Welcome login | signup
Language en es fr

Forum Post: Tackling Debtors' Prisons: Reflecting on the Death of Eileen DiNino

Posted 7 years ago on June 20, 2014, 9:11 p.m. EST by LeoYoh (115)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Tackling Debtors' Prisons: Reflecting on the Death of Eileen DiNino

Friday, 20 June 2014 11:28
By James Kilgore, Truthout | News Analysis


On Saturday, June 7, Eileen DiNino died in a Berks County, Penn., jail.

An unemployed mother of seven, the 55-year-old DiNino was doing a 48-hour sentence for failing to pay truancy fines. According to an AP report, over the course of several years, her debt to local authorities amounted to about $2,000. While initial fines arose from truancy violations by her children, a subsequent spate of associated mandatory fees drove her deeper into debt. These charges included $8 for a "judicial computer project"; $60 for Berks constable; $40 for "summary costs" for several court offices; and $10 for postage. Local lawyer Richard Guida remarked: "In recent years, the government has found all sorts of interesting ways to extract money from people."

The death of DiNino is another tragic episode compelling mainstream America to pull its head out of the sand and examine how the criminal justice debt cycle punishes the poor.

Perhaps the first glimmers of light appeared with the 2010 reports from the Brennan Center and the ACLU. Both documents chronicled a set of compelling stories, emphasizing the apparent irrationality of the now common practice of putting people behind bars for traffic fines, loitering violations, as well as failure to pay contrived court charges like those levied on DiNino. The ACLU labeled this the resurgence "debtors' prisons," an institution supposedly outlawed almost two centuries ago.

The present year has brought another flurry of reports and exposés. NPR did a broad brush set of stories entitled "Guilty and Charged" touching on a range of fines and fees. Human Rights Watch added a new dimension in February with an in-depth study of profiteering by privatized probation companies in the South. Finally, The New York Times joined the chorus in May with an op-ed asserting, "It is difficult to imagine a more unjust and counterproductive way of paying for such a system than to dump its costs on those least able to afford them."

While research and media exposure are beginning to elaborate the complexities of a punitive regime that has been hammering poor people for more than two decades, analysis to date has overlooked some key issues. Typically, criminal justice debt reporting focuses on apparently irrational laws and rogue companies that profiteer at the expense of the poor. However, the criminal justice debt cycle is not an aberration.

Criminal Justice Debt and the Changing State

The rise of criminal justice debt is consistent with the overall restructuring of state functions since the early 1980s. This restructuring has featured reduced spending on welfare programs, the upgrading of the security functions of the state and retooling government departments and programs to emphasize private sector-style cost efficiencies. The expansion of this neoliberal approach has meant the shrinking and shuttering of state-funded facilities and programs that served the poor, leaving millions vulnerable to the criminal justice system.

For example, services like mental health treatment have been stripped from communities and essentially relocated inside carceral institutions. According to a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, in 2012, more than 350,000 people with serious mental illnesses resided in the nation's prisons and jails, about 10 times as many as those in state mental health facilities. Furthermore, the scaling back of public housing, tighter restrictions on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Need Families) and the defunding of childcare have combined with the application of punitive local laws to help book the poor a place behind bars. The Brennan Center report documented the most extreme examples of such local laws. They include ordinances against sleeping or lying down in public, bans on "aggressive" panhandling, even the outlawing of the sharing of food in public spaces to halt efforts by groups like Food Not Bombs to feed the hungry. Silicon Valley and several other California locales have recently made it unlawful for a person to live in their car.

Debt and Jail Construction

Largely missing from accounts of legislation has been the link to massive spending on jail construction, a major contributor to county and municipal financial woes. Local jail capacity expanded from 389,171 in 1990 to 891,271 by 2013, a period during which daily jail population counts doubled. However, because jail stays are typically short, static figures fail to capture the scope of the local dragnet. In 2013, 11.5 million people spent time in jail, about one in 20 adults. Meeting the rising demand for incarceration accounted for a big chunk of the increase in local criminal justice spending, which ballooned from $21 billion in 1982 to $109 billion in 2006. These growing expenditures forced local authorities to seek new funding sources to expand carceral capacity. Recovering costs from users, which avoided unpopular property tax hikes, became a favored solution.

The NPR study examined "user" fees for criminal justice in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Their survey revealed how a punitive financial system has emerged virtually everywhere. According to their findings:

In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, people can be billed for using a public defender.

