A follow-up to my last post about people sitting in jail without having been convicted of a crime.
Just in case you had not heard the full details about the homeless veteran who baked to death in a cell at Rikers last month. He was there because he was too poor to make bail.
Homeless and looking for a warm place to sleep on a cold night in February, Murdough was arrested for trespassing on the roof of an apartment building in Harlem. He was presented with two options: (1) either pay the city $2,500 in order to be released — a cost-prohibitive sum for someone without a job or a home, or (2) be detained on Rikers Island and wait for his case to be adjudicated, a process that can take months or even years.
You can read the rest on the Pretrial Justice Institute blog here.
You’ll also read about Kalief Browder who was arrested at 16 and held for almost three years without ever having been convicted of anything.
Who is the criminal here?
I am officially finished with grand jury duty. Which means I now get to start the process of unloading on you all of the frustrations of watching our injustice system in action. And I think I’ll start with an article I came across just an hour after leaving the prosecutors’ offices.
Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons, 43, was jailed in November 2006 for the stabbing death of Christopher Joiner and yet his case has not yet gone to trial. Hinds County Judge Bill Gowan denied bail for Simmons, saying he wanted to hear more evidence of Simmons’ mental problems, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
Similarly, Lee Vernel Knight, 47, has been in jail without trial since December 2007, accused in the Christmas Day stabbing death of his brother, Michael Palmer. Knight, who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, had previously been committed to the state hospital. Gowan ordered Knight committed to the state hospital in 2013, but there have been no beds available there.
If you are counting, that means those men have been in jail awaiting trial for six or seven years. Let me just let that sink in for a moment. They have been locked up for years without having been convicted. Their cases are some of the most egregious that I have heard, but they are not alone.
As I was listening to one of the cases presented before my grand jury, It dawned on me that the accused had been in DC jail for a very long time. In fact, he will likely be in jail for about two years before he goes to trial. I confirmed with the prosecutor that he was indeed being held waiting for trial and not on some other charges. I asked her if that was typical. It is. She estimated a year and a half wait for trial. She didn’t say how many of those people are waiting in jail.
But as you can see from the Pretrial Justice Institute infographic posted here, 60% of the people in jail nationwide are waiting for trial. And just in case the loss of freedom for months or years is not enough of an injustice for you, how about this.
Research shows that among defendants facing the same charge and who have the same criminal history, those who are kept in jail before trial receive worse plea offers, are sentenced to prison more often if they are found guilty, and receive harsher prison sentences than those who are released under court-ordered supervision.
Studies also find that just two to three days in jail pending trial can have a significant and lasting impact on a defendant’s family, such as the loss of permanent employment or, for single parent households, a child being placed in state custody.
If they were rich, they would be waiting for their trial at home. We have a system where Bernie Madoff gets to walk around while he waits to be tried for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, but the poor and homeless and mentally ill will spend months or years in jail without having been found guilty of anything. Many of them will eventually be acquitted of the often petty crimes they are accused of.
And meanwhile the bail bonds people are raking it in. There are “15,000 bail bond agents work in the U.S., who write bonds for approximately $14 billion every year. Those companies are backed by multibillion-dollar “insurance giants.”
Amazing how much money people make off of the poor.
According to this Christian Science Monitor article, DC is one of the better places when it comes to holding poor people for minor things on bail they cannot afford. But even those accused of murder are still only accused. What is all that nonsense we are told about our rights to a speedy trial and innocent until proven guilty?
I’m going to an event in New York this June and I was thinking about using Airbnb. But then I saw this article.
As many as 7,500 San Francisco housing units are kept off of the rental market and are instead set aside for users of Airbnb and services like VRBO.com, KALW reported.
Activists with the San Francisco Tenants Union identified 1937 Mason Street, a three-unit building, as apartment housing set aside entirely for vacation rentals, the radio station reported. To make matters worse, the former renters there were ousted with the Ellis Act
The Ellis Act allows San Francisco landlords to “go out of business” and kick everybody in the building out. Sometimes the units become condos. Sometimes the landlord kicks everybody out to make room for Airbnb.
