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The American Nightmare: The Tyranny of the Criminal Justice System

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One in nine young African American men between the ages of 20 and 34 is incarcerated
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Justice in America is not all it's cracked up to be.

Just ask Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit.

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James Bain spent 35 years in prison for the kidnapping and rape of a 9-year-old boy, but he too was innocent of the crime. He was finally freed after DNA testing proved his innocence.

In comparison, Mark Weiner got off relatively easy. Weiner was wrongfully arrested, convicted, and jailed for more than two years for a crime he too did not commit. In his case, a young woman claimed Weiner had abducted her, knocked her out and then sent taunting text messages to her boyfriend about his plans to rape her. Despite the fact that cell phone signals, eyewitness accounts and expert testimony indicated the young woman had fabricated the entire incident, the prosecutor and judge repeatedly rejected any evidence contradicting the woman's far-fetched account, sentencing Weiner to eight more years in jail. Weiner was only released after his accuser was caught selling cocaine to undercover cops.

In the meantime, Weiner lost his job, his home, and his savings, and time with his wife and young son. As Slate reporter journalist Dahlia Lithwick warned, "If anyone suggests that the fact that Mark Weiner was released this week means 'the system works,' I fear that I will have to punch him in the neck. Because at every single turn, the system that should have worked to consider proof of Weiner's innocence failed him."

The system that should have worked didn't, because the system is broken, almost beyond repair.

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Chronic injustice has turned the American dream into a nightmare.

At every step along the way, whether it's encounters with the police, dealings with prosecutors, hearings in court before judges and juries, or jail terms in one of the nation's many prisons, the system is riddled with corruption, abuse and an appalling disregard for the rights of the citizenry.

It's telling that while President Obama said all the right things about the broken state of our criminal justice system, he failed to acknowledge that prosecutors, judges and police bear the burden of our failed justice system, along with the legislatures and corporations who have worked with them to create an environment that is hostile to the rights of the accused.

In such a climate, we are all the accused, the guilty and the suspect.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we're operating in a new paradigm where the citizenry are presumed guilty and treated as suspects, our movements tracked, our communications monitored, our property seized and searched, our bodily integrity disregarded, and our inalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" rendered insignificant when measured against the government's priorities.

Every American is now in jeopardy of being targeted and punished for a crime he did not commit thanks to an overabundance of arcane laws. Making matters worse, by allowing government agents to operate above the law, immune from wrongdoing, we have created a situation in which the law is one-sided and top-down, used as a hammer to oppress the populace, while useless in protecting us against government abuse.

Add to the mix a profit-driven system of incarceration in which state and federal governments agree to keep the jails full in exchange for having private corporations run the prisons, and you will find the only word to describe such a state of abject corruption is "evil."

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How else do you explain a system that allows police officers to shoot first and ask questions later, without any real consequences for their misdeeds? Close to 400 people were shot and killed by police nationwide in the first half of 2015, almost two shootings a day. Of those killed, almost 1 in 6 were either unarmed or carried a toy gun.

For those who survive an encounter with the police only to end up on the inside of a jail cell, waiting for a "fair and speedy trial," it's often a long wait. Consider that 60 percent of the people in the nation's jails have yet to be convicted of a crime. There are 2.3 million people in jails or prisons in America. Those who can't afford bail, "some of them innocent, most of them nonviolent and a vast majority of them impoverished," will spend about four months in jail before they even get a trial.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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