With Liberty and Justice for Some

The Pledge of Allegiance stands as a daily reminder of the “home of the free” and “land of the brave” yet even in its infancy has undertones of inequality and prejudice. The original 1892 version by Francis Bellamy of the Pledge of Allegiance reads:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Later versions of the Pledge replaced “my flag” with  “the flag of the United States of America” and “one nation indivisible” with “one nation under God, indivisible.” The Pledge like the National Anthem expresses loyalty to the federal flag and the republic of the United States of America. Congress formally adopted the Pledge in 1942 and has been modified four times to its now current version. Congressional sessions open with recitals of the Pledge as do many government meeting and private organizations. Schools use to commonly recite it at the beginning of school day until the Supreme Court ruled that students cannot be compelled nor punished to do so. Francis Bellamy who was a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist and cousin to utopian socialist author Edward Bellamy. The original was published in The Youth’s Companion magazine on September 8 as part of the National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day. The event was promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, as a way to teach the idea of American nationalism by selling flags to public schools and magazines to students. Upham’s vision as he told his wife, according to Margarette S. Miller, was to “instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into the Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.'” Bellamy wrote the short and sweet Pledge so it could be recited in 15 seconds. As a socialist, he also wanted to use the words equality and fraternity but decided not to due to the state superintendents of education who did not want women and African Americans to be equal. By June 29, 1892, Bellamy and Upham arranged for Congress and President Benjamin Harrison to announce a proclamation (becoming Presidential Proclamation 335) making the public school flag ceremony the center of the Columbus Day celebration leading to the first use of it in public schools that same year on October 12, 1892, during Columbus Day observances.

According to Francis Bellamy, the creation of the Pledge came “At the beginning of the nineties patriotism and national feeling was at a low ebb. The patriotic ardor of the Civil War was an old story…The time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism and the leaders in the new movement rightly felt that patriotic education should begin in the public schools.”James Upham “felt that a flag should be on every schoolhouse”, so the publication “fostered a plan of selling flags to schools through the children themselves at cost, which was so successful that 25,000 schools acquired flags in 1 year.” Bellamy considered the slogan of the French Revolution, Liberté, égalité, fraternité (“liberty, equality, fraternity”), but held that “fraternity was too remote of realization, and as equality was a dubious word.”  Concluding “Liberty and justice were surely basic, were undebatable, and were all that any one Nation could handle. If they were exercised for all they involved the spirit of equality and fraternity.” Bellamy noted that “In later years the words ‘to my flag’ were changed to ‘to the flag of the United States of America’ because of the large number of foreign children in the schools.”

Beside the Pledge of Allegiance, several other historical events would become part of the national heritage of the United States that would come to define America as a supposed land of equality. The national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, which includes “the land of the free” and “home of the brave” evokes the feeling of patriotism and eulogizes the history, tradition and struggles of the people to become the land it is today as the anthem is still sung at government functions, sporting events and even private functions. The song itself is based on the “Defence of Fort McHenry” a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key after witnessing the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay bombard Fort Henry during the War of 1812. The Gettysburg Address became the best known speech in American history delivered by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War on November 19,1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In two minutes, Lincoln reiterated the principles of human equality laid out by the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the Civil War a struggle to preserve the Union torn apart by the secession crisis and a struggle for human equality. Beginning with “Four score and seven years ago,” referring to the Declaration of Independence, written at the start of the American Revolution in 1776, Lincoln used the founding principle in the context of the Civil War memorializing the sacrifices of those who gave their lives and ensured the survival of America’s democracy that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” As the declaration of independence states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The most famous document that governs our daily lives, The United States Constitution adopted September 17, 1787, has provided the greatest ideals this nation was founded on yet remain an idea and do not translate well to practice.  The preamble to the Constitution states:

“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The problem really occurs when courts and citizens try to apply these governing laws to real life situations as the interpretations are not always the same even among the chief interpreters, the U.S. Supreme Court. Everyday it seems someone rights are being violated or taken away which is never justifiable in any case as we all whether criminal or not must abide by the rules set forth. Unfortunately, like church and state, emotions and opinions are never completely separated from the rules of the land. The first ten amendments of the United States Constitution collectively are referred to as the Bill of Rights. The limitations imposed are meant to protect the natural rights of liberty and property, guarantee numerous personal freedoms, limit government power in judicial and other proceedings and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendment applied to the federal government, most provisions now apply to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Bill of Rights plays a significant role in American law and government as a symbol of freedom and culture of the nation.

