Still Not Free: the Meek Mill case is hardly unique

The FBI is investigating the judge who sent Meek Mill back to prison for minor probation violations from almost nine years ago.

Against the recommendation of the assistant district attorney and the probation officer, Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced Robert Rihmeek Williams, who uses the stage name Meek Mill, to 2–4 years in prison for insignificant probation violations from a nearly decade-old case from 2009. Mill was arrested twice but hadn’t been convicted of any new crime; both cases were eventually dropped or dismissed.

Mill owned up to the violations in his only statement during the hearing and said that jailing him would likely end his musical career. The hip hop artist has battled addiction to the prescription painkiller Percocet and says he has only ever tried to escape a life of crime. Nothing about Mill is a risk to public safety. In fact, he’s contributed to society through his community service and activism. Mill’s lawyers have made strong allegations against Brinkley regarding personal bias against Mill. And now, news has broken that she is under investigation by the FBI for possible “extortionate demands.” FBI undercover agents have been monitoring her court proceedings in Meek’s case dating back to April of 2016.

Judge Brinkley made it hard for Mill to live a normal life while on probation by limiting which cities he could travel too, many of which were a part of his tour. In 2014, Brinkley ordered Mill to take etiquette classes and put him in jail for five months—where he spent most of the time in solitary confinement—for performing in a state without getting her permission to travel there.

Mill has been on probation since he was 19 years old. He’s now 30 and has been under the strain of the state his entire adult life—and his situation is not uncommon. One out of every 3 people in Pennsylvania prisons are there because of a probation or parole violation. The state has the second highest rate of people on probation or parole in the country, and Philly has the highest incarceration rate of the 10 largest U.S. cities, with half of the people sitting in jail because of probation or parole violations.

The system is essentially waiting for opportunities to re-incarcerate Black people and people of color.

Judge Brinkley is notorious in Philadelphia for doing just that: following people on probation and parole and calling their status into review without any credible evidence that they even violated. On top of that, she has one of the highest rates of sending people to prison for probation violations. She’s part of a system that is terrorizing and entrapping Black people every day.

Probation is supposed to be an alternative to prison that allows people to move on from their mistakes and make a better life—but, in actuality, it is state surveillance, sometimes for decades. Offenders are given restrictions, called “conditions,” that must be adhered to on penalty of violation of probation. Probation violations are treated harshly by our system, yielding tougher punishments for minor infractions—like being late to meetings, traveling out of town for work, and sometimes even being homeless—that you would never see prison time for if you weren’t on probation in the first place.

Mill’s is just a high-profile example of what’s happening to millions of men and women of color around the country. These petty parole/probation violations are one of the biggest drivers of mass incarceration—and they disproportionately affect Black people. One-third of the 4.65 million people who are currently under state supervision are Black, and African-Americans are twice as likely to have their parole or probation revoked. The criminal justice system over-polices, over-incarcerates and under-invests in minority communities. In Hawaiʻi, the same thing is true of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities.

Hundreds of people have shared similar stories under the hashtag #StillNotFree in the wake of Mill’s sentencing.

Gabbard will face Congressional challenger in 2018

Her challenger will be another woman leader with a military background and a strong environmental track record.

On January 21, 2017, Sherry Campagna was in Washington D.C. with a group of 200 Hawaiʻi-based social justice advocates participating in the 2 million-person Women’s March in D.C. to support legislation and policies regarding human rights—especially women’s rights—immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion and workers’ rights, all of which have become threatened by the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House. It was the largest single-day protest in American history.

As one of the original national organizers of the Women’s March, Campagna helped to rally some 15,000 people on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island. This was also the largest recorded public demonstration in the history of the state, and in each county.

On Saturday, November 18, at noon in the Atherton Building of the YWCA Kokokahi on Kāneʻohe Bay Drive, Campagna will publicly announce her candidacy for Hawaiʻi’s Second Congressional District.

“I decided to run for this very important position because the people of CD2 deserve a representative who will remain a true servant to their needs in Congress,” Campagna said in a press release. “While I am not a politician, I am a proven leader, confident that I will succeed in protecting the people of CD2 and their families, growing a thriving community, and preserving the ʻāina.” According to the release, her priorities will be economic justice, job creation, prison reform, environmental stewardship, healthcare and equal rights.