In at least 41 states, prisoners can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.

In at least 44 states, individuals who have been released can be billed for their own probation and parole supervision.

And in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia, there's a daily fee for the electronic monitoring devices imposed as a condition of sentence, bail, probation or parole.

While the majority of these measures are implemented at the county or municipal level, local actors often need enabling laws from state legislators to sanction actions like charging for public defenders or electronic monitoring. To add more revenue to the user fee stream, county jails themselves frequently add further charges on "clients," such as exorbitant prices for phone calls to family, higher than market rates for commissary goods, co-pays for medical services and fees for video visitation.



Read the Rules
[-] 4 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

Race and Gender in the Criminal Justice Debt Cycle

The race and gender aspect of criminal justice debt has also been largely missing in existing reports. As with prisons, the starting point for involvement in the criminal justice debt cycle is contact with law enforcement. Research in many states and cities has revealed racial disparity in police traffic stops and arrests. For example, a study in my hometown of Champaign, Ill., found that 88 percent of all jaywalking arrests 2007-11 and 75 percent of marijuana arrests targeted African Americans, who comprise only 16 percent of the city's population. Not surprisingly, consistently more than half of the county jail population in recent years has also been African American. Bureau of Justice statistics reaffirm this profile, reporting that in 2013, 36 percent of the people in jails were African American, nearly triple their presence in the general population.

Sociologist Alexes Harris has uncovered another twist on racial disparity in criminal justice finance. According to her extensive survey in the state of Washington, Latinos received higher fines and fees when similarly situated than any other racial group.

The criminal justice debt cycle has a gender expression as well. Punishments for allegedly irresponsible parenting such as truancy or school tardiness are on the rise, with women of color the prime targets, but poor white mothers like Eileen DiNino also often caught in the trap.

DiNino was found dead in a jail cell that Saturday morning, hours after she surrendered to serve a 48-hour sentence for the $2,000 in fines, fees and court costs racked up since 1999 as the result of her children's truancy. Her cause of death is unknown.

A Wisconsin county has put a fine of $114 on parents whose kids practice bullying. In cities like Dayton, Ohio and Baton Rouge La., police have done roundups and arrested parents whose children have been absent from school beyond the legal limit. In May, police in the heavily African American parish of East Baton Rouge arrested eight mothers on account of their children's truancy. In one of the most extreme examples of parenting penalties, in 2011, Kelly Williams Bolar of Akron, Ohio, ended up with a felony conviction and a 10-day jail sentence for falsely reporting that her daughter lived with her father to get the girl into a better school.

Changing the System

So what can be done to stop the spread of this punitive criminal justice debt cycle? To date, the report recommendations have largely dwelled on removing certain ordinances or enacting some form of a sliding payment scale to enable the poor to avoid "poverty penalties." While such measures would ameliorate the situation to some extent, the heart of addressing the criminal justice debt cycle lies in a philosophical change in how society treats the poor, especially poor people of color. Without an alteration of mindset, local political leaders and law enforcement will continue to pass legislation and regulations that create two sets of laws and two sets of urban spaces, one for the wealthy and one for the poor. The key intervention points in interrupting the criminal justice debt cycle are just as much about philosophical transformation as they are about policy or legislation.

For example, the starting point in undermining the criminal justice debt cycle is to attack racial profiling in police stops and the excessive use of tactics like stop-and-frisk. These are the contact points that provide recruits for local jails and get people caught up in the debt cycle, even when they have committed no crime other than being poor, vulnerable and presenting the wrong racial profile. However, eliminating these sorts of actions requires a massive re-conscience-ization of law enforcement personnel and debunking notions like hot-spot policing. Ultimately, this involves the un-making of years of equating young men of color and their associates with criminal activity.

Another obvious set of targets are the financial penalties which have become the legal vehicles for keeping people in jail. Alexes Harris has called for the elimination of "all non-restitution monetary sanctions for criminal offenses." While this would go a long way, even many restitution claims are dubious, especially in the case of victimless crimes like drug possession. But fundamentally restructuring these financial penalties involves yet another pair of mindset shifts. First, striking the user fees acknowledges that criminal justice is a state responsibility, to be funded by tax dollars, not via payments extracted from the shallow pockets of the poor. Second, removing the use of fines and fees represents a rejection of putting a monetary value on punishment and equating punishment with justice. By implication, the need would be to move toward a more restorative justice approach, informed not only by the impact of the crime on the victim but on transforming the social circumstances of the person committing the crime.

