Justice is really not America’s stuff. Perhaps because politicians don’t care. As decrepit, insufficiently founded and poorly functioning as the justice system is, there is little interest in reforming it. Fixing the justice system is never a priority amongst the topics of a presidential campaign. At least,not the campaigns I have attended since 1992.
Last night, out of curiosity, I googled the sentence “justice reforms in the campaign of Donald Trump” and in the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, there is nothing of interest on Trump’s side. The poor fellow does not even understand the issue. For him, “justice” is about crime and punishment. Check it out. The entries you get are “lethal injection is too comfortable”, “tough on crime”, “taking care of the bad dudes.” In other words, non- sense that have produced the poor outcomes the country is dealing with like massive incarceration rate, and incarceration of the wrong guys, like Kalief Browder. Kalief Browder was innocent, refused to take a plea, spent three years in Rikers Island waiting for a trial, most of the time in solitary confinement and ended up committed suicide. That’s for the criminal justice system. With the family court system, divorced fathers have to go through marathon trial that last more than six years. And they loose access to their kids in the process.
Kalief Browder (Photo ABC News)
With Clinton, we are in the realm of glittering marketing. One entry in Hillary for America site is “Racial Justice.” There, in a page with the heading “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished,” you get a list of what President Clinton will do if elected. All of these goals are intrinsically worth pursuing. I see however two problems tough with this program that bear with credibility: President Bill Clinton has implemented policies, like the 1996 welfare reforms- that have screwed the poor – blacks among others- left and right. That Hillary Clinton, who has not taken issue with the policies of her husband, may now stand as a champion of “racial justice” is a breathtaking legerdemain. Second, there does not seem to be much money involved in Hillary’s program, besides that for “doubling the funding for the US Department of Justice Collaborative Reform program” whose aims is to improve and train police practices. It is obviously necessary, but well short of the task.
What I ‘d like to see in a candidate’s program to reform justice is significant resources to fix the structural flaws of the system. Let me give you an example. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who represented hundreds of people on death row pro bono. He has taken care of those who have been unfairly treated by the justice system for lack of means, lack of education, racial prejudice etc. He moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson also created an organization called Equal Justice Initiative, which now operates nationally and employs 17 full-time attorneys. The financial future is temporarily secured thanks to …grants from private foundations.
When the work of organizations such as Equal Justice Initiative will not rest on charitable donations but on taxpayers money, there will be some hope the justice system will be seriously reformed… and racial justice taken care of as a result.
Posted in Justice and the judiciary, Miscarriage of Justice, Politicians on Fatherhood? | Tagged Bryan Stevenson, Donald Trump, Equal Justice Initiative, Hillary Clinton, Hillary for America, Jeffrey Tobin, Jennifer Gonnerman, Kalief Browder, The New Yorker | Leave a Comment »
If you walk the streets of Skala, the main town of Patmos, the Holy Island of Greece where I was a few days ago, you will likely bump into these signs that feature a man -yes, a man – holding the hand of a little girl. These signs are there to tell motorists to slow down.
I am no specialist of Greek culture but these signs tell an interesting story: Greek fathers have a role to play in the life of their children, protect them, and have to be protected as caretakers. I bet Greek family courts are smarter than New York State’s and, as they handle divorces, do not limit fathers’ obligations to their children to paying child support.
Posted in Culture and Families, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged Greece, Patmos, Skala | Leave a Comment »
I just came across a distressing CNN report about fathers trapped in debt for non-payment of child support. At first, it sounds there is nothing new here that we have not covered in this blog. In New York State, if you can afford a divorce in Supreme Court, you buy your way into sharing the life of your children. If however you have the bad fortune of being poor, you have to end up in family court. There, being a father entails one and only one duty: paying child support. Having a role in the life of your children is just an option , which depends on the good grace of the judge, your ex or both.
The CNN Vega’s piece mentions a new aberration in New York State family justice. Some fathers, who for whatever reasons- unemployment or low wages (family court judges don’t seem to be aware of the stagnation of real median wages over the last two decades) cannot meet child support obligations, and end up behind bars. We are not talking about the relatively mild detention conditions of a county jail here. Fathers are graciously housed in Rikers Island. They obviously don’t make a dime while incarcerated and their child support debt keep mounting, which dramatically increases their chance to never being able to expunge it and to return to prison after they are set free. President Obama tried to stop this absurdity in 2010 by passing a federal law that would reclassify incarceration as involuntary unemployment -instead of voluntary- and stop child support debt from accruing.
