Friday, July 24, 2009

One Toke Over the 'Unincorporated County' Line - A Decriminalization Story

The Cook County Board shocked the press, Chicago's Mayor, and even their own Board President, Todd Stroger earlier this week by passing a marijuana decriminalization ordinance seemingly under the radar of a celebrated tax cut.

The measure gives sheriff's and deputies in unincorporated Cook County (not any of the city, or other townships who have their own law enforcement) the OPTION of issuing a $200 ticket for less than 10 grams of pot, with NO criminal record. Championed by Commissioner Earlean Collins (whose grandson was arrested on a first offense marijuana charge), she created the bill to help give 'young people who make mistakes a second chance' and to reduce overcrowded jails with non violent offenders (not to mention making a little coin for the county with those fines and reduced prosecution costs).

Board President Todd Stroger came out originally skeptical, threatening to veto the measure, but had a thorough change of heart by Thursday. "“I’m fine with it. It’s just another tool a law enforcement office can use,” Stroger said.
(from Chicago Sun Times),stroger-pot-possession-legislation-072309.article

Chicago Mayor Daley only 5 years ago supported a similar measure in the city, but seems to have had a change of heart. While a supporter of decriminalization, Daley argued that pot was "already decriminalized" in Illinois, because "99% of the cases were thrown out".
Thursday, he blasted the Board's decision as a step on a slippery slope of drug acceptance, a move that seemed a tad hypocritical. And pointless, since the law does not affect the city.,mayor-daley-chicago-pot-marijuana-072209.article

HOWEVER, I have yet to light one up in celebration. While the new law does give offenders a second chance, it also gives officers a HUGE amount of leeway that can (and most likely will) be prejudiced. Numerous studies in IL and across the nation reveal that Black people are prosecuted 2-3 times more than whites for marijuana crimes. In rural IL, it isn't hard to figure out who's gonna get tickets and who's gonna get arrested , at the cops "discretion". This law is rife with potential for abuse, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, kinda like smokin' a seed.

I have always supported decriminalization, and this misdemeanor fine policy can indeed generate revenue while saving millions in incarceration costs of non violent pot "offenders". But I am very wary of any system that leaves the option of prosecution to the 'judgment call' of the police. Not that I question their judgment, it's their PRE judgment I worry about.


Friday, July 10, 2009

How low can greed take you? At least 6 feet under...

After a week where the world watched the biggest funeral this millennium, and buried an African American legend, it is natural to think about the past. Not always were blacks given such a send off to the hereafter. In earlier times, even cemeteries were segregated, as is the case of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, IL. Burr Oak was one of the few cemeteries in the region that would accept black "guests" and as such has several prominent black Americans buried there, most notably civil rights icon Emmit Till, whose 1955 racially motivated murder was a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement.

After a week like this one, it is even more disturbing to read something like this...

" Every family's nightmare: Burr Oak Cemetery graves allegedly stripped for profit
R.I.P SHATTERED | Manager, three gravediggers charged in scheme"

Yep, you read it right. Recent investigations launched into the operation of the renown Burr Oak Cemetery have discovered that as least 100 bodies were removed from their graves and their plots resold. Bodies were discovered dismembered, piled in a field on cemetery property, sometimes casket and all. Other allegations include stuffing two bodies into one gravesite, essentially burying the more recently deceased over old graves. Here's some of the article.

(from the Chicago Sun Times) "The manager of Burr Oak Cemetery and three gravediggers were charged this morning, accused of scheming to dig up gravesites and resell them.

The four were expected to be in court this morning. The sheriff's office says caskets and remains were removed more than 100 graves and piled up in an unused area of the graveyard over several years.

The cemetery is the final resting place of civil rights icon, Emmit Till.
Other well-known people buried in Burr Oak include jazz legend Dinah Washington; bluesmen Willie Dixon and Otis Spann; Harlem Globetrotter Inman Jackson; and several Negro League baseball players.

Officers raided the cemetery, at 4400 W. 127th St, in Alsip, Wednesday morning. Five people were taken into custody.

Dart’s office was notified by the cemetery’s owners of “impropriety” about three weeks ago.

Dart believes the scheme has been going on for about four years.
“It was well thought out,” Dart said.

The employees apparently freelanced selling grave plots and dealt with cash.

“One person had an inordinate control of records, and a lot of those records have since been destroyed.

“We don’t know the full extent of this yet,” he said.,burr-oaks-cemetary-mitchell-070909.article

Another link to the story (more details and pics of the perps)

And they may never know. Records were destroyed, bodies and bones were piled in mass piles. The collection of DNA evidence may take months. All the while each of these families are forced to relive their loved ones passing as they try to find out what happened to their family members. Some families with up to 12 family members buried there were only able to locate a few of their gravesites.

