American Justice System: Part 3
Tough on Crime Era
Fear, the greatest social and political motivator, activates our evolutionary adapted primal defense mechanisms and threatens our stable states of consciousness by replacing our mental comfort with an uneasy and uncomfortable feeling of fret and vulnerability in the face of unknown and unconscious external events. Politicians and the mainstream media know this well and craft their propaganda in a way that attracts the largest number of viewers, while also demonizing, alienating, and condemning the actions, ideas, and behavior of a different racial, political, or ideological class in order to sow divisiveness and discontent among the population for the purpose of gaining and maintaining power and control.
In the political environment, this ideological division is called partisan; in the sociocultural environment, this division between two classes of people is called tribalism and represents a key function of the ruling system of divide and conquer. Under this system, the wealthy and the powerful (politicians and corporations) distract the population from their corrupt behavior by turning half of American citizens against the other in an arbitrary ideological war, with the purpose of maintaining the illusion of authority, hierarchy, and sociopolitical classism as a means of protecting the veneer of an impenetrable and unstoppable government.
For Americas, tough on crime policies, in particular, which are a series of laws that encourage the mass incarceration of human beings, politicians, the mainstream media, and the prison industrial complex prey on the American public’s ignorance and fear, a potent combination when considering the current volatile social and cultural environment and political climate occurring within the United States today. By manipulating the population into believing that a massive crime wave continues to sweep the nation- especially crime committed by racial minorities- these dominator political, corporate, and media classes effectively convince American citizens to abandon their own Constitutional rights and rights to privacy, for the comfort, safety, and protection of the government.
With the help of the mainstream media- the communications arm of the federal government- politicians and bureaucrats corrupt the public’s minds into believing that only bigger government and greater surveillance can protect the average citizen from aggressive and violent criminal behavior. But the far more damaging criminal behavior, which occurs at a much greater rate and affects a larger portion of the American population, is not committed within poor and minority communities in major cities, but by politicians in Washington and by executives on Wall Street, who change the economic and political system for their own benefit to the detriment of the poor and middle class.
When the poor and middle class suffer from higher levels of economic insecurity and overall inequality, they are also more likely to feel threatened by crime and less likely to think critically, at length, as to why and how they can no longer afford to pay their bills; why there are fewer quality, high paying jobs; why goods and services cost more but their paychecks remain the same; how others appear to possess more money and more rights while their own savings account remains the same.
For those that run their lives behind the veil of ignorance and fear, the acceptance of simple answers for complex problems becomes the primary operating procedure. For the wealthy and the powerful that provide these simple answers to complex problems, they gain the illusion of authority while convincing half of the population that the elimination of their own Constitutional rights is less important than the other half of the population receiving greater rights and privileges.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.Amendment V. December 15, 1791.
Slaves considered as property during this time.
Law and Order
The social implementation of mass incarceration as a form of political suppression and oppression begins with Richard Nixon and the illegitimate War on Drugs during the 1970s, which world governments continue to fight today, with nations destabilized, trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Nixon took note of certain populist and nationalist tactics and policies implemented by George Wallace and Barry Goldwater (both hardline populist politicians with dogmatic ideologies) during the early 1960’s- a strategy that Donald Trump exploited with his ultranationalist rhetoric to win the 2016 presidency.
Nixon adopted the position as the law and order candidate during the 1968 presidential election by using subtle, racist, ideological methods and prejudicial dog-whistle tactics to manipulate the white majority of the country into believing that racial minorities, drugs, and the crime epidemic were correlated; and that the only way to stop crime was to lock up drug users (primarily African American and anti-Vietnam counter culture movement). African Americans and the counter-culture movement also happened to be Richard Nixon’s strongest political opposition amongst the voting public, so locking them up for drugs had the consequence- whether intentional or not- of preventing thousands of his enemies from voting against him.
Nixon pursued the goal of restoring the United States back to its ‘former glory,’ i.e. when white people had the power and control over the country and government before the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nixon in 1968, like Trump in 2016, read the sociopolitical climate within the United States and offered a position that allowed angry whites to vent their anger and frustration at the policies that provided racial minorities equal rights, privileges, freedoms, and protection against racism.
These race-based, ideological politicians are effective due to the nature of the underlying social climate that continues to give immigrants greater rights and opportunities while the poor white- always present but less regarded among the wealthier, aristocratic white classes- attacks and challenges those that gain socially and economically through hard work and education. The poor and uneducated white socioeconomic class acts as a buffer between poor racial minorities and the more powerful corporate and political classes that make the decisions which influence and determine the social standing of each specific class within the American population. The poor white social class earns the same amount, if not less, than the poor minority class.
