Everett Gillison

Philly Needs to Ignore the Hate of Stu Byskofsky, and Make a Smart, Humane Decision to Change our Immigration Policies

Stu Bykofsky is a man in search of enemies. This is old news from the man who suggested that another 9/11 style terrorist attack would benefit America, or when he is rallying Philadelphians to stop the incipient evil doers of our time (bike commuters).

Fresh off of eulogizing his recently deceased, charitably minded, anti-immigrant, racist friend, Joey Vento, (Vento said things like “[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”), Stu struck again. This go-round of Stu's is truly hate-filled, and appears to be the work of a zealot, or more charitably, a man fearful of the world changing around him, lashing out in any way he can. The target this time? Those same brown folks Vento hated, and a City Councilwoman that he has a disturbing level of vitriol for-- María Quiñones-Sánchez-- and her efforts to lessen harm from the city's participation in the so-called "Secure Communities" program. (Secure Communities is the federal program that encourages local law enforcement to share data with ICE, letting the feds deport a lot more people than they otherwise would be able to. While Pennsylvania has not yet signed on, Philadelphia has at least one contract to allow ICE real-time access to our arrest records system, called "PARS.")

Before we discuss some of the substance of Stu’s ridiculous column, it is probably worthwhile to quickly dress down his continued xenophobic rants against Councilwoman Sánchez. (Note: for those that don’t know me, I am truly biased in favor of María. I have loooonng supported her, I have donated money to her campaign, I have volunteered for her, and, one of the most important people in my life now works for her. My bias, of course, comes from believing in María, like many other progressives in the city. We would need a lot more of those fabled psychiatry sessions to find out where Stu’s biases come from.)

For many progressives, María is one of ‘ours.’ But, despite the supposed exalted status of incumbency, the party did not support María last May. Instead, most of the structure lined up to support Danny Savage, the young, white, connected ward leader who they had placed in office once before. (If you haven't, please read this piece from a few months ago.)

I go through all of that for Stu, who asks this:

Who is Quinones-Sanchez working for?

Um:

Seventh Councilmanic District, Primary Election, May, 2011
Dan Savage: 39.6%
Maria Quinones Sanchez: 60.4%

Yeah, that happened. It was even in the newspaper.

Stu then goes onto to say other ridiculous things about María, such as "when she puts those here illegally - including ex-cons - above her own constituents, she is unfit to hold office.”

"Unfit to hold office" is probably better than the time he seemed to basically say that she was un-American. But, if you wonder whether the rest of his hate filled, xenophobic rant against María hit its intended audience, check out the ever embarrassing Philly.com comments.

....

Substantively (if we can call it that), Stu’s latest problem is the devastating report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The report is based on case summaries from immigration lawyers, who provided the author with vivid examples of why local and state governments need to seriously consider their participation in Secure Communities. As the report states:

Anecdotal case data collected by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) from its attorney members, representing 127 cases from across the country, offers clear evidence that the way in which DHS engages state and local law enforcement (LLEAs) in immigration enforcement is distracting the department from its stated priorities.

Stu implies that the 127 case studies listed (9 from PA), many of which are totally horrific, are somehow the entire universe of wrongful deportations. This would be clarified if Stu looked up the meaning of the word ‘anecdote,' or bothered to speak with lawyers at places like HIAS or Nationalities Services Center who see these cases first-hand.

Of course, a couple of actual Philadelphia journalists have looked at the data, and it is worrisome, at best:

According to ICE data, 238 of the 421 Philadelphia suspects transferred from Philadelphia Police to ICE custody between October 27, 2008 and February 28, 2011 were never convicted of a crime, one of the highest rates under Secure Communities in the country. Another 86 were classified by ICE as level 2 or 3 offenders and 97 were convicted of level 1 offenses, which are the most serious crimes.

Denvir and Ferrick's article also has those meddlesome anecdotes:

One moment Teresa Garcia's son was there, the next he was gone.