Hillary Clinton, who as a Senator of New York has never left a finger to reform the aberrant family laws of the State, is now attacking discrimination against men in child custody as unconstitutional. Dear Hillary, it took you a while. But fathers all over the country are waiting for some real meat,not just words.
Posted in Child Support and Child Support Laws, Family Laws, Father Unfriendly Institutions, Uncategorized | Tagged CNN, Discrimination against men, Hillary Clinton, Ned Holstein, Rikers Island, Tanzina Vega | 2 Comments »
I saw Gad Elmaleh’s show, “Oh My Gad” last night at Joe’s Pub. Elmaleh is a very
Gad Elmaleh (www.madamesioux.fr)
successful stand-up Moroccan French comedian who decided to make it in New York. Why New York? Gad knows. As I was thinking of the show, one of its main themes came to me. America has mostly good people but bad institutions, like health care policy, justice and gun laws. In France, or in Morocco, where Elmaleh spent part of his childhood, people are perhaps not so good, but institutions are much better.
Let’s leave Gad Elmaleh and let me take it from there. In New York for instance, we have the ethicist and his column in the Sunday Times. Each week, a bunch of good people are asking Kwame Anthony Appiah what is the right thing to do, because they care about it. Like this woman for instance, who asks the ethicist if she should tell her boy about his biological father (her ex). She cannot stand having his son learn about his biological father by anybody but her. That’s a woman thing: she wants to control the narrative, totally. The ethicist goes right to the point: tell your son. Now.
The surprising thing is that somehow, all these good intentions have come to be lost in the process of designing institutions, justice for instance. As this group of fathers demonstrating in front of Toledo family court on May 28 to ask for the basic right of having a role in the life of their children shows, there is little ethics in the working of family courts. It is a custodial- mother- take- all game.
Also let say it again. We need to seriously improve our narrative. No, “we are not -all- deadbeats- dads.” The deadbeats dads are those who have been bled by unreasonable child support payments. We want family courts not to mess up with us being dads.
Posted in All Kinds of Dads, Family Justice and the Media, Family Laws, Father Rights Movement, Manhattan Family Court Sucks | Tagged 13abcAction News, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Shared parenting, The Ethicist, the New York Times, Toledo(OH) Fathers | Leave a Comment »
Every four years, I am amazed that important issues are left out of presidential campaigns. Justice for instance: Nowadays the
Han Tak Lee (Photo An Rong Xu, NYT)
media is all about the unfortunate opposition of Senators Cruz and McConnell to President Obama’s prerogatives to nominate a new justice. I am not denying that the issue of who is in the highest court of the land is important (and that everything should be done to avoid having another crusader of the
universal American human right to bear arms). Yet to me, this buzz about the nominee in the highest court eclipses one more important problem: the fact that the American justice system incarcerates a lot, and incarcerates the wrong guys: mostly African Americans but more generally the poor across racial lines.
I cannot recall the number of innocent men wrongly convicted I have come across since I live in this country. In this blog, I spoke of Herman Wallace, who always claimed his innocence and spent 41 years in solitary confinement. Last week, two other cases were in the same Friday March 11 issue of the New York Times: Han Tak Lee, 81 and Andre Hatchett, 49. Until 2014, Han Tak Lee was serving a life sentence for murdering his daughter in a fire; Andre Hatchett served 25 years in jail for the murder of Neda Mae Carter. Two years ago, a judge exonerated and set free Mr Lee, acknowledging his conviction was based “on theories of arson that had later been discredited” (You have to read it to believe it). On March 10 2016, a judge vacated Mr Hatchett’s conviction and dismissed his indictment. Both men spend close to 25 years in jail. Sorry, have a nice day!
The Innocence Project folks point to safeguards that could be put in place to prevent miscarriages of justice. They are certainly right. I also would argue that for the justice system, all in all, innocence does not matter much. Putting an innocent human in jail is yet a worse error than failing to put a criminal in prison. The problem is that the first type of mistake, the gravest, weigh zip in the assessment of the efficiency of the justice system. No judge and no politician is ever going to claim credit and advance his career for not having put the wrong guy in jail. Moreover, in the sad conservative era we live in, when the taxpayer is by definition robbed by the government – the source of all our problems, as a famous President taught us- a dime spent on a crucial public good such as justice is to be accounted for. And people behind bars, for the right or the wrong reasons, that’s results.
