Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 8, 2019

Socialism in Our Time?

Filed under: Counterpunch,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:05 pm

Mr. Clean Break


Until now, Catalyst has not published an article defending the “dirty break”, “inside-outside” tactic. In the latest issue, however, you can read a gargantuan article (14,258 words) titled “A Socialist Party in Our Time?” that is behind a paywall. One imagines (ahem) that getting a copy will not be that difficult in an age when information yearns to be free.

The co-authors are graduate students, Jared Abbott at Harvard and Dustin Guastella at Rutgers. Both are also DSA members and—I’ll bet—Bread and Roses members. They start by offering a socialist version of the Goldilocks story. On the American left, there are three beds. One is “movementist”, preferring demonstrations to electoral politics. But it is too “narrow” a bed since it cannot translate its street actions into policy. The other bed is also too narrow since it belongs to the “sectarian” left that stubbornly avoids all contact with the Democratic Party and sees the fight for socialism only possible by joining up with one of their Leninist groupuscules.

Abbot and Guastella invite us to snuggle up into the only bed that is the right size for any sensible person. It is “like the mass parties of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: an organization that competes for elections, mobilizes a mass base, and has a democratic internal structure.” This describes the socialist parties of the early 20th century and the Communist Parties later on. Since the DSA is too small to effectuate a “clean break” for such a party, it instead has to be tactically clever and oh-so dirty.

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November 1, 2019

The political economy of homelessness

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,housing — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm


In 2009, Hollywood tried to get us to care about the nearly 50,000 homeless people in Los Angeles by releasing a film titled “The Soloist”. It starred Jamie Foxx as the real-life, trained classical musician Nathaniel Ayers who ended up on the streets as a result of schizophrenia. This chronic illness makes such people especially vulnerable when tax-starved municipal governments can no longer fund support networks. It was up to LA Times reporter Steve Lopez to tell his story, after happening upon him on the streets playing a cello (in the film, it was a violin). Ayers barely got by from the small donations he received playing on the streets. It was left to Lopez to rescue him from the hell of LA’s streets. You can see Ayers playing the violin here:

This year there’s hope for the salvation of another lost soul from the mean streets of LA. Like Ayers, Emily Zamourka studied in a conservatory. When a homeless man stole the violin that provided a livelihood, the landlord evicted her. She ended up on the streets singing opera, another of her skills. When a cop made a video of her singing in the subway, it soon went viral and led to articles just like the one Lopez wrote for Ayers. As an indication that she might have psychological problems that helped to land her on the streets, she just lost the recording contract because of not showing up for paying gigs.


For most Los Angelenos, the homeless are hardly worth noticing, if not a total infringement on their quality of life. In an October 22nd NY Times article titled “Backlash Against the Homeless As a Crisis Builds in California”, you get the picture of what solid citizens have to put up with:

For many, that breaking point was the worsening squalor in the streets of cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where open-air drug dealing is rampant in some spots and where human feces and scattered needles and syringes have been found lying about. Those scenes have also proved a potent symbol for Republicans like President Trump to showcase what they call the failures of liberal urban enclaves.

This year an appeals court ruled that Boise, Idaho did not have the right to make sleeping in public illegal. Dave Bieter, Boise’s Mayor, has now taken the case to the Supreme Court, where the rightwing majority will likely side with him and Trump, even if Boise can hardly be described as a liberal enclave. Oh, did I mention that Bieter is a Democrat and an early supporter of Obama for President in 2008?

