New Crack-Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Slightly Less Racist Than Before

Posted on by Prerna in Politics, Racism | Leave a comment

Between hullabaloo over attempts to repeal birthright citizenship and the latest marriage equality victory over Proposition 8, one important story got left out of the news this week. Obama signed a law enacting the most significant criminal justice reform he’s enacted while in office.

By putting his signature on S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act, Obama addressed one of the biggest racial injustices of America’s drug war. The bill dramatically reduces the disparity in sentences for drug possession of powder and crack cocaine and repeals mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack.

For almost three decades, those arrested for crack cocaine offenses — mostly young, African-American men — have faced far harsher penalties than the white and Hispanic users of powder cocaine, despite the fact that the two drugs are essentially the same. Crack offenders faced a 10-year mandatory minimum for carrying only 10 grams of the drug, while a power-cocaine user would have to be caught with 1,000 grams to trigger the same penalty.

What created this disparity? In the 1980s, when the crack epidemic swept through inner-city communities, white voters panicked. As a result, thousands of low-level crack dealers and users — mostly African Americans — were suddenly targeted in a wave of harsh new sentencing laws. Not surprisingly, today, over 80% of those serving time for a crack cocaine offense are African-American, despite the fact that two-thirds of users are white or Hispanic. The crackdown and subsequent incarcerations of thousands of young African-American men has devastated the community in unimaginable ways.

The legislation signed by President Obama reduces the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity to a fairer 18-1, meaning a crack cocaine offender would need to carry 28 grams to trigger a five-year conviction. The remaining disparity is due to the fact that crack cocaine is associated with more violent crimes and allegedly has a higher addictive effect than power cocaine.

While Congress should have gotten rid of the disparity altogether, the new sentencing law is still a step away from the tough-on-crime mentality that has paralyzed this country for decades.

Meanwhile, the fight for fair sentencing is only half-won. President Obama must commute existing unfair sentences, while Congress needs to decide whether the new law’s provisions are applicable retroactively. If so, up to 20,000 people serving unjust crack sentences in prison could get released, pending judicial review of their cases.

One small step for Congress, one giant leap for criminal justice and racial equality in this country.

Proposition 8 Finally Ruled Unconstitutional

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

I can’t get married nor do I want to but this is still a win for our communities (regardless of what I think about the institution of civil marriage).

The most important bit from the 138 page ruling:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Just a note, the court order has been stayed so no one can get married. This decision is likely to be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. So while the fight is long from over, we’ve won the battle this time around.

More later. Time to party tonight!

10 Warning Signs for “Overbearing Desi Parents” Syndrome

Posted on by Prerna in Desi | 2 Comments

1. You score a 99 on a test and instead of congratulating you, either mom or dad asks “where did you lose the one mark?”
2. You manage to get a 105% in class and they wave their hand dismissively while focusing on the drama or cricket match on television.
3. Anything other than majoring in medicine or engineering is not good enough.
4. You must be No. 1 in all fields or else you are a failure. An A- is a failure and B+ is the end of the world
5. If something goes wrong in your life, it must be because you aren’t wearing the right colors or the right element rings on a particular day and it is YOUR fault.
6. If you get an injury or get into an accident, it is your fault and the expenses causes them more pain than the fact that you are hurt. In fact, you are afraid to call for help because you’d be scolded for being weak.
7. You are forced to listen to stories about their struggles to give you a (perceived) better life and how much better you have it today.
8. You have to constantly listen to how your uncle’s wife’s sister’s cousin (or some other distant relative you’ve probably never met) is so much better than you at just about everything
9. There’s no such thing as depression or dyslexia. Pick yourself up and keep going.
10. You are just not good enough. Ever. Repeat and recycle till you start believing it yourself and being harder on yourself than your parents.

And then people wonder why Indian kids are either OCD overachievers or lack self-confidence and underperform.

Embracing the Colonial

Posted on by Prerna in Law school | Leave a comment

Shockingly, this isn’t a post about post-colonialism unless you read beyond the text and unearth a sub-text.

I’ve been in Washington D.C. for several days now thoroughly detesting the humid weather in this swampy city while checking out housing.

