Mass Incarceration. The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander these phrases are now intimately linked in the minds of social justice advocates and faith leaders as we begin a critical struggle for fairness, justice and human rights in the criminal courts, police precincts and prisons of America. The Next Movement is convinced that America can do better, and that the majority of Americans would want us to do better, if they knew the truth. The truth about systemic incarceration, structural second class status, completely uneven law enforcement practices, oppressive and selectively enforced laws that is filling the prisons of America.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

SB 1342 - A Small Victory . . . But the Fight Must Continue


Thanks to the hard work of many organizations and individuals we have won a small victory, as SB1342 will not be introduced during the winter veto session. The political forces behind this inhumane legislation have retreated back into their smoke filled rooms to negotiate with, pressure and cajole our legislators into some future form of a bill next year.

Our job is to continue to reach out to our state representatives and senators and urge them to
vote against whatever future form SB 1342 takes.

Until every human (that means you) is mistake-proof, mandatory minimum sentencing makes no sense.

Consider this: In a roomful of teen-aged boys, who may or may not have been listening, he carried himself with such dignity and self-control that he seemed like a king. Since I don’t remember his name, let’s just call him King.

He’d come to share his experience in hopes that they would learn from it. In his sixty years he’d had many experiences. He was a Vietnam veteran who served his country and returned home to diligently work and provide for his family until his recent retirement. And now he was a convicted felon, serving eighteen months in prison.

His crime? While driving his car, King made a left hand turn without signaling. After being stopped by the police, he agreed to let them search his car. Why not? He’d never broken the law and wasn’t breaking one now. Why not cooperate with their request? He had nothing to hide. Unless you count that unregistered gun his brother had left in the car without King’s knowledge.

In Illinois an unregistered gun in a car owned and driven by King was considered HIS gun. The prosecutor decided to pursue the case. In the U.S. criminal justice system, the prosecuting attorney has the power to choose which cases to pursue - almost absolute power. The only thing that comes close to offsetting that power is the discretion left to judges in the sentences they give.

King received eighteen months in prison for his “crime.” He could have received more. He possibly could have received less. Personally, I don’t think he should have gone to prison at all. But still, the judge made the choice to give less time than what he could have received. The judge made the choice. Let me repeat, the JUDGE made the choice.

In the legislation proposed by SB 1342, judges will have absolutely no choice in the sentences given for illegal gun possession. First-time offenders would receive a mandatory three-year sentence, regardless of the circumstances. Judges would have no choice.

Mandatory sentencing has been shown to be ineffective in deterring crime. It has been proven to result in a disproportionate number of people of color being incarcerated. You may believe the hype that mandatory sentencing is necessary to stop gun violence. You may choose to support the next version of SB 1342, or to fail to voice your opinion at all.

Just remember your choice the next time you forget to use your turn signal.

To continue the fight against mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes:

  • Please keep calling, emailing, writing to your elected officials and get others to do the same. Find out how by clicking here
  • Grow your personal knowledge of the issue using the resources below:
  • The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Zalewski’s, editorial about SB 1342 has had highlights included (click on them to see the comments) to show some of the key areas of disagreement. Click here to view and of course, feel free to share with others. 
  • Lastly, this click here for an excellent brief from the Shriver Center on the effectiveness of mandatory minimums. 
The fight is not yet won. We must remain diligent. Thank you all for your help in defeating this bad legislation thus far, and keep up the good work!

Michelle Day, Esq.
The Next Movement, Project Nehemiah &
Trinity UCC Justice Watch Team