New Jim Crow here in Kingston?

KPD officers make an arrest in Operation Mop Up. (Photo by Jesse J. Smith)

KPD officers make an arrest in Operation Mop Up. (Photo by Jesse J. Smith)

It’s Friday, one day after Kingston police rounded up 21 alleged drug dealers in “Operation Mop Up” and the first floor of the Ulster County Courthouse on Wall Street is bustling. In the lobby, friends and family members of the accused mill around talking on cell phones, speculating about the charges and waiting for their loved ones to be led from a holding cell adjacent to the waiting area into the courtroom where they’ll be arraigned before of County Court Judge Donald Williams. Two representatives of Allison’s Bail Bonds work the crowd, passing out cards bearing the company’s catch phrase: “Let us get you before your cellmates do.”

Inside Williams’ courtroom, it’s business as usual after a big drug bust. Defendants in county-jail orange and chains are brought in by sheriff’s deputies and presented with an indictment and asked if they require the services of the Public Defender’s Office. Then, with one of the county’s assistant public defenders at their side, the suspects enter a not-guilty plea and are remanded to jail to await a bail hearing.


On this Friday, however, the well-rehearsed routine is interrupted when Assistant Public Defender MariAnn Connolly, after entering a not guilty plea on behalf of Delaisia Hasbrouck, adds this: “I would ask that the record reflect that my client is an African-American.”

The line was repeated over the course of the arraignment session by Connolly and Assistant Public Defender Bryan Rounds each time a black client from Mop Up appeared before the bench. The request prompted Williams, known for his no-nonsense, sometimes-brusque bearing with counsel, to ask if the lawyers were implying that he would treat black defendants differently than white ones.

For Public Defender Andrew Kossover, who authorized his assistants to place their clients’ race on the record — and a growing number of voices locally and nationwide — the question is not whether the courts treat black drug suspects differently. It’s why in a nation where drug abuse cuts across racial and socioeconomic lines the heavy hand of the criminal justice system falls so disproportionately on poor African-American males in distressed neighborhoods like Midtown Kingston.

“We simply wanted to establish the racial disparity that exists in the criminal justice system,” said Kossover. “That unwarranted disparity causes a range of collateral consequences for marginalized communities of color.”

Casualties of war

Those consequences are laid out in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the 2010 bestselling book by civil rights attorney and legal scholar Michelle Alexander. In the book, Alexander argues that America’s four-decades-long war on drugs has helped perpetuate the racial caste system once upheld by Jim Crow segregation laws. By focusing enforcement efforts in poor black communities and stressing incarceration over rehabilitation, Alexander argues, the criminal justice system has created a vast underclass of black males who have seen their voting rights, access to scholarships and public benefits and employment prospects evaporate because of a felony drug conviction. Alexander cites U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics which show that whites and blacks use and sell drugs at similar rates but blacks are far more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for drug crimes. Alexander cites the example of Illinois where 90 percent of the people sentenced to state prison for drug offenses are African-American.

The book has sparked conversation and activism nationwide with “End the New Jim Crow” societies springing up around the country. In Kingston, the Rev. G. Modele Clarke, pastor of the New Progressive Baptist Church and Woodstock activist Odell Winfield teamed up to form the End the New Jim Crow Action Network in Kingston last year. The organization, like similar groups around the country, advocates for a range of reforms. Demands include the restoration of voting rights to convicted felons, an end to the for-profit private prison industry, abolishment of racial profiling and a shift away from prison and toward community-based intervention programs for drug offenders.

The group was formed, at least partially, in response to “Operation Clean Sweep.” The March 2012 multi-agency drug investigation led to 80 indictments for drug sales and dozens of prison sentences for the accused.

The Rev. G. Modele Clarke. (Photo by Dan Barton)

The Rev. G. Modele Clarke. (Photo by Dan Barton)

That sweep, and two more since, including Mop Up, focused on street-level drug dealing in Midtown Kingston. Taken together, the three drug sweeps netted 141 suspects. Based on an analysis of KPD mugshots 123 — or 87 percent — of those targeted in the undercover drug stings were black. According to 2010 census data Kingston’s population is just 13 percent African-American.

Those numbers are no surprise to Clarke. Since Clean Sweep, he said, he’s counseled an increasing number of families dealing with an incarcerated loved one or someone struggling with returning to the community after a drug-related prison stint. Clarke says he’s seen too many smart young men who could be an asset to their communities caught up in the cycle of drugs, incarceration and diminished prospects leading to recidivism.

“It is obvious to those of us who minister to disadvantaged communities that there are a disproportionate amount of black and brown men and women incarcerated for drug sales,” said Clarke. “It serves no social purpose other than to make some people appear to be hard-nosed law-and-order political figures.”

