Judge’s can’t change mandatory minimums, but they can call someone an idiot

By Malkia Charlee NoCry
Philosophy Editor
16th November 2012, 18:45 GMT

Facebook thread from NPR on the Convicted Idiot

I shouldn’t still be amazed by the US judicial system, but its sort of how you feel a compulsion to read the News of the Weird when you pick up the free newspapers during your commute, because you can’t help but be amazed by the completely absurd. The USA is a big country with a lot of tabloid television (like the FOX network); has a government feared the world over, and produces a seemingly endless supply of money to stay on top – a molotov cocktail for their average citizenry.

I’m not surprised that the lines between reality and fiction have been completely blurred at this point.

The past 30 years has seen a media bombardment of the Jerry Springer’s, the Wife Swap’s, the Jenny Jones’, the Maury’s, Court TV and all other manner of depraved morality that pokes fun at the uneducated and the unprotected contingents of our society. So popular has this trend become, similar programming exists in pretty much every country of the world – America being the smut pioneers of the of the past three decades.  But what disappoints me is that who’d you expect to be the sane and logical people of America (you know, the one’s that follow NPR and Mother Jones) have completely lost sight of how fairness is served and what role our judicial system is intended to play.

Convicted Idiot Facebook Thread – Most supporting the judgement.

The USA has the most draconian judicial system, second, I believe, only to the UAE. Some States even continue to criminalise homosexual behaviour, similar to the Sudan. Reproductive Rights are in certain jeopardy throughout the United States, bills currently in play that mirror Catholic developing nations within Latin America. The USA shares legal policies with the most fascist countries in the world; and where they share such policies, because of their military might, America is often applauded for engaging in wars intended to uphold the sanctity of both freedom and democracy (irrespective of their own human rights abuses).

The United States is also a country where mandatory minimums have systematically limited the judicial discretion of judges;

meaning, if a prosecutor (who is a lawyer) is able to bring in a guilty verdict for a certain crime, the Judge  is duty bound to give them a mandatory sentence; even if the judge feels the sentence does not actually meet the criteria of fairness. These sentences have been criticised as unfair and generally pointless in the criminal rehabilitation process. Yet, they remain. And, once again, where we would expect to find rational minded individuals, we instead find American’s applauding the freedom a Cleveland, Ohio judge had to humiliate a criminal for no reason other than tabloid entertainment.

Black men on Whipping posts, c. 1897. Commonplace throughout the early 1900s for prisoners. Was generally given as punishment for larceny, but also disrespect and not completing chores.

NPR was the first to break this story to an international audience outside of Cleveland. The headline: Convicted Idiot: Driver Who Passed School Bus Holds Her Sign Of Shame”, quite disappointingly found most on the Facebook thread championing this judgement.  The “Idiot”, African-American Shena Harding, had to stand for two days with a sign for 1 hour, while her reckless endangerment was only cited with a $250 fine, 30 day suspended license and the two-day humiliation. I don’t know how most people were parented, but there becomes a cut-off where calling someone a name is going to change their dangerous behaviour. The judgement was the court’s prerogative  to send a message… but to whom?

Her blatant driving on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus crossing is such an audaciously disregarding and negligently ridiculous act, that most people wouldn’t seek to replicate it, whether or not they see her with the sign.

Most would probably pass the display and find it simply amusing, like when they would tie Black men to trees and put a sign in front that said “This n***er disrespected a white man” or put women in full head muzzles when they spoke back to their husbands. These forms of punishment were never for the good of the public or to maintain peace; rather they were designed to separate and humiliate, usually a subjugated class.

African-American woman pictured in iron muzzle, instruction for how it looks to owners. This lasted throughout slavery. Picture is c. 1839

On the 15th of November, a 25-year-old Caucasian woman name Melissa Edwards of Iowa was sentenced to 4 years in Federal Prison for distributing

Woman in iron muzzle, 1800’s Ireland. Common punishment in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and the new colonies of the United States for disrespect.

heroin that resulted in the death of her customer. This will begin a precedent for people to be sentenced to life imprisonment for the distribution of deadly controlled substances. As we know, 31-year old African-American Florida mother of 4 Marissa Alexander is currently serving a 20 year sentence for shooting her roof to scare off her batterer. The misinterpretation of laws to set precedent’s against people and erode the rights of women (particularly minority women in the USA) is both flagrant and disgusting. Shena is another example, a way to make it palatable for this generation to see people publicly humiliated, as was commonplace in the turn of the 20th century.

African American and Hispanic women are the fastest growing prison population, which affects the health and well-being of themselves and the communities they represent. I think that people should understand the gravity of what Shena was ordered to do. I don’t know the woman, but for what I do know about her style of driving we probably wouldn’t be friends, and I think her behaviour has to be one of the worst on the road, not befitting a good neighbour or citizen. But her sentence is a game, and we shouldn’t be playing. It should not be so easy to pluck our emotional fiddle that we miss the greater implications of our Human Rights (and currently for American’s, their Civil and Constitutional Rights) are being set back to the 19th century.

“Now, WKYC-TV reports, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey S. Carr says that ‘if I wanted someone standing there for an hour texting and smoking cigarettes, I would have had that as part of her sentence. … But, clearly, she’s missing the point. Clearly, it’s still a situation where she’s defiant.’ So the judge has told Hardin’s attorney that this morning Hardin needs to hold the sign up so that passing drivers can see what it says.” NPR

I’m sorry Judge, she endangered children.

Why not take her license,

why does it make better sense to humiliate an entire group?

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