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April 2010
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America the Ugly

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

For over 5 years, I lived in New York, and daily took the D train home to Brooklyn, which came out of the ground and passed across the Manhattan bridge. Each night, I would stand up and go to the door and look through the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance and watch for the lit Statue of Liberty to appear from behind the skyline. It was a life-affirming act.

When I had time, I also loved to take the Staten Island Ferry with its incredible majestic view of Lady Liberty (I still do it each year when I visit New York). I never took the tour, though, of Liberty Island. To set foot on her as a tourist seemed… sacrilegious somehow. I admire her from a distance and think about the principles of freedom and humanity embodied in our great country that she represents.

At Reason, Jacob Sullum writes: Smoke a Joint, Lose Your Country

Another victim of such imaginary charges is Jerry Lemaine, a 28-year-old New Yorker who was born in Haiti but has lived in this country since he was 3. Caught with a joint on Long Island in 2007, Lemaine pleaded guilty and paid a $100 fine, only to be shipped off to Texas by immigration authorities. They detained him there for three years after determining that he, like Carachuri, qualified as an “aggravated felon” in the 5th Circuit (though not in the 2nd Circuit, where he was cited for the marijuana).

Lemaine, you see, had also been charged with possessing a small amount of marijuana as a teenager. Although the charge was ultimately dismissed, in the federal government’s view it still made him a recidivist, which made him an aggravated felon, which made him deportable without recourse for drug violations that in New York do not even qualify as criminal offenses.

How do we, as a country, look at ourselves in the mirror?

Is that a tear in Lady Liberty’s eyes? Or just my own?

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12 comments to America the Ugly

  • this is why i keep hammering home that we need to start acting like a nation of “equals” — then everyone will be abhorred by drug war and all the other ways we currently are not living up to being “American”

  • Buc

    Well there’s another unicorn, Mr. Walters.

  • denmark

    Used to be a time when I’d hear the national anthem and get choked up. Sorry to say, not anymore, as it’s extremely difficult to recognize this country anymore.
    While we’re at it we may as well drop United States out of the equation as there is little “United” left.

    The guy was here since three years of age? There is no rhyme or reason for deportation, what a bunch of garbage politics.

  • Pvnky Br3wster

    We had to deport the evul dopesmoking terraist! Drugs lead to satanism, sodomy and pubic hair.

  • Just me

    Denmark: I still get chocked up when I hear the National anthem…..not out of pride for country….but….out of dispair for the dark path for which our’Leaders” are taking it, for this lack of honor,integity,compassion for its own people. I get chocked up because I know corruption and greed for power is the motto amounst those who lead and refuse to see the error of their ways that is killing this nation. I get chocked up because I know that light of freedom is dimming and could go out in an instant. That feeling is suffocating.

  • Chris

    You know what I was just thinking about? This fall, there will be many commercials on TV in California asking to vote yes on the initiative. They will explain how prohibition has failed in a concise message, and may even display -gasp- pictures of weed on TV. It’s going to start discussion about it on a huge scale, and then the truth will be heard instead of silenced. I feel that people will be convinced. Luckily, an article I read today says they will have something like $20 million to fund this campaign. It’s going to be interesting.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LevGI2g0f0Q

  • Paul

    Clive Barker once wrote in one of his horror novels, “The law was a mask for their cruelties,” referring to the way the poor and the down and out were treated.

    Things like what happened to this poor Haitian fellow are explained as the impersonal workings of the rule of law, but in fact the law is often deliberately designed to be cruel, and its judges and enforcers often choose the most cruel interpretations and implementations of the law.

    It sometimes seems that nobody with any common sense is in charge, but I think that is a mistaken impression. There are plenty of judges and cops (I’m not too sure about prosecutors…) who DO apply common sense and don’t seek to use the law to hurt people unnecessarily. It’s just the really outrageous cases that hit the news and piss you off.

    In cases like this one, you really wish there was an adult in the room who could have said, “you know, it is absurd to lock this man up for years for one joint–case dismissed!” or, “Yes, we see you brought a paring knife for your apple to school, but we can’t let you keep it. I’ll just put it in my drawer for the day until you are ready to go home.”

    These people in authority often claim their hands are tied, but they are not. They DO have the power to simply drop or dismiss absurd charges, and they should. Juries, too, have the power to acquit in situations like these, and they need to understand THEY are in charge at that moment, and do the right thing.

    It is not enough to just get rid of bad laws (although that is very important!) but we need people with common sense in power in all areas of life who can put a stop to foolishness or cruelty before it destroys people’s lives.

  • Hope

    It is going to be interesting. And it’s going to be harrowing. It’s going to be a major battle.

    We’ve all got to be sharp, quick, and steadfast. Our ability, your ability, to answer any question about ending cannabis prohibition quickly, soundly, and intelligently is more important than ever.

    It can mean votes, maybe just one, maybe hundreds… one way or the other.

    Yes, I’m for ending the war against all drug users… but this vote is about cannabis.

    Let’s win this… because it’s really the right thing to do.

  • claygooding

    A mere scrap of information can sometimes save a man’s
    life,or make a prohibitionist shut up. Be as honest as you can with your evidence,and have references for all that you can.
    If we continue telling the truth about cannabis
    and the prohibitionists continue to rely on the lies and skewed statistics put out by the anti-cannabis coalition,the American people will overturn these unjust laws.
    All we have to do is keep exposing their propaganda and lies to the American people at every chance and level.

  • Maria

    Politics and cleverness aside. That’s heartbreaking. So fucking heartbreaking.

  • Just me

    One thing that is helping us end this unjust law is the fact that the American people are more distrusting of government today than …well can we go back to the 60’s?
    Just a thought.

  • […] Court gives small ray of hope In my post America the Ugly I referred to situations where people were getting deported from this country because of minor drug […]