilized given how widespread the trail of opioids is across the US and what we now know about this distinct crime that became entangled with the legislation surrounding the war on drugs…

That said, have you ever thought how differently our cities and even our rural communities (including the households that make up these prisms) would look like if it had not been for the adverse affects that public opinion brought about, that ultimately enacted the laws that forever changed the social & moral landscapes we see before us today.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this…

–(Reginald Dwayne Betts is an American poet, memoirist, and teacher. Recorded at Without Limits, this inspiring keynote address will motivate you to be a leader.)

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