We divorced fathers experience with family justice the same breed of misdeeds that plague the criminal justice system. Family courts go for cheap and efficient. Our rights to play an equal and meaningful role in the life of our children? Man, let’s get real. Here we use an easy gender-biased marker for decision-making purpose. Male? Non-custodial parent status and child support for you. You contest it? An accusation of abuse by sweet ex-wife takes care of it. Efficiency? On the rise; Child support collection keeps making progress.
What makes me think that reforms are not around the corner is the sick of obsessive attention that the media and the public pay to the O.J. Simpson’s case. I was in this country 22 years ago when the race behind the Bronco took place and O.J. was acquitted. Like everybody else, I learnt hat a knife had recently been found in Simpson’s property. Folks that have not slept for 22 years over the possibility that a guilty man was at large are now dreaming of seeing the bastard in jail, already.
I have no clue as to whether the man is innocent or guilty. But in any case, I think the American justice system has more important problems to fry than O.J. Simpson.
Posted in Family Justice and the Media, Justice and the judiciary, Miscarriage of Justice | Tagged Andre Hatchett, Han Tak Lee, Hermann Wallace, Ian Lovett, Kirk Semple, Noah Remnick, O.J. Simpson, the Innocence Project, the New York Times | 1 Comment »
Saturday February 27, I saw one of the most beautiful and poignant movies ever, Ixcanul, from Jayro Bustamante. It was not be mentioned in the ceremony of the Oscars on Sunday, but it received a well-deserved best first film award at Cinema Tropical award.
But I want to talk about immigration and the tragedies that often go with it, not cinema. The movie tells the story of Maria, a young girl who lives with her family in the vicinity of the volcano Pacaya, in the south of Guatemala. They are landless peasant workers working in a coffee plantation. Maria’s future is all set: She is to marry the overseer of the plantation and this alliance allows her family to keep their house and to remain on the land where they live. However Maria happened to be enamoured with a young fellow who wants to go to the US, and does not know much it besides it lies behind Ixcanul (which means volcano in one of the Mayan languages of Guatemala, Kaqchikel). Maria sleeps with him to get him to bring her with him on his trip, but the lad leaves the country without her. She becomes pregnant. The condition for her family not to be kicked out is to start sowing corn their land infested with snakes. One of them bites her, and she is rushed to Guatemala City hospital. There, doctors spare her life, but not her baby’s, who is dead, Maria is told by a Kaqchikel-Spanish hospital translator. In fact, the paternalistic greedy administration of the hospital, with the help of Maria’s cuckold fiancé, have given her baby for adoption; That’s good money, and indigenous babies are better off given for adoption to white rich folks anyway than taken care off by their illiterate kins.
Now, let us imagine for one second a totally different story for Maria. Instead of being stuck in Guatemala, she makes it to the promised land, which a real estate mogul, who epitomizes bad taste in each of his numerous architectural endeavors, wants to protect from immigrants with a wall. Let us be generous with Maria. She finds a half-decent coyote, crosses Mexico and makes it safe to the US. Then, she starts working for a chicken factory at less than the minimum wage, with unbearable working conditions. Maria is lucky tough. The “Migra” never raids the factory where she works. Hence, unlike her compatriot Encarnación Bail Romero for instance, she does not go to jail, and does not have her kid given for adoption by a rogue judge to well-to do American parents. Instead, she keeps on working, contributes to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and never gets a cent from any of these programs. Maria’s daughter may or may not graduate from High School; she will however go to College if State policy allows it, and remains in any case, a second -class citizen. As far as Maria is concerned, she, as an illegal immigrant, will never see her parents again. Even if she were to go back to Guatemala to be near a dying parent, she would indeed bound to start at square one, crossing borders illegally at her risk and perils.
The point is that there is no need of a wall to make the situation of immigrants more miserable than it already is. Distrust those who want to make America great again, and those who say that America has always been great. Both messages are old bull, and their messengers always have it wrong about immigrants: Immigrants are always loosing big. Their offspring and politicians make a point to embellish it.
Posted in Adoption, Culture and Families, Family Laws, Immigration Policy and Families, Justice and the judiciary, Uncategorized | Tagged Cinema Tropical, Donald Trump, Encarnacion Bail Romero, Guatemala, Ixcanul, Jayro Bustamente | Leave a Comment »