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Criminal Justice Reform: Rep. Danny Davis Pushes Back on Cash Bail System with New Bill

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By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

During a recent press conference on Capitol Hill, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said that at any given time there are roughly 500,000 people sitting in local jails waiting for their day in court.

“These are people who have been charged with a crime, but are not convicted,” said Davis. “Many of the people waiting in jail are forced to wait simply, because they cannot afford to post bail.”

On January 18, Davis introduced the Bail Fairness Act of 2018 to alleviate some of the burdens associated with the cash bail system.

The Chicago congressman was joined on Capitol Hill by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) and Chicago businessman and philanthropist Dr. Willie Wilson. The four of them were flanked by two large posters; one poster read: “Taxpayers Spend $17 billion on Pre-trial Detentions”; the other poster simply said, “Bail Fail” in large letters. Wilson said that he has paid the bails of non-violent Cook County Corrections inmates who were too poor to bail themselves out.

Davis’ legislation would require states to release individuals charged with a non-violent misdemeanor on non-monetary conditions prior to their court date.

Civil rights groups and lawmakers are increasingly putting pressure on businesses operating in the cash bail system and becoming more vocal about problems in the industry.

As more cities begin to do away with the cash bail practice, some federal legislators are taking notice. Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have voiced similar concerns regarding the problems of money bail in the Senate. In September 2017, Harris joined with Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act. The bill would overhaul America’s bail system just as Rep. Davis’ legislation hopes to do.

A May 2017 report by Color of Change and the ACLU entitled, “Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System,” outlined the for-profit incentives behind the bail system in America.

The report revealed that there are fewer than 10 companies involved in the administration of over $14 billion in bonds posted by for-profit bail each year. The bail industry collects approximately $2 billion in profit, annually.

“The result of bail corporations’ control is that millions of people are no longer free: people stuck in jail and families stuck in debt to create profit for these corporations,” the report read. The study also pointed out that, “the national median for bail for a felony arrest is now $10,000, while the Federal Reserve has found that nearly half of Americans would be unable to pay for an unexpected expense of $400.”

The United States remains number one in the world in the rate of incarceration, with over two million people behind bars, in large part, because poor people are unable to pay their way out of incarceration. The money bail system disproportionately impacts the poor. There are currently over 43 million Americans living under the poverty line; nearly 30 percent of African Americans live in poverty.

“The original purpose of bail was to serve as an incentive to return to court when a person is arrested, released, and their case proceeds. However, the current money bail system has little to do with this original intent…people with money can almost always buy their way to freedom, regardless of the charges against them,” wrote ACLU Deputy National Political Director Udi Ofer on December 11, 2017.

Rep. Davis has continued to focus on justice reform issues during his 20 years in Congress. Davis’ “Second Chance Act” was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. The legislation assisted formerly incarcerated individuals to successfully re-enter society.

In November 2016, after his 15-year-old grandson was murdered in Chicago, Rep. Davis pushed for more funding for neighborhoods struggling with poverty. His focus was on the “10-20-30” policy proposed by South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn. The “10-20-30” plan would focus cash on 10 percent of all government funding to be allocated to areas where 20 percent of the residents have lived in poverty for over 30 years.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist, political analyst and contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. She can be reached by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

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Driving While Black: Police Continue to Profile, Stop and Search African American Drivers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “What’s particularly damning about this data is that police were more likely to search Black people than white people yet found contraband in only 41 percent of searches of Black people compared to 72 percent of the searches of white people,” said American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Carl Takei. “In other words, the police have a pattern of stopping and searching Black people in circumstances where they would simply let white people go.

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The Louisville Courier Journal also found that black motorists in Kentucky were searched 12 percent of the time they were stopped, while white motorists were searched just 3.9 percent of the time. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
The Louisville Courier Journal also found that black motorists in Kentucky were searched 12 percent of the time they were stopped, while white motorists were searched just 3.9 percent of the time. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Two new recently published reports show that racial profiling – particularly “Driving While Black” – remains a crisis in America.

