Things That Matter

Over 400 Oklahoma Inmates Were Released In Largest Commutation In History And Their Stories Are Powerful

On Monday, more than 400 Oklahoma inmates were released from prison following the nation’s largest single-day mass commutation in history. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board unanimously voted to commute the sentences of 527 state inmates. Yesterday, 462 of them were able to walk free while 65 are being held on detainer. 

Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, former mortgage company CEO, and criminal justice reform advocate, has pledged to step away from outdated policies. Oklahoma has the second-highest incarceration (after Louisiana) in the United States, according to the Sentencing Project.

The freed inmates are all low-level or non-violent offenders who may not have been commuted without Oklahoma voters’ approving criminal justice proposals in 2016. 

Oklahoma governor greets freed inmates at a woman’s prison.

Stitt said he believes the commutation will give many residents a “second chance” at a news conference. 

“This marks an important milestone of Oklahomans wanting to focus the state’s efforts on helping those with nonviolent offenses achieve better outcomes in life,” Stitt said, according to NBC News. “The historic commutation of individuals in Oklahoma’s prisons is only possible because our state agencies, elected officials, and partnering organizations put aside politics and worked together to move the needle.”

The governor attended Dr. Eddie Warrior Center, an all-women’s prison, where now-former inmates were emotionally embracing family and friends. 

“We really want you to have a successful future,” Stitt told the crowd. “This is the first day of the rest of your life. … Let’s make it so you guys do not come back here again.”

The state plans on going beyond just releasing inmates.

“With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans,” Steve Bickley, executive director of the parole board, said in a statement Friday. “However, from Day One, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low-level, nonviolent offenders, but the successful re-entry of these individuals back into society.”

The state government is not just releasing the inmates, but also making sure they receive a proper government-issued driver’s license or ID card. These are essential items that allow inmates to reintegrate back into society, making jobs and housing more attainable. 

“It has been a moving experience to see our state and community partners help connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful reentry and I thank Governor Stitt, DOC Director Scott Crow, and the many local nonprofits, churches, and job creators that stepped up to ensure these inmates have every opportunity for success,” Bickley said. 

Voters usher in a new era of criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.

 In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure by a 16 percentage point margin to decrease prison rolls, and to downgrade drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. 

“Basically, in Oklahoma, we’re just warehousing people in prison, and we’re not trying to rehabilitate anybody because of budget constraints,” Bobby Cleveland, a Republican state representative and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, told the New York Times

Stitt, who was elected in 2018, also signed a bill this year that retroactively adjusted sentences for those who had their charges downgraded. This paved the way for the mass commutation to happen expediently. 

The United States has the highest incarceration in the world.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world. According to the Sentencing Project, the 500 percent increase in incarceration rates over the last 40 years is due to policy not an increase in crime. In fact, crime, especially violent crimes have significantly decreased, dropping by 51 percent to 71 percent between 1993 and 2018, Pew Research notes

“Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1980s, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 452,964 in 2017,” the Sentencing Project claims. “Today, there are more people behind bars for a drug offense than the number of people who were in prison or jail for any crime in 1980. The number of people sentenced to prison for property and violent crimes has also increased even during periods when crime rates have declined.”

Unnecessarily high incarceration rates have negative effects on various communities. Moreover, they specifically harm communities of color who are often targets of law enforcement despite numerous studies that show races and ethnicities commit crimes at roughly the same rates. 

While people of color are 37 percent of the United States population, they make up 67 percent of the prison population. Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated as white men while Latinx men are twice as likely — both groups face harsher sentences for committing the same crimes as their white peers. 

Oklahoma, a state where Trump swept every county in 2016, illuminates how criminal justice reform has become a bipartisan issue — simply too many people are affected for the issue to go unchallenged. 

After A Black High School Wrestling Student Had His Hair Sheared Off, New Jersey Passes Law About Hair Discrimination

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After A Black High School Wrestling Student Had His Hair Sheared Off, New Jersey Passes Law About Hair Discrimination

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Get ready New Jersey! Your workplaces just got a whole lot more inclusive and curly.

Natural hair discrimination or discrimination based on hair texture has been one of the greatest forms of social injustice against Black people for much too long. Found worldwide, hair discrimination targets Black people with afro-texture hair. The issue strikes at afro-textured hair early in school and unfortunately follows us into the professional world where Black curls have often been deemed unprofessional, ugly, and unclean. 

New Jersey is throwing out hair discrimination with the trash this month.

The state is the latest in the United States to join the ranks of other states working to banning natural hair discrimination. The new bill makes the state of New Jersey the third in our country to enforce a law that requires workplaces to allow hair of all types in the workplace. In the past two years both California and New York have instituted the changes.