In the short term, two very specific policy measures could go a long way toward halting the criminal justice debt cycle. The first, also recommended by the ACLU, would be to stop the widespread practice of suspending driver's licenses as punishment for failure to pay fines in non-traffic cases. Suspending licenses is self-defeating. In many situations, people need a car to drive to work to earn the money to repay the fine or to carry out parenting responsibilities. Even with a suspended license, chances are they will drive anyway, eventually get pulled over by the police, and start a new cycle of incarceration and fines for driving without a license.

The second would involve the virtual elimination of cash bail except in the most serious of cases. Typically more than 60 percent of those in the nation's jails have not been sentenced. Many are held in custody for weeks or months simply because they lack the cash to put up a small bond. A recent study in New York City found 11,000 people in one year who spent all their pre-trial time incarcerated because they couldn't put up bail of $100 or less. Extended pre-trial stays in jail only add to debt and worsen a person's financial position on the street. Washington DC has virtually eliminated the use of cash bail with essentially no negative impact in terms of people showing up for court appearances or committing new crimes while awaiting resolution of their case.

The final and perhaps most important step to halting the criminal debt cycle is to stop building more jail cells. In many local jurisdictions, jail construction is the largest capital expenditure in the budget. Pushing local authorities to re-direct tax dollars to mental health facilities, substance abuse treatment, youth job creation and public housing initiatives will help carry many people away from the criminal justice system into the non-carceral life.

No quick policy fix will stop the criminal justice debt cycle or debtors' prisons. Michelle Alexander and others have argued that a broad-based social movement will be required to reverse mass incarceration. Similar initiatives at a local level, driven by organizations led by the urban poor, will likely be necessary to precipitate the kinds of changes that will fully eliminate a practice that was supposed to have been outlawed in the 1830s - locking people up because they are too poor to pay their debts.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

How the Media Stokes Racism in Iowa City - and Everywhere

Saturday, 21 June 2014 11:20
By Eleanor J Bader, Truthout | Book Review


The pen - or the keyboard - may be mightier than the sword, but as Robert E. Gutsche Jr. makes clear, these tools can inculcate racism, sexism, classism and homophobia as readily as they can promote justice, fairness and decency.

In A Transplanted Chicago, a Ph.D. dissertation-turned-fascinating-book, Gutsche zooms in on Iowa City, Iowa, and analyzes the way press coverage of the city's largely African American southeast side has impacted the attitudes of residents, politicians, law enforcers and reporters who live or work in the 70,000-person city. Gutsche's starting point is the demographic changes to Iowa City, changes that have been caused by an influx of newcomers, the majority of them from Chicago. Whether they come looking for affordable housing, decent schools or jobs, many find what they're looking for. "It's quite common for new arrivals to find a job on the same day they moved," Gutsche writes. "They are fairly good jobs, where working on a register at McDonald's, loading freight at a warehouse, or cleaning at the university provides consistent employment and pay that starts at minimum wage. Combined with a fairly low cost of living, these jobs can pay the bills and might leave some set aside for savings."

Unfortunately, despite this, the transition is rarely seamless, and Gutsche contends that racism typically meets-and-greets the city's new denizens. Iowa is still more than 90 percent Caucasian, and headlines shrieking about "perpetrators of urban decay" and "inner city refugees," and articles and TV commentary that describe the southeast as "fight central" and a "no-go zone," have stoked negative perceptions. Small wonder that most outsiders assume that the neighborhood is violent, drug-infested and crime ridden. Predictably, this slanted coverage has also triggered overt anti-black sentiment.

Of course, despite social exclusion and prejudice, thousands of people live, work, worship, shop and go to school in the southeast. But they get nary a mention in the daily newspapers or on the nightly news.

In fact, by and large, the press ignores the mundane in favor of the sensational.

Take the way crime is reported in the southeast. In one particularly egregious example, Gutsche writes that reporters "failed to include crime statistics to support assertions that the southeast side was in any way dangerous. There were no assessments of what types of crime may occur in the neighborhood, no mention of whether there had been an increase or decrease in recent crime, (it had decreased) and no comparison of crime rates between the southeast side and the rest of Iowa City. Had journalists made such a comparison, they would have shown that downtown was more dangerous."