A recent report issued by Missouri’s attorney general Eric Schmitt revealed that black drivers across that state are 91 percent more likely than white motorists to get pulled over by police. What’s more, the profiling usually takes place in the motorists’ own community, according to the attorney general’s report.

The Missouri report arrives on the heels of one out of Kentucky where a study found that black motorists are searched at a rate of three-times more than whites in Louisville.

African Americans account for approximately 20 percent of Louisville’s driving age population, but they still accounted for 33 percent of police stops and 57 percent of the nearly 9,000 searches conducted on motorists, according to the Louisville Courier Journal, which conducted the study.

Their findings were highlighted in a tweet by The Thurgood Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.

The Louisville Courier Journal said it reviewed “130,999 traffic stops in Louisville from 2016 to 2018 and found that an overwhelming number of African American drivers were profiled and pulled over by police.”

The newspaper also found that black motorists were searched 12 percent of the time they were stopped, while white motorists were searched just 3.9 percent of the time.

“Aside from the alarming and devastating findings, we have always known that racial profiling is all too prevalent throughout law enforcement and our society as a whole,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told NNPA Newswire.

“What we need is to implement proper training for law enforcement officers on how to more efficiently carry out essential policing without threatening the lives of people of color,” Johnson said.

Racial profiling is an insidious practice and serious problem in America that can lead to deadly consequences, Johnson added.

“Our faith in our criminal justice system will continuously be challenged if we are constantly targeted by discriminatory practices just by doing simple tasks – walking down the street, driving down an interstate, or going through an airport without being stopped merely because of the color of our skin. Living as a person of color should never be crime,” he said.

American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Carl Takei told NNPA Newswire that racial disparities in the new data are similar to what courts have relied on around the country to find unconstitutional racial profiling in traffic stops.

“Disparities of this kind suggest that officers are using race not only in deciding who to pull over, but who to single out for searches,” Takei said.

“What’s particularly damning about this data is that police were more likely to search Black people than white people yet found contraband in only 41 percent of searches of Black people compared to 72 percent of the searches of white people,” he said.

Takei continued:

“In other words, the police have a pattern of stopping and searching Black people in circumstances where they would simply let white people go.

“This unjustly interferes with Black people trying to live their everyday lives – subjecting them to humiliating, intrusive stops and searches in circumstances where white people would not be stopped or searched.

“Additionally, such racialized policing practices harm law enforcement by undermining the legitimacy of the police and damaging police relationships with the communities they are supposed to be serving.”

The Louisville Courier Journal reported that Police Chief Steve Conrad spoke before the Metro Council Public Safety Committee and acknowledged that the department has disproportionately stopped black drivers.

The newspaper reported that Conrad reasoned that African Americans are disproportionately represented in all aspects of the criminal justice system, including in arrests and incarceration.

“This is not all surprising based on my over 35 years of practice defending drug cases after traffic stops,” Randall Levine, a Kalamazoo, Michigan attorney told NNPA Newswire.

“I would say that DWB – Driving While Black – is still as prevalent today as it was in 1980,” Levine said, before opining what could occur to affect change. “Diversity, sensitivity training and some type of real enforcement for violations might help,” he said.

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Buttigieg scolds man at campaign event who calls for Black people to ‘stop committing crimes and doing drugs’

CHICAGO CRUSADER — 2020 presidential hopeful and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) called out a man at an Independence Day campaign stop in Iowa who suggested the Black residents of his hometown “stop committing crimes and doing drugs.”

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Buttigieg scolds man at campaign event who calls for black people to 'stop committing crimes and doing drugs'

By Marina Pitofsky

2020 presidential hopeful and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) called out a man at an Independence Day campaign stop in Iowa who suggested the Black residents of his hometown “stop committing crimes and doing drugs.”

“Sir, I think that racism is not going to help us get out of this,” Buttigieg responded Thursday when the man made the suggestion at a campaign stop with the Carroll County Democrats.

The man said his comment had “nothing to do with race” after being booed by the crowd, but Buttigieg responded by arguing that the difference in arrest rates between Black and white Americans is evidence of “systemic racism.”

