By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania
In late summer 2001, when Lewis Black was in the final stages of preparing to release a live, topical comedy album, the September 11 terror attacks occurred. The album was shelved; none of his jokes had the same relevance as they did before the attacks. The comedian later admitted to having a complicated reaction to this: “You know it’s a national tragedy,” he said. “It is a national tragedy. We all know it’s a national tragedy. You know that. But. Everybody in this country, as soon as it happened — everyone — had that little moment where they went, ‘Oh. Well. That really fucks up my plans.’”
“Everyone” is an exaggeration, of course. But Black was tapping into a revealing emotion there: The idea that we can sometimes dwell on our own small difficulties even as we wade in a sea of other people’s much larger tragedies. Was Black’s problem a big deal? Not really: He had to re-record his album with different material. His problem paled in comparison to the suffering that countless people experienced. But still: To him, in his little world, it was a burden. He was sidetracked.
You’d think that ACLU-PA would be empathizing with Black right about now.
When President Donald J. Trump issued his executive order on immigration, ACLU chapters nationwide had to pull some of their best people — such as Mary Catherine Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper here in Pennsylvania, and many other lawyers and advocates nationwide — away from important work, so that they could confront the civil- rights-threatening commandment that Trump handed down. We suspect similar situations are going to become commonplace for the next four years, if not longer. As a result, you would think that there are very important issues — such as criminal justice reform, the protection of student rights, and issues relating to racial justice — that the ACLU won’t have the time or resources to focus attention on. You would think that it fucks up our plans.
But the truth is that we’ve been preparing for the Trump Administration since months before he was elected. And there’s plenty of room for positivity. Protests in the streets and much-appreciated donations to groups like the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Planned Parenthood, the National Immigration Law Center, and many others, have shown that support for civil rights is strong despite the actions of the president. While we will fight on the front lines of whatever civil rights battles the Trump administration decides to fight, other important issues will continue to receive attention.
- ACLU-PA will continue working toward reducing the commonwealth’s prison population.
- It will continue advocating for students and the LGBT community and free speech.
- It will continue to push against civil asset forfeiture and opaque government and limits to voting rights.
- In fact, ACLU-PA is hiring. Stay tuned for new job openings related to criminal justice and other issues on our website.
- We’re growing. So is the movement to protect civil liberties. And just as Black re-recorded his hilarious album and released it successfully in 2002, we are continuing to do the important work that our mission has always guided us to do.
Donald Trump hasn’t fucked up our plans at all. We’re pushing forward.
IN OTHER NEWS
(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)
- From ACLU National: “Here Is Some of the Human Misery Caused by President Trump’s Muslim Ban From Those Most Impacted.”
“We have all documents. We are real refugees. I was waiting for five years. I have endured much but I was always optimistic that I will have a brighter future once I am resettled in the U.S. But unfortunately we were told… that the US President does not allow refugees into his country. I am shocked. I used to hear America always protects vulnerable people and cares about human rights. But I do not think that is true now as this happened to us.”
- From The Intercept: “The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement”
“Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who spent decades studying the proliferation of white supremacists in the U.S. military, agreed. ‘The report underscores the problem of even discussing this issue. It underscores how difficult this issue is to get any traction on, because a lot of people don’t want to discuss this, let alone actually do something about it.’ Simi said that the extremist strategy to infiltrate the military and law enforcement has existed ‘for decades.’ In a study he conducted of individuals indicted for far-right terrorism-related activities, he found that at least 31 percent had military experience.”
Read The Intercept’s FBI series here.
- From The Sentencing Project: “Delaying a second chance: “The declining prospects for parole on life sentences”
“Despite this body of criminological evidence, the number of people serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984 — a faster rate of growth than the overall prison population. Even between 2008 and 2012, as crime rates fell to historic lows and the total prison population contracted, the number of people serving life sentences grew by 12%. By 2012, one in nine people in U.S. state and federal prisons — nearly 160,000 people — were there under life sentences. Two factors have driven this growth: the increased imposition of life sentences, particularly those that are parole ineligible, and an increased reluctance to grant parole to the 110,000 lifers who are eligible.”
THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.
DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.