In another example, Gutsche analyzes the murder of a 64-year-old white landlord who was found on the floor of his building after being shot in the head. When a 17-year-old black teenager, who had moved to Iowa City from Holland, Michigan, was eventually charged, "local news stories focused on the perceptions of [the southeast side's] decline and destruction." When the facts emerged, it became clear that the shooting - awful as it was - was a tragic robbery-gone-wrong. Nonetheless, the press used the incident to tarnish an entire section of town. Worse, the killing ultimately caused many whites to panic and retreat into what Gutsche calls a "frenzy of fear."

White journalists are obviously not immune to this fear, and in one of the book's most startling revelations, Gutsche notes that many of the Iowa City reporters he interviewed had never set foot on the southeast side, despite writing about the community. Their sources? Police and government officials. Rather than talking to people who actually live in the area, shoddy - or perhaps just scared - reporters have typically relied on authorities to dictate what is, or isn't, newsworthy. This explains why a May 2011 music festival that was organized by the Broadway Street Neighborhood Center, one of the southeast side's most prominent community organizations, was ignored by the media despite drawing 2,000 people. "People at the concert that day told me that no press or photographers had shown up even though there had been food, games, music, sunshine and families, things that make for great community news," Gutsche writes.

Conversely, a much smaller event in a whiter part of town - a walk-a-thon to raise money for the American Heart Association - was given prime placement in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Gutsche questions why the walk was considered news, but the concert was not.

His answer: Unabashed racism. In fact, Gutsche concludes that virtually every news item about the southeast conforms to stereotypes depicting African Americans as lazy, uneducated, dependent on government handouts and prone to criminal or immoral behavior. To make his case, he cites a newspaper article about the opening of a new shelter for homeless families. The story was illustrated by a photo of a black woman leaning against a window. The caption identified her as a Chicago native who had been living in the shelter with her five children for nearly a year. "Just that single sentence says it all," Gutsche writes, "Poor blacks (especially mothers) continue to come to Iowa City with their children, (far too many for the woman to care for) and take advantage of the city's good will and resources (by staying in the shelter for nearly a year) . . . The caption was wrong. The woman and her children had only been living in the city - and at the shelter - for a couple of months . . . What is interesting about this caption and photograph is how it matches with dominant discourse surrounding Iowa City's southeast side and the migration of folks from Chicago to Iowa City."

Central to this discourse, of course, is the belief that low-income women, aka "welfare queens," are taking advantage of government programs and feeding at the trough of public generosity. "Chicago has come to mean more than just another city," Gutsche concludes. "It signals the ghetto, danger, blackness - and most directly, of not being from here." That two-thirds of the low-income households registered with the Iowa City Housing Authority were elderly and disabled - not poor, black or from Chicago - went unacknowledged by reporters. Similarly, the drunken escapades of mostly white University of Iowa students have been depicted by reporters as essentially benign and developmentally appropriate. "Just as news coverage explained downtown violence as a natural college experience, news coverage normalized southeast side violence as being the effect of urban black culture," Gutsche writes. "News stories indicated that drunken packs of college students were isolated to the downtown, whereas southeast side violence was described as infiltrating the city's schools, social services and public safety."

Gutsche urges reporters to get off their duffs and actually talk to people in the communities they write about. He also urges them to "maintain a focus on social justice to uncover injustices to communities." Needless to say, journalism schools have a clear role to play in this, by encouraging encouraging muckraking, in-depth investigation and reporting that focuses on social justice and the lives of the disenfranchised.

Journalism has always been the type of work that attracts those interested in afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. A Transplanted Chicago is a clarion call to embrace these values.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

New York Reaches $40M Settlement in Central Park Jogger Case


NEW YORK — All but closing the books on one of the most lurid crime cases in New York history, the city has agreed to a $40 million settlement with five men who were falsely convicted in the vicious 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger, a city official said Friday.

The official had direct knowledge of the agreement but wasn't allowed to discuss it publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The deal still needs the approval of the city comptroller and a federal judge.

The five black and Hispanic defendants were found guilty as teenagers in 1990 in the attack on a white woman — an investment banker — who had gone for a run in the park.

With New York awash in murder and drugs at the time, the crime was seen as a terrifying symbol of the city's racial and class divide and evidence that it was sliding into lawlessness. The case gave rise to the term "wilding" for urban mayhem by marauding teenagers.