It just never ceases to amaze me, 2 things about people. 1. What lows they will stoop for money, and small amounts of it too. I don't know about you, but if I'm digging up the dead and chopping remains, there better be at LEAST 2 commas in my pay check. And 2. how little people think of the consequences. I mean, you are only gonna be able to pile bodies and caskets in an empty field for so long before somebody notices. You can only TRY to focus on reselling graves that seem unvisited, at some point someone is gonna say, "Hey, I coulda sworn we buried Mom right by this tree." This plan was bound to fail, and though these guys had a good 4 year run at it, where is all your illegally gained money now and how will you spend it in prison? And even more tragic is that this outrage against these mostly African American graves was purported by African Americans. Seems black on black violence doesn't end at the funeral.

One of the most touching stories of distraught family members was a young woman whose brother recently came home from a box. Killed in the line of service to our country, buried at Burr Oak, his grave is now not able to be found. If we are going to ship our poor young men overseas to die, at least we hope they would rest in peace.

Luckily, reports suggest Emmit Till's grave to be undisturbed. But we won't know for months what damage has been done, and then begins the long slow process of reburying the dead.

I hope they bury Michael at Neverland, it may be the only safe place left.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

A perfect case for better health care, reproductive education and not naming your daughter 'Candy'.

Recent stories on CNN news and the Huffington Post are talking about Candy Vigneri, the Maryland woman who was arrested Wednesday on child abuse and endangerment charges after giving birth in a Washington, DC PortaPotty.

Here's the messy details.
From CNN
"A 44-year-old Maryland woman faces charges of child abuse after police say she gave birth in a portable toilet and dropped the newborn into the waste tank.
After exiting the portable toilet in Long Wharf Park in Cambridge, Candy Vigneri got a cigarette from a construction worker and sat at a picnic table, police Lt. Wayne Bromwell said.
As she sat, a male passer-by approached the toilet but Vigneri warned him, "Don't go in there, I just had a baby there," police said.
The man immediately called 911. Vigneri returned to the toilet and retrieved the newborn from the foul liquid at the base of the tank.
The baby was unresponsive and covered with a blue antibacterial chemical agent when emergency responders reached the scene, police said.
Vigneri told officers that she didn't know she was pregnant.
She was arrested Wednesday on charges of child abuse and reckless endangerment and is being held on a $50,000 bond.
The baby is in stable condition at Easton Memorial Hospital. Dorchester County social services will take control of the newborn after she is released from the hospital."

(A few other reported details, Vigneri lives in Maryland with her other children. Not really someone who wouldn't know she was preggers.) Here's a great article on it, with some thoughtful insights.

Yep, that's America. We're fucking nuts, here. And pathetic. Sure, Candy Vigneri is pathetic, that goes without saying. What do you expect when you name your daughter Candy? (Anybody ever heard of Senator or General or CEO Candy? No.)

But even more pathetic is the culture that leads to this kind of life choice.

Expensive, unavailable health care often leads women to not seek prenatal care. The high costs of living impact families that cannot afford the birth control, doctors visits, or even food for the kids they have. The obvious lack of mental health care facilities and services leaves folks to be crazy (like Candy clearly is) and wander the streets having babies in toilets. Poor education, including inadequate reproductive and child development education leaves people to "figure shit out for themselves" and people are clearly stupid. Shame and politics affect women's access to all reproductive options. A culture that is 'gaga' over babies rewards pregnancy with social status and promotes idealized versions of motherhood, but leaves women out in the cold when it comes to health care or child services or family rearing support. And now this child is here in the world and is "enjoying" the care of the local Dept of Family Services, another wonderful element of modern American life (sarcasm included).

We have spent a lot of time arguing between the left and right on the health care plan, on abortion rights and the value of Human Life, on what this administration or the last administration did or did not do. When it comes down to it, what we need more than debates and mud slinging and blame is real solutions that affect real people. You know, people like Baby Vigneri, who are going to inherit what ever mess we create or clean up.

So next time you feel compelled to blame the Right for all the worlds ills, or blame the Left for everything gone wrong, remember this new little baby. Remember that what this baby, and in fact all of us need is actual solutions, and real solutions require compromise and respect. They require us to put our petty attitudes and prejudices aside and do what is necessary to make REAL CHANGE, not merely affective campaign slogans.

For all of us in America, it is time to give birth.

Or get off the pot.


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