Wake Up Call: June 8, 2012
Prisons, Prisons, Everywhere
Someone you’ve probably never heard of has been in the news lately – or at least hereabouts: Reynard LaBostrie. He made the GeneseeSun.com, at least, as a result of his recent adventures in the criminal justice system. LaBostrie was arrested in 2010 for minor drug charges, along with two buddies, and wound up serving about 5 months in jail as the result of a plea deal struck early in the process. The problem is that according to the Livingston County Grand Jury, and later court transcripts, there wasn’t any evidence against him. And plea deal or not, he should never have been convicted or spent that time in jail.
How this happened is still somewhat unclear, but it’s known that right after his arrest, the DA’s office cut a deal with him. Then, according to their own testimony in court, they apparently forgot to remove his name from the schedule of cases sent to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury looked at LaBostrie’s case – when it appears the DA’s intention had been to leave it off the list altogether – and threw the case out.
At that point, the DA’s office compounded the matter with a second questionable action. Or rather, non-action. By law, the DA’s office should have notified the Court, LaBostrie, and his lawyer. But what do you know? They didn’t. Never told anyone. And so LaBostrie sat in jail and served “his time” – not that he’d committed any crime, or anything. Or, not that anyone could prove by, you know, evidence.
This turn of events, which seems to be a serious miscarriage of justice, is still a decidedly local matter. So far, my attention in this column has been focused on national and international politics and economics. So what’s the connection? Well, I think there is one.
Right now, there’s a kind of 2-cylinder conversation going on in the U.S. about indefinite detention, a flagrantly unconstitutional U.S. policy that has its origins in post-9/11 anti-terrorism hysteria. It started with the Bush/Cheney administration, who set up that mess in Guantanamo and created a string of secret prisons around the world, complete with its own secret transportation system, and with widespread prisoner abuse and torture as standard fare (although outsourced to other countries when expedient, via secret “rendition”) – all thoroughly documented and widely reported, by the way (see the extensive, ongoing coverage by Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald and The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, for example), but not so much by the so-called liberal/mainstream media
Barak Obama rode to office partly on the widespread outrage over the Bush/Cheney abuses of power, campaigning explicitly to put an end to them, and to deliver “the most transparent administration in history.” But how quickly we forget. Instead of holding anyone accountable – he promised, after all, to hold everyone accountable for their criminal actions – he let them all off the hook – and then we let him off. We all seem to have agreed to let bygones be bygones. “Look ahead, not back,” goes the chant. The United States of Amnesia.
One small problem. As we “moved forward” from that changing of the guard, the current administration didn’t just forgive and forget. They’ve actually made things much worse. Do any of you really know how many prisoners we still hold indefinitely, without a shred of due process, and with little or no evidence of any wrongdoing, in secret prisons anywhere??? Of course not. It’s a secret.
Here’s a slight digression, and a wiff of the real stinking corpse in the woodshed. The New York Times reported last week, apparently as part of a White House PR campaign to buff up Obama’s “cowboy” image, that the president personally oversees the secret meetings of the secret White House committee that looks at secret evidence and decides on the secret list of people (including U.S. citizens), and personally approves, secretly, every new name added to that list – of people we’re going to kill. Execute. All without a shred of due process, far from any battlefield.
As old-time lefty Noam Chomsky put it a couple of weeks ago, uncomfortably, “If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.”
Actually, while there’s serious truth to Chomsky’s remark, it’s also a bit of an exaggeration. All those prisons still exist, after all, as do the people in them – probably more now, actually. One of the ongoing though off-stage legal/political dramas of the past three years has been the Obama Justice Department’s extraordinary legal campaign to shield and maintain our expanding secret prison system and our regime of indefinite detention.
EXCUSE ME. If memory serves, the U.S. Constitution (here and here) specifically outlawed that kind of abuse of power. Remember the Constitution? That quaint old sacred document we don’t want activist judges messing with? Part of our way of life, our core values? Well, it says you can’t just throw someone you don’t like into prison. You can’t just leave them there. And you can’t torture them. And you can’t kill them. Never mind what those high-paid Washington lawyers (that you paid) told you. It’s criminal, and it’s wrong. It’s ALL wrong.
After a while, though, when the machinery of the so-called liberal media has done its work, this somehow, gradually, seems less important. We’re way more concerned about problems like gay marriage, abortion, something as basic and uncontroversial as contraception (or who pays for it), the cost of gasoline, the NBA playoffs. Who has time to think about all that other stuff that goes on over there?
It all fits together, though. Here within the U.S., one huge economic success story of the last few decades has been the growth of the prison industry. As Jack Bradigan Spula, who wrote for City Newspaper a few years back, once said, prisons are “our new public housing system.” Here in the U.S. we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world – much higher than Russia (#5) or China (#121). More than one quarter of all the world’s prisoners are in U.S. jails (increasingly, for-profit operations).
We’re good at this prison thing. It’s what we do.
And now, focusing in more closely, we come to Reynard LaBostrie. It seems, at this point, like maybe somebody just didn’t like him. Or decided that he didn’t matter. Or that he probably did something wrong… and then decided to let him hang out for a few months in jail. Never mind that it involves bending the rules, or misplacing (oops) some paperwork. Maybe it will do him some good.
You may think that what happened to Reynard LaBostrie doesn’t matter. You may think that even if it does matter in some way, such things only happen to people like him, and would never happen to you. Or to me.
Don’t bet on it.
You, me – and Reynard LaBostrie – we’re not them. We’re us. And the U.S. Constitution – which used to apply to everyone – used to protect us. At least, we thought it did here in Livingston County.
Previous columns by Mike Williams
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