She will be challenging a tough incumbent. Tulsi Gabbard has more than $2 million to spend on her campaign and is capable of raising another half a million each campaign cycle. She has a strong base of support among environmentalists and her early denouncement of the DNC and her support for campaign finance reform and for Bernie Sanders won over many progressives. There is even talk that she should run for president or vice-president in 2020. She is also a military veteran who has generally been seen as anti-war.

But Campagna has her own environmental track record. She is an environmental scientist and small business owner of an environmental planning, permitting, remediation and renewable energy company called Kamaka Green, which was responsible for the master environmental plan for the controversial military live-fire training area at Pōhakuloa on Hawaiʻi Island; the Matson molasses spill emergency response plan; and the plan for Waikōloa unexploded ordnance remediation. Campagna was born in Honolulu, but grew up around the world as “a dependent of the Department of Defense.”

In college, Campagna advocated for racial equality as a Native Hawaiian, then widened her scope to include women’s rights and class disparities. She is a commissioner with the Hawaiʻi Commission on the Status of Women.

“Sherry has long been an outspoken and effective advocate for women’s rights, struggling families, marginalized groups and global responsibility. I enthusiastically support [her] candidacy for Hawaiʻi’s Second Congressional District, as would my sister, the late iconic civil rights attorney, Flo Kennedy,” said Faye Kennedy in the press release sent by the Campagna campaign.

Campagna also founded the nonprofit Olomea, which helps foster kids who are aging out of care. She has been a foster care system reform advocate for over a decade and recently won a landmark court decision based on a class action lawsuit awarding foster families an increase in care payments, which had not been matched for inflation or the cost of living in 24 years. Without such an increase, the retention of quality foster care families for foster children in need remained unnecessarily encumbered. Through Olomea, Campagna also succeeded in legislatively increasing the cutoff age for foster children receiving care from 18 to 21.

Campagna also serves as the director of the Kinaole Foundation, a nonprofit that helps veterans start their own businesses; as director for the YWCA of Oʻahu; as fund development chair for TEDxHonolulu; and is a member of the ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu Hawaiian Civic Club, the Kalihi Palama Hawaiian Civic Club and the Prince Kūhiō Hawaiian Club.

City to hold final Important Ag Lands community meeting

Which land is in, which land is out?

The Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) will hold its final community meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, to present its recommendations for lands to be included as O‘ahu Important Agricultural Lands (IAL).

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the ‘Aiea Intermediate School Cafeteria at 99-600 Kulawea St.

The public, particularly landowners who received a notice from the DPP that their property is proposed for IAL inclusion or exclusion, is encouraged to attend.

The DPP will explain what lands are being recommended for IAL inclusion/exclusion. The DPP anticipates sending the draft IAL map to the City Council for consideration by February 2018. The Council will then make a recommendation to the state Land Use Commission for adoption.

Each county is required by the Hawai‘i Constitution to identify and map lands that have the potential for designation as IAL according to standards, criteria and procedures established under state law. The intent of IAL is to ensure that the best of O‘ahu’s high-quality farm land is protected and preserved for long-term agricultural use. Developments have already broken ground on some land that, objectively, should have been considered IAL.

If food security is truly a priority for the city and the state, as it must be, then any and all land that is capable of successfully growing food should be included. With prime Ag land at Ho‘opili and Koa Ridge now rendered unusable, this issue is more critical than ever.

Will Caron
“I made this item you are going to buy but I didn’t get paid for it.”

Notes like this are being found sewn into clothes sold under the brands Zara, Mango and Next and distributed at stores around the global north. Reports say they were written by factory workers in Istanbul, employed by the major brands.

Overnight, the factory that makes the clothing for Zara’s parent company, Indetix, was shut down, leaving employees out of work. In addition, some employees were reportedly underpaid for the previous several months.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the man who founded Indetix, became the third richest person in the world in 2012, worth $74.5 billion as of 2017.

Big Pharma is fueling the opiod epidemic

But a new bill in the Senate would restore one of the DEA's primary tools in combating the wave of opiod-related tragedy in America.

The opioid crisis is now responsible for the loss of an estimated 200,000 lives in the United States, more than three times as many American lives lost in action during the Vietnam War. It has devastated families across the country, particularly in rural and under-served areas, all while making billions for the pharmaceutical industry.