The defendants served six to 13 years in prison before their convictions were thrown out in 2002 because of evidence that someone else, acting alone, committed the crime. The five brought a $250 million civil rights lawsuit against police and prosecutors.

Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement that the tentative settlement signifies "a monumental victory" for the men and their families.

"It is also a victory for those in the community that stood with them from day one and believed in their innocence in this case," Sharpton said. "As supporters, we were viciously attacked for standing with them, but we were on the right side of history."

Desmond Cadogan holds up a sign during a rally in support of the Central Park Five in New York in this file photo taken January 17, 2013. New York City has agreed to pay $40 million to five men who were convicted, and later exonerated, of brutally raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989, settling a long-fought civil rights lawsuit, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The victim, Trisha Meili, then 28, was found in the brush, more than 75 percent of her blood drained from her body and her skull smashed. She was in a coma for 12 days, suffered permanent damage and remembers nothing about the attack.

Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson, both 14 at the time, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam, 15, and Korey Wise, 16, were rounded up and arrested. After hours of interrogation, four of them gave confessions on video.

At the trials, their lawyers argued the confessions were coerced. At the time, DNA testing was not sophisticated enough to make or break the case.

In 2002, a re-examination of the case found that DNA on the victim's sock pointed to Matias Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist who confessed that he alone attacked the jogger.

Then-District Attorney Robert Morgenthau stopped short of declaring the five innocent but withdrew all charges and did not seek a retrial. The statute of limitations for charging Reyes had run out; he is serving a life sentence for other crimes.

The case that stood as symbol of urban lawlessness became instead an example of a colossal breakdown in the legal system.

Jonathan C. Moore, a lawyer for the five men, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department.

Andrew G. Celli, a lawyer who represented documentary filmmakers and others with an interest the case, welcomed news of a settlement.

"A settlement this large, this dynamic, will have an impact," he said. "It will cause police and prosecutors to think a bit more carefully about the ramifications of a particular investigation."

The AP does not usually identify victims of sexual assault, but Meili went public as a motivational speaker and wrote a book.

While the five men have been exonerated, some troubling questions persist: The two doctors who treated Meili after the attack said in recent interviews with The Wall Street Journal that some of her wounds were not consistent with Reyes' account.

The doctors said that should call into question Reyes' claim that he acted alone.

— The Associated Press

• • • •New York Reaches $40M Settlement in Central Park Jogger Case • First publishedJune 20th 2014, 10:52 am

[-] 3 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

NYC's $40 Million Central Park Five Settlement Resolves Wrongful Jailing Fueled by Race-Baiting, Police Abuse

Monday, 23 June 2014 11:15
By Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! | Video Interview


The City of New York has reportedly agreed to pay $40 million to five men wrongfully convicted of raping a female jogger in Central Park 25 years ago. The five black and Latino men were convicted as teenagers. They initially confessed, but soon they recanted, insisting they had admitted to the crime under the duress of exhaustion and coercion from police officers. Media coverage at the time portrayed them as guilty and used racially coded terms to describe them. But their convictions were vacated in 2002 when the real rapist came forward and confessed, after the five had already served jail terms of up to 13 years. We get reaction to the settlement from Natalie Byfield, a reporter for the New York Daily News at the time of Central Park Five case. Now an associate professor of sociology at St. John’s University in Queens, Byfield is the author of "Savage Portrayals: Race, Media and the Central Park Jogger Story."

Image Credit: Central Park Five


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The City of New York has reportedly reached a $40 million settlement with the five men who were wrongly convicted of raping a female jogger in Central Park 25 years ago. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam were arrested in 1989 for beating and raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. She came to be known as the Central Park jogger. The five boys were all black and Latinos between the ages of 14 and 16. Their arrest made national headlines. They initially confessed, but soon they recanted, insisting they had admitted to the crime under the duress of exhaustion and coercion from police officers.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2002, the convictions in the Central Park Five case were vacated after the real rapist, Matias Reyes, came forward in prison and confessed to the crime. DNA evidence confirmed he was the sole attacker. But by then the five defendants had already served sentences of almost seven to 13 years for the attack.

In 2003, the five men sued sued the city for wrongful conviction and violation of their civil rights. The lawsuit gained renewed attention in 2012, when famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah released The Central Park Five. This is the trailer from that film.