The issue for the powerful dominator classes in controlling social rebellions occurs when this poor and uneducated white class believes that poor minorities possess, not only the same level of financial wealth, but also the same level of Constitutional rights and privileges. At that point, the imaginary buffer that separates the poor whites from reacting and lashing out against the wealthy whites for their perceived loss of their rights and freedoms, in comparison with their minority neighbors, becomes an attack against the system of government that has allowed socioeconomic inequality to expand to near uncontrollable levels. The quickest solution to that problem, for many, becomes ultranationalist, racist, and ideological political policies under politicians like Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump.
Richard Nixon started the world War on Drugs in the 1970s as a way to limit political opposition against him from the anti-Vietnam War, counter-culture movement and the African American Civil Rights activists. Locking up hippies and blacks for no reason would have created an uncontrollable rebellion by young Americans against the government, but by inventing a fictitious drug war, Nixon could lock up his strongest opposition from the anti-war left, weed and LSD users, and African Americans, primarily heroin users, and treat the situation as a justification for the expansion of the national and global apparatus against drug use, essentially altering the public view of drug use and twisting it into a criminal activity done by minorities and an out of control generation of young misfits that needed to be kept in check and compressed into traditional, puritanical American social and political norms.
Nixon’s invention of the War on Drugs led to the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973, with an initial annual budget of $75 million; today this federal agency receives an annual budget of $2 billion with little to show for it as illicit drug use is more prevalent than ever before. The DEA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determine the five drug schedules and conduct their operations based off of these arbitrary classifications, effectively ignoring the tens of thousands of Americans killed each year from prescriptions opioids that fall under schedule two through five on the list, choosing instead to focus their attention on nonaddictive schedule one substances like weed, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms.
In 1980, the United States had fifty thousand people behind bars for drug-related offenses; today, there are over 500,000 people, twenty-five percent of the total U.S. prison population of 2.3 million people, locked up today for nonviolent drug offenses. The United States represents only five percent of the world population but houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, many for inexcusable crimes, but many still from an out of control government drug policy with roots dating back to racist and oppressive government administrations. This war on people disguised as a war on drugs created a vacuum for drug cartels to rise up; destabilized entire countries that now rely on the $400 billion illicit drug trade; militarized Americas traditional police forces to look like occupying armies, and continues to absorb greater sums of American tax dollars to fight a losing battle.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the U.S. spends fifty-one billion dollars every year to fight the War on Drugs. In total, over one trillion dollars has been unsuccessfully thrown at the problem while the United States remains the number one nation in illegal drug use and in legal drug use with substances like alcohol and tobacco. The more money spent on the War on Drugs, incarceration and building new prisons, the less money that our country has to pay for education, healthcare, infrastructure, safety, and security services.
Studies show that legalization and decriminalization of illicit drugs today could generate forty-seven billion dollars in tax revenue and greatly reduce our prison population. Instead of forcing the illicit drug trade underground and shoving profits into the hands of criminal cartels, schedule one substances can be regulated and taxed like the much deadlier drugs of alcohol and tobacco. Unfortunately, major pharmaceutical corporations and the prison industrial complex have a vested interest in keeping naturally occurring drugs illegal, their benefits distorted and hidden from the public. These organizations make their profits off of locking people up and by selling them patented lab created drugs at excessive markup costs.
Comprehensive Crime Control Act and Sentencing Reform Act of 1984
As the War on Drugs ramped up through the 1970s and into the 1980s, Richard Nixon’s position as the tough on crime politician passed onto Ronald Reagan, the face of the former Republican party and first reality entertainer President of the United States. Reagan and Congress sought to stifle the crime epidemic sweeping across the United States with strict legislation to control crime and punish criminal offenders. With the Comprehensive Crime Control and Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, this Republican administration established provisions on bail conditions; created the insanity legal defense; new sentencing guidelines; greater protection and assistance for victims of crime; stricter penalties for drugs and narcotics; abolished parole in the federal criminal justice system; and allowed courts to establish pretrial detention for criminals, if necessary.
The 1984 Act created the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent branch of the judicial system that establishes sentencing policies, guidelines, rules, and practices for the federal criminal justice system, which provide certainty and fairness in meeting the purposes of sentencing in order to avoid disparities among defendants with similar records that have been found guilty of similar criminal conduct (similar crimes equals similar punishment). From this point, the outlook on crime then becomes mechanical and contextual- crime as black and white- leaves out nuance and variability. Prior to the act, judges had broad discretion in sentencing, which lead to different sentences for the same crime committed by different individuals. The purpose of the act was to ‘promote honesty in sentencing’ and reduce ‘unjustifiably wide sentencing disparities/eliminate unwarranted sentencing disparity.’