“The fact that a Black person is four times as likely as a white person to be incarcerated for the exact same crime is evidence of systemic racism,” Buttigieg said.

ABC News was among those that tweeted a video of the exchange.

Buttigieg added that racism exacerbates relations between law enforcement and communities.

“It is evidence if systemic racism, and with all due respect, sir, racism makes it harder for good police officers to do their job, too. It is a smear on law enforcement,” Buttigieg said.

The mayor has come under fire for his leadership on police brutality issues after a Black man was shot last month in South Bend by a law enforcement officer whose body camera was not on. Buttigieg, who has struggled to connect with Black voters, took heat over the incident during the first Democratic presidential debate last week.

Buttigieg had called for a special investigation of the incident, and, on Wednesday, an Indiana judge appointed a special prosecutor to the case.

The Buttigieg campaign confirmed the incident to The Hill but declined to comment further. This article originally appeared in The Hill.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Crusader

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Philadelphia Fires 13 Officers for Racist Facebook Posts

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In Philadelphia, several officers have been terminated while in St. Louis, prosecutors have barred a number of police personnel from bringing cases against suspects. “I continue to be very angered and disappointed by these posts,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., said on Thursday, July 18.

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Philadelphia Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. said the department terminated 13 officers who made “posts that advocated violence.” He said 17 other officers still face “severe disciplinary action,” while another four will receive 30-day suspensions. (Photo: YouTube)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Police officers in Philadelphia and St. Louis are paying a heavy price for their acts of racism.

Weeks after a scathing analysis by the nonprofit Plain View Project, the two departments have responded.

In Philadelphia, several officers have been terminated while in St. Louis, prosecutors have barred a number of police personnel from bringing cases against suspects.

“I continue to be very angered and disappointed by these posts,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., said on Thursday, July 18.

Ross said the department terminated 13 officers who made “posts that advocated violence.” He said 17 other officers still face “severe disciplinary action,” while another four will receive 30-day suspensions.

In St. Louis, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said she added 22 officers to her “exclusion list” of authorities banned from bringing cases to her office after the Facebook posts were made public.

In a letter sent to Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden, Gardner said seven of those 22 were “permanently banned.”

Hayden and Gardner have said they are still investigating the Facebook posts.

In June, the Plain View Project determined that at least 328 active-duty police officers in various cities, including Philadelphia and St. Louis, posted content that championed violence against Muslims, immigrants and African Americans.

In the posts, officers from rookies to the highest of rank, said the viewed African Americans as “dogs,” and some wrote that they would arrive at work believing that, “it’s a good day for a chokehold.”

Still, others posted their beliefs that women in hijabs were tantamount to “trash bags.”

Plain View project officials counted more than 3,000 offensive posts from departments across the country, including Dallas, Tex.; Denison, Tex.; Lake County, Fla.; Philadelphia, Penn.; Phoenix, Ariz.; St. Louis, Mo.; Twin Falls, Idaho; and York, Penn.

“We found a very high and concerning number of posts that appear to endorse, celebrate or glorify violence and vigilantism,” said Philadelphia-based attorney Emily Baker-White, who heads the Plain View Project.

“We included posts that we thought could affect public trust and policing,” she said.

“We also included posts that seemed to emit some sort of bias against a group of people – whether if that’s a minority faith, a minority race, ethnicity, immigration status, whatever it is. We saw a number of posts that appeared to denigrate those groups of people,” Baker-White said.

Pennsylvania State. Rep. Chris Rabb said the move by the Philadelphia Police Department to fire the officers is the right thing to do.

“We rely on police officers to protect us, all of us, and to serve as an example of appropriate behavior in our community,” said Rabb, a Democrat who represents the Philadelphia area.

“Unethical, racist, inappropriate behavior or comments by police officers, like that exhibited by these officers from the Philadelphia Police Department, undermines the public’s trust in an institution that is supposed to serve us all,” Rabb said.

