Bill McClellan

I recently had a chance to have a phone interview with Bill McClellan, a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  While Bill writes on many subject, his main focus and interest is reporting on prisons.

When asked about why he enjoyed the subject of prisons at such a high level, Bill Responded, ” It’s always a good story.  It’s just interesting to catch up with people who 15 years ago were convicted of a crime and now they are changed.  It’s such a strange world.  It’s like executions, as long as theyre executing people there should be someone there to watch and see what its like.  I am always happy to walk into a prison and always happier to walk out. ”

One of Bill’s most interesting articles is one that touches on how hard our judicial system is cracking down on drug use and sales.   The article is called, “The times, They Are A Changing.”

In this article he exclaims his outrage on this prisoner, Jeffrey Mizanski, can serve a sentence of life without parole when his only crime was being a party to purchasing 5 ounces of marijuana.  It is fascinating to hear his point of view on the subject of drug laws and how there needs to be a change.

Prisons are a fascinating subject and it takes a true journalist to be able to interact with a person who has committed murder, rape or any violent crime.  Bill has covered all these basis and is eager to share his stories.


Prison’s Population Continues to Rise

A recent issue in the past decade has been the overcrowding of prisons.  This overcrowding is mainly due to the fact that our country has become much more strict on violent crimes and these crimes are leading to longer and tougher sentences in state penitentiaries.

In the last 10 years it appears that the number of prisoners has risen significantly, adding 159,000 inmates to state penitentiaries.   The reason for this incline is simply because of tighter laws and longer prison sentences for these broken laws.  Prison has  never been a place meant for safety, but with 51.2% of inmates incarcerated for violent crimes it had now become more dangerous than ever.  While that number continues to rise, the number of drug offenders lower.  Over the last ten years inmates convicted of drug felonies went down by 12,400 people.

Statistics show that the reason of the population increase is not because of drug related offenses.  This is partially thanks to the Attorney General, Eric Holder, who stated, ” Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reasons.  By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, we can become both smarter and tougher on crime.”

What is interesting about his speech is that he does not mention race.  Race has played a key component in prison sentencing, as it shows black people are getting longer prison sentences for the same crime committed as white people.  African American’s represent over 40% of the population of prisons in the United States.

I would like to present in depth statistics on this issue that is a current problem for our country.

Metro North Train Line Derails

Early this past Sunday morning a Metro North train line leaving the Bronx derailed and came feet within falling into the East River.   So far there are 4 confirmed deaths and while the number varies there are at least 60 injuries, 12 critically injured.  images

A question of safety has been brought up with the Metro North commuter train since this is the 4th derailment in the last 15 months for the line.  William Henderson, the executive director of the MTA states, ” I can’t see how you can help but be concerned.  But at the same time, the system is a very safe system.The reason this is so stunning is that it jus’t doesn’t happen.”

Henderson was referringto derailments when he made thiscomment and was ridiculed because the evidence clearly shows that it actually happens frequently.  

The two main commuter lines that leave New York City are Metro North and The Long Island Rail Road.  The Long Island Railroad strictly goes up and down Long Island while Metro North travels to various parts of upstate New York and Connecticut.  It will be very interesting to see whether or not the Metro North ticket sales will take a hit because of this horrible tragedy.  Kohler Bruno, a yale student, who takes the Metro North from New Haven to New York on a regular basis says, “this has definitely made me think about taking the bus to go and from home now.”

This derailment is the worst train accident in New York City since the 4 train came around a curve on the tracks sharply and derailed on August 28, 1991.  The driver of the train was charged with operating machinery while intoxicated and the accident killed 5 people and injured 200.


Poverty in the United States

In the last 100 years the United States has increased it’s population by 216 million people.   As is stands today the United States has grown to a population of 313 million people.  As this number rises, the number of people living in poverty grows as well.

According to the New York Times, in 2012, 2.6 million people were added to below the official poverty line, bringing the grand total to 42.6 Americans who cannot fully support themselves.  While America has made lengths to keep poverty in check, it has not seemed to have been effective, as poverty is higher than ever in the United States.

