A hundred people tonight weigh the evil effects of mass prosecutions in the federal government’s crippling “war against drugs” and against blacks.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
So striking is the systematic looting of black populations by federal prohibitionists that a 2013 case of mass prosecution prompted creation of a Chattanooga music video, “32,” by local videographer Maurice McDowell and rapper Jamaal “Maal the Pimp” Hicks.
The video has just been released in an extended version, an “editor’s cut.”
Slavery under the state
In a flash of fire at a downtown colloquy, city councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod says the drug war and the U.S.’ archipelago of prisons have shifted American slavery from personal chattel ownership of blacks prior to the civil war in 1861 to state ownership of people “duly convicted” and state slavery.
“Neal Pinkston has the authority *** — you have the authority to place people to be enslaved,” she says, to loud applause. She asks people “who’ve been a slave before” to stand up at the Camphouse coffee house and be counted. Among those identifying themselves as former prisoners is Ezzard Robinson, an activist who peppers questions to the panel.
“All the ones who rose are black,” Mrs. Coonrod says. Blacks are suffering under the prison system, she says. To highlight the system’s bias, she blasts Mr. Pinkston for refusing to prosecute abusive police officers, of whom there is an increasingly long list. Among them, officers David Campbell, who perjured himself in the botched case against Hanson Melvin. Blacks are held accountable to the law, Mrs. Coonrod chides, but cops and others of importance are not.
To this day, she says, America’s slave trade continues. Prisoners toiling under for-profit government entities such as Unicor are paid a few cents an hour to answer call centers and make lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. A major report on prison profiteering, “How Private Equity Is turning Public Prisons Into Big Profits,” appeared in The Nation, a leftist magazine, April 30.
DA Pinkston on defensive
“I am not aware of enslaving anyone,” Mr. Pinkston fires back. “I have nothing to do with the case we are talking about. We prosecute people. I don’t sentence people. Judges sentence people. So, to somehow equate to what I do as enslaving people is very, very misleading. My role as a prosecutor is to seek and achieve justice based on the facts, the evidence and the law, nothing less and nothing more.”
He rebuffs claims that his current Hamilton County case of 54 blacks under the racketeering law is like the federal prosecution of the 32 in 2013.
“We don’t enslave people. That’s just hyperbolic, I don’t know why you even need to suggest that. *** Did anybody from the DA’s office enslave you?” he asks Mr. Robinson.
Rigged to favor whites
Messrs. Hicks and McDowell in an interview earlier in the day say their film shows the injustice of the system that is rigged in favor of white high-level defendants such as corrupt Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long — and against blacks living in poor districts in Chattanooga. African-American culture is rife with decapitating habits such as the pleasure use of hallucinogens. That trade is made criminal by state and federal laws that originated in the mind of President Richard Nixson, who wanted a way to harass blacks and critics of the Vietnam war.
Mr. Long pleaded guilty to extortion, money laundering, drug and gun charges and served eight years on a reduced prison sentence.
Neal Pinkston says the “worst of the worst” case was entirely federal, and did not come from his office.
Among the points made by panelists tonight:
➤ Joe Jenkins served prison times in the “worst of the worst” 32 case. “If it wasn’t for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ I would never have made it through,” or escaped “the mandatory life sentence I was facing,” he says. He insists on making points of “factual documentation” about the federal case against the 32.
Only one person was charged with a crime of violence, though cops, Mayor Berke and the press trumpeted the mass arrests as an effort to abate violence. Judges and prosecutors used false information on affidavits to get wiretaps and false information to win indictments. Actual weight of cocaine in one particular was “nearly 5 kilograms” but the firm, higher number of “5 kilograms” was used to get longer and unjust prison sentences. The case did nothing for reducing violence, but only targeted people involved in narcotics, either as dealers, connections, contacts or friends, according to Mr. Jenkins.
➤ Also speaking are Jackson Whetsel, an assistant federal defender and attorney; Shawanna Kendrick, who serves in community relations in the district attorney’s office; and Lee Mayweather, a city police officer who works patrol in Avondale and has been in the department 14 years.
The problem of unjust use of police and courts is systemic and not personal, says one panelist. Sentencing disparities are one of several issues affecting Chattanooga, but the larger issue is cultural. It’s easier for judges to give leniency to one who is their own vs. to one who is of a different color or culture.
Bible bans prisons
Matt Busby, a deacon at The Mission Chattanooga, serves the Anglican denomination and is tonight’s moderator. Just as Mrs. Coonrod causes a sensation to say slavery in the U.S. has shifted from the private to the public sector, Mr. Busby could have stirred an even greater one had he mined his theology books to say that God forbids prisons and demands a restitutionary jurisprudence in service of victims of crime.
For all his interest in the questions of justice, he appears like American Christians everywhere, steeped in a fog. Namely, a presupposition that God’s government is lax, and if He governs cities and nations at all He excludes claims upon courts and systems of human justice. Somehow, among Christians in many denominations, God is understood to allow drug wars, police states, prisons — all of which are morally neutral, neither required nor forbidden by God in either old or new testament.
That view is rejected by proponents of Christian reconstruction, whose work in the past 50 years gives biblical grounds for major legal reform such as abolition of prisons. Their work establishes a practicable libertarian ethic to replace the violent and depressing status quo. Books exploring God’s law (theonomy) show that the prison growth industry is unjust and part of a cult of the state worship, with corporations enriched as priests.
In contrast, God ordains a limited judicial state, with public sin (crime, tort) handled entirely in terms of victim’s rights with restitution of the victim and restoration for the malefactor for all offenses except capital ones.
The Christian clergy in Chattanooga is nowhere reported to have preached on biblical policy pertaining to crime, drug use, prohibition campaigns, police and judiciaries. (A favorite book covering slavery and other topics is Tools of Dominion, North, 1990, 1,295 pp, the heftiest book in many libraries, and, more recently, by Joel McDurmon, The Problem of Slavery in Christian America, 462 pp). This latter text changed my mind about the “noble cause” of the South and makes clear that the prison-industrial complex’s rapacious hunger for bodies to fill its for-profit cells has its origins in American slavery itself.