Further, Rabb said he agreed with sending the message that such behavior will not be tolerated in any police department.

“But it’s not enough if those police officers are able to find employment in another community that’s unsuspecting of their past behavior,” said Rabb, who has introduced legislation that would ensure that officers like those being terminated cannot simply be moved to another department without leadership and the community being aware of their past behavior.

He said his bill would prevent a department from hiring a police officer who separated from their last job after a pattern of allegations, complaints or charges for inappropriate behavior.

It would also ensure that the hiring departments are fully informed about whom they are hiring.

“This legislation would empower police chiefs and municipalities to make fully informed decisions about the officers who serve their communities,” Rabb said.

“Accountability and transparency, which this legislation would promote, are assets in agencies and departments that strive for integrity.”

Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 President John McNesby said the organization was “disappointed” in the decision to fire the officers in part because they were deprived of due process.

“The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism,” McNesby said.

None of the terminated officers were named, but Philadelphia authorities confirmed that the highest-ranking officer fired is a sergeant.

“We have a duty to represent ourselves and our city,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.

“We will not allow this incident to break down the progress we have made and we pledge to do better,” Kenney said.

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Democrats need a Lincoln—and a General

NEW PITTSBURGH COURIER — As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention he was approached by a woman who asked, “What have you given us, a monarchy or a republic? Franklin replied, ”A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Every serious thinker since Plato, including the founders of the United States, have had the same reservation about popular democracy; there is a very thin line that separates democratic rule from mob rule. When democracies begin to disintegrate they produce tyrants, the rise of the Roman Empire was a result of the fall of the Roman Republic.

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Mike Jones

By Mike Jones

As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention he was approached by a woman who asked, “What have you given us, a monarchy or a republic? Franklin replied, ”A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

Every serious thinker since Plato, including the founders of the United States, have had the same reservation about popular democracy; there is a very thin line that separates democratic rule from mob rule. When democracies begin to disintegrate they produce tyrants, the rise of the Roman Empire was a result of the fall of the Roman Republic.

Athletes need coaches, armies need generals, and political parties need political leaders. What stands between the flawed democratic project that is the United States and a dystopian future that would make “1984” look like the Garden of Eden before the snake is an intellectually vapid baby boomer Democratic leadership class, lacking in character, whose political muscle has completely atrophied.

The sophomoric moralizing of Democratic leadership about constitutional and cultural norms is not about protecting a moral high ground, but rather an excuse for the political cowardice of not confronting an existential evil that is currently metastasizing throughout the American body politic.

Abraham Lincoln was not only arguably America’s most eloquent president but also its most prophetic. In his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before the end of the Civil War and his assassination, he gives the reason for the war and when it will end. For him the cause was unequivocally slavery. “Slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest,” Lincoln wrote. “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war.”

Lincoln believed that the war would only end when the nation had paid the full price of the sin of slavery, and God would determine when the debt was paid. As he put it, the war would “continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Slavery, which was maintained by violence, would require a violent death.

Lincoln understood clearly that if the South tried to break the Union, the Union had to break the South. Political leadership like Lincoln gets you generals like William Tecumseh Sherman, the ultimate destroyer, who telegraphed Lincoln the following in 1864, “War is the remedy our enemies have chosen. They wanted war, and I say let’s give them all they want; not a word of argument, not a sign of let up, no cave in till we are whipped or they are.”

Sherman was the military expression of Lincoln’s political will, and Lincoln had the moral agency to deploy him without any reservation. What’s the relevance for us today?

Donald Trump is ignorant, lazy, incompetent and amoral, but he’s not stupid. Mitch McConnell is immoral but cunning. Like all hyenas, they have a nose for fear and weakness and the Democratic establishment smells like prey. Trump, McConnell and the dumpster fire that is the current Republican Party are political thugs. To stop political thugs requires you to be a political gangsta. Lincoln and Sherman were political gangstas; that’s why they prevailed over the Confederate political thugs. Democratic leadership can’t spell “O.G.,” let alone be one.