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986
Aside from the expansion of the War on Drugs during the eight years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, Congress expanding the judicial reach of government with legislation to establish uniform sentencing guidelines for criminal offenders. Reagan’s stance on crime and drugs was affected by the crack epidemic that spread across the United States during the 1980s. Rather than as a medical and mental issue, drug use and addiction were viewed and treated as a criminal violation against the established American social order that required mass incarceration in order to prevent further drug use and abuse.
In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established mandatory minimum prison sentences for particular drugs. The mandatory minimum policy are a set of uniform guidelines created by Congress as part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which establish criteria and standards for judges and the judicial system to interpret specific crimes, without addressing the circumstances of an individual case. The purpose of mandatory minimums is to eliminate the authority and knowledge of judges in interpreting the law by requiring them to follow the legislation set by Congress, many of whom lack any judicial experience. The reason for the creation of mandatory minimums was to eliminate the sentencing disparity that had grown for the same crimes committed by different offenders in different parts of the country but had received prison sentences of different lengths.
This law removes judges from the equation, those that are best suited to determine and distinguish the law, and replaces their power with the legislative branch of government, those with little-to-no knowledge and understanding of the law as such. Mandatory minimums inoculate the importance and the purpose of judges within the American justice system in their interpretation of the law, and the individual and unique circumstances of a case, and places that power in the hands of prosecutors who have the authority to threaten criminal defendants with crimes that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences. Defendants are coerced by the prosecutor into accepting a guilty plea for a lesser sentence in order to escape from a potential crime that carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
Mandatory minimums have little to do with actual American law and justice and much to do with an overreaching government imposing arbitrary and, oftentimes, discriminatory punishment on the public. Congress is incompetent in nearly every aspect of the public policy due to their protected political and corporate bubble of government that views society through a filter, which lacks any nuance. To Congress, the American population represents little more than numbers on a page or pieces on a chessboard.
The mandatory minimum policy is often seen as racially predatory and discriminatory as crack cocaine- typically used by African Americans- carries a five-year minimum prison sentence for possession of five grams; while powder cocaine- more expensive and more often used by whites- requires possession of 500 grams for the same five-year prison sentence. This extreme disparity was reduced in 2010 with the Fair Sentencing Act, which removed the mandatory minimum prison sentence for crack cocaine.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, signed into law by Ronald Regan, was an extension of Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs and contributor to the militarization of local police forces, who conduct full-armored search and seizure missions with heavy surveillance capabilities on a regular basis for an increasing number of circumstances related to drug use and possession as well as in areas of political and social control not related to drug use, such as peaceful protests and demonstrations, an overreach and infringement on Americans First Amendment rights and liberty as American citizens.
Longer prison sentences equal larger prison population; so while crime has been declining in the United States over the last several decades, these political policies that encourage the mass incarceration explosion ensure that a steady flow of repeat offenders, and offenders that commit crimes that trigger mandatory minimum prison sentences, continue to flood the American court and prison system. Prisons, therefore, remain economically viable even as fewer criminals are committing less crime.
Anti-Drug Abuse Act Statistics
- In 1986, before the enactment of federal mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine offenses, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 11 percent higher than for whites; four years later, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 49 percent higher than whites (ACLU).
- Between 1981 and 1989, the percentage of new prisoners who were drug offenders rose from 7.7 percent to 29.5 percent (Berkeley Law).
- In 2003, whites constituted 7.8 percent and African Americans constituted more than 80 percent of the defendants sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine laws, despite the fact that more than 66 percent of crack cocaine users in the United States were either white or Hispanic.
- Due to the mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, from 1994 to 2003, the difference between the average time African American offenders served in prison increased by 77 percent, compared to an increase of 28 percent for white drug offenders. African Americans now serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense at 58.7 months, as whites do for a violent offense at 61.7 months (NAACP).
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994
Americans often associate Republican administrations with the more conservative approaches to mass incarceration; with drastic increases in economic inequality, as social services and educational programs are cut to pay for subsidies and tax cuts to corporations; with the expansion of drug wars; with the protection of wealthy corporate and political classes; and with aggressive rhetoric and policies against the poor and uneducated members of society, which means that many view and label the Democratic party as ‘soft on crime.’