JIM DWYER: I want us to remember what happened that day and be horrified by ourselves. New York in the late 1980s was a completely schizophrenic, divided city.

REV. AL SHARPTON: New York is now the capital of racial violence.

BERNHARD GOETZ: If I had more bullets, I would have shot them all again and again.

JIM DWYER: Criminality, gang wars, drug wars—we were supposed to be afraid. It would have been irrational not to be afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED: Off with the camera, man!

COMMISSIONER RICHARD CONDON: Last night, a woman jogger was found unconscious and partially clothed in Central Park. She was beaten and sexually assaulted.

ED KOCH: A woman jogging in Central Park. Central Park was holy. It was the crime of the century.

COMMISSIONER RICHARD CONDON: Five youths were arrested on 96th Street, all between 14 and 15 years of age.

ED KOCH: They got ’em!

SAUL KASSIN: You can only imagine the pressure to have this crime solved and solved quickly.

KEVIN RICHARDSON: First we was all together. Then they started to put us in different rooms, separately.

YUSEF SALAAM: "What did you do? Who were you with? Who did you come with?" The tone was very scary. I felt like they might take us to the back of the precinct and kill us.

KOREY WISE: You’re not going to go home until you give up a story.

RAYMOND SANTANA SR.: I told my son, "Go to the park," that night. I feel guilty.

KEVIN RICHARDSON: I’m telling the guy, "I don’t know what you’re talking about." They’re getting a little angry.

RAYMOND SANTANA: And they’re like, "You know you did it. Didn’t you?"

UNIDENTIFIED: He had been interrogated for over 24 hours. That amounts to pressure.

NATALIE BYFIELD: These young men were guilty. It was almost unquestioned.

LYNNELL HANCOCK: The police controlled the story. They created the story.

CALVIN O. BUTTS III: They seized on the fears of the people. "Wilding," the bestial characterization of the black man.

MICHAEL WARREN: There’s no DNA match whatsoever to any of these boys.

RONALD GOLD: I was going nuts. No blood on the kids. Nobody could identify them. But if they confessed, they confessed, and that was that.

JIM DWYER: A lot of people didn’t do their jobs—reporters, police, prosecutors, defense lawyers.

UNIDENTIFIED: This was institutional protectionism.

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: We falsely convicted them, and we walked away from our crime.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is the ultimate siren that says none of us is safe.

[-] 2 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

AMY GOODMAN: That was the trailer from the film The Central Park Five. To talk more about the reported new $40 million settlement with the five men, which, by the way, still has to be approved by the city controller and the judge, we’re joined by Natalie Byfield. She was a reporter for the New York Daily News at the time of the Central Park Five case. She’s now an associate professor of sociology at St. John’s University in Queens. And she has a new book out; it’s called Savage Portrayals: Race, Media and the Central Park Jogger Story.

Natalie Byfield, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of what at least is the reported $40 million settlement.

NATALIE BYFIELD: The significance of a settlement, to me, is important because it starts to undo what became a historic lie. And I say it in this way because the case itself was the launching pad for a transformation of the juvenile justice system. So, after the trials were completed, between 1992 and 1999 almost all the states in the country, with the exception of maybe three or four, transformed their juvenile justice laws to incorporate more juveniles into the adult court system. So this case was really quite a launching pad for a very quiet sea change in the juvenile justice system. So the settlement is an institutional acknowledgment that this was a serious mistake, this was a problem, and we have to undo those historic lies so that they don’t get—continue to help to transform the society.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Natalie, we were both colleagues at the Daily News at the time of the case—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —and attended the trial. And you delve in your book into the role of the media in building up the hysteria and the—and amplifying the mistakes that were made by the police department in this case.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m wondering if you could talk about that, because this is really the Scottsboro case of our time, and—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in terms of what happened here and the role that the media played in inflaming public opinion. If you could talk about that some, too?

NATALIE BYFIELD: The media played a variety of roles, actually, in it. It occurred in the context of the language that was used. And this is the part that was discussed quite a bit. We remember very well terms like "wilding," terms like "savage," and this case was in fact the case that was used to invent this concept of wilding. We hadn’t—it hadn’t appeared in our lexicon, certainly not in journalism, before this case. So, this helped to inflame public passions, certainly, the type of language that was used.

