Summit won't help mass incarceration
I have decided to boycott Gov. Hutchinson's Restore Hope Summit, aimed at bringing faith leaders together to discuss ways to improve recidivism. I have publicly criticized this and the previous administration about governmental policies and practices responsible for producing the largest population of incarcerated persons in Arkansas's history. Those policies, not anything faith leaders are doing, have done, or may be asked to do, lie at the foot of the Arkansas version of mass incarceration. I have carefully examined public statements by Gov. Hutchinson and others about what he has called "criminal justice reform."
Respectfully, the public (and now faithful people and leaders) are now being invited to embrace measures that will not do anything to release the captives. Most of the people now in prisons, jails and other adult detention facilities (whether in Arkansas or whether shipped and warehoused for tens of thousands of dollars per inmate in other jurisdictions) are nonviolent offenders. In fact, the top 10 offenses responsible for incarceration in 2014 included only one violent offense (battery in the second degree), according to data compiled by the Arkansas Department of Correction. Drug convictions were far and away the reasons most people were incarcerated last year.
Faith leaders are now, as in the past, being asked to lend our moral authority to a hypocritical agenda that will not address any of the root causes of the non-violent crimes that are responsible for mass incarceration. We are being asked to lend our moral authority to the fruit of racial profiling, draconian laws that criminalize the public health issue of drug abuse and dependency, sentencing legislation and the entire prison-industrial complex that has now made it possible for nonviolent incarcerated persons and the business of catching, sentencing, and warehousing them to be commodified.
Gov. Hutchinson did not champion early childhood education during the legislative session this year. He has not proposed any measures to expand and strengthen community mental health centers, drug abuse and dependency treatment centers, job training programs for ex-offenders, affordable housing for ex-offenders, or to eliminate previous criminal convictions on employment applications. And remarkably, he has not suggested even a desire to address these matters (whether with faithful people or others).
In short, the Restore Hope Summit is a charade. Faith leaders are not being "summoned" (what happens when someone convenes a "summit") to engage in candid conversation with Gov. Hutchinson and other policy makers aimed at doing justice or anything else remotely akin to restoring hope. We are merely being invited to endorse measures responsible for the despair associated with what Professor Michelle Alexander has correctly exposed and denounced as "the new Jim Crow."
I decline the invitation to be part of this latest exercise in political hypocrisy about justice, liberty and hope.
Flying an obscure Confederate flag
It is common knowledge throughout Independence County, as well as adjacent counties, that Confederate flags have been removed from public property nationwide in response to the heinous Charleston murders. I and other Sons of Confederate Veterans abhor the use of our battle flag by hate groups or individuals for any purpose other than preservation of history or our heritage.
There is a flagpole on Independence County courthouse property that, until recently, flew a Confederate regimental Hardee Corps flag. It is a plain blue three-foot square with a white moon in the center. Unless one is knowledgeable about all of the many Confederate flags from 150 years ago, the Hardee flag can be considered quite obscure. There is no writing on it. The flagpole and flag are owned and maintained by the local camp of The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). The SCV is a national heritage group. It has many African-American members and is certainly not a racist organization.
The SCV exists solely to honor the memory of 350,000 Confederate soldiers (both black and white) who perished in combat during the War Between the States. Over 300 battles and skirmishes were fought in our state alone after it seceded from the Union.
The Stainless Banner [the Confederate flag] looked like a flag of surrender when hanging limp on a pole.
In the year 1911 the large Confederate monument, also located next to the Independence County courthouse, was erected by the United Daughters of The Confederacy. Sons of Confederate Veterans flags have served to embellish that impressive monument. That's it. The obscure Hardee flag was only there the past few years to embellish the monument — not to make a racist statement! It was removed the day after the horrendous Charleston incident when a local attorney called concerning a Facebook conversation about our flag. The flag was promptly hauled down out of respect for the Charleston victims. It was also done to protect it from developing local controversy, as well as division within our community. The Batesville SCV camp was notified and acknowledged what had happened. We optimistically look forward to the day when an appropriate Southern flag will once again grace the UDC Confederate monument.
John R. Malloy III