It was a daunting task — I’ve no official credit history even though I’ve never defaulted on a payment. I’ve no record of employment even though I am an entrepreneur with a limited liability company to my name. Getting an apartment on my name would have been next to impossible even though I could pay an advance of 6-months in rent. The other option was room-shares and I had nailed down several I needed to check out. Luckily (or unluckily), the housing counselor assigned me to on-campus housing, which had been unavailable prior to coming to D.C.

I jumped at the chance to live on campus although now I think about it, law school will feel all too much like high school or being a “freshman” in college.I’m not sure I necessarily want that “experience” but it’s fun to slip into another role and place where practically no one recognizes you. It’s a chance to re-invent myself and figure out what I really want outside the pressures of family drama and “movement-building.”

There’s no need to act like a martyr, step on the sacrificial pyre, and give myself stress about anything that does not directly concern my life.

Nearing the first week of DC living, I can say:

  • The French bistros and urban hipster places feel equally comfortable though we certainly need way more ethnic food.
  • I don’t particular know how I feel about the Foggy Bottom area where I’m residing but I do love the quaint Eastern Market, U-street, the gay-borhoods and Columbia Heights.
  • DC is still a particularly soul-less city for me with way too many kool-aid drinkers. I’m a critical thinker and deconstructionist. It’s like the worst fit for me, intellectually and politically. We know I’d rather be at UCLA if I could get the benefits of their David Epstein public interest program, but lets not start on that now.
  • The monsoon type rains are fantastic in the summer (and deserve a completely separate blog post)

Today I went shopping at the GW bookstore and bought myself some gear. I’m a GW Colonial working on my second graduate degree this Fall. It’s like living an alternative reality. But I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.

Go Colonials!

Wearing a Mexico Jersey Makes You “Illegal”

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 25:  Pablo Barrera #7 of M...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I am migrating a few of my favorite blog posts over the past year to my personal blog. I apologize if this causes issues with your RSS feeds.

Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher can don the Brazilian soccer jersey and cheer for the South American team without bringing his citizenship under scrutiny. But apparently a 12-year old can’t wear a Mexico soccer jersey to school without enduring punishment.

Last month, when Coral Avilez attended her performing arts class at Big Bear Middle School in California, she wore a Mexico soccer jersey in anticipation of the Mexico-South Africa World Cup game. For that, she was chided by her teacher.

When the teacher asked 12-year-old Avilez whether she supported Mexico, the young girl replied in the affirmative — and was shocked when the teacher questioned the legality of her presence in the United States. Maybe the educator thought she was in Arizona. (Papers, please.)

The American-born Coral Avilez was then told by her teacher that “people like you make me pay higher taxes and make my insurance rate go up.”

All right, listen up, Mexican soccer fans. You may have been knocked out of the second World Cup round, but you can take consolation in knowing that you have the power to raise U.S. taxes and insurance rates — all by virtue of your support for a soccer team!

In all seriousness, the teacher’s bigoted behavior reveals how fraught Mexican-American identity is in the United States, and how it often serves as a proxy for illegal presence. Cheering for a team other than the United States does not make one any less American. But for people of color — especially for Mexican-Americans — apparently a certain burden of proof is required beyond just an American birth certificate to justify presence in this country.

Despite the U.S.’s diverse makeup, for many, the idea of a true American citizen still remains someone who’s non-Hispanic white. Mexican-Americans are treated as second-class, hyphenated citizens — including those with claims to birthright citizenship. Many have to carry their U.S. passports at all times (hello, Arizona), for fear of being perceived as an invading Other and getting subjected to the horror of deportation.

It’s sad that we have re-appropriated parts of Mexican futbol — such as screaming “GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL!” like the Univision commentators — and yet even in the 21st century, we still haven’t been able to embrace a more expansive notion of American identity.

Pani (Water), Memory and Post-Colonial Identity

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage, Nationalism, Poetry | 2 Comments

Miles from a place fondly called home,
a small plastic bottle of FIJI Water peers at me
through the doors of a convenience store,
teasing and tormenting, begging me to take it back.

I reach out fondly,
only to jerk my hand away.

They say it’s untouched by civilization,
They say it provides jobs,
They swear to carbon-free emissions,
Then why does my body break down in sobs?

Water that leaves my people dehydrated and dead,
Water that kills,
Water that props up an illegal military regime,
Who knew it could have so much power?

Your colonial thirst for a taste of my paradise,
Highly dense and hyper-sexualized,
Life reduced to an exotic merchandise,
The blood of my people actualized.