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October 30, 2019

Taking stock of Elijah Cummings and John Conyers

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 10:08 pm

Elijah Cummings

John Conyers

This month two long-time African-American members of the House of Representatives died, Elijah Cummings on the 10th and John Conyers a week later. In a typical liberal encomium, John Nichols of The Nation described Cummings as a supporter of trade union struggles and a celebrated civil rights activist. Conyers, 22 years older than Cummings, had lost most of his prestige after being forced to resign two years ago from his office after a number of women had charged him with sexual harassment. That did not stop his successor Rashida Tlaib from Tweeting “Our Congressman forever, John Conyers, Jr. He never once wavered in fighting for jobs, justice and peace. We always knew where he stood on issues of equality and civil rights in the fight for the people. Thank you Congressman Conyers for fighting for us for over 50 years.” One imagines that if Conyers had not been caught with his pants down in 2017, he would have been put on the same pedestal as Cummings.

To my knowledge, neither of these long-time members of the Congressional Black Caucus has received the scrutiny they deserve. Given the subservience of the Black Caucus to the Obama administration, which was largely responsible for the backlash that allowed Trump to become President, it is worth taking a close look at their record.

Just after his death, one of the highest praises offered up to Elijah Cummings came from the solidly pro-Netanyahu Jerusalem Post that hailed The Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel (ECYP). It celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, proud of its record of sending more than 200 African-American, non-Jewish high school students to Israel. In 2010, Cummings signed the Hoyer-Cantor letter to Secretary of State Clinton that was your typical endorsement of any depravity Israel could come up with. The letter cited VP Biden: “Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the U.S. and Israel when it comes to security, none. No space.”

Lauded for his wise leadership in keeping Baltimore calm after the cops murdered Freddie Gray in 2016, Cummings refused to call for a federal investigation of the department in 2016 and practically told Democracy Now that all lives mattered:

And so, now, what we have to do is be about the business of what this night is about—that is, not going into separate corners, the community and the police. We have to work together. We have to acknowledge the fact that we love our police officers.

According to the November 2018 Harpers, a unit of this police department has been found guilty of the following acts of robbery and racketeering:

  • Dragging a man from his car and robbing him while he was shopping for blinds with his wife.
  • Pretending drugs found in one man’s trash can belonged to another man and then raiding his home.
  • Seizing drugs off the street and reselling them through a bail bondsman who was photographed in the police station wearing police gear and holding an officer’s gun.
  • Reporting that a gunshot wound was related to police work when it was in fact related to drug trafficking.
  • Looting pharmacies during the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, a black teenager who was killed by officers while in police custody.

As for Conyers, there is ample evidence that he had declining cognitive powers in office but nonetheless it is disconcerting to take note of the following.

In 2001, succumbing to the “war on terror” hysteria of the time, Conyers co-sponsoring the Patriot Act of 2001 Jim Sensenbrenner. Sensenbrenner, a Republican, was a real piece of work, calling attention publicly to Michelle Obama’s “big butt”. He was also a nativist and advocated amending the Espionage Act of 1917 to allow journalists to be prosecuted for publishing leaks.

In 2003, Conyers dragged his feet on a Freddie Gray type killing in his home state Michigan. Called the “Benton Harbor, Michigan Intifada of 2003”, the Black community rose up for two nights after the cops murdered an unarmed black motorcyclist. There were other grievances. An African-American pastor named Edward Pinkney was a leader of a struggle against the local recreation site Harbor Shores by outside investors. (The city is 96% Black.) was in jail at the time for trumped-up charges including writing an article calling a local judge racist. When his wife appealed to Conyers to come to the aid of the people, he refused.

In 2008, Dennis Kucinich, who was a Congressman at the time, launched an impeachment inquiry against George W. Bush for his illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like up until recently, Nancy Pelosi sputtered that “impeachment was off the table” back then. When Kucinich proceeded nonetheless, Ralph Nader sent a letter to Conyers asking why he wasn’t being called as a witness, reminding him that they had “several conversations and two meetings” focusing on impeachment. Clearly, Nader was being punished for challenging the two-party system.

Just some words in conclusion. All of the information above was gleaned from the CounterPunch archives. By this point, everybody knows that I regard it as a great asset of the left just for the articles. But I would add that the searchable archives amount to a Lexis-Nexis for the radical movement and reason enough to contribute to the fund-drive.

