Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mark Kirk, You get an F for "War on Drugs" redux!

By John Bachtell

In his latest newsletter to constituents, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) restates a variant of his call for a war on Chicago street gangs that he originally hoped would imprison 18,000 gang members:

"Dangerous drug gangs continue to terrorize our communities at a troubling rate, and the law enforcement officials who are on the front lines fighting against them have identified a key deficiency in state law that we need to fix. That's why I teamed up with local law enforcement officials last week to call on the Illinois General Assembly to pass harsh penalties targeting illegal gun crimes, including those committed by gangs. 

"I joined with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim and North Chicago Police Chief James Jackson in calling on the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation stiffening penalties for illegal gun crimes, especially those committed by gang members. The bill would require a minimum sentence of three years in prison for certain gun crimes, including illegal possession of a gun by a gang member or a convicted felon, and mandates that offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. The University of Chicago Crime Lab estimated that the legislation would result in 3,800 fewer crimes per year, including 400 serious violent crimes."

Shame on Mark Kirk! There is not one new idea in this.

This is a continuation of the failed "War on Drugs", a policy imbued with racism which over the past 30 years has resulted in the highest incarceration rates of any country on Earth.  

US prisons are being filled with mainly African American and Latino young males. It is according to author and scholar Michelle Alexander, the "New Jim Crow." Millions of Black and Latino youth are forever in the grips of the criminal justice system.

So instead of getting to the root of the crisis of violence, Kirk doubles down. His original idea was to round up 18,000 gang members in Chicago and imprison them. That went no-where, so he's back with another scaled down idea. But it's the same.

The "War on Drugs" has been a miserable failure. We need to give thought to a new radical and transformative way to address these issues including the mass incarceration and the economic crisis which has devastated whole communities:

1. Creation of a massive jobs program to rebuild and modernize the city, state and country, putting millions to work. Youth in the high unemployment communities should be targeted for special efforts to build affordable housing, new schools, recreation and cultural facilities, rebuild the infrastructure, the electric grid, sustainable forms of energy creation and delivery, environmental clean up, extending mass transit, etc.

2. Open up the universities and trade schools to educate and train a new generation of workers and older workers who have lost their jobs from automation and outsourcing free of charge.

3. Radical reform of the criminal justice system, including elimination of punitive sentences for drug possession, creation of a program for the formerly incarcerated that would include education in professional careers, technical and skilled trades, etc., housing, access to mental health and substance abuse programs and restoration of voting rights.