This plastic bottle is all I have left of a place I’ll never see
With some half-forgotten memories of a country that doesn’t remember me

A Winter Vacation in Chicago

Far away from any colonized setting, glittering and shimmering, sitting on a river of lights next to Lake Michigan, with brand name outlets, world-renowned tourist spots, historical architectural designs, the buzzing energy of a lively place that never rests, this is Chicago, as urbane and metropolitan as it gets in the United States. At first glance, the city does not resonate with any pain, tragedy, or buried untold stories; it seems like a great vacation spot and escape from my own traumatic life. The city, half-imagined, returns to me each night.

Caught in a snow blizzard, I hurry past someone carrying a sign that read “I am just homeless and hungry. God gives to those that give to others.” Almost instantly, blurred images of a distant past flash through my mind. Homelessness is a part and parcel of every city and suddenly, I am not away from home, on any sort of vacation. I freeze, unable to escape my reality. This is not history yet, it is memory—intimate, painful, joyful, personal and nostalgic. Jolted out of my consumerist shopping spree, I realize with strange awe that tragedy, violence, a sense of belonging are not stuck in geographical space; they come with us in our memories, our intimate personalization and self-definitions.

Shaking off the feeling almost instantly, I walk into a convenience store to get some water for my sore throat. Staring at me through the sliding glass doors is a bottle of water from the Fiji Islands. Face to face with my reality, I stand there gazing at the tiny bottle as my mind once again loads and runs a cinematic reel. Half-remembered and half-forgotten memories from another place and time, now encompassed by this beautiful luminescent blue bottle, conjures up an entire history.

It’s problematic to hold a bottle of FIJI water with such nostalgic tenderness and pride, especially since it is owned by an US company, and yet we do it. When I discussed this with a friend from Canada, she admitted that she went into a gas station on her way to Los Angeles and bought a bottle of FIJI Water, because it is a Kai-India (Fiji Indian) thing to do. I pay for the FIJI water bottle and hold it as if I am holding Fiji and the history of my people in my hands, and coincidentally, realize that even the rights to FIJI water is owned by an ‘Other’; I am holding colonialism in my hand.

Indentured laborers from India crossed the Kala Pani (Pacific Ocean) in the late 1800s to come to Fiji. They called themselves girmitiyas, derived from the English word ‘agreement,’ which referred to the labor contract, while the British called them ‘coolies.’ The girmitiyas were supposed to simply serve as a working population, but by 1970, not only was Fiji independent of British rule, but the now free descendants of the girmitiyas were a majority population. However, as the 1900s came to a close, many more Indians (more properly referred to as Indo-Fijians) once again crossed the Kala Pani to seek refuge due to ethnic tensions at home.

I drink every drop of the water in the tiny bottle. My thirst quenched, my throat feels better. But my eyes water up.

Real tears aren’t the ones that flow easily. They are the unshed ones hiding behind hooded eyelids, stinging with permanence. And my heart cries.

What it Means to Be An Acceptable “Looter”

Posted on by Prerna in Racism | Leave a comment

Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship for the 16th time, only to have the sweet victory marred by reports of looting and rioting in the city.

Mainstream media would have us believe that LA Lakers fans went wild after their win last night and practically trashed the city. In reality, only a few bad opportunists decided to hold a “victory party” marked by unruly mob behavior. Of course, that didn’t stop some in the world of social media from immediately becoming determined to decide the race of these “looters” and rioters. Many derided the behavior as being stereotypically Mexican and black, while others hearkened back to the 1992 LA race riots.

Apparently, the word “looters” is used to describe unruly behavior by a certain class of racial and ethnic minorities. Comparatively, corporate executives like A&G and Goldman Sachs, who looted Americans out of their homes onto the streets, aren’t generally seen as looters — although the the word would be quite appropriate for them.

Derived from the Sanskrit word “lut,” looting denotes stealing and plundering. The word traditionally conjures up pictures of people (of color) thieving unnecessary items during periods of unrest and insecurity. After all, American states first adopted statutes against looting in response to racially-based riots, making the word “looter” explicitly racial in its connotation. For example, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee all enacted specific looting laws in the late 1960s in response to “race riots.” (By contrast, California enacted its looting statute in response to the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, making it a second-degree burglary to steal food or water during a “state of emergency.”)