In addition to the language that was used, the media just simply failed to interrogate the police. It failed to act as an independent body in the context of the case. So it acted as a mouthpiece for the police department, in essence. So, when the police or the district attorney presented evidence about hairs that matched or were consistent with the hairs of the jogger, and then the evidence sort of appeared and disappeared, there was no interrogation. There were no stories following up on this. When there were reports of a knife being used, and then suddenly the district attorney’s office or the police are not saying anything else about a knife anymore, the things that appeared and disappeared were not interrogated at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s remember, these were 14- to 16-year-old kids.


AMY GOODMAN: In this excerpt of The Central Park Five documentary, two of the teenagers, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson, describe how detectives tried to play them against each other during their separate interrogations.

RAYMOND SANTANA: Hartigan sat down, and he said, "Look, Ray, I know you didn’t do anything wrong, but the other guys right now, they’re in other precincts, and they’re saying that you did it."

KEVIN RICHARDSON: And they’re telling me, "Well, you’re not saying nothing, but these guys put your name in it."

RAYMOND SANTANA: And I’m like, "I didn’t do anything." And he’s like, "Well, this is why I’m here to help you, because I know you didn’t do anything. You’re a good kid. You know, this isn’t you." He pulls out this picture of Kevin Richardson, and he goes, "You know this kid?" And I’m like, "No, I don’t know him." And he goes, "You see the scratch under his eye? That came from the woman. We know he did it. He’s going down."

KEVIN RICHARDSON: At this point, I’m like, you know, like, I don’t know these guys that’s there, so I’m just going to make up something and include these guys’ names.

RAYMOND SANTANA: OK, if—you know, if you’re going to do it to me, then I’m going to do it to you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson. During the Central Park jogger trial, the defendants were encouraged to consider pleading guilty. This is another clip from The Central Park Five documentary, when Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam describe the scene.

RAYMOND SANTANA: It got to one point where they pulled me, Yusef and Antron in a conference room. And a lawyer says, "You know, we’re going to lose this case. What we’re planning to do is see if we can get you a plea deal."

YUSEF SALAAM: And I remember telling them, "You know, you guys can cop out, but if I did something, I would cop out. I would want the least amount of time for what I did. But if I didn’t do anything, you can give me the rest of my life in prison." You know, I didn’t know what that meant back then, but I just knew that there would be no way that I would cop out to something that I didn’t do.

RAYMOND SANTANA: They said, "Well, it has to be all three of you guys, or it’s nobody."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam. Natalie Byfield, as you listen to these men, who now, a quarter of a century later, this case is being settled—Mayor Bloomberg refused to settle.

NATALIE BYFIELD: The failure of the previous administration to settle the case is consistent with their approach to matters like this, matters related to the police. And I really think that it’s important that the new administration, Mayor de Blasio, really stuck to his promise that he would come in and he would settle the case, because we have going on, alongside this case, something that I believe is a direct line from this case: the stop-and-frisk practices. And just in the same way that this case made it OK to criminalize black youth, you see then that black youth, Latino youth, male youth, particularly, become equated with crime, so it made it easier for practices like stop-and-frisk to happen, these types of practices to take place. So, it was very heartening for me to see that Mayor de Blasio challenged the appeal to the stop-and-frisk case and that now we have—we have reached—we have brokered some kind of settlement in that, so to speak, and that we have this other settlement taking place here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue you raise of the hand-in-glove relationship between the police department and the media, it’s interesting—we were talking earlier—that one of the key detectives in this case, a guy by the name of Mike Sheehan, who later became one of the big sources for the reporters, ended up leaving the police department and becoming a television reporter.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole question of the police department as the main source for much of the information on crime that the media receive?

NATALIE BYFIELD: Well, it’s a really interesting institutional relationship between the police and the press, particularly the newspapers that cover crime and rely on crime stories—and I should say street crime stories—to sort of be part of the fodder of what they regularly report to the public. They need them. We know, working as journalists, that we need them. Part of the practice of working journalists is to work out of police headquarters and develop close relationships with the police. And the problem is when that relationship becomes too close or when you don’t recognize that you’re not part—you’re not part of that team that is policing the world in that way, you don’t belong to that one group. You’re in fact, supposedly, the fourth estate, independent from all these groups, and the overseer, really, and an important element in democracy. So when you forfeit your role to do this, then all sorts of things will happen.