7,500 units is only about 2% of the 376,942 total San Francisco housing units counted in the last census. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you look at it in the context of the massive displacement in the Bay Area, the situation becomes clearer. Colorlines reported that
Between 1990 and 2011, median rental housing prices in San Francisco neighborhoods in the late stages of gentrification increased 40 percent. What’s more, the rental price increases and housing crisis have fueled the displacement of blacks and Latinos from both cities.
Between 1990 and 2011 the proportion of black residents in all Oakland neighborhoods fell by nearly 40 percent. Perhaps more stunning, black homeowners were about half of north Oakland’s homeowners in 1990. By 2011 they were just 25 percent of the neighborhood’s homeowners.
Washington DC, where I live, has been getting whiter, more expensive, and more unequal as well. We have “the fourth-highest gap between richest and poorest residents of large U.S. cities. While the poorest 20 percent of D.C. residents make on average under $10,000 per year, the top five percent make over $530,000 per year.” This income inequality is playing out in the housing market in a huge way.
According to the most recent data compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,412 a month, the second highest in the nation. To afford rent in DC without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a renter would need to earn $27.15 an hour, over three times DC’s $8.25 hourly minimum wage. In other words, a minimum wage earner would need to work 132 hours a week to pay rent in the district. Since 2000, DC has demolished at least nine public housing properties, which coincides with the city losing more than half its low-cost housing units in the past decade. Meanwhile, DC’s homeless population has quadrupled since 2008.
So I started thinking about who exactly is benefiting from Airbnb in my town.
Best I can tell, of all the profiles I randomly clicked, not one of them seemed to be from this city. Only one of them might not be white. It seems likely that they own their properties, especially that real estate agent. They travel all over the world. They surely make way more than $10,000 per year. And they live in neighborhoods that are newly infested with bougie bars and luxury condo projects with slogans like “meet you at the top.”
I’m not putting those profiles up so that you can hate on those people. The truth is that they aren’t all that different from me. I am not from DC. I have a college degree. I’ve been able to travel some. I work for the anti-poverty wing of the non-profit industrial complex in an office full of people who aren’t from this city and have never been poor in their lives, people who look a lot like those profiles. If I had decided to climb the ladder or if my parents had a little money, I’d probably be them.
I talk about privilege blindness a lot and this is one of those moments when my own smacks me in the face. It never occurred to me to think about who Airbnb was marketing to, how much privilege is required to participate, or how it is contributing to the disasters that are happening in cities all over the country. In fact, I thought it was a great thing to avoid staying at the big evil chain hotels. But if the Best Western is hiring locals at union wages and your Airbnb is run by a landlord who kicked out a bunch of residents to make more money, that chain hotel starts to look a lot better.
We cannot end oppression with consumer choice. Some decisions may cause a little less suffering than others and that is reason enough to try to make ethical life choices. But the system is designed for the benefit of a few people and most of those people will probably not even see the havoc they are causing. They will, in fact, think they are doing something great.
Check out this letter from Airbnb’s cofounder and CEO. Do you think when he tells his employees not to “fuck up the culture” he is referring to the culture of those people who are getting pushed out of DC/San Francisco/New York to make room for the young white professionals who like to rent out their $300,000 condos for extra cash when they travel around the world?
When those of us who have the privilege of choices think about making those choices ethical, we need to realize that we are going to be blind to many (maybe most) of the effects of our actions. We need to realize that having the space to think about the ethics is a privilege. Maybe, if we shut up and pay very close attention to the most marginalized people, we can start to see how much the world is designed for people like us at others expense. Maybe we will all learn that the most ethical travel decision would be to decide to do it a lot less and to spend that time and money in our communities working toward smashing the systems that make ethical choices impossible.
I needed a reminder. Maybe some of you all did too.
This article about social security going after people for their parents supposed debts made me so furious.
You may be following the protests in New Mexico. But don’t forget that murderous cops are everywhere. Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin put together a body count for Memphis.
The thing about protesting immigrant detention from the inside is that they can just deport you.
A little reminder about the struggles that indigenous people are in, especially on the border.
