As many of you know, I have been a lawyer for minorities and victims of racial and political prejudice all of my “lawyering life,“ 1949-2003. First the McCarthy era, next the civil rights movement, then the women‘s movement for equality. More recently standing up against the widespread prejudice against gays and lesbians.
During my longstanding career I‘ve also been sensitive to the errors and mistakes of our criminal justice system.
This year I attempted to help a talented but mentally troubled young man, Steven Glen Schwarz, of Leland. Steve has been sent to prison. Not for the treatment he so desperately needed, but for punishment. There is no question Steve made mistakes that made it easy for all involved in the system to “give up hope“ resulting in a punitive 16-24 month prison sentence handed down by Judge Tom Power. Twice he resisted arrest and was beat up, the first time after he was handcuffed. His doctor Phil Seimer plead for a sentence that included treatment. Dr. Seimer prescribed much-needed medications and feared his instructions for care would not be followed in prison. Steve had two other doctors that recommended treatment.
Judge Power listened to all of these recommendations from trained and educated physicians and his legal training somehow made him smarter than all the doctors, and he sent Steve to prison where all his medications were taken from him. Did I mention he was suicidal before he even left the county jail? Michigan is using prisons to replace the state hospitals. We are turning the mentally ill and drug/alcohol addicted into prisoners and criminals.
Steve is just one case; it would make most people sick to know how this criminal “justice“ (l choke on the word) system works! Unfortunately, the only way people find out how truly horrible and unjust it is, would be when they find themselves or their children or loved ones caught in its net and then it‘s too late.
So, my plea to you is two-fold. One, remember to think carefully before voting for judges and prosecutors. Do you want people who will look at the big picture and take a stance to rehabilitate? Or do you want the “Tough on Crime“ folks who don‘t see human beings, but rather numbers that do little more than justify their own existence? I‘ll guarantee what you‘ll want when you or your loved one is the one swept up in the “system.“ Don‘t make the mistake of kidding yourself into thinking it won‘t be you either!
Two, is to call or write your county commissioner. Your tax dollars are about to build a brand new facility (in Leelanau County), and you should try to get your money‘s worth. Ask your commissioner to request a section of your jail be for rehabilitation, psychiatric care, and prisoners who need medications. Think about it, a cop and a nurse all cost about the same but a nurse is going to do a heck of a lot more for someone who needs rehabilitation than a cop will. And the bed costs the same whether you get help or punishment. This way you end up with people coming out of your jail on the right track versus becoming a more hardened criminal. Your voice and vote can make a difference! When are we going to stop “punishing“ those of us in need of physical and mental help with prison?
Dean Robb Suttons Bay
Lust for oil
Re: your Random Thoughts column, Who wants to die for oil? (12/19/02) Thank you for saying what needs to be said more and more and louder and louder. Our lust for war and oil is obscene.
Linda Badalucco Petoskey
The Detroit Free Press announced on November 12 that the federal government will start implementing random checkpoints in the metro-Detroit area. What will Latinos, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, and other minorities do, as this law will target them for drugs, violation of probation, and links to terrorism?
This is the continuation of the government using the war on terrorism as a screen to go after minorities in this country. African-Americans have been in the middle of a war against racist and brutal police departments around the country. They have been on the frontline of U.S. oppression through slavery, segregation, and today economic and social apartheid.
In California the random checkpoint strategy is already in use to catch immigrants. Of course, the word random is only political correctness to keep civil rights groups at bay. In reality most of the people that will be pulled over will be people with a Middle Eastern look, African-Americans, and Latinos.
Now it is the turn of Arab-Americans and Latinos to take a beating from a country that has generalized them as terrorist suspects or automatic illegal immigrants in the latter case. This is one more tie that binds minorities of this country
together -- oppression at home. Many minorities have ran away from oppression in their native lands (largely due to U.S. backed dictators), but now all minorities find it at their doorstep.
Certainly, fear is running through these communities; as another article in the Detroit Free Press said the government‘s role in monitoring is “massive, extraordinary network -- with undercover agents infiltrating Arab and Muslim communities, street informants feeding information to investigators, and cooperative, but wary, community leaders acting as cultural guides into the local Arab world.“
This is the democracy we live in. It is only a democracy of convenience, which can be torn at the whim of the ruling party -- Republicans. They have made it clear that they will impede economic and social progress for minorities, even if it is being hypocritical to the very Constitution our forefathers wrote during the birth of this nation.
And the media has not helped matters much in their silence of this injustice. But it should be of no surprise either considering their silent roles during the era of slavery, segregation, McCarthyism, Vietnam, and other times in America when there was a need for an outcry of injustice.
Shemon Salam via email