Thursday, November 19, 2009

Applied Madness

¡Hola! Everybody...
I have not slept in weeks. As usual, today is my longest day of the week. I will be busy all day and part of the evening...

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-=[ Applied Madness, pt. I ]=-

In the seminal novel, Catch-22, The “catch” alluded to in the title specifies that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real was the process of a rational mind. One aviator was indeed unhinged and should have been grounded. All he had to do was ask; but as soon as he did, he would no longer be considered insane and would have to fly more missions. In a classic example of warped bureaucracy, one must be crazy to keep flying; but to ask to be grounded meant one was rational, and had to keep flying.


Social policy often resembles such reactionary thinking -- or as a former mentor termed it, “applied madness.” For example, the Census Bureau’s practice of counting people in prison as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, though they remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration, is a catch-22. As Census data is used to allocate political power at all levels of government, crediting thousands of disproportionately urban and minority men to other communities, the unintended consequences has stunning implications for modern American democracy.

In New York State, for example, one out of every three people who moved to upstate New York in the 1990s actually “moved” into a newly constructed prisons. The State bars people in prison from voting, but their presence in the Census boosts the population of the upstate districts whose legislators favor prison expansion. Without this coerced population, upstate New York State Senate districts would not meet minimum population requirements and would have to be redrawn.

Consequently, we have created incentives that effectively cripple downstate communities of color on two fronts: economically and politically. Today, we face the specter of a representative democracy where elected representatives represent cities, farms, prisons or other businesses, but not people. In order for one person’s vote to be equal to another’s, the U.S. Supreme Court requires legislative districts to be of equal size by population.

The district lines being proposed now will be law for the next decade. A fair and accurate count is essential for all of the people of New York to receive a legislature that represents their interests fairly and democratically. We need to create a more sane, more equitable census policy that encourages freedom and democracy, not disaccumulation and political disenfranchisement.

When people think of racism, they usually imagine the extreme images of white hoods and burning crosses. In the absence of such imagery, many who would rather not take a fearless look at the disease, claim that racism doesn’t exist. In actuality, racism exerts its power in unhidden less easily recognizable forms. Consider the following:

New York City loses 43,740 residents to the districts of upstate legislators

All prisons in New York built since 1982 have been built in overwhelmingly white upstate communities.

With the prisoners as “population,” seven upstate state senate districts are short more than 5% of their required size, in violation of Supreme Court rulings

All seven of these districts belong to rural Republicans

Some upstate towns are mostly prisoners: The majority of Dannemora, NY’s population is housed in its supermax prison.

Almost half (3,000) of the town of Coxsackie’s population (7,000) is in prison.

The leading defenders of the former Rockefeller Drug Laws requiring long mandatory prison sentences were upstate Senators Volker and

Nozzolio, heads of the Committees on Codes and Crime, respectively. The prisons in their two districts account for more than 17% of the state’s prisoners.

As a nation, we incarcerate for people than any other in the world. Our societal response to education, addiction, mental health, and poverty has been one: the shackling of vast (mostly black and brown) segments of our population. Consider that numerous empirical studies show drug usage is the same throughout all demographics, but that the vast majority those convicted of non-violent drug offenses are people of color, and one begins to see a pattern that can only be termed as apartheid.

It’s time to stop the madness...

-- Eddie

1 comment:

  1. This was a nice piece that exposes like you said, the hidden and sytematic effects of racism via policy. This very thing has presented itself to be a conundrum for republican legislators as it relates to the housing of those GITMO detainees. In Thompson Illinois - which looks to be the toen to win the "bidding war" - state republicans at the local level are against the move. But, at the federal level, a few of them support the measure and endorse the $140 million dollar purchase of the prison.

    Checkout this topic that isn't getting uch coverage right now:


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