The fourteenth and the Bill of Rights are the main focus of most controversy in the United States when it comes to protecting the rights of the individual and where gross violations seems to occur. The first ten amendments are as follow:

First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Second Amendment -“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Third Amendment – “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Fourth Amendment – “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Fifth Amendment -“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Sixth Amendment -“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Seventh Amendment – “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Eighth Amendment -“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Ninth Amendment -“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Tenth Amendment -“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted almost a 100 years later as part of the Reconstruction Amendments after the Civil War on July 9 1868. Its Citizen Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship overruling the Supreme Court’s decision that people of African descent could not be citizens in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case 1857. The Due Process Clause prohibits state and local government from depriving people of their life, liberty or property without taking the proper steps to ensure fairness. This clause enables the Bill of Rights to apply to the state and recognize substantive and procedural rights. The Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. This clause was the basis for Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case where the Supreme Court decision ended racial segregation in United States education and Reed v. Reed (1971) where the Supreme Court struck down a law based on gender. It is evident even in the infancy of this country and centuries later the Constitution has had to evolve in order to better serve the people it is suppose to protect unfortunately after the inequality has been realized.

The 1980’s had its share of innocent people being charged and convicted of crimes involving child abuse. A former police officer, Frank Fluster was convicted and remains so after allegedly abusing children at a day care center run by his wife, Ilena Flores-Fluster. This happened after his wife was coerced into giving a statement to police and prosecutors with the main force behind the conviction being former Attorney General Janet Reno. Reno also prosecuted the Bobby Fejuna case claiming the teenager in Dade County Florida molested children at a day care center based on coerced confessions of children. In spite of the media attack on the family, a jury found him innocent. One of the most publicized cases in American at the time was the attempt to convict Virginia McMartin and her son Raymond Buckey of molesting children at a day care run by their family. The charges were made after a woman later to be found an alcoholic and a schizophrenic charged that her son was molested. The time and places of these alleged crimes were found to be impossible as the two were not working at those times. Further when the children could not recall any incidences, the police too a proactive approach and coached the children into testifying on tape with many of the allegations impossible. In the end, Raymond Buckey was charged and  a jury split their decision making it a mis-trial eventually forcing the Los Angeles County prosecutor to drop the charges realizing they were bogus. By no means are these the only cases, but what all these cases have in common are the following: 1) Involves children, often too young to have memories, 2) The young victims are coached to make accusations, often off camera, 3) Media publicity is given, 4) These cases involve not only accusations of sex but also witchcraft, satanism and bizarre rituals, and 5) Aside from statements by children, there is little or no other evidence. The problem is bad enough without exaggeration and false claims which only makes it worse for a legitimate problem in America. By doing so, it lessens the credibility of professionals and the credibility of the issue at hand.

One of the main problem in the judicial system it seems is how unbalanced the system is toward the poor who cannot afford an attorney. In the Clinton and Gore administration, the amount of inmates doubled from 1 to 2 million. In a 23 year period from 1973 to 1995 a study found 7 out of 10 capital sentence cases out of 4,578 had serious reversible errors. Since 1973, 95 death row inmates were fully exonerated by the court and 96 have been released as a  result of DNA testing. In 85% of the death penalty cases the error rates are 60% or more. Blacks make up a disproportionate high percentage of America’s prison population. As Cornel West, a retired professor at Princeton University, explains there is a long slumber of indifference in our nation to the poor and vulnerable. This promotes a superficial ethic of success such as money, fame and pleasure that leaves too many well adjusted to injustice. West also explains that the systemic breakdown of black and poor communities becomes devastated by mass unemployment, social neglect, economic abandonment and intense police surveillance. Instead of schools we are building prisons, as Bishop Sullivan says, allowing someone to make a lot of money off funding the prison industrial complex and keeping it full. The cost to keep a man in prison costs more than to educate a man in college. America houses nearly one quarter of all prisoners in the world and has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The incarceration rates are 6 to 10 times greater than that of other industrialized nations.