In looking for something on the Congressional Black Caucus’s decline there, I came across just the perfect article to wrap things up, written no less by managing editor and good cyber-friend Joshua Frank. Written in 2007, “The Demise of the Congressional Black Caucus” will give you an idea not only of the failings of the two recently deceased Congressman but the malaise that affects all the rest of its members:

On September 26 the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the fundraising arm of the legislative conclave, will be hosting a four day Annual Legislative Conference (ALC), which, in the their own words, “provides a platform or the 42 African American Members of Congress to share the progress of their work on legislative items and also allows for the exchange of ideas correlated to policy issues that are of critical concern to their constituents.”

Indeed, the conference provides a platform for Congress’s black politicians, but that stage is not propped up by citizen action, it is instead supported by some of the country’s most influential corporations including; Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Anheuser Busch and many more.

It hasn’t been the best year for the CBC Foundation. Last summer the Black Caucus was compelled to cancel a Democratic Presidential Forum it had planned to do with the Fox News network. Fortunately activists exposed the foundation for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from various branches of the Fox Broadcasting Company. While CBC did not seem to mind the criticism it received from constituents for the group’s association with Fox, Democratic presidential candidates were sensitive to the disapproval and withdrew from the forum, forcing its cancellation.

It isn’t likely that the black community will call for the termination of this month’s Annual Legislative Conference because Shell Oil has a card in the CBC Foundation’s donor Rolodex, despite the company’s blood-spattered history with the Ogoni people of Nigeria. Nor will the members of the CBC abandon support for the event because the Foundation accepts cash from the nation’s largest defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which was recently awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to defend the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

Evidently the CBC isn’t shy about who its precepts. In fact a look at the ALC’s itinerary of the week’s events is telling enough. Despite that the majority of black Americans opposed the invasion of Iraq, while even more oppose a military foray with Iran, there is not one single session scheduled to discuss these important issues. Lockheed Martin seems to pull more weight than CBC constituents.

Continue reading Josh’s article



October 25, 2019

Martin Scorsese’s lament

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:36 pm


From their infancy, Hollywood films have always been both art and commodities. Unlike symphonies, novels or paintings, the film (and subsequently TV) required vast capital outlays. The men who made Hollywood were often Jews who probably would have been just as happy making money as real estate developers or investment bankers. Jack Warner was a typical figure, who after being bailed out by New Deal funding, made “socially aware” films like “Casablanca”. After WWII, he became a major backer of the McCarthyite attack on the film industry and even named names before Congress.

For most Americans, until television became a popular and affordable commodity in the late 50s, the movies were the primary form of entertainment alongside radio. In 1950, movies were the third-largest retail business after grocery stores and cars. Every week, 90 million Americans—60 percent of the country—went to the cinema, a popular culture phenomenon bigger than the Super Bowl.

When I was 14 years old in 1959, these were among the directors who made films that year: Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz, John Sturges, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kramer, Otto Preminger, Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, John Cassavetes, Billy Wilder, Joseph Mankiewicz, King Vidor, John Ford, Sidney Lumet, and Edward Dmytryk. What should be obvious about all of them, especially Hitchcock, was their ability to resolve the contradiction between art and commodification. They made entertaining films that also honored the fundamentals of the art: character development, plot, dialogue, and visual/musical magic-making. Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” was made that year and regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

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October 18, 2019

Our Boys

Filed under: Counterpunch,Palestine,television — louisproyect @ 9:34 pm


Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a boycott against Israel’s channel 12 for producing the HBO mini-series “Our Boys.” He described it as anti-Semitic and slandering Israel internationally. This month I watched “Our Boys” and can recommend it not only as a docudrama but as a brutally honest retelling of how the Israeli cops apprehended 3 West Bank settlers that murdered a 16-year old Palestinian boy. They were seeking to avenge Hamas’s killing of 3 teen-aged boys who were settlers like them. What makes the show so authentic was the division of labor between Israeli and Palestinian film-makers who were determined to get the story right. The Israelis wrote the script for the Jewish characters. They were either cops or part of the West Bank settlement that bred the racism that allowed 3 men to beat a defenseless teen with a wrench until barely conscious. They finished him off by pouring gasoline down his throat and then setting fire to him.