More Than 900 Workers Have Already Died Building Qatar’s World Cup Infrastructure. How is this even a little bit ok?
Cannot wait to read Astra Taylor’s new book. This section on women and the internet is spot on.
We all need to take up the cause of working less. Getting our time back might just be the most important bit of activism we can do.
Also helpful would be making our spaces a lot more hospitable to children and caregivers.
And can we all keep ego out and remember that activism comes in many forms, not just the ones that put you in the spotlight.
This came out like a month ago, but on the off chance that you did not read Ta-Nehisi Coates takedown of liberals willful ignorance at how white supremacy works, it is here.
My roommate texted me the other night that she needed my social security number. She was doing her taxes via TurboTax and they wouldn’t let her file without it. In DC, there is a housing credit for which it is obvious that neither me nor my roommate are eligible. But TurboTax made us go through a whole bunch of questions that were supposedly necessary to assess our eligibility. The program asked for all household members and their social security numbers. I ditched TurboTax and went with H&R Block who didn’t ask me to share my roommates personal information with them.
Just as I’m thinking about how infuriatingly accustomed we all are to giving information to government and/or private companies, I get an email from the DC government informing me that it is time to get my REAL ID. Apparently, back in 2005, a national ID was snuck onto a piece of military spending legislation. I’m told that there was a bit of a stink when it happened. Many states, in fact, said they would refuse to participate. But it is slowly rolling out anyway.
So what is this REAL ID?
The federal government no longer wants the states to be able to determine their own rules for issuing drivers licenses. And while the feds cannot exactly force the states, they can make certain state IDs not usable for federal identification purposes. That means, for example, that your state ID could not be used to board a flight within the U.S. They say these new regulations are about anti-terrorism. But they are more about anti-immigration and about cataloging all of us for ease of future harassment and control.
What I and every other license holding resident of DC will need to do is go down to our local DMV with at least four pieces of identification that meet their standards. In my case, for example, I’ll have to go down there with my passport, social security number, apartment lease, and a bank statement. All of these items will be scanned and held in their system. I will also have my picture retaken and added to their facial recognition database. The ID that I will be issued must have a machine readable zone. Here is what the NYCLU had to say about that in this report they issued (p. 14).
Similar to a bar code, the machine-readable zone must contain minimum information to allow any entity with a reader to capture the data on a driver’s license. The Real ID Act mandates the following minimum information be included in the machine-readable zone: license expiration date, issuance date, state or territory of issuance, holder’s legal name, date of birth, gender, address, unique identification number, and inventory control number for the physical documents maintained by the state.
DHS has granted states the authority to add information to be contained in the machine readable zone, including biometric information, such as iris scans or fingerprints. DHS has decided that the personal information contained in the machine readable zone will not be encrypted, which means that it will be easily accessible to government agents and the private sector. Moreover, there is no prohibition on third party access to information contained in the machine-readable zone.
So basically the states can include iris scans, fingerprints, or pretty much any creepy thing they want and they cannot encrypt the information. Even if you are one of those people who trusts the government to compile limitless data on you, are you really o.k. with anyone you need to show your ID to having that information? There are already bars that scan people when they walk through the door. Do you trust every bar and gym and restaurant with your iris scan?
I’m not even going to entertain the arguments about needing this for our security. Nothing the government does is for our security. It is for their security at the cost of ours. If you want to read some of the arguments, then feel free to click through to the congressional testimony or this article from Bruce Schneier.
What I will do is ask people to imagine the kinds of abuses that could occur with a system that collects that much data about all of us in one place. Think of the number of people who will have access to my name, face, gender, dob, social, passport number, bank account, and address. In Ohio, they freaked out because they found out that 30,000 cops plus had unfettered access to DMV info with facial recognition. Multiply that times the fifty states. Police routinely abuse their access to information to harass, stalk, or murder citizens. Now we are just making it easier.
Do we really need to write yet again about the kind of files that the federal government has been collecting on activists from the beginning of time? Here is a handy summary of some of the more well known acts against us by our government.
What is it going to take for people to stop rolling over and start asking why it is o.k. for us to be cataloged by a cooperating cabal of government and private agencies?