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Arizona prisons ban book on black men in the justice system

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PHOENIX , Arizona (AP) — Arizona has banned prisoners from reading a book that discusses the impact of the criminal justice system on black men, drawing outcry from First Amendment advocates who say the move is censorship.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on the Arizona Department of Corrections this week to rescind the ban on Chokehold: Policing Black Men. The book by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, examines law enforcement and mass incarceration through its treatment of African American men.

“In order for them to ban a book, they have to show the restriction is related to a legitimate prison interest,” said Emerson Sykes, an ACLU attorney. “There’s no interest to keep inmates from learning about the criminal justice system and policing.”

Butler, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said his publisher was notified by e-mail in March that his book had “unauthorised content.” The notice did not specify what led to the decision but warned that some aspect of the 2017 book was “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility”.

Butler said he is mystified as to what raised alarm bells. He uses the title, which is a manoeuvre police have used to restrain a suspect by the neck, throughout the book as a metaphor for how society and law subjugate black men. Nowhere does Butler advocate violent or retaliatory behaviour.

“I disavow violence because first, I think it’s immoral, and second, because it wouldn’t work,” Butler said. “I’ve received letters from several inmates who have read Chokehold while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading Chokehold has caused any problems in prison.”

Arizona’s corrections department prohibits inmates from receiving publications that contain any depictions or descriptions that would incite or facilitate a riot, a resistance or stopping work. They also can’t contain pictures, illustrations or text that encourage “unacceptable sexual or hostile behaviours.” Any publications with sexually explicit material or sexual representations of inmates and law enforcement also are not permitted.

Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said the department had not yet received the ACLU’s letter asking for the ban to be reversed and declined further comment Monday.

The agency is in a court battle over a similar case. Prison Legal News, a monthly journal, sued corrections officials in 2015 for refusing to deliver four issues in 2014. The publication said in court documents that there were descriptions of “non-salacious” sexual contact between jail guards and prisoners when talking about incidents where inmates were sexually harassed. The case is set for trial later this year.

Supporters say access to books for the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the US can make all the difference for life outside the prison walls. More education decreases the likelihood of repeat offenses and can lead to better job prospects later, according to inmate advocates. They point to studies showing the literacy rates of incarcerated white, black and Hispanic people are significantly lower than their non-incarcerated counterparts.

About half of the adult prison population doesn’t have a high school degree, said Christia Mercer, a philosophy professor at Columbia University who has taught classes in New York prisons. Reading books can be transformative and help them feel like they are using their time to make something of themselves.

“Unless the book itself promotes violence, there is never reason not to allow it,” Mercer said.

Arizona’s population of 7.1 million is roughly five per cent black, according to the US census. As of October 2018, the corrections department found black people make up 14.5 per cent of the 42,000 inmates in the Arizona system.

“One in 19 black men are in prison in Arizona right now,” Butler said. “Rather than acknowledge it’s a good thing that inmates want to read about and debate important public policy, Arizona pushes back against rehabilitation, against literacy, against the Constitution.”

Sykes, of the ACLU, said the group is prepared to sue if corrections officials fail to respond to its written request to end the book’s exclusion. He believes the ban was made based on content, which would be unconstitutional.

It’s not uncommon for state prisons to ban books, Sykes said. Chokehold is also not the first book dealing with racial justice issues to be prohibited.

In January 2018, New Jersey banned from two prisons The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The 2010 book looks at how black felons convicted of minor crimes are seemingly set up to fail. Officials reversed course after receiving a letter from the ACLU.

“When these issues come up, we try our best to push back against them,” Sykes said. “Unfortunately, the reality is I think in many cases, no action is taken because people whose rights are being affected are not in a strong position to push back.”

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Local elected reps respond to Bunting’s leadership challenge

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — After Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting created waves by announcing his decision to challenge for the presidency of the Opposition People’s National Party, attention quickly turned to those supporting him.

At the local level, elected representatives in the PNP’s Region Five (Manchester and St Elizabeth) have come under close scrutiny. Some were keeping their cards close to their chest when the Jamaica Observer Central asked questions, while several others couldn’t be reached.

Some, led by Member of Parliament for Manchester Southern Michael Stewart, left no doubt by turning up at the Knockpatrick Divisional Conference a week ago, to publicly support Bunting.

Stewart joined the outspoken Dr Dayton Campbell, MP for St Ann North Western, in arguing that the party president Peter Phillips had failed to gain “traction” despite a spate of scandals afflicting the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government.

The PNP needed fresh leadership to have a chance of winning the next election and Bunting was best able to provide that, Stewart suggested.

Parliamentary elections are constitutionally due in 2021. However, Prime Minister Holness has the authority to send Jamaicans to the polls at any time before then. Many believe Holness will do so next year.

While he had not, up to then, had time to consult with his constituency executive and delegates, Stewart told comrades at the Knockpatrick conference that Manchester Southern will “not be left behind” in supporting Bunting.