History is very often about the path not taken. What would have happened had Lincoln lived? Before you start hyperventilating with the possibilities, remember Lincoln was a man of his times, meaning that like most, if not all, 19th century American White men, he was a racist. His moral objection to slavery was because it stained the soul of White Americans. How he would have addressed the humanity of emancipated African Americans is an open question.

Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War is an interesting analogy to put the 2020 Presidential Election into some historical context. Just about every issue riling the American political system has its root in the unrealized possibilities of Lincoln’s second term. The armed conflict ended in April 1865, but his assassination two weeks later insured the war would continue. Like then, the struggle now is between the forces of the Union versus the Confederacy. The 21st century Confederacy has its Jefferson Davis. The question is: can 21st America still produce a Lincoln?

The point is not to make Lincoln a hero to African Americans, because he was not. The point is to illustrate what effective, principled White political leadership looks like and the difference it can make when the fate of the Republic is at stake. Lincoln understood what was at stake and what was required. History will have to wait until November 2020 to make a judgment about the Democratic leadership of today.

(Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016 and 2017, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association, and in 2018 he was awarded Best Serious Columnist in the nation by the National Newspapers Association.)

Reprinted from the St. Louis American.

This article originally appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier

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COMMENTARY: Is U.S. marching steadily to war with Iran?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.

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An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on June 13, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Photo: AP/Wide World Photo

By Askia Muhammad, Senior Editor, The Final Call
@askiaphotojourn

WASHINGTON—President Donald J. Trump seems to want war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is beating the drum for war with Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton is itching for war with Iran. Together they are orchestrating an all-too-familiar scenario to justify the use of U.S. military force against the Islamic Republic.

In 1846 U.S. forces falsely claimed they were attacked by Mexican forces inside U.S. territory. In retaliation the U.S. launched the Mexican-American War, seizing land from New Mexico to California, to Colorado, even to Utah. Have we forgotten the suspicious sinking of the USS Maine, the Navy ship which went down in the Havana Harbor in 1898, dragging the U.S. into the Spanish-American War?

In 1962, a Pentagon plan called “Operation Northwoods” was hatched for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to commit acts of terrorism against U.S. civilians to be blamed on Cuba, in order to justify an invasion of that country. In 1964 the White House committed “material misrepresentations” of the truth of what was known as the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” in order to goad Congress into authorizing war with Vietnam. And of course, the convincing dramatizations of “Yellow Cake Uranium” and non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” were used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Trump administration is now stoking fear of a potential conflict with Iran. The president withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—in May 2018. More recently, National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran.

In the latest incident, the Secretary of State said Iran was behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman June 13, implicating the nation in the second set of attacks on tankers in the region in two months. U.S. Central Command even released a video it says shows Iran removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers it’s accused of attacking.

But the Japanese owner of the ship that was damaged denied that it was struck by mines as the U.S. claims, insisting instead that it was hit by “flying objects.” Yutaka Katada, president of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping firm that owns the Kokuka Courageous tanker, told reporters in Tokyo June 14: “The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel. Then some crew witnessed a second shot.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—(without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” and he accused the Trump White House of “economic terrorism” and “sabotage diplomacy,” according to published reports.

“So it’s apparent that the United States is trying to execute a false flag operation and to throw dust in the eyes of international communities and make the international community feel that the Iranians are the aggressors when in fact it’s Washington that’s the aggressor,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston said in an interview.

The U.S. lust for war is because U.S. interests and allies are suffering, while Iran is making gains in the region, according to Dr. Horne. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has made that country even more dependent on Iran for everything from electricity to security. And U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is fighting a costly and bloody war against rebels in Yemen who enjoy Iranian support.

“Interestingly enough, because of Mr. Trump pulling out of the (Iranian) nuclear deal, the EU 3—Germany, Britain, and France—are trying to set up a special purpose vehicle to circumvent U.S. sanctions,” Dr. Horne said, “which will then be a threat to the dollar, which is now under siege not only because of the EU 3 but also because of Russia (and) China preparing to conduct trade without the dollar.”

