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Drawing Line Between Mass Incarceration, Unrest Across Nation

Many see the age of mass incarceration as a successor to segregation and the racist policies of the Jim Crow era. (JP Photography/Adobe Stock)
Many see the age of mass incarceration as a successor to segregation and the racist policies of the Jim Crow era. (JP Photography/Adobe Stock)
June 2, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Policing has been the focal point of protests since George Floyd's death last week. A criminal-justice reform advocate says we also need to understand them as a reaction to mass incarceration.

Executive Director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center Bobbin Singh said people who focus on singular aspects of the criminal-justice system, such as policing, won't understand the root causes of violence, such as Floyd's death.

"If we actually begin to look at how all these systems work together to push on certain populations, to control certain populations, to brutalize certain populations, then we begin to see how that thread exists and we can then pull on it to begin to undermine it and frustrate it," Singh said.

He said the age of mass incarceration is seen as the successor to segregation and the racist policies of the Jim Crow era.

Police have responded to marches against police brutality in Oregon with tear gas and rubber bullets. In Portland and Eugene, protests have ended with fires and property damage.

Singh criticized the fact that some cities have responded to protesters with a greater police presence.

"We don't even, as a country or as cities, understand with clarity how they're hurting and why they're hurting," he said. "We respond in the most insensitive way and in the most harmful way -- by doubling down on this law-and-order mentality that has produced this problem."

Singh said Oregon may have a reputation for being progressive, but it has followed the rest of the nation when it comes to sharply increasing its prison population in racially biased ways.

"The tough-on-crime stuff that's existed and helped prop up mass incarceration -- Oregon is not different from the country. We're part of that national phenomenon that's existed over the past two or three decades that's ramped up our system of incarceration," he said.

Eric Tegethoff/Cynthia Bishop Jonas, Public News Service - OR