Mayor of Mandeville and councillor for the Royal Flat Division, Donovan Mitchell, a leading figure in Bunting’s Manchester Central constituency, spoke on behalf of the entire constituency executive in support of their MP. Councillors from the constituency and aspirants from the JLP controlled Knockpatrick Division joined Mitchell on the platform in solidarity with Bunting at the Knockpatrick meeting.

The Jamaica Observer Central made telephone contact with Mikael Phillips, MP for Manchester North Western and the son of Peter Phillips. The younger Phillips made clear his “disappointment” with Bunting’s challenge to his father’s leadership at a time when he said the PNP needed to be “united” as a “team” to defeat the JLP government whenever elections are called.

“The same money that Comrade Bunting will have to use to run an internal election could be used in the effort to defeat the JLP,” argued Phillips.

Ervin Facey, councillor for the Spur Tree Division in the Manchester North Western constituency, turned up at the Knockpatrick meeting and brought greetings. However, he told the Observer Central by telephone that he attended the meeting as a neutral. He had not yet taken a position in the upcoming contest for leadership of the PNP, he said.

It’s expected that PNP delegates will cast their votes at an internal poll during the party’s annual conference in September, though there are suggestions that a special delegates conference could be organised before then.

Councillor McArthur Collins representing the New Green Division of Manchester NW, who, like Facey, is a veteran in the Manchester Municipal Corporation, indicated by telephone that he needed to consult with delegates in his division before making a final decision.

“I have to listen to the people,” he said. However, from a “personal” perspective he questioned the wisdom of Bunting’s challenge at this time. “I don’t think the challenge is good for the party…,” said the veteran politician.

In St Elizabeth the lone PNP MP, Evon Redman (St Elizabeth North Eastern), could not be reached for comment.

However, former Mayor of Black River and councillor for the Balaclava Division Everton Fisher, and Layton Smith councillor for the Myersville Division were at the Knockpatrick conference to enthusiastically throw their weight behind Bunting.

“The basic reason for supporting Bunting is that we need to win, we need to defeat the JLP — and all the polls are saying [Phillips] cannot win,” Fisher told Observer Central. “I have nothing against Dr Phillips; I think he has served the party and country well and still has a contribution to make. But I think Bunting can make the party viable for an election victory,” he added.

Smith was equally forthcoming. “I think we need somebody fresh, with different ideas … I have nothing against Dr Phillips but I think Bunting is the right man to lead…,” he said.

Councillor for the Braes River Division, Donovan Pagon, said he was keeping his options open and he would not attempt to sway his delegates one way or the other.

“It’s a democratic party and it is well within the rights of Comrade Bunting to do what he has done, but I would leave it up to the delegates to make their choice. I will not interfere,” said Pagon.

As to his personal position, the councillor said “I am still considering…”

 

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Cop beaten at police station

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FALMOUTH, Trelawny — A police constable had to seek medical attention after one of his arms was fractured during an altercation with a group of detainees who set upon him at the Falmouth Police Station last Saturday.

According to a well-placed police source, the constable was attacked in the holding area of the police station by a group of about three men.

The men, who the police suspected to be gangsters, had been picked up and taken into custody for processing.

The constable’s colleagues rushed to his assistance, but they arrived after he was held by one of the men and beaten by another.

The injured cop was taken to a medical facility where he was treated and released.

He is expected to return to hospital tomorrow for follow-up treatment.

The Falmouth police are probing the incident, and charges are expected to be laid against the men shortly.

 

— Horace Hines

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Observer story sparks help for young fire victim

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Less than one month after eight-year-old Rickayla Scotland lost her house and everything in it during a fire, more help is coming for the little girl who wailed, “All a mi book dem burn up!” when the Jamaica Observer visited the scene at 126 Orange Street, in down- town, Kingston, where she lived with her family.

Rickayla, a grade three student of Holy Rosary Primary School, seemed more disturbed about missing school than the fire as she told the Observer, “If I was at school I would be learning or playing with my friends.”

Moved by her concerns the Library and Information Association of Jamaica (LIAJA), last week presented five book vouchers valued at $25,000 to little Rickayla.

LIAJA president Nicholas Graham and other members of his executive made the trip to Orange Street to present Rickayla with the vouchers.

According to Graham, having seen the article in the Observer the LIAJA felt compelled to render assistance to this little girl.

“In keeping with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2030, the LIAJA strongly believes in quality education for the nation’s youth and as such saw the need to make a contribution to Rickayla so that her educational pursuits were not disrupted. The book vouchers will therefore be useful in assisting her to recover books lost and more,” said Graham.

The LIAJA represents information professionals and institutions in Jamaica.

Rickayla was among eight children and 22 adults who had been left homeless as a result of a blaze at 126-128 Orange Street on May 15. The fire was allegedly started during a domestic dispute involving one of the occupants of the tenement yard and his girlfriend.

Kingston Bookshop Ltd had also donated $60,000 worth of book vouchers to Rickayla.

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