While the situation in LA last night might hardly seem comparable, the incident joins Katrina, Haiti and Chile as the latest example of how the media’s discussion of looting is shaping our perception of people of color. Political riots launched by tea baggers are never blamed on the rioters’ skin color, though similar behavior from minorities gets framed in explicitly racial terms of brown and black. We see this double standard particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters. For example, during the Katrina disaster, there was a marked difference between how the media described scenes of black Americans taking food, as opposed to when lighter-skinned Americans did the same.

There’s no excuse for using the concept of looting to punish petty burglary and people of color — and not the more important kind of theft that occurs daily on Wall Street.

Photo Credit: Daquella manera

Must Read: 10 Reasons to Pass the DREAM Act Now

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

I wrote up an “8 Reasons for a Standalone DREAM Act” for last week but in all honesty, you should all check out the latest BuzzFeed post and spread it around on all your social networks. The list ended up being 11 and I am sure we will find more reasons as a community.

Initially, I was just going to post a series of our gorgeous female immigrant youth and allies in DREAM attire, but there’s always time for that later.

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Top 10 Threats to the State of Israel

Posted on by Prerna in CODEPINK | 1 Comment

Threatened by out of shape peace activists in awkward orange life-jackets and Pikachu, Israel raided and killed 9 humanitarian activists on the Gaza-bound flotilla and detained 600 more people from the ships.

You should check out my hilarious first-try at a Buzzfeed on Israel here.

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5 Actions You Can Take In Response to Israel Attacks on the Gaza Flotilla

Posted on by Prerna in CODEPINK | Leave a comment

The Israeli Navy has killed and wounded dozens of brave humanitarian aid activists who were aboard ships that were carrying humanitarian aid to the 1.5 million people in Gaza who are living under an Israeli-imposed siege.

Even after strong and widespread international condemnation, Israel still holds that it acted well within its rights and did nothing wrong. This is unacceptable and as long as the United States continues to support such a violator of international human rights, Israel will continue to act like a stubborn child and bear no responsibility for its morally despicable and illegal actions.

Here are some actions that can be taken in response to this atrocious action:

1. Obama must stand up Nobel Peace laureates and strongly condemn Israel. For too long, the international community has been two-faced about condemning Israel. Instead of expressing outrage at an attack on civilian ships in international waters, Obama issued a tepid statement saying he “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” and wen on to say that Israel is best suited to investigate itself! Please sign this petition calling on Obama to condemn Israel’s assault as a first ste. Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and request that the President:

* Condemn Israel’s attack of Gaza Freedom Flotilla and support a fair and impartial international investigation of it.
* Find Israel in violation of the Arms Export Control Act and immediately end all military aid to Israel.
* Pressure Israel to end its illegal blockade of the occupied Palestinian Gaza Strip.
* End U.S. support for Israel’s illegal 43-year occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

2. The United States Congress must immediately cut off aid to Israel. Request an emergency meeting with your Members of Congress during this week’s Memorial Day recess. Clearly, Israel has become a liability state for the United States. Currently, Congress is in the process of appropriating a record $3.2 billion in military aid to Israel. U.S. State Department figures show Israel received $2.55 billion in U.S. aid last year, with levels to ratchet up to $3.15 billion by 2018. This aid must be frozen while a fair, impartial investigation of this crime is conducted. Ask Congress to not fund the request the FY2010 request for more military aid to Israel.

3. Organize in your local communities to hold demonstrations at Israeli embassies. See the latest list of actions and locations here.

To add your protest to the list, please email or register your event here.

4. Time for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Support the BDS movement: The ongoing blockade and occupation of Gaza is in direct violation of international law. Let aid into Gaza and boycott Israeli products such as AHAVA made from occupied Palestinian territory. For more information, see End the Occupation.

5. Demand that Israel allow the safe passage of the Rachel Corrie flotilla: The MV Rachel Corrie, named after the 23-year-old American peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, is still headed for Gaza. The Irish government owns the ship and has requested that Israel allow safe passage but Israel states it is prepared to block the ship. Send a letter to the Israeli embassies now, demanding safe passage of the remaining flotilla delivering humanitarian aide to Gaza.

Stay tuned for the latest actions, including media talking points, from the US Campaign to End the Occupation. And remember to follow hashtags #freedomfotilla, #fotilla and #rachelcorrie on Twitter for up to the second information.

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