[-] 2 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

AMY GOODMAN: In 2002, the convicted rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, confessed in jail that he had committed the rape of the Central Park jogger and he had acted alone. DNA evidence later confirmed his participation in the crime, showed he alone was linked to the semen found in and on the victim. In this excerpt from The Central Park Five documentary, he describes what he did that night.

MATIAS REYES: I showed them the top of the entrance, the direction she came by. I showed them where she made the turn. I showed them where I picked up a tree branch and down the road where I struck her over the head with the tree branch and where I dragged her in. She just kept moaning, you know, saying, "Stop," and grabbing her head, you know, because she was in pain and all that, you know? She was bleeding. I can’t explain to you what happened after I left there, that park, that night, but I can guarantee you that there was no way these kids saw this woman come in or have a idea of where she was coming from. I’m the one that did this.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the convicted rapist and murderer, who admitted this in jail. He went to—he bumped into one of the Central Park jogger defendants who was in jail and said, "I’m sorry." And this is how this whole thing unfolded. Now, what’s astounding about the story with Matias Reyes is that he had the MO. He had done this over and over to women; he was a rapist, and he was a murderer. But because the police were blinded by, well, their prejudice around these five young men, he was not investigated. In fact, his case, the reason he went to jail, he raped a woman in my building. And in that case, when he ran out, the doorman jumped him as the woman ran out screaming, and that’s how he ultimately was caught. But so many women would have been saved—


AMY GOODMAN: —if they had—they never connected the semen to these young men.

NATALIE BYFIELD: No, in fact, there was a rape in Central Park two days before the jogger was raped, and something like 200 yards from the site of the jogger’s attack. So it does seem odd that if you have a pattern of rapes in a particular area, that you don’t examine the possibility that this could have been done by the same person. But they were so wedded to the idea that this group of teens had done it. And it—I have analyzed this to just—to the point where I’ve just concluded that they believed that there was some sort of moral panic going on in our society around the issue of drugs. And we saw the regular nightly news reports, particularly local news reports, across the entire country, where every night they would walk out black and—young black and Latino men and put them—the perp would walk into the car. And—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This was at the height of the crack epidemic.

NATALIE BYFIELD: Right, exactly. So, this became—they were the go-to people for all crime. They were—they were equated with crime. So the idea that we have a culture of rape in this country, the idea that there was a problem of rape, didn’t really, for me, really penetrate the investigation in the way it should have, because then they would have investigated other possibilities. But for them, they had latched onto this wilding and this really racialized understanding of what was going on. And I think, in terms of even the newsroom and what got in the way of the investigation were also these racial attitudes and the willingness of the press to buy into these racial attitudes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to end with the words of Raymond Santana. He joined us on the show in 2012 and talked about how the case has impacted his life.

RAYMOND SANTANA: I served almost seven years. And so, what happened was that, you know, I tried to get my life back together and put one foot in front of the other, but I didn’t—you know, I didn’t realize the social death that we were given as a sentence. You know, this wasn’t a five to 15 or five to 10; this was a life sentence, a death sentence, in a sense, because, you know, when I came home, I couldn’t get employment. You know, I tried out—filled out numerous applications. And, you know, I had to register as a sex offender. You know, my whole neighborhood looked at me, you know, kind of strange. You know, you get the "Hi, how are you doing?" but, you know, you always have that bullseye on the back, you know, that says, someway, somehow, I’m Raymond Santana from the Central Park jogger case.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that was Raymond Santana on Democracy Now! Again, the reported settlement is $40 million, apparently one dollar [sic] a year for each year that these five young men were imprisoned, four of them imprisoned—$1 million a year, four of them imprisoned for seven years and one for 13. The settlement still has to be approved by the city controller and the judge. Natalie Byfield, thanks so much for being with us. She was a reporter for the New York Daily News at the time. She is now an associate professor at St. John’s University. And her new book is called Savage Portrayals: Race, Media and the Central Park Jogger Story.

When we come back, we go to the Capitol Rotunda to speak with a congresswoman who is pushing to stop U.S. forces being committed in Iraq. Stay with us.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by OccupyNews (1220) 7 years ago

Appreciate any support for the www.debtneutralitypetition.com

Debt Neutrality freezes all interest rate charges, penalties and fees on credit cards and student loans when a person suffers a loss of income beyond their control.

Not sure it would have helped in this situation but stopping the flow of perpetual interest rate charges to the banks means more money for local economies which creates more local job opportunities.