Winfield said that the point of the End the New Jim Crow Action Network was not to deny that there was a problem with drugs in the inner city or to bash local law enforcement. Winfield said the issue of mass incarceration was systemic. He cited state and federal grant programs that reward law enforcement agencies for going after low-level drug peddlers in urban areas. He also cited federal laws which until recently mandated far stiffer sentences for crack cocaine, most commonly associated with inner city African-Americans, than powder, most often sold by white and Latino dealers, as examples of how the system discriminates even when individual cops, judges and prosecutors do not.

“The police officers who walk the beat have their orders, they have to follow them,” said Winfield. “What we’re saying is that those orders are wrong and they should be changed.”

Carnright: We’re stopping violence

But District Attorney Holley Carnright said that going after street level drug dealers in high crime neighborhoods was part of a larger strategy aimed at dismantling gangs and preventing bloodshed. Operation Clean Sweep, he noted, was conceived to root out entrenched gang infrastructure in Midtown after a group of purported Bloods murdered a man to prevent him from testifying against a fellow gang member. Undercover drug sales — which are built by police working with a select number of confidential informants — offer an avenue to lock up violent criminals without having to convince a frightened civilian witness to testify against a gang with deep roots in the neighborhood. Many of the defendants targeted in the drug sweeps, police note, have gang ties and long rap sheets for non-drug crimes like robbery, assault and gun possession. The focus, they say is not on race or even drugs, but a violent criminal subculture.

There are 8 comments

  1. gberke

    Prison Conditions
    The cruel and unusual punishment clause also applies to conditions of incarceration. Prison officials may not deprive inmates of “the basic necessities of life, which include reasonably adequate food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, and necessary medical attention.” (Newman v. State of Alabama, 559 F.2d 283 (5th Cir. 1977).) Nor may they “maliciously and sadistically” use force to harm inmates. (Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1(1992).)
    Tell me getting beaten and raped in prison isn’t cruel and unusual: standard of protection, as much as food and water, are required. You can cut out the goddam TV but stop the brutality.

  2. the voice of reason

    This story just shows how disgusting The Kingston Times is and how LOW you will go for a story. KPD and The Ulster County DA are doing there damnest to clean up our streets. Boohoo, if over 80 percent were black who have been picked up in the multiple operations that have been performed. Stop selling your poison and you will not be arrested..
    How dare Kossover say that many of the drug dealers and gang wanna-be’s are mostly black and they are getting picked on. Has Kossover ever sat in Mid-town and watched the drug activity by the Sunoco station in Mid-town?Has he lived in drug alley and watched the drug dealers and prostitutes destroy our City? No,he has not. Then the Kingston Times promotes that biased book in your story and Rev. Clark who has his own agenda. Shame on you. Why didn’t you interview Shabazz and get his racist/biased opinion? I mean you are giving Clark all of the air time he wants, to show how blacks are being picked on. OMG, please. If they do not want to be arrested, then stop selling drugs. Stop destroying our city with there poison and they will not need an attorney. But then again Kossover would not have any clients or money in his racist pockets..

  3. The Voice of Sanity

    Yes, stooped very low, by allowing the views of the leaders of the black community to be printed in the newspaper. How horrible of this horrible horrible scandal sheet. We all know the only legitimate opinions are those of people in power, and speaking for myself, those are the only ones I want to read. Shame on you, you awful Kingston Times!

  4. Common Sense

    If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime. Our symbol of justice is blindfolded for a reason. Justice is served regardless of race, color, creed, or religion. We all are subject to the laws of the land. The incessant pounding of the race drum only further divides us and detracts from the real issue at hand–the degradation of society and our quality of life due to drug abuse and drug related crimes and violence.

    When we lost a youth in midtown a couple years back, I did not think of it as a black youth, but just as a young man who was not able to live a natural life–this is sad. How many more must we lose? We must come together and come up with a solution to educate ALL our youth and deter drug use and sales. For those who do not want to listen and commit crimes, then prosecution and incarceration is an effective deterrent.

    Kossover, Rounds and Connolly’s cheap theatrics are nothing more than a child’s game. Their words have no substance, no meaning, and no intelligence. They are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

  5. Bob Elmendorf

    I think that those who have not had a chance to read Dr. Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” should either read it, or if they don’t have time go to youtube and watch one of her interviews. She is a compelling and articulate speaker and is able to show that the current approach of drug sweeps in the black communities and incarceration is not working.
    In Texas they have instituted changes in the law decriminalizing low level drug deals and they put more money into drug treatment programs.
    We have around 7 million people in prison, on parole or probation. We can no longer afford this approach which is not working, and which has ruined the lives of two generations of men and women.
    whites use illegal drugs at the same rate as black, but you don’t see them going to jail for it.

  6. LookEhere

    Let’s go into Midtown and do a “sweep” that helps people: 1)own their own homes and apartments (get rid of predatory landlords who don’t keep their apartments in livable condition) 2)further their training and education 3) provide local LIVING WAGE jobs. Why would anyone want to sell drugs if there are alternatives? You have to be pretty desperate to resort to black market employment.

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