A “ 3 Strikes” rally and lobbying event was held at the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, in Boston, MA, on Thursday March 15, 2012. Over 300 activist representing 65, and upwards of community organizations, and unions from around Massachusetts. The rally was held outside in front of the State House, in opposition to a proposed “Three Strike” bill that is said, if in acted, it will disproportionately affect low income communities of color, and cause already overcrowded prisons to become even more overcrowded.
The Bill, H.3818/S.2080, would mandate life imprisonment after a third offense from a proposed list of violent crimes. It passed the house and Senate overwhelmingly last fall, but its two versions are still being debated in the Conference Committee before proceeding to the floor for vote.
Proponents of the bill, say that it has been crafted to specifically limit the number of people that could be eligible for automatic life imprisonment, to only a small number of very violent offenders. They believe that without it, some violent criminals will be able to return to the streets, and commit major, sometimes horrific, crimes again and again.
Opponents respond that the bill is unnecessary since there are already laws on the books to imprison repeat offenders for long periods of time, and that, if anything, there are too many people going to jail for minor nonviolent offenses, and being forced to stay there far longer than necessary, by laws that have made the prison system more and more, unfair to disenfranchised communities over the last few decades. They call for major reforms to the Massachusetts criminal justice system, to make it more fair and humane.
Several speeches were made that morning at the rally in front of the State House. Among the speakers was a freshman lawmaker that describe a “war” on beacon Hill over mandatory minimum sentence policies. Rep. Carlos Henriquez (D-Dorchester), said to the ralliers “ we’re going to war in here. We’re going to battle about this bill,” adding, “We have found out that most of our colleagues who voted for this bill, originally did not do so with the full knowledge of what this bill will do to our communities.”
Henriquez, was also joined by Sen. Sonia Change-Diaz and Sen William Brownsberger (D-Belmont). Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo was also on hand. Rep. Byron Rusing (D-Boston), a member of the House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team who voted against the crime bill, attended the rally, but did not speak. Other noted speakers were Jamarhl Crawford Blackstonian Publisher/ Editor, Rev. Dan King of Kingston, MA, Sunni Ali of the Boston workers Alliance, Jami Aimes, Dahlia Vega, Rev. Dickerson of Roxbury, MA, Yana Priesley Boston City Council Women, and Atty. Stephanie Soriano of the NAACP.
At the rally a mother of an incarcerated felon Jacqueline Navarro of Westfield, MA spoke out and said, “I speak on behalf of mothers that have their sons locked up, their hanging out with the wrong crowd, and it’s not their fault, their just with the wrong people, and they get caught, and their not doing anything, and they get smacked with that three strikes (law), because they just happen to have that in their record.”
Rally organizer, under the banner “Smart on Crime, Massachusetts” brandished signs reading “Who came up with 3 strikes? Who is affected? People of color” and others calling the proposal “the new Jim Crow.” Rally organizers are also seeking the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and elimination of mandatory supervision for former prisoners in favor of additional reentry programs in prison and jails. In a letter to the conference committee sent Thursday afternoon, they criticized the House negotiators for removing a provision, that would require convictions counting towards the three-strikes punishment, be accompanied by jail terms of at least three years.
After the speeches given by politicians, religious leaders, prison reform leaders, etc., in front of the State House were over, rally attendees proceeded inside the Statehouse for a lobby day aimed at gaining legislative support to kill or significantly modify the bill.