A common belief is corruption is limited to judges taking bribes, however the definition of corruption defines it as any organized, interdependent system which part of the system is either not performing duties it was originally intended to, or performing them in an improper way, to the detriment of the system’s original purpose. Corruption within the judicial system violates the basic right of equality in the eyes of the law and denies procedural rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Corruption while part of criminal activity, it is not limited to those activities as corruption has been found to be common when ordinary businesses or citizens come in contact or interact with government officials. The end point, according to Dr. Les Sachs, of political corruption is  kleptocracy which means “rule by thieves.” 1 out of every 150 people in America are behind bars making the United States n0 longer the “land of the free” but the world’s biggest system of what Dr. Les Sachs refers to as concentration camps hidden behind masonry walls an prison buildings. For minorities, 1 out of 36 people in the black population are imprisoned. While the Unites States likes to criticize other countries over their political legal proceedings, the United States has 30 times more prisoners than in China. A truly sad reminder of the flawed legal system is at least 100,000 completely innocent people are in jail, but the number may actually much higher while the number of innocent people sentenced to death is running into the hundreds. Of the 2 million prisoners, about 50,000 are foreign citizens which is more than the entire prison populations of other countries.

Besides taking advantage of domestic prisoners, many foreigners suffer the same wrath with little to no rights. When U.S. business had found a way to profit from the labor provided by prisons. Prisoners are forced to work for pennies per hour to produce goods and products which they sometimes must pay back to the prison for their upkeep. According to Dr. Les Sachs, foreign prisoners are denied rights under international law or treaties and agreements even being sentenced to death without notifying the foreign government that their citizen was arrested. Americans like to condemn the actions of foreign governments yet the world press had documented clear violations of human and legal rights by America in its overseas jails such as Guantanamo and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan even secret networks like Diego Garcia or on board American ships, Dr. Sachs reports. The conditions in prison allow prisoners to rape or beat other prisoners with little help for the abused inmates. Many prisoners are also killed in jail through stabbings and hangings. Ultimately, Dr. Sachs believe that even though torture and abuse are completely outlawed by the Constitution, many Americans who believe the Constitution is there to protect them have not had to deal with the legal system.

On May 26, 2009, the United Nations released a report by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, which highlights, among other things, some of the major flaws in the U.S. judicial system related to the death penalty with particular focus on Texas and Alabama. The report found that the flaws leave room for wrongful conviction and execution of innocent people something confirmed by interviews with public officials. Some of these judicial failing related to death penalty are outlined by the author. He notes limitations prevent inmates from access to DNA testing once they are convicted. In addition, defense attorneys receive compensation far lower than what is necessary to construct an adequate defense and appointed counsel have continuing relationships with judges before whom they appear leading to “structural disincentives for vigorous capital defense.”  The access of defendants to federal habeas corpus proceedings is limited as well. The author note that in Alabama, “officials would rather deny (the execution of innocent people) than confront criminal justice system flaws.” The UN report points out the problems inherent in the electoral system for appointing judges in Texas and Alabama, which highly politicizes death penalty cases. The author pinpoints the particular problems with judicial elections in Alabama where the judge can overrule the jury decision resulting in 9 out 10 cases resulting in death sentences.

According to Bo Lozoff, Director of the Human Kindness Foundation, prisons are creating criminals not deterring them. Prisoners sleep on floors, in tents, in converted broom closets and gymnasium or in double or triple bunks in cells designed for one inmate. The average cost for a new prison cell is $53,100. Approximately 240,000 brutal rapes occur in the U.S. prison system each year and most of the victims are young, nonviolent male inmates who are teenage first offenders. After being raped, many young men are forced to act effeminate in order to be sold among “roosters” as sex slaves for a pack of cigarettes. More than half of U.S. prisoners are there for nonviolent offenses and most are confused, disorganized, and often pathetic individuals who would love to turn their lives around if given a realistic chance. The rate of violent crimes hasn’t increased or decrease in the past fifteen years, however the prison population has more than doubled during the 1980s.  The threat of prison does not seem to deter criminal activity as 62 percent of all prison inmates nationwide are arrested again within three years. Prisons do not deter criminals from crime, but are incapacitating them so they are hardly fit to do something else. According to Lozoff who has worked with prisoners through his foundation for twenty years, there are seven ways right now that the system could be fixed:

1)Learn to recognize the influence of socially sanctioned hatred.
“What I mean by socially sanctioned hatred is simple: We human beings seem to have a built-in temptation to objectify other groups of people in order to feel superior to them or to find a scapegoat for all our problems.”