One family, the Sacklers, have made around $35 billion off of one drug: OxyContin. Doctors were originally reluctant to prescribe opioid painkillers, chemical relatives of heroin, due to fears of addiction and overdose. But intentional and well-funded campaigns from pharmaceutical companies like the Sackler’s Purdue Pharma resulted in a massive uptick in prescriptions in the mid-‘90s, pushing the drugs on patients who did not need them and kicking off the opioid crisis of today.

The drug dealers of the opioid crisis don’t hang out on street corners or under power lines dangled with pairs of shoes; they don’t live in college dorms or operate out of the back of tattoo parlors or strip clubs. They wear suits and ties and lab coats. They line their own pockets with illicit sales or by deliberately looking the other way when pharmacies place huge orders. According to former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents quoted in a recent blockbuster report by the Washington Post, drug distributors ignore red flags out of pure greed.

The drug industry worked with well-paid former DEA agents and well-compensated members of Congress to pass a little-noticed 2016 law that sabotaged the DEA’s anti-opioid efforts.

For years, one of the DEA’s best tools in combating prescription drug dealing was its ability to suspend the operations of distributors who were funneling suspiciously large shipments of painkillers. But a former DEA agent turned drug industry lobbyist turned drug distributor worked with industry lobbyists and friendly lawmakers to effectively rob the DEA of that power.

Rep. Tom Marino, whom Trump had named as his anti-drug czar, recently withdrew his name from consideration for the position. He was the primary sponsor of the lobbyist-written legislation to hamstring the DEA, all in pursuit of making drug enforcement less of a nuisance to deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies.

Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced legislation to undo the glaring 2016 mistake that hampered the DEA. With enough public outcry, it may be possible to overcome Big Pharma opposition that will surely pressure the GOP-controlled senate to vote against the bill.

Lives depend on Congress passing this bill. Big Pharma must be prevented from further fueling the devastating opioid epidemic. Repealing Rep. Marino’s law and giving the DEA back its power to suspend the operations of shady drug distributors is a good first step toward addressing this serious public health crisis.

Will Caron
Why we should oppose agribusiness mergers like Monsanto-Bayer

Such mergers raise serious antitrust concerns and threaten the democratization of food supplies and global self-determination.

Will Caron
Mayor responds RE Rail, Blaisdell projects

Without addressing it directly, the mayor implies that Speaker Saiki's letter regarding simultaneous execution of these projects was misleading to the public.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued the following statement after receiving Speaker Saiki’s letter:

Funding for the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Master Plan and construction of the rail project come from completely different sources. Any attempt to confuse the public regarding these separate funding sources does a disservice to our community.

The rail project is being funded by O‘ahu’s half-percent surcharge to the general excise tax, the $1.55 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration, and a portion of the hotel room tax. On the other hand, the Blaisdell Master Plan will be funded by city-issued bonds and the possibility of public-private partnerships.

We don’t want the Blaisdell to become Hawai‘i’s next Aloha Stadium where taxpayer resources are going toward ever-increasing maintenance and upkeep costs. Just as important, Honolulu is competing with entertainment venues across the U.S. Continent and Asia, and top acts have already refused to book the Blaisdell because of the facility’s deteriorating condition. 

As mayor I will continue to focus on improving O‘ahu’s infrastructure as our residents and visitors deserve nothing less.

Human quarantine: The state’s regressive policy on jails

Governor Ige's selection of the animal quarantine station as a preferred replacement site for OCCC is tragically revealing of the state's attitude toward criminal justice.

The Governor held a short press conference yesterday to announce the administrationʻs site preference for the replacement of the Oʻahu County Correctional Center (OCCC). It is the Animal Quarantine Station in Hālawa. How ironic—yet very revealing—for this administration to finally say out loud how they view their constitutional responsibilities regarding those people in the “care and custody” of the state.

Another tragedy of this dysfunction is that the state is spending millions of taxpayer dollars before the work of the HCR 85 Correctional Task Force, which is creating a road map for corrections reform, and the HCR 134 Pretrial Task Force is completed in 2019. There is a plethora of research showing that what we are doing is not only wrong-headed, it is harmful. Jails are the gateway to mass incarceration.

Jeremy Travis, former President of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and one of the authors of the National Academies report, “The Growth of Incarceration in the U.S.,” has said that we now arrest and incarcerate people for things that were only sanctioned a few decades ago.