A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.

The Trump administration is prepared to wage the war against Iran without congressional authorization, based on the notion that the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” approved by Congress in 2001 after 9/11 can be applied to Iran, through that country’s purported links to Al Qaeda.

Democratic House members and senators, and a host of presidential candidates condemned the president’s saber rattling. “If the administration wants to go to war against Iran, then the Constitution requires them to come to Congress to ask for an authorization for the use of military force,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate told reporters.

“This is Constitutional Law 101, that it is Congress, not the president, that declares war,” Sen. Warren, a former law professor, continued. “We would have to have a debate on the floor of the Senate. And if the administration doesn’t believe that they can withstand a debate, then they shouldn’t be aiming themselves toward war.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to reporters after a classified members-only briefing on Iran, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Trump told an interviewer on June 13 that “Iran did do it.” In response, presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters: “Attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are unacceptable and must be fully investigated. But this incident must not be used as a pretext for a war with Iran, a war which would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States, Iran, the region and the world.

“The time is now for the United States to exert international leadership and bring the countries in the region together to forge a diplomatic solution to the growing tensions. I would also remind President Trump that there is no congressional authorization for a war with Iran. A unilateral U.S. attack on Iran would be illegal and unconstitutional.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

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If You’re Poor in America, Debtor’s Prison is Real

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, according to a 2018 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Despite a centuries-old Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the practice, debtor’s prison remains very much alive in America, experts told NNPA Newswire. Being poor is challenging enough, but some states, like Missouri, have continued to punish those of lesser means.

A federal class-action suit claims thousands of those living in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines – essentially, a debtor’s prison and conundrum for the poor.

Pro Publica reported that four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.

The report details the plight of Tonya DeBerry, who, in January 2014, was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.

“After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail,” according to Pro Publica.

“To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. However, even after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody.

Because DeBerry still owed fines and fees to the cities in Ferguson and Jennings, she remained jailed and her attorney likened it to “being held for ransom.”

“The crisis that is going on in Missouri is taking place all around the country. It is a rising issue amongst people who cannot afford to pay court fees and, or fines,” said Attorney Dameka L. Davis of the Davis Legal Center in Hollywood, Fla.

“I believe the more appropriate action is to implement programs and services that are free or offer a person to do community service in lieu of paying fines or fees,” Davis said.

“Our system is perpetuating a money-based system, which in turn systematically affects minorities and people of color,” she said.

Matt C. Pinsker, an adjunct professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the problem runs deeper than in Missouri.

“The American people would be horrified if they knew of just how many laws still exist which send poor people to prison over their inability to pay fines, court costs, and related expenses,” Pinsker said.

“It is a tragedy and absurdity that we will essentially have debtors’ prisons here in the United States of America,” he said.

In DeBerry’s case, Pro Publica reported that after the Michael Brown killing, “the city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong.”

Still, the lawsuit remains unresolved with the city seeking dismissal.

In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed more than 1,000 cases in 26 states in which judges, acting on the request of a collection company, issued warrants for people they claimed owed money for “ordinary debts, such as student loans, medical expenses, unpaid rent and utility bills.”

The ACLU said it’s a system that breeds coercion and abuse.

The report concluded that, “with little government oversight, debt collectors, backed by arrest warrants and wielding bounced check demand letters, can frighten people into paying money that may not even be owed.”

Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said.

As an example, one 75-year-old woman subsisting on $800 monthly Social Security checks, went without her medications in order to pay the fees she believed were required to avoid jail time for bouncing a check.

And as one lawyer in Texas, who has sought arrests of student loan borrowers who are in arrears, said, “It’s easier to settle when the debtor is under arrest,” the report’s authors found.

The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, the report said.

Many were struggling to recover after the loss of a job, mounting medical bills, the death of a family member, a divorce, or an illness.

“They included retirees or people with disabilities who are unable to work. Some were subsisting solely on Social Security, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, or veterans’ benefits – income that is legally protected from outstanding debt judgments,” the report’s authors wrote.

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