The measure, legally known as S3945, alters the state’s Law Against Discrimination, which protects people from discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race or other categories.  In its changes, the measure works to prevent discrimination of people on the basis of  “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.” You can bet your bottom dollar this protection includes like twists or braids which means say hello to more locs at your local Starbucks, chicas!

New Jersey is a state that has dealt with issues related to Black hair discrimination frequently.

Last December in 2018,  Black high school wrestler Andrew Johnson in New Jersey was forced to cut his locks by a referee just before a match. The news made national headlines and prompted outcries of discrimination throughout social media. This month, the state legislature introduced a bill that would similarly update New Jersey’s discrimination law to include protection for “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.”

Democratic State Assemblywoman Angela McKnight said she felt compelled to push for the change when she saw the humiliation and discrimination that Johnson endured during a meet. 

Speaking to NJ.com, McKnight said she cried when she first saw the images of Johnson’s hair being cut off.  “He had to choose between, do I move forward with something that I love to do versus with my hair that I love. He had to choose which one. That should not have been a choice,” she said. “This is a movement to protect Black citizens from systematic discrimination because of a hairstyle. We’re more than that. This is a civil rights issue.”

Black men and women are too often forced to change their looks and behaviors to account of the Eurocentric standards that we have enforced to forcefully in our country. As more Black people embrace their natural hair and beauty, it’s important to allow space for this. Particularly in education- associated institutions related to after school activities. Mostly because doing otherwise will only prompt more kids to try to conform to impossible to achieve standards.

To keep up with the movement Check out these curly chicas and their spot-on tips!

“Find a natural hair salon.” – Vilma Peguero

When you need your wisdom teeth removed, you don’t go to a philosopher, do you? Same logic applies to hair. Black Latina Negra Bella co-founder Dania Peguero would had never begun her natural hair care journey if it hadn’t been for the salon experts who taught her how!

“Give your hair some loving.” – Alba Ramos

Having beautiful, healthy, shiny-looking curls takes time and love. But it is totally worth it. Sun Kiss Alba was the first person to share with me the basics of curly hair care, and I’m pretty sure you’ll love her videos, too! She covers everything from maintenance and cleansing to cute hairstyles, just for curly hair.

“YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” – Carolina Contreras

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Cada palabra que coloco en este y todos mis espacios lo hago con mucho cuidado, amor, integridad y honestidad porque la verdad es que uno nunca sabe hasta donde pararán esas palabras. Las coloco sin comprometer mi etilo y quien yo soy, y sin sentir que debo de complacer a todo el mundo. Este mañana vi una publicación sobre lo que paso con la joven en el colegio en una de las páginas de noticias más populares, The Huffington Post. No se pueden imaginar las cadenas de televisión y radio que me contactan cuando pasan estas cosas y yo siempre digo que NO. No me gusta ir frente a una cámara o detrás de un micrófono a menos que tenga algo concreto que decir. No obstante, esta publicación, que originó de otra que hicieron Remezcla, una página Latina que me ha mostrado muchísimo apoyo y cariño este año, cubrieron el tema sin ser sensacionalistas y simplemente documentando los hechos como los puse aquí, sólo que los tradujeron al inglés. Ustedes no quieran imaginarse las cosas que nos llegan al salón que nunca llegan a las redes sociales. Por suerte cuento con un equipo que más allá de ser estilistas y administradoras, están constantemente siendo entrenadas para poder manejar estos y otros casos. Dándole a la mujer un espacio seguro para que se desahogue y las palabras de aliento y herramienta para que se defienda y se empodere ante su esposo, madre o jefe. Estamos a tan sólo días de darle la bienvenida a nuevas integrantes de Miss Rizos Salón y más allá de enseñarles a como cortar cabello rizado o hacer una definición de rizos, me emociona que las chicas y yo tendremos nuevas aliadas quienes nos ayudaran a continuar erradicando la discriminación por el cabello o cualquier otra cosa que nos identifique como lo que somos. Gracias a estos medios de comunicación por hacer eco de esta problemática y de hacer un reportaje con un tono de esperanza. Cc: @remezcla @huffingtonpost http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/miss-rizos-stands-up-teen-shamed-by-school-for-rocking-natural-hair_us_5785596ae4b0867123dec85c

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Miss Rizos isn’t just a beauty blogger, she’s an activist who works day and night to educate women from all over the globe on how to care for their pajones (she heads up a natural hair salon in Santo Domingo), as well as how to embrace who they are, culturally and racially, with absolute pride. Not always an easy task, but definitely a rewarding one.

“Clap your hair.” – Ona Diaz-Santin

Wait, what? Yeah, clapping your hands with your hair between you palms after styling and when your hair is fully dry is Ona’s, a.k.a. The Hair Saint’s, secret for bouncier, fuller, lovelier curls. This woman is a true curly hair magician!