2) Make drugs a public health problem instead of a criminal justice problem.
“Drug cases are clogging our nation’s prisons. Some 61 percent of federal prison inmates are there for drug offenses, up from 18 percent in 1980. And all this incarceration is doing nothing to solve the drug problem. Many wardens, judges, and other officials know this, but it has become political suicide to discuss decriminalization.”

3) Separate violent and nonviolent offenders right from the start.
“Most nonviolent offenders do in fact learn a lesson: how to be violent. Ironically; we spend an average of $20,000 per year, per inmate, teaching them this. For less than that we could be sending every nonviolent offender to college. Only about 10 percent of the prison population sets the terrorist tone for most institutions, and they are able to do that because the administration gives no support to the 90 percent of inmates who just want to do their time, improve themselves in some way, and get out alive. To make matters worse, in most prisons when an inmate is threatened he or she is the one who gets locked up in a little cell for twenty-four hours a day, while those doing the threatening remain in the open population.”

4) Regain compassion and respect for those who wrong us.
“Over the past twenty years, we have increasingly legitimized cruelty and callousness in response to the cruelty and callousness of criminals. And with the recent elections and new crime bills, we are rushing even further down this low road. In a number of prisons across the country we have reduced or eliminated the opportunity for inmates to earn college degrees, clamped down on family visits, and restricted access to books and magazines. And now there is even a growing public sentiment to strip prisons of televisions and exercise facilities. It’s as if we want to make sure inmates are miserable every second of the day. We no longer want them to get their lives together. We just want them to suffer In the long run, however, this approach will not make us happy, nor will it keep our children safe from crime. In fact, as I see it, this vengeful attitude may actually be leading our young people toward violence. The peak age for violent crime in America is now eighteen, and it’s edging downward every year. Our children sense that it’s all right to be mean and violent toward people they don’t like. They are not learning compassion or reconciliation. Don’t expect a youngster to be able to master the difference between an enemy you define and an enemy he or she defines.”
“Taking the “high road” does not mean being lenient toward criminals. I’m certainly not advocating that we open the prison doors and let everybody out. In fact, I feel that there are many types of behavior that can cause a person to yield his or her right to stay in free society. But we need to work intensively with people who break the law; we have to structure our responses in ways that show them that they have value, that we believe in them, and that we need them. We must relegate prison to the status of last resort after all other measures have failed.”

5) Allow for transformation, not merely rehabilitation.
“Our ideas of rehabilitation usually revolve around education, job skills, and counseling. But many ex-cons have told me they left prison merely better-educated and -skilled criminals. Until they felt their connection and value to others, nothing ever reached into their hearts. Take this letter from a former inmate, for example:
‘Dear Bo, Man, I went through a time of hating you and Sita before I came to my senses. Let me explain: When you met me in prison and looked into my eyes, you didn’t buy the evil son of a bitch that I portrayed to the world. I believed it myself. But you two looked at me with respect. Man, I hated your guts for that. I’m serious, I have never felt a worse punishment than your respect. Cops and cons could beat on me all day long, I was used to that from the time I was a kid But for somebody to see the good in me–man, that was unbearable. It took a long time, but it finally wore me down and I had to admit that I’m basically a good person. I’ve been out for three years now. Not even close to a life of crime anymore. Thanks seems puny but thanks.'”

6) Join and support the restorative justice movement.
“For decades our justice system has been run according to the tenets of “retributive justice,” a model based on exile and hatred. “Restorative justice” is a far more promising approach. This model holds that when a crime occurs, there’s an injury to the community; and that injury needs to be healed. Restorative justice tries to bring the offender back into the community; if at all possible, rather than closing him out.”

7) Take the issue of crime and punishment personally.
“Just as with civil rights, and women’s rights, we have to recognize that the national shame over our prison system is affecting us all, and it’s getting worse every day. This doesn’t mean that we all have to become crusaders for prison reform, but we do have to be more mindful of what we say and who and what we vote for.”

We have to realize that we are all a part of this problem. If you vote, if you pay taxes, if you are afraid to walk alone at night, you are already involved. And so we all must make real changes-not just political ones, but also in our personal attitudes and lifestyles.

2 thoughts on “With Liberty and Justice for Some

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