Racism’s role | Tom Camfield

Tom Camfield
Posted 4/25/23

MORE ABOUT RACISM (and a surviving Free Press)—The Seattle Times reported late last week that “a county commissioner in far southeast Oklahoma who was identified by s local newspaper as …

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Racism’s role | Tom Camfield


MORE ABOUT RACISM (and a surviving Free Press) — The Seattle Times reported late last week that “a county commissioner in far southeast Oklahoma who was identified by a local newspaper as one of several officials caught on tape discussing killing reporters and lynching Black people has resigned from office . . .” No word was mentioned of the other “several officials.”

MEANWHILE, ALONG ABOUT 1791 (or 232 years or so ago) small-town America didn’t have much in the way of a standing army. The only thing close was the civilian militia in each community. Members grabbed their muskets and turned out for drills on a regular basis. With the Revolutionary War fresh in its mind, Congress took steps for a possible defense against another attack by the British . . . the French, or whoever by including this Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

By 2008 in the case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the "Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

So Congress’s vision of defense against foreign invasion has boiled down to a convoluted justification for carrying a rifle to a public protest, a handgun into various public places . . . whatever. One can argue about that “well-regullated militia” qualification without success until blue in the face, so I’ll turn from the second to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Eighth Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHNENT is a phrase in common law describing punishment that is considered unacceptable due to the suffering, pain or humiliation it inflicts on the person subjected to the sanction. The precise definition varies by jurisdiction, but typically includes punishments that are arbitrary, unnecessary, overly severe compared to the crime, or not generally accepted in society. — Wikipedia

Under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, individuals convicted of a crime have the right to be free of "cruel and unusual" punishment while in jail or prison. This means that after criminal defendants are convicted and sentenced, the Constitution still acts to guarantee their fundamental rights during confinement and treatment by corrections personnel.

Punishment that is inhumane or that violates basic human dignity may be deemed "cruel and unusual." For example, in 1995, a federal court in Massachusetts found that inmates' rights were violated when they were held in a 150-year-old prison that lacked toilets, along with vermin and fire hazards.

So I looked at the April 15 headline in The Seattle Times : “‘Family: Man died after being ‘eaten alive’ in jail cell”—and wondered. The prisoner, Lashawn Thompson, died; and “vermin” definitely were involved.

I’m not optimistic over criminal prosecution of jail officials, but I hope the family’s legal representative will bring up the U.S. Constitution in a civil case involving a fatality.

The man was Black. He was 35. The death occurred in the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was eaten alive by bedbugs and other insects, according to family attorney Michael ‘Harper. “They put that man in that cell, left him there to die . . . and that’s exactly what happened,” Harper said.

A lengthy Times news story by Daniel Wu of the Washington Post began: “Lashawn Thompson was slumped over in a cell . . . when a detention officer came to check on him . . . The cell was so dirty that a worker who entered it wore a safety suit designed to protect from hazardous materials, according to jail records.”

The Supreme Court stated in Rhodes v. Chapman, “It is unquestioned that 'confinement in a prison . . . is a form of punishment subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment standards.' The Court explained that 'conditions [in prison] must not involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, nor may they be grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime warranting imprisonment.'”

"Officers were unable to resuscitate Thompson in the cell where he’d been held for about three months,” Wu wrote. “An autopsy could not determine the cause of death, but the report described an ‘extremely severe’ infestation of small insects across his body. His face, upper and lower extremeties were pockmarked with cuts and lesions from continual skin-picking."