“Use your fingers.” – Bianca Alexa

Ditch your comb! It’ll only mess with your natural hair structure. Your very own fingers are actually your best friends for detangling and styling your curls.

“Forget shampoo.” – Rocio Mora

If you must shampoo your hair, go for a paraben-and-silicon-alcohol-free option. Better yet, stick with natural hair products and ditch your shampoo altogether. Let conditioners and deep scalp managers take care of your cleansing and moisturizing needs without stripping your beautiful hair of its natural, protective oils.

“Chop it.” – Mel Burgos

We curly chicas can sometimes feel like our hair just isn’t growing fast enough, which makes us super afraid of cutting it. The thing is, the only way to keeping curls healthy, in shape–and YES, longer–is by trimming it every every eight weeks or so.

“Mix and match.” – Ada Rojas

Lose your fear of natural products; your hair will forever be grateful! Also, because each chica’s curls are created differently, it’s best to experiment with different hair product cocktails until you find the ones that work the best for you.

Three Men In Mexico Were Forced To Strip Naked And Walk The Streets As Punishment For Stealing 15 Cows

Things That Matter

Three Men In Mexico Were Forced To Strip Naked And Walk The Streets As Punishment For Stealing 15 Cows

Mexico’s everyday life, particularly in rural areas, is full of surprises and events that the average gringo would find too strange to be true. Such was the case of a recent robbery in the state of Veracruz. Three men were caught stealing 15 cows, which is a very significant asset and someone’s actual livelihood if you subsist by raising crops and producing farming goods such as milk. So they of course had to be punished in some way, and because people in some areas of Mexico (and we would dare to say in the country at large) mistrust the authorities, some citizens take matters in their own hands.

This is a symptom of a decades-long mistrust in the authorities or the real repercussions that criminals will face given the high levels of corruption at all levels of government that the new administration wished to eradicate (just how they pretend to do it remains largely unclear!). 

So first things first: yes, this was their punishment for stealing the cows, holding hands while totally naked

Credit: @QuePocaMadre_MX / Twitter

The punishment by public nudity took place in Suchilapan del Río, in the municipality of Jesús Carranza in Veracruz. The three men were caught right con las manos en la masa. The man who recorded the video, which has made its rounds on Mexican social media, made the robbers confess to their crime while naked and holding hands in the middle of the street. According to La Verdad Noticias, one of these men is a butcher, which makes perfect sense given that he was attempting to steal cattle. They are standing on Independencia street, right in front of the meat producers association. 

The news was broken by the Twitter news dissemination site @QuePocaMadre_MX which translates into something like “You gotta be kidding me, that’s rough, man!” 

The case has not been completely solved and whether the authorities have done anything on this matter is unclear. The case has garnered some attention in local media, so we might hear more about this. It is important to note, however, that while highly unlikely the video might actually be staged (we gotta at least entertain that possibility until we know otherwise!). 

The story might seem funny or chusca at first, but if you dig a bit under the surface there is a far darker undertone.

Credit: @QuePocaMadre_MX / Twitter

For one, the video evidences an almost total gap of authority in this municipality. The fact that these guys (criminals, if we are being honest) were forced to display public nudity to atone for their actions is almost laughable, but it also shows that law enforcement in the are has been decimated to reach a level of ridicule that can make headlines. Let’s not forget that Veracruz is one of the most violent states in the country, and since Los Zetas emerged in the 2000s and challenged the Cartel del Golfo, it has also become an epicenter of the cartel wars. This lack of government action lends itself to semi-funny situations but should not be taken lightly. 

The people made them hold hands, which is a clear sign of homophobic mob mentality.

The fact that the men were forced to hold hands and do a display of pretend homoeroticism is also an indicative of the prevailing homophobic views shared by some Mexicans. In everyday Mexican lingo, words that denote a queer identity are used as token insults and one of the cruelest ways to harm diverse genres and sexualities is making them an insult. We also have to consider that Veracruz has a very dark history when it comes to hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. Crimes against trans individuals, for example, are common and most of the times end up in impunity. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, measures such a conversion therapy are legal as well. 

And there is a thin thin line that separates forcing three men to get naked and an actual lynching, which has been a sad and brutal feature in contemporary Mexico.

Perhaps this story might seem amusing at first, but it also recalls some recent incidents in Mexico in which criminals are caught by the population instead of the authorities and then things escalate and lynching happens. People have been bashed to death, set on fire and dismembered in public. In some instances the lynched are guilty of crimes, often of sexual nature, but it has been the case that a disgruntled neighbor starts a rumor that has fatal consequences. Because there is such a climate of uneasiness and impunity in the country, people have even ambushed police cars carrying suspects. We are of course not saying that justice should not be served, but when it is an eye for an eye everyone ends up blind.