Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cincinnati Does Not Need a New Jail

No matter which version of the story you read they all start like this: On election day of November 2006, the voters of Hamilton County voted "no" on Issue 12 which is known commonly as "The Jail Tax" issue.

Two of our County Commissioners, Todd Portune, David Pepper have decided to do an end run around the voters and implement the jail tax despite the "no" vote. The third, Pat Dewine is the one dissenting vote however even he supports the new jail. He just doesn't like Portune and Pepper's "plan" for building and maintaining it or the social programs they would like to implement along with it.

In my humble opinion, this action by the Commissioners may not violate the letter of the words "taxation without representation" however it certainly violates the spirit of them without question.

Enquirer Spin
As usual, the Enquirer has fallen into lockstep with the affluent and corporate interests that would like to see as many poor people of all races but especially minorities locked up as possible. Far from promoting the interests of the people, they are squarely behind the commissioners decision:
The commissioners are doing what we elect officials to do - showing leadership on a major issue and making a tough decision. Charges that they are circumventing the democratic process or imposing "taxation without representation" are misguided. Voters elect the commissioners to set county policy, and can reject them at ballot box if they don't agree with that policy. This is called representative democracy. From the article: Weigh facts, not emotions, on proposed county jail tax,Cincinnati Enquirer, May 31, 2007
The fact that the commissioners are abusing our representative democracy by overriding the voters who disagreed with them at the ballot box seems to have escaped the Enquirer entirely.

In response to the Commissioners decision to bully the voters, there has been a movement to stop the jail tax by getting enough petition signatures to have this issue put back on the ballot this November (2007). Again, there have been various articles in the Enquirer that try to undermine this movement or make it seem questionable or doomed. These two for example:
Jail-tax opponents 'struggling'
Petitioners against jail tax take more time

However this last article really takes the cake. I don't know how the Enquirer pulls this off with their meta-tags but they did and you can see it for yourself. In the google search results, this article is entitled:
Opponents Want to Repeal Tax Boost
(Link is to Google search results page, article is the fifth link down).

That's pretty tame. However when you click on the link the article has a new title
Foes want tax plan repealed

In the space of a hyperlink, the Enquirer changes citizen activists from mere opposition to actual enemies of the County Commission. Many people accuse the Cincinnati Enquirer of producing articles and headlines that are more divisive and harmful to Cincinnati and of using it's web page content to create "made-you-look" type articles that don't enlighten only divide and I see this as a good example in support of that argument.

Even Enquirer articles that appear to support the voters decision still manage to include pro-jail sentiments, like this article and the subsequent quote (emphasis mine):

Headline: Groups join drive against jail sales-tax (Yay! Good for them trying!)
Sub-headline: They hope to place referendum issue on fall ballot (Aw, pity it won't work.)
Carl Boeckman, a computer systems analyst from Pleasant Ridge, drove to Hyde Park Square specifically to be among the first to sign the petition after hearing about it on the radio. "I am outraged at the way that county government is trying to force taxes on us," he said, adding, "I think a new jail is needed, but not at this cost to taxpayers."So what do the commissioners have to say for themselves regarding the Jail Tax Issue?
In other words, Mr. Boeckman certainly supports a tough-on-crime stance as long as it doesn't hit him in the wallet.

Cincinnati Bloggers & Citizens Fight Back
Mr. Boeckman is not alone. Nate Livingston at Cincinnati Black Blog makes an interesting case from the statistics presented from an Enquirer article that only people who live in affluent predominantly white neighborhoods support the jail tax. His article, Enquirer: Rich Whites Only Supporters Of New Jail is definitely worth a full read. Before you write it off as race bait, you have to actually read the information he gets directly from the Enquirer:
Issue 12, the sales tax levy to build a new jail, suffered its biggest defeats in some of the same Hamilton County precincts where crime is highest. failed most spectacularly in areas - primarily poor and African-American - that are disproportionately affected by violent crime. In Bond Hill, Roselawn, Forest Park, Silverton, Woodlawn and Camp Washington, fewer than 30 percent of voters approved it. The West End, Over-the-Rhine and Avondale weren't far behind.

...some of the strongest support for Issue 12 came from communities with median incomes of more than $88,000 a year: Indian Hill, Montgomery, Terrace Park and Wyoming.
Also worth a read at Cincinnati Black Blog regarding the jail tax:
Jesse Jackson: Jails are Meant For Young Black Males
Asks the question why jail is a place suitable for young black males but not young Paris Hilton
Where Are the Polls on Jail Tax Support
An insightful article that questions the lack of poll information in support of the jail
Will the Jail Tax Ever End
Compares the current jail tax to the stadium tax fiasco

The Cincinnati Beacon, in addition to making history as possibly being the first blog to ever go from digital to print, has done considerable work in exposing the secrets and mysteries of the jail tax. At one time or another, they have given each of the three commissioners a forum for explaining just why they are pushing for the a new jail and the accompanying tax.

What do the Commissioners have to say for themselves? Check out the following articles here a the Beacon. Please not the the subsequent comments by the Beacon readers are a must read.

Todd Portune Responds to Enquirer Coverage of Jail Issue 01/28/2007
Jail Debate, Continued: Todd Portune Responds to Critics 02/19/2007

Pepper on Pot Laws, Portune’s Public Letter, and Prison 02/19/2007
David Pepper on the Jail Proposal: Jeffre, Smitherman with Questions 04/14/2007

Brinkman, DeWine Respond to Attacks 06/14/2007
DeWine Proposes Alternatives to Free an Additional 245 Jail Beds 02/21/2007

Get Involved
Go to No Jail and find out where you can sign a petition. Even better, print one out and get some other people to sign one. Let's find a better way to deal with our problems and each other than locking them away.

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