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Saturday, November 8, 2008

About That Election (and other stuff)

Seattle celebrates Obama's election on Nov. 4, 2008.
Photo courtesy of The Stranger Flicker Pool

First, I want to apologize for not posting over the last few days, I took Tuesday off to deal with some family health issues and to make sure I also had the chance to go vote. As a contract employee I don't get paid days off so I had to make up for it somehow and got buried with work at both my jobs as a result.

So, speaking of voting, I happen to be pretty happy with the results overall and was particularly pleased to see that Barack Obama will be our next president. I think that, overall, the general direction our nation has been heading in will shift back towards the center as a result, which is a good thing.

But... will it change anything in regards to police misconduct and prisoner abuses?

Well... I think an Obama presidency and majority count of Democrats in both houses may stop the trending we've been seeing of less transparency from federal authorities and local police departments that was a hallmark of the nation's move to the right, and it may well help level out the steady increase in cases of abuses that we've noticed over the last few years.

I don't see Obama nor the legislature doing anything to directly address either issue as cracking down on police brutality or civil rights abuses has never been a "sexy" political platform on anything but the local level, and even then it's usually not a significant factor that gets votes in an election.

However, a focus on restoring civil rights, increasing the transparency of government and law enforcement on a federal level, and reducing the trend of increased incarceration in the US may well have an impact on the level of abuses that have gone up in recent years as a side effect of such actions.

So, while I don't think it will solve all of our problems with abusive law enforcement in this country, the shifting of the political landscape may help halt the increased level of human rights abuses we've seen as an ancillary result of other policy shifts.

Of course, this may well be negated by the economic decline if it becomes significant or becomes long term. We've already seen the scrapping of police accountability programs on the local level here and in other places around the nation where local governments have had to cut costs to deal with budget shortfalls.

In addition to this, we've also seen programs that were planned to address civil rights abuses in jails halted and steps taken to cut costs that jeopardize detainee safety and health.

Furthermore, a declining economy may spark a reversal of the trend of lower crime that has occurred in recent years, which generally results in more aggressive police policies and legislation.

So, it may well be that any improvements that I can foresee as a result of the political shift in the US may be negated by a decline in the economic conditions here. In other words, if the number of cases of police brutality and detainee abuses increases under an Obama administration, it wouldn't surprise me, unfortunately.

Sure... The election of Barack Obama is historic, and I am proud that I could play a VERY small role in that history. I was just as elated at the result as were the people who took to the streets here in Seattle in spontaneous celebration at his election. Even my children, too young to vote, were excited to stand witness to the event.

But, even with my hope, I know I must temper that newfound optimism with realism that the people I advocate for, the victims of abuse and brutality, are often those who are overlooked as deserving less rights than the rest of us just for being accused. So, unfortunately, my work is not yet done... though I wish it were.

So, congratulations America... you took a big step this week, but don't forget that it's just one step in that long journey we still have ahead of us.

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