As the crime wave of the 1980s left many Americans in fear, causing them to turn towards tough on crime policies and politicians that spew anger, ignorance, and divisiveness, the Democratic party sought new ways to rebrand and remarket their message to compete with the politics of fear from the right-wing of the American political system. Rather than seek to attract voters with the morals, ethics, and the politics of compassion at the foundation of the former Democratic party under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrats in the 1990s moved further towards the right-wing with neoliberal political policies that encouraged corporate bribery of government officials; expansion of influence of the private sector in manipulating the political system for private gain; protection of private corporate profits over public health and economic wellness; global trade agreements, which shipped hundreds of thousands of jobs to other countries and destabilized communities in the United States without providing new avenues for American citizens to find work; deregulation of the financial industry, which contributed to the 2008 global financial collapse; and the continuation of the disastrous War on Drugs.
Under Bill Clinton, the first neoliberal president and the precursor to corporate shill neoliberal, Barack Obama, the Democratic party adopted many conservative, right-wing policies to compete with the hardline, tough on crime Republicans that successfully struck fear into the American population with ideological rhetoric that painted poor minorities as criminals for the fact that they were poor in an increasingly unequal, predatory capitalist society.
Following the political standards set by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Safe Streets Act of 1968, and Reagan’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1984, of imposing harsh penalties, strict enforcement, and greater infringement into the American publics rights and freedoms, Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 increased the flow of money into local and state police forces, and contributed to Americas trend towards mass incarceration as the primary method of punishment and rehabilitation.
The crime rate began to decline in the late 1980s with the decline in the crack epidemic. With fewer criminal offenders to punish, the 1994 Crime Bill sought to punish repeat offenders by handing them longer and tougher sentences with the invention of ‘truth in sentencing laws,’ which require violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. States that passed these laws would receive part of the $12.5 billion in federal funding to build new and expand on old prisons. By 1999, 42 states complied.
Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill- the largest crime bill in history written near the end of the crime epidemic in the United States- established the ‘three strikes’ penalty, which requires mandatory life in prison for repeat felony offenders. This three strikes provision represents an extreme measure when applied to felony drug offenders that find themselves wrapped up in the cycle of the American justice and incarceration system, unable to escape from the grasp of the profit-driven prison industrial complex, and forced into life in prison for violating one of the many arbitrary, archaic, and draconian American drug laws perpetuated by an out of control government that is unwilling to address the root of the drug, crime, and economic inequality problem, for fear of losing the profit which mass incarceration provides to American society in general and to the federal government in specific.
In addition to the three-strikes provision, the 1994 Crime Bill provided $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and $6.1 billion in funding for crime prevention; hired 100,000 new police officers; created 60 new death penalty offenses; eliminated prison inmates ability to receive a higher education while incarcerated; and put a ban on assault-style weapons. Assault style weapons are often the guns used in mass shootings that occur in the United States; while the mass incarceration of human beings continues today, the ban on assault-style weapons from the 1994 Crime Bill expired on September 13, 2004, after Congress voted to let the ban expire, with the help of special interest lobbying and political bribes from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
At the same time, Bill Clinton signed the 1994 Crime Bill to lock up more poor minorities, oftentimes, for low-level drug offenses, he signed a bill to deregulate the financial industry, the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, a bill which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act that was established after the Great Depression in 1933. The 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separated commercial and investment banks, which prevented financial institutions from investing your savings account for their own private profit. The repeal of this act opened the door for wealthy, oftentimes, white corporate executives to commit illegal white-collar crimes that contributed to the eventual 2008 financial collapse and destruction of the global economy, as the entire financial system was built on a foundation of fraud, corruption, and lies.
Upon the removal of the law which separated commercial and investment banks, the financial industries, now legal, investments with the American publics savings accounts were propped up on fraudulent bets and shady, under the table side deals, which gave the appearance of legitimate investments, but, under the surface, were nothing other than a scheme to hijack the American economic system for the private profit of the too-powerful financial sector and expansion of the control and powers of the American government.
The sudden shock and collapse of the American financial system is similar to the reaction of an unassuming contractor finishing the construction of a massive building; but as they place their final nail to finish the structure, the building comes crashing down to reveal a house of cards hidden beneath the underlying structure of the building. From the outside, the building (the American economy) looks like a regular building. Only when the building reaches its max capacity- the breaking point- does the structure reveal the fraudulent foundation that it is built upon. The constructors of the building (the financial industry) remain aware that the structure will reach a point when the foundation can no longer sustain the weight; but the building constructors stay quiet with the hope that they might keep their job and make a profit, with the knowledge that the American government is there to save their careers with taxpayer-funded subsidies and bailouts when the building collapses. This is true of most economic collapses; a result of financial deregulation and policies that protect the corporate sector over the public. The prison industrial complex, like the financial sector, represents a convoluted mess of confusion and corruption with profits and growth connected to the expansion of the American government; the profits and growth of one, determine the profits and growth of the other. Part 4