Communities come together to stop collective criminalization

The Center For Law and Justice in Albany, recently released a report entitled What Have We Done?: Mass Incarceration and the Targeting of Albany’s Black Males by Federal, State, and Local Authorities.  The report highlights how the New Jim Crow lives in Albany and points to the County’s dubious distinction as one of the most racially-disparate sentencing jurisdictions in the state. Further, the report highlights how federal and state prosecutors have used conspiracy and enterprise corruption charges to target young black men for lengthy prison sentences despite the non-violent nature of the crimes of which they are accused.

On Thursday, October 25 at 6pm, The Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the Center for Law and Justice will hold a community forum at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Albany that marks the release of the Center's new report. The Center for Law and Justice will call for New York State to address the impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, through a truth and reconciliation process and rally communities in Albany and New York to oppose "The New Jim Crow." The event will bring together communities targeted in the war on drugs with those targeted for their religious and political beliefs, and start a dialogue about collaborative solutions to resolve these pressing problems.

African-American and Latino communities targeted in the war on drugs and the New Jim Crow have much in common with other groups targeted by law enforcement. Federal and state law enforcement have long used informants and entrapment, vague laws that criminalize lawful activity, and biased policing to arrest and charge people in the so-called drug war.  Whether it's buy and bust operations on the streets of low income communities, holding out a hip-hop video as evidence of criminality or stopping and frisking almost 700,000 people on the streets of New York City (90% of whom are minorities), these tactics are familiar to communities targeted in the drug war.

Federal, state and local law enforcement also deploys these same tools when it targets Muslim communities, ostensibly as a part of the "war on terrorism." This week, a 19-year-old citizen of Bangledeshi descent revealed that the NYPD  had been paying him $1,000 a month to "bait Muslims into saying inflammatory things" through a method the the department tellingly named "create or capture."  The Albany area is no stranger to these types of tactics. Federal authorities sent Yassin Aref, the imam of Masjid-As-Salam in Albany to prison for 15 years for witnessing a loan. In Newburgh, an FBI informant roped four poor and desperate African-American Muslim men into a fake terrorist plot by offering them larges sums of money.

Activist groups are also no strangers to this type of infiltration and targeting through vague laws. Last week it was revealed that police in Boston spied on peace and justice groups and labeled them criminals and extremists simply for meeting to discuss their views. The NDAA now opens the potential for the government to target and threaten activists and journalists who connect with revolutionary activists around the world with indefinite detention.

The law enforcement purveyors of these tactics hold a dangerous worldview.  A NYPD practice of stopping and frisking almost exclusively people of color, and imprisoning them disproportionately can only be grounded in a view that members of these communities are presumptively criminal. Similarly, a policy of spying on Muslims solely for their religious beliefs (as the NYPD did when it surveilled the website for the MSA of University at Albany) emerges from a perspective that believes Islam is inherently dangerous.  Also fundamentally wrongheaded is a unfounded labeling of peaceful activists as criminals.  An effective response to these tactics and views is one that brings all affected communities together, recognizing that the collective criminalization must be stopped.


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