Garcia said her 25-year-old son was deported to Mexico last year after being arrested by Philadelphia police for allegedly making threats against a friend who had failed to repay a loan. Her son was innocent, his mother said. He never got a chance to prove it.

Once arrested, information about him and his case was instantly turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who determined that he was an undocumented immigrant and removed him from the U.S.

The young man had lived in America since he was two. He had no memory of his homeland. Still, back he went.

The City’s response to the above?

Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison sympathizes with critics of the program, but he says that the Mayor is unlikely to change his mind.

"They are supposed to target those in the level 1 [high-level crime] area. We've looked at these, and we have asked them why a lot of people getting deported are in level 2 or level 3. But on a case-by-case basis, that's not really our call," says Gillison. "I can suggest to you that you will find any number of stories that will break my heart, I'm sure. But I'm not dealing with a perfect situation."

I respect Gillison a lot. But that is a totally ridiculous response. Yeah, we know this doesn’t work like it is supposed to. Yeah, you will find cases that break my heart! But, sorry, on we march!

There are a lot of problems with participating in something like Secure Communities.

On the most basic level, we don’t need to participate in the government’s schizophrenic, cruel deportation game (see, for example, these three articles which ran in three days earlier this month: here, here and here), which is targeting human beings who are looking for better lives, and contributing to their communities.

I have personally seen (anecdote alert!) how unscrupulous people threaten immigrants with deportation in order to take advantage of them- oftentimes in explicitly criminal ways. Other stories abound too, including immigrants literally being targeted and attacked on our streets, the cops coming out, not getting interpreters, arresting everyone, including the victims, and before anything is actually sorted out, guess what happens? In other words, not only may witnesses not come forward, but victims may not either, because police make snap judgments, arrest people, and boom, the Deportation Machine, rings the bell, as another life is ruined.

But, even from a pure self-interest angle, in a city with a 'stop snitching' culture, putting up barriers between immigrant communities and the police is a really bad thing. The further we go down this road, the worse this relationship will be, and the less people will talk to the police, no matter how many times the Mayor refers to wanted criminals as cowards or assholes. We don’t want that, right?

Opting out of participation in Secure Communities is what we should do. Period. It is a bad program, that does not work. Opting out is not a crazy position. Officials across the country, including the recently departed, long, long time DA of Manhattan, the Governor of New York and the Mayor of Boston, have lined up against this program. Meanwhile, in Philly, the Mayor’s office admits the program isn’t working right, yet on we go, with the Deportation Machine chugging along.

But, even if we decide to participate in Secure Communities, there is a compromise that could probably work. Strangely, it was proposed by that brown woman that (Daily News Columnist) Stu Bykofsky loves to hate, and it was approvingly endorsed by ... the Daily News editorial board:

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez proposes the city delay the time it allows ICE to access records, until after a preliminary hearing when it is clearer who might be a victim and who might be a defendant. This seems like a reasonable compromise to a tough issue.

How un-American of them. The Daily News Editorial Board is clearly unfit to hold office write editorials.

Our participation in this cruel program hurts the city, hurts good people, and, frankly, it is just really stupid public policy, from a city that makes enough mistakes as it is. The rants of tired old men aside, this compromise is the least we could do.

Positive Steps for our Justice System

Last week, Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative released a report on Philadelphia’s prison population. The report, “Philadelphia's Crowded, Costly Jails: The Search for Safe Solutions,” comes to some important conclusions, and I would encourage everyone to check it out.

As part of the release of the report, Pew and Penn Law had a really amazing event last week, examining the findings of the report. There was a panel that included Seth Williams, Everett Gillison, Michael Jacobson, Director of NYC’s Vera Institute of Justice and the Rev. Ernest McNear. And in the audience, audience, asking and answering questions were a pretty amazing array of people, from Ellen Greenlee, Pamela Dembe, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and Seamus McCaffery, to Third Circuit Chief Judge, Ted McKee and Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla.