It was left to director/screenwriter Tawfik Abu-Wael to bring the Palestinians to life. To his great credit, he has made the parents of the martyred son Mohammed Abu Khdeir two of the more fully realized Palestinian characters in any film I have seen. As the father Hussein Abu Khdeir, Johnny Arbid portrays a man being torn by two opposing forces, even to the point of splitting him in half psychologically. On one side is the Palestinian community that is mainly interested in his son being exploited as a martyr to benefit the movement. On the other is the Israeli police that needs his cooperation to help them make the arrest and prosecution of 3 settlers acceptable to most Israelis. His presence at the trial is key, even if it means defying the Palestinian political leadership. They denounce the trial in advance as being a farce that would allow the 3 to go free. His wife Suha Abu Khdeir (Ruba Blal) can accept his decision to cooperate with the police but is still distrustful enough to consider not showing up for the trial. Their drama, including the horrors of discovering what happened to their son, helps to draw you into the story.

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October 14, 2019

Why you should donate to the CounterPunch fund-drive

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 6:46 pm

I began writing for CounterPunch (CP)  in August, 2012. My first article was a defense of Pussy Riot against some of their “anti-imperialist” detractors on CP who felt the need to defend the “silent majority” in Russia from such anarchist ne’er-do-wells. It is important to understand that I was invited to write such an article by Jeffrey St. Clair who has always defended ideological diversity in CP despite attempts to depict it as having an agenda. If you really want to understand why there was always a ratio of 10 articles in favor of Assad for every one of mine, it is simply a function of so few people opposed to Assad having the discipline and presence of mind to write something. For all the years I have been writing for CP, the integrity of the editorial team of Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank is beyond reproach. Their only agenda is to put out a lively and popular leftist print and online magazine that will live up to the reputation of the late Alexander Cockburn who was its guiding light for many years. If anything, Jeffrey and Joshua have not only kept up to those high standards but have been responsible for making the CP better than ever.

Since CP articles are not divided into categories and since there are so many of them, it might be difficult to identify the themes or concerns that make it special. Hopefully, after I identify the ones I deem most important, you will understand the need for opening up your wallet or pocketbook for the current fund-drive.


Since Alexander Cockburn and the current editors have all written about ecology for various magazines before launching CP, it is not a big surprise that this is one of its major focuses. Last month, as I was reading Christopher Ketcham’s “This Land” for a CP review, I began to cross-reference the activists he was profiling with the CP archives. To my amazement, most were regular contributors to CP just like Ketcham. One of them was George Wuerthner, who has written 213 articles for CP over the years and over 36 books on various aspects of ecology and species preservation. A recent article on “How Agriculture and Ranching Subvert the Rewilding of America” is must-reading since it challenges the growth-oriented perspective of most Green New Deal advocates. Having people like Wuerthner contributing to CP should not be underestimated. With Extinction Rebellion activists putting their bodies on the line to protest incursions into rainforests and publicly-owned lands in America’s western states, getting the word out on key battles between Trump’s lackeys and those on the front lines is essential.


CounterPunch has become a firewall against the viral spread of “socialist” support for the Democratic Party. While respecting ideological diversity (CP probably has as many pro-Bernie articles as anti), the magazine has become a pole of attraction for people who view the Democratic Party as the graveyard of protest movements. Jacobin, the main purveyor of socialists orienting to the DP, has a rating of 25,661 on Alexa globally. By contrast, CP is rated at 50,354. Given all the glowing praise Jacobin has received in the bourgeois press, its numbers are not that surprising. Just imagine if Jeffrey St. Clair was getting fawning interviews in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and The New Yorker. CP would probably have a rating twice as high. Of course, they don’t write puff pieces about CP because they rightly understand that its editors and readers mean business.


