Monday, August 27, 2012

Fugitive from a Chain Gang

When Joe Biden warned that the GOP wants to put y'all back in chains, he was not kidding. Just check out the oligarchic orgy getting underway in Tampa. So how ironic is it that former Florida Republican Governor "Chain Gang" Charlie Crist defected to Barack Obama yesterday. What a slap to the party that had thrown Crist under the bus for being too gay-rights and pro-choice.  What a huge coup for Obama, who has made centrism and compromise with Republicans his raison d'etre, even a major theme in his re-election campaign.

But about those chains. Crist, who has developed a well-deserved Romneyesque reputation as a flip-flopper, was still bragging as recently as three years ago about his glory days as "Chain Gang Charlie."  Back in the 90s, when he was a freshman state senator, Crist was instrumental in reviving prison chain gangs after they'd been nationally banned in the 1940s for being too inhumane. Crist's rejuvenation of forced prison labor was also largely condemned as racist, not only by the NAACP, but by prison officials and even some conservative Southern editorial boards. According to one contemporary news story, Crist's fetish for penal slavery had its start in the first blush of his youth. While on a family road trip, he'd become inspired by the sight of a gang of prisoners in leg irons.

Chain Gang, South Florida Reception Center, circa 1995
 The draconian punishment became his cause celebre. He made it his business to investigate the coddled lives of Florida prisoners. When the inmates got wind of what the silver-haired reformer was up to, he got so rattled that he conducted subsequent prison visits disguised as Groucho Marx. Vickie Chachere of the Tampa Tribune wrote: "They were saying my name. They were saying, "That's Senator Crist,' " the St. Petersburg Republican would later recall. "It was a little unsettling."

There's no better way to appease a crime-fatigued public than treating them to the sight of shackled men filling potholes and picking up trash off the highways, Crist boasted. Plus, chaining prisoners together in a forced labor detail helps lower the recidivism rate, he claimed. (it doesn't) "It's harder to get any righter than that," he fondly reminisced in 2009.
Crist had a front-row seat to the very first chain gang revival on Nov. 22, 1995, when a group of inmates chopped brush in the Everglades. (And now he will have a front-row seat and a speaking gig at the Democratic National Convention!) From the L.A. Times archives:
 What we want to do is tell people that if you commit a crime in Florida, if you're convicted of committing that crime in Florida, Florida will punish you, you will do your time and it will not be pleasant," Crist said.
At a time of growing public anger over crime, Florida became the third state to bring back the form of forced labor that was eradicated nationwide in the 1940s because it was considered inhumane.
Many likened it to slavery; some still do.
Unlike Alabama, Florida prisoners aren't shackled together. Instead, each prisoner's ankles are chained together and their 20-person work groups are monitored by three guards. Arizona has introduced a similar system.
Chain gangs are being used as punishment for breaking prison rules. Those chosen may be maximum-security inmates, but none will be sex offenders, prior escapees, first-degree murderers or the physically or mentally ill. So far, no women are scheduled for the details.
No sunscreen during 10-hour days under the scorching Florida sun. No bug repellent in the mosquito-infested Everglades.
Just water, baseball caps, gardening gloves and thick leather pants to guard against snake bites.
Stan W. Czerniak, assistant secretary for operations at the Department of Corrections, said he was unsure chain gangs would be the deterrent Crist wants and questioned whether they were worth the increased manpower necessary.
Inside the prisons, two guards can oversee up to 144 inmates. On the chain gangs, three guards are needed to supervise a crew of 20 prisoners.
So -- another phony deficit hawk, eh? Paging Paul Ryan. And no women inmates on chain gangs! -- that'll win him the female demographic right there. 

Charlie's Chain Gangs were disbanded after only a year. The only locale that still allows such hard prison labor is in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County, Arizona. And even there, chain gangs are entirely optional on the part of prisoners.

 Chain Gang Charlie has now "evolved" into pretending to realize that his beloved GOP is just as inhumane now as he was back then. Plus, he lost to Marco Rubio in the Senate race. So he has become a centrist kool-aid cult member, singing the praises of his DINO soulmate -- Barack Obama. It doesn't hurt that Obama is a grand compartmentalizer in his own right, able to successfully argue for prison strip-searches for minor offenders, able to pick and choose assassination targets, able to oversee a War on Drugs that sucks up record numbers of minority men into a privatized penal system, able to ignore the humanitarian crisis of unemployment and foreclosure fraud and poverty as long as he pays homage to a "balanced approach" to cutting the social safety net.

From Crist's Tampa op-ed:
I'm confident that President Barack Obama is the right leader for our state and the nation. I applaud and share his vision of a future built by a strong and confident middle class in an economy that gives us the opportunity to reap prosperity through forced hard work and personal responsibility. It is a vision of the future proven right by our history of slavery.
We often remind ourselves to learn the lessons of the past, lest we risk repeating its mistakes. (Hide your true agenda). Yet nearly as often, our short-term memory fails us. (And thank God for the epic short-term memory loss of the American people, given my own history.)

Thirsty for a Little Chained Social Security COLA?


Kat said...

Wow! Charlie Crist is really a dick. I did not know this about him, although his label as a "centrist" and "moderate" is enough to give me the willies.

d said...

Jim Crow, a new form of 21st Century slavery, is alive and well in our criminal justice system in our so-called post-racial colorblind society.

“Chased out of the free world, Jim Crow moved behind bars.”

Robert Perkinson , Texas Tough The Rise of America’s Prison Empire, describes how the once barbaric plantation-based penal system is now the national template – a “template for a more fearful and vengeful society,” that aims not “to repair and redeem but to warehouse, avenge and permanently differentiate convicted criminals from law-abiding citizens.” "Rehabilitative prison has failed, in part, because it was never allowed to succeed." “Texas has led the way in prison privatization, mandatory sentencing, supermax confinement, and lethal injections.”

Texas and the other southern confederate states, after losing the Civil War, were determined to retain dominance over their emancipated slaves. They did so through law enforcement. This backlash led to the current age of incarceration with its current warehousing of inmates and racist penal system. Texas was one of the nation’s leaders—and models—in matters of mass incarceration.

• African-Americans are seven times as likely to be locked up as whites.
• African-American men today go to prison at twice the rate they go to college.

"Just as slavery once stood as a glaring exception to the American promise, incarceration is today's exception,” writes Perkinson.

“Although the law may abolish slavery, God alone can obliterate the traces of its existence.” - Alexis de Tocqueville

The racial violence that runs through the Texas state history is not only against African Americans but also Native Americans and Hispanics.

Criminal justice should be the civil rights arena of the twenty-first century.

Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War Two” are two other books I recommend.