now, Massachusetts lawmakers are back in their home districts,
ramping up their re-election campaigns and flashing sweet baloney
grins at fairs and forums. In their cheeseball bids, a sick majority
of them will tout their unflinching support for the newly passed
repeat offender bill – better known as “three-strikes,” or
“Melissa's Law” after murder victim Melissa Gosule – which will
jail certain criminals for life with no chance of parole. These
politicians will tell constituents that more bogeymen will be
banished to awful places, and that communities will be safer as a
result. And no matter how sincere they sound, they'll ALL be lying.
been tracking this developing disaster for months. While similar
“tough-on-crime” measures have been floated in past sessions, the
most recent misguided sentencing proposal came to my attention in
January, when black and Latino leaders began clamoring in opposition.
At the time, there was a general sentiment that a “three-strikes”
law could inevitably pass here, as an overwhelming number of
lawmakers supported some version of the bill. Still there remained a
slim chance that legislators might abandon their usual routine and
respond to reason for a change.
six months to late-July, and the commonwealth's unique brand of
“three-strikes” was approaching certain victory. With that in
mind, this week I reported to Beacon Hill, where crime and punishment
were among the contentious issues on deck as the two-year session
wound down. I'm rarely surprised by State House shenanigans – this
is, after all, the same building where speakers are sequentially
indicted – but the circus that commenced on Monday was among the
most depraved spectacles I've ever seen transpire there, right down
to the former reps turned lobbyists on hand and bipartisan circle
jerk at the expense of brown people.
Senate on Monday, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr – and by minority I
mean Republican, since MASSACHUSETTS HAS NO BLACK SENATORS –
brought more fireworks than are recommended for anyone who abuses
that much hair product. Tarr's main beef was over Deval Patrick's
comments that new public assistance reforms will be hard to enforce;
but in his cute aggressive spurt, he also managed to lambaste the
governor for prolonging the passage of Melissa's Bill. The
performance bordered on convincing; surveying the sneers on his GOP
fluffers, a sucker might have even thought that Tarr was serious
about fighting evil.
from that cheap parody of real outrage, I kicked over to the House
chamber for what would be the final debate over Melissa's Bill before
it got signed into law. Since no existing studies indicate that
comparable initiatives have curbed violent crime, a part of me
expected an ambitious lawmaker to unveil a favorable last-minute
report on “three-strikes” – perhaps one that was conducted by
the prison industrial complex. But such a forgery wasn't necessary,
as fear of voters and a need for peer-approval had already paralyzed
legislators long before Patrick returned the bill with an amendment
to add judicial discretion.
black legislators pleaded for logical consideration, their white
counterparts zoned out and fiddled with their Blackberries. I can't
speak for representatives who only came in to vote on the amendment,
but those who were in the House the entire time, joking with their
buddies, were decidedly unaffected by revelations that minorities are
imprisoned at disproportionately high rates. Nor were they impacted
by testimonies from lawmakers of color – who represent a
considerably higher number of violent crime victims than do all the
white legislators together – or by academic studies that are
consistently critical of “three-strikes.”
never expected to see more cowardice on Beacon Hill than three years
ago, when House members returned Sal DiMasi to the speaker's chair
despite his looming indictment. This week, however, set a new bar –
from the sentimental sponsors of Melissa's Bill, to the cheerful
Caucasians in the balcony. An extra-special shout-out goes to
Gloucester representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who proved herself
to be the least-quotable proud ignoramus of all. “How would Melissa
Gosule vote on this bill?” she asked. “I don't know, but I do
know how I'll vote.” Now that's insightful.
end of so much rigmarole, 132 representatives rejected Patrick's
sensible amendment, while a mere 23 voted in favor of it.
Highlighting their own shortsightedness, “three-strikes”
advocates even took to saluting themselves for trimming the list of
offenses that could yield a life sentence – and for supporting the
better parts of the bill, which will hopefully lead non-violent drug
offenders toward rehabilitative pastures. The stonewall worked; under
pressure, the governor gave “three-strikes” the nod about a day
later, claiming to believe that lawmakers will consider further
sentencing reforms in future sessions.
to Patrick folding, there was a lot of talk about who would have
shouldered blame if Melissa's Bill was defeated this week. In other
words, the measure's advocates were identifying potential scapegoats
in case chronic offenders lashed out in the future. Since all is well
across the Bay State and that's no longer a concern, I have another
question: Who will be held responsible when someone facing a third
strike blasts his way out of a life sentence? How about when the new
law results in no more than a burden on taxpayers, the Supreme
Judicial Court, and the Massachusetts Department of Correction?
it wasn't a complete horror show on Beacon Hill this week. Despite
“three-strikes” and a big swipe at immigrants, there was good
news in the realms of disclosure, workplace fairness, and healthcare
cost reform. Still none of that changes an underlying reality –
that less than two percent of our state corrections budget is spent
on job training and rehabilitation. That enormous threat remains –
no matter what legislators claimed yesterday in their
self-congratulatory press conference outside of the House chamber.
It's okay, though, since voters don't care about facts, figures, or
the inmates who will re-enter society. They care about Melissa.
shameless media gas chamber continues to fill, there's been virtually
no chatter about the overcrowded prisons that produce murderers in
Massachusetts. Instead, Melissa's father Les Gosule has been hailed
as a hero, and given a platform to promote the unfounded fantasy that
“something good is going to happen out of a horrible tragedy.”
All this as lawmakers return to their districts and peddle the same
fiction to Caucasian constituents. Hopefully it will make them all
feel safer until someone who was raised in a cell block with no
guidance decides to dump a clip rather than face life behind bars.