I am not the only independent Marxist writer who has made CP his or her home. Without much fanfare, CP has become a much more important and reliable source of Marxist analysis than any other publication on the left. While Jacobin does have good material, it is often written from an academic perspective and not entirely relevant to an activist readership. Just off the top of my head, I think of regular contributors like Pete Dolack, Michael Yates, Victor Grossman, Patrick Bond and Michael Balter as exemplars of the non-dogmatic and highly informed Marxism that needs to be given a platform. With the dissolution of the ISO, an important voice of classical Marxism has disappeared. As long as CP keeps going, you can be sure that it will continue to publish articles that are not only faithful to the Marxist method but written with the type of panache we are accustomed to seeing in CP.


I am sure that anybody reading this can afford to donate $50 to the fund-drive. That comes to a dollar a week, less than you spend on chewing gum or coffee. Go here (https://store.counterpunch.org/) and chip in right now. It will make you feel great afterwards.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a review of Richard Seymour’s “The Twittering Machine”, a book that takes a dystopian look at social media. While I believe that Richard was on-target, I still believe that its possibilities for radical change are enormous. The willingness of people to work collectively and for free on Wikipedia should indicate that not everybody is in it for a fast buck.

Without any advertising, CP relies heavily on reader contributions. Most of us have gotten use to the idea that nothing is really free on the Net even though you are not paying for a subscription. Just spend 2 minutes on Salon or Alternet and you will see an ad that covers every inch of your screen. You can understand why such magazines rely on ads since their analysis is not much different than what you get on MSNBC. CP, on the other hand, can avoid such commercialism because it relies on a reader base that hates capitalism. I will leave it like this. To show how much you hate capitalism, there’s no better way of expressing it than donating to the CounterPunch fund drive. DO IT NOW.

October 11, 2019

Martin Monath: A Jewish Resistance Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism,Jewish question,Trotskyism,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:08 pm

Recently, Pluto Press came out with Nathaniel Flakin’s “Martin Monath: A Jewish Resistance Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers.” It pays tribute to another Jewish Trotskyist who displayed incredible heroism and dedication to proletarian internationalism. Like Leon, Monath was a left Zionist starting out, but became convinced that Zionism was a hopeless illusion. And like Leon, he was caught by the Gestapo in his youth and died at their hands.

Flakin has performed a yeoman’s service by digging through archival materials, the few letters that Monath wrote, and memoirs by his contemporaries to help bring this obscure figure to life. While there is virtually nothing in this biography that refers to the current period, we cannot help but consider the parallels to Trump, Orban, and Modi’s persecution of the “other”. If being a revolutionary in 1941 France or Belgium required enormous courage, there are other difficulties we face today. We have few worries about being hauled off to a torture chamber in countries like the USA or England. Instead, we have to swim upstream to defend a revolutionary socialism that has become unfashionable. Our problem is indifference rather than repression. We are grateful to Nathaniel and his comrades at Left Voice for having the iron will so necessary to defend the ideas of Karl Marx in a period when the spirit of compromise and pragmatism infect so much of the left.

The first paragraph of Flakin’s Introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book:

It is late 1943 in Brittany in north-western France. For three years the population has been suffering under the Nazis’ increasingly brutal occupation regime. In the city of Brest, however, there are astounding scenes of fraternization: Young French workers and equally young German soldiers greet each other with raised fists. An illegal newspaper reports from Kerhuon, ten kilometers from Brest: “On August 6, German soldiers marched through the city and sang the Internationale,” the anthem of the revolutionary workers’ movement. Between 25 and so German soldiers from the Brest garrison had organized themselves into illegal internationalist cells. They obtained identification cards and weapons for the French resistance. They felt so confident that they began to ignore the basic rules of conspiracy. They met in groups of ten. “It was madness,” recalled their comrade Andre Calves, decades later.