The Office of the Attorney General recently released the Crime in Hawaiʻi 2016 report and said that “Crime in Hawaiʻi today is at less than half the rate it was in the late ’70s, early ’80s and the mid-’90s.”

As of July 30, 2017, the department of public safety reported that 79 percent of those imprisoned at OCCC were charged with the lowest felony, misdemeanors, technical offenses, petty misdemeanors and violations. At $152 a day per incarcerated person at OCCC, it costs taxpayers $1,178,912 a week, $4,715,648 a month, and $56,587,776 a year for these 1,108 individuals.

Imagine having $4.7 million a month to spend on community services that are more effective and less costly in addressing a personʻs pathway to wrongdoing. Investing in a diverse array of programs that support and strengthen our people and their families, investing in education, and valuing the many resources our people inherently possess are some strategies for building strong, healthy and just communities. Along with that, we must impress on our policymakers that incarceration must be the last resort; therefore, sentencing reform is necessary if we are to move forward.

The research is clear: Building more facilities is a thing of the past. Many jurisdictions are investing in social capital and funding community-based strategies as alternatives to incarceration. The Hawaii Justice Reinvestment Initiative is in statute. We can vigorously implement it, as has South Carolina and many other jurisdictions that decided not to build jails, but to build justice instead.

Hawaiʻi has a golden opportunity, with the two task forces underway to change our course. We can create a fair and just system that understands that merely locking people up does not address the host of challenges they face; in fact, it can make things worse.

As Angela Davis said, “Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.”

Kat Brady is the director of the Community Alliance on Prisons and a community justice advocate with a lifelong dedication to bringing the community’s voice into the public policy arena. She works to increase civic literacy and to encourage public participation to advocate for social, cultural, and environmental justice policy reforms that are scientifically sound, humane, and preserve human dignity.

Kat Brady
House to Mayor: One project at a time is all Honolulu can handle

With the precarious financial nature of the Rail project—just recently bailed out by the state—and the city's history of mismanaging it, the Speaker of the House today told Mayor Caldwell that the city should focus on getting its priority project under control before starting on ancillary ones.

Speaker of the Hawaiʻi House of Representatives Scott Saiki has sent a letter to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell asking that the city wait on building another multi-million dollar capital improvement project. The letter comes on the heels of the state legislature’s controversial approval, in September, of a funding mechanism to make up a $3 billion revenue shortfall in the city’s poorly managed Rail project through a combination of General Excise Tax extension on Honolulu residents, as well as a statewide Transient Accommodations Tax increase.

The Blaisdell complex project is part of the city’s efforts to initiate “transit-oriented” development along the Rail line, but the speaker does not believe that the taxpayers of Honolulu County should bear the burden of funding both projects simultaneously. The text of the letter follows below:

Dear Mayor Caldwell:

I respectfully request that the City Administration seriously consider postponing its work on the Neal Blaisdell Complex redevelopment project. Although the concept of modernizing the Blaisdell Complex is worthy, Oahu taxpayers cannot take the brunt of paying for rail construction, rail operations and this project. Once the City Administration committed itself to the rail project, it cannot further burden our future generations with additional debt. The current estimated $500 million-plus cost of the Blaisdell Complex redevelopment could be better spent on mitigation of unanticipated future rail construction cost increases, rail maintenance and operations, and transit oriented development­related infrastructure (such as sewage capacity).

It may also be more prudent for the City to wait for the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) response to its rail financial recovery plan submission. Because rail financing remains in a precarious stage, it is not strategic to signal to the FTA that the City’s prioritization of the Blaisdell Complex may divert resources from rail. If rail is indeed the City’s top priority, then the City must make every effort to achieve proper fiscal management to ensure the completion of the rail project.

I support the modernization of government facilities. However, I believe that the timing of the proposed Blaisdell Complex project is not currently in the best interest of Oahu taxpayers.

Will Caron
Common sense regulations necessary to create a sustainable agricultural industry in Hawaii

Is it​ ​possible​ ​to combine​ ​the​ ​power of genetic engineering with the ideals​ ​of​ ​sustainability ​to​ ​revolutionize ​the​ ​agricultural industry​ ​in Hawaiʻi? Only if public policy puts people ahead of corporate profits.

Adeline Crosthwait