• Jon B. Comstock

VE DAY DEMANDS AN END TO MASS INCARCERATION

Updated: Jun 3

MONDAY MATTERS - MAY 11, 2020 |


As a candidate for Arkansas’ House District 96, I feel obligated to at least try to make a connection between substantial events in history and our experiment in representative Democracy. Let’s not just “remember” VE Day, let’s insist on truly honoring it.

I have an identical twin brother (Don) (retired union pipefitter) and an older brother who both served in Vietnam at the same time. Don and I talk with each other almost every day. Right now we are both investing our time learning more about wars – from the World War I and II, to Korea, to Vietnam – and Iraq and Afghanistan. Our Dad and Uncles served in World War II or Korea. Our Dad was a part of the American unit called the Rainbow Division that liberated Dachau - one of the concentration camps in Germany. We talk a lot about President Truman’s decision to drop “the bombs” on Japan.

The loss of life and trauma to survivors and family from any war is horrifying. You and I can only justify America’s involvement in war and celebrate May 8th Victory in Europe Day on the premise that FREEDOM is perhaps the greatest value we hold as a nation – a community of people attempting to live our lives to the fullest of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

With that background, I feel it is incumbent on each of us to ask the question, “Why do we incarcerate – deny liberty – to more people per capita than any nation in history or on the face of the earth?” More than 2 million. More than each of the totalitarian countries including North Korea and Russia. Did you know that the United States’ human population is about 5% of the world’s population but we incarcerate about 25% of the world’s imprisoned? It’s not because Americans are “worse” people than the rest of world. How did we get here?

The present state of Mass Incarceration started with backlash to the Civil Rights Movement and the so-called War On Drugs in the 1960s and 1970s. Many now understand this effort to be nothing less than a war against our very own communities – especially communities of color. There are a wealth of materials, reports and studies that demonstrate that Mass Incarceration results from very determined (misguided at best) policy decisions. Read for example, Michelle Alexander’s breakthrough book, The New Jim Crow. You and I won’t agree with everything she says, but we cannot come away from the information and insights she provides without having our consciousness raised about “how we got here” and a determination to help undo it.

The good news is that policy decisions got us here, which means different policy decisions can get us out. Going forward, I will continue to explore on Monday Matters and other avenues, ways that you and I can help tear down the walls of Mass Incarceration – and better honor the FREEDOM we celebrate on Victory in Europe Day.

Let me hear from you if you have ideas about policy decisions that can be made that will preserve the safety of our homes while limiting the circumstances when we allow the government to take away a neighbor’s liberty in our name. It certainly needs to be done at times, but let’s be reluctant to do it. Let’s make it the least acceptable alternative in the absence of uniquely egregious dangers.

© Jon Comstock  for Arkansas 2020

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