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September 27, 2019

The Johnson County War

Filed under: Counterpunch,farming,Film — louisproyect @ 2:26 pm


While channel surfing the other night, I was intrigued to see “Heaven’s Gate” playing on Showtime, Michael Cimino’s 1980 revisionist Western that many critics viewed as both a Marxist tract in the vein of Luchino Visconti and the greatest flop in Hollywood history. That the two views could be the most common refrains about the film tells you a lot about the spurious characterization of Tinseltown as “leftist”.

In a fascinating account of the film’s Hindenburg-like crash, “Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists”, Stephen Bach describes how in his view a talented egomaniac brought down a legendary film studio that was launched by Charlie Chaplin and others to guarantee artistic independence. None of UA’s forefathers could have imagined that a Marxist-inspired film might be its undoing.

I saw “Heaven’s Gate” when it first came out in 1980 and made a case for it among my Trotskyist comrades who had little interest in films except for the usual Saturday night entertainment. “Heaven’s Gate” was a cinematic tour de force but hardly entertaining. It was a grim study of how class power in Johnson County, Wyoming ensured the victory of wealthy ranchers over small landowners who benefited from the Homestead Act of 1862 that was designed to build support for the Republican Party against Democratic Party plutocrats. Ironically, when the Johnson County War broke out in 1892, the Democrats were the party of the poor farmer with their presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan taking up their cause. All the big ranchers in Wyoming were rock-ribbed Republicans, just as they are today in most cases.

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September 20, 2019

This Land

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm


Christopher Ketcham’s “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West” is a politically explosive and beautifully written chronicle of the ongoing struggle to preserve publicly owned land in the West. This is home to iconic endangered species such as the grizzly bear, the wolf, and the wild horse. Much of the left is rightfully fixated on the horrifying prospects of Bolsonaro giving the green light to ranchers, miners, oil companies and farmers to ravage the Amazon rainforest. Now it is time that we took a stand against the same kind of devastation taking place on American soil. If it was up to Donald Trump and the “liberal” Democrats like Obama who paved the way for him, all of the land that had been protected under successive presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon (yes, that’s right) will face the same fate.

In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt persuaded Congress to set aside such land for public ownership, “socializing” it in effect. Under the aegis of the Forest Service, millions of acres were to be protected from profit-seeking enterprises with exceptions made for raising cattle but under strict limits. Despite his wanton appetite for shooting large animals (shared by Ernest Hemingway), Roosevelt was so alarmed by the loss of wilderness that he would write these prescient words: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

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September 6, 2019

Crimes of the Criminal Justice System

Filed under: african-american,Counterpunch,crime,Film,prison — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm


Your first reaction to the concurrence of three online films about the racist abuses of the American criminal justice system might be to attribute this to pure happenstance. However, given the objective reality of the increasing legal, moral and political rot of the police, the courts and the prison system, it was inevitable that filmmakers of conscience would feel impelled to respond to the crisis. In other words, we should not speak of happenstance but ineluctability.

Made for Netflix, Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” is a docudrama about the Central Park Five, a group of African-American teens who spent up to twelve years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Running on HBO, “Who Killed Garrett Phillips?” is a documentary about a Jamaican soccer coach accused of the murder of the 12-year old son of his ex-girlfriend in Potsdam, New York. Like the cops in DuVernay’s film, their investigation is filled with irregularities intended to help convict a Black man. Finally, there is “Free Meek” on Amazon Prime, another documentary, this time about a successful rapper from Philadelphia who is hounded by an African-American female judge determined to keep him on probation for the rest of his life for a crime he supposedly committed when he was 19-years old. Like the Central Park Five, his main crime in the eyes of the cops was being Black. As is so often the case with such victims, having Black cops, judges or prison guards does not make much difference to people of color being cast down into the system of hell they maintain.

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