I believe the event was taped, and when I find a link I will put it up. It really was something to have a gathering of so many stakeholders and judges, that a submitted question from the audience comes from the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

What was amazing was that there really was some very broad agreement the most important conclusion of the study:

One conclusion that emerges—and is shared by many in the city’s criminal justice system—is that the size of the population in the Philadelphia Prison System is largely within the power of policy makers to control and likely can be further reduced without jeopardizing public safety.

How can this be done? The report lists a number of important policies, which will take leadership in instituting, because they seem somewhat counterintuitive.

First, the report suggests that we simply may want to release a number of suspects on their own recognizance (without bail), as many other cities do. As the report notes, and Mr. Jacobson discussed, DC and New York release a higher number of people without bail, and yet, defendants appear for court at a higher rate.

Second, we should resist the temptation to throw people in jail for technical violations of their probation, and instead figure out some alternative punishment. As Mr. Jacobson again noted, when you defund your probation and parole systems, overworked officers simply do the easiest thing: throwing people in jail as soon as they see a violation. They are too busy to do anything else.

Third, divert non-violent people with addiction or mental health issues out of our prison systems.

All of these are easier said than done, especially when you tell a public that is already freaked over crime, that you are going to release more people, let more people out of jail without bail, have to build more day centers, etc. But, that is what leadership is about right? Again, I would encourage everyone to check out the report.

Then, yesterday, the Inquirer had a story about the DA’s efforts to modernize their data systems, and do things like actually track outcomes:

During her 18 years in office, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham insisted she would not "do justice by the numbers." And the Philadelphia court system's administrator, David C. Lawrence, similarly said, "We're not in the research business."

That meant overall conviction rates for violent-crime cases in the Philadelphia courts were unknown - until The Inquirer drew on raw court data to report that nearly two-thirds of all defendants accused of violent crimes walked free of all charges.

Abraham's successor, District Attorney Seth Williams, has now obtained a $492,000 grant to equip his office with software that, for the first time, will be able to routinely produce conviction data.

Eventually, his office plans to make the results publicly available on what it says will be a greatly retooled office website.

As the article notes, it’s not just the ability to track conviction rates, but the reason for which those convictions potentially fail, and other important data.

Frankly, I agree with my friend Lynne Abraham in a sense: You cannot do justice purely by numbers. But, that sure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t collect the data, or that this is simply academically interesting (as David Lawrence suggests). Examining data will not only let prosecutors or defenders see where their respective success rates lie, but will also let all of us analyze the system for systemic failures, and even hidden abuses. On the police side of things, NYC is a constant example of why we should want data:

Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested. The more than 575,000 stops of people in the city, a record number of what are known in police parlance as “stop and frisks,” yielded 762 guns.

Of the reasons listed by the police for conducting the stops, one of those least commonly cited was the claim that the person fit the description of a suspect. The most common reason listed by the police was a category known as “furtive movements.”

Ah, the old furtive movement… Anyway, numbers matter. This doesn’t mean we ignore basic principles of our justice system. But, in 2010, we absolutely should be measuring outcomes, and collecting information that allows us to see the best and worst parts of our justice system.

And finally, in another piece of the article, there is a little snippet that a public interest lawyer anywhere can appreciate:

In the future, Philadelphia prosecutors should be able to update their cases, issuing subpoenas and swapping information with defense lawyers during pretrial discovery, with a few keystrokes.

Whether they are defenders, prosecutors, or civil legal aid attorneys- public interest attorneys are forced to spend times on things that shouldn’t take nearly as long as they do, because there is not the same level of support staff as at a firm, and because it is hard to justify big investments in technology. So, something like this just makes so much sense.

And, as Ellen Greenlee notes, it cannot be only the DA’s who make these advances:

Ellen Greenlee, director of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which provides representation for those too poor to hire a lawyer, said her staff needed to upgrade its technology as well.

"We're still on paper," she said. "For the system to function at all, it's necessary for all the stakeholders to communicate. They can't let us lag behind."

Sorry for the rambling. Between seeing just about every stakeholder at the Pew event, for the release of a really hopeful report about reducing the number of people in jail, to the District Attorney actually tracking outcomes, the last week has been a hopeful one for our criminal justice system.

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