Raise the Age!
It was distressing to read in the Kingston Times the retrograde argument by Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright opposing New York state legislation that would raise the age at which juveniles are criminally prosecuted, from the current 16 years, to 18. (“Raise the age? Not so fast”; March 30 edition.)
The consciousness of many in the country has already been raised about mass incarceration and the utter wreckage it has made of huge swathes of our population — mostly poor, black and young.
Kids thrown into the adult “justice” system get beat up, and they come back for more, because as teenagers in prison, their options, cohorts and role models have been largely set. Yet here we are in New York, the only other state besides North Carolina to prosecute all kids charged with crimes as adults.
In other states, young people also end up in the adult system. They aren’t merely “slapped on the wrist” by family courts, as the DA says, or sentenced to weeding yards. Many of them spend months in solitary confinement and endure other medieval punishments, which along with an inerasable criminal record, offer little hope of rehabilitation. But it is not automatic to charge youth as adults in other states, and doing so at all is an issue that many are fighting to change.
In his press briefing, Mr. Carnright had to reach back to 2010 to find an example of a youth who went bad, as he had not been warehoused with grownups. He had to go as far as Texas to find another case.
I am sure he could also find tens if not hundreds of thousands of young men and women whose lives were ruined at age 16 — yes, by committing a crime, as did so many of us white middle class folk — but who then ended up in the school-to-prison pipeline filled mainly with poor people of color.
Respected authors and academics have outlined the costs of this awful system. The benefits? Sure, the streets of Manhattan are safer than 40 years ago. But I suspect that prosecuting kids as adults is not why. The criminal industrial complex must be fed. Prisons bring jobs, and prisons buy stuff. But is that the industry we want for New York?
Affirm American values
Editor’s note: The following remarks were delivered by Joel Mason of Kingston at last week’s meeting of the Ulster County legislature, published with his permission. To resolution on banning memorializing resolutions, to which he spoke, was offered as a first reading. A second reading, and possible vote, will be taken at the April 18 meeting of the legislature.
I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I understand that our constitutional system works by striking a balance between the rights of the majority to govern and the rights of minorities to be protected from the potential unlimited power of the majority. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were added to redress this concern and it has been a fundamental principle in American governance for over 200 years.
Now, the Ulster County legislature is faced with a choice: whether to block future memorializing resolutions or to permit them to continue. Concerned Ulster County residents have spoken out very clearly against the resolution. But rather than pursue a divisive vote, I would like to propose an alterative: find a compromise. I am old enough to remember a time when “compromise” was a guiding principle in government deliberations, when members of both parties worked together to find solutions. In Washington, Congress has unfortunately reached a point where bipartisanship seems like ancient history and legislators take extreme positions on almost every issue, making the notion of working together nearly impossible.
I urge you, our Ulster County legislators, to resolve this issue without going to the partisan mat, remembering that today’s majority may almost certainly be tomorrow’s minority. Please, reconsider this motion to block memorializing resolutions, by striking a balance between those who think they’re a waste of time and those who, like me, think they’re an important tool for the people to express their concerns. You might not find a solution that will please everyone, but it will affirm the best values of our American governing traditions.
Not falling for Faso
Congressman John Faso recently sounded the trumpets after signing on to a resolution by House conservatives to “study and address” climate change. The “study” proviso is especially galling, as it implies that the sources of climate change are somehow not yet established. Not coincidentally, nowhere does the resolution assert that the primary cause of climate change is human activity.
Furthermore, the resolution does not address any of the well-researched means our legislators have at their disposal to actually address climate change, such as cap and trade programs, emissions regulation, and staying in the Paris Accord.
Faso is a former fracking lobbyist and ally to EPA Director and climate change-denier Scott Pruitt. Faso voted to let coal companies dump coal tailings in streams. He voted to overturn the SEC requirement for oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments; now, those corporations can do any questionable deals they like, hidden from the public. Are these the actions of a congressman concerned about the environment and the public interest?
Faso likes to refer to himself as a “moderate,” but his votes are to the far right. Now he’s trying to portray himself as a champion of the environment with this meaningless resolution. This empty document is meant to distract voters from the business-as-usual actions of the House Republicans vis-à-vis fossil fuels. We’re not falling for it.
As the current administration continues to deny the existence of climate change despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it is critical for local communities to be proactive in protecting our fragile environment, and to demand that unnecessary construction, such as the Pilgrim Pipelines, be halted. Unless we take action, the effects of such construction will be in our backyards.
At a recent Water Protector fundraiser in Accord, Clara Soaring Hawk Hasbrouck, a leader of the Ramapough-Lenape Nation, spoke forcefully against the construction of the Pilgrim Pipelines. The two pipelines are currently planned to cut through tribal lands. Iris Marie Bloom of the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines (CAPP-NY), urged us to continue to call Governor Cuomo and demand that he stop construction of the pipelines, and to support two bills: the Frank Skartados Bill #A02446, and George Amedore Bill #S5139, which would require the approval of townships as well as villages along the route of the proposed pipelines.
The event was initiated by Eva Ostrander, of Native American descent and a student at Rondout Valley High School. Speakers, including Quinn Haley, a seventh-grade student, who, with his family traveled to Standing Rock, showed photos of appalling brutality done against protesters, and described the damage caused by hydrofracking in North Dakota and Pennsylvania.
An upcoming rally, Water Is Life, will be held on Saturday, April 8 from 10 a.m.-1p.m. at the Wells Fargo Bank, 235 Fair St., Kingston, to tell the bank to divest from Energy Transfer Partners which is building several pipelines, including the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.
Sandra Scheuer, Olive Action
Our Ulster County Legislature is going to vote on April 18 on Resolution 91 to ban memorializing resolutions as a part of its legislative agenda. This is a sad decision for our local democracy and will have the effect of stifling communities and individuals from expressing their values and needs as a collective. This collective voice is the foundation and precursor to the creation of new and better laws that will have an effect on all our citizens.
A memorializing resolution is a non-binding statement that municipalities or groups come together to create about something that matters to their quality of life or a to a value they hold in common. It is a statement of intent or value that is not a law but it is a way, especially when done in concert with other municipalities, of creating a vision. These resolutions let other bodies of government know where a community stands on issues such as the environment, healthcare or civil liberties. Sometimes, if enough communities make the same resolution, it has a direct effect on state, county or local policy making.
One notable example of the power of memorializing resolutions to exert influence can be seen in the number of communities who made resolutions against fracking which ultimately factored into the decision of our governor to ban fracking in New York. While we can make calls to our elected officials as individuals, the power of a collective voice can be more impactful and more expedient when trying to convey important points of view.
Some members of our legislature have decided that memorializing resolutions take too much time to debate and therefore should be eliminated. Chairman Ronk claims that a letter from a legislator is a sufficient replacement. He also claims that citizens can get up in front of the legislature and make a statement on what they want and that a three-minute statement would be just as powerful. But once a citizen speaks (or even has the courage or wherewithal to speak) that is the end of that particular voice. The governor will never hear that speech whereas a passed memorializing resolution is newsworthy because it is the voice of many and is brought before the public for continued input before the vote takes place.
I feel a deep concern that some of our elected legislators, given their oath to serve our best interests, have fallen into an insular and narrow path with the creation of this ban. I would like to argue that all democratic processes take up time and if a memorializing resolution is one of the tools that legislators can use to speak on behalf of the public, what would the next tool that takes up too much time be? I also feel that the Ulster County Legislature has the possibility of setting the tone for the smaller towns, cities and villages countywide. Is limiting public input and discouraging mutual cooperation between legislators and the citizens the best way to go? These are uncertain times in our democracy as it is. Do we really need, here in Ulster County, to put a tragic limit on the direct and personal wants, needs and desires of our citizens?
I say to our legislature, vote no to Resolution 91. Vote for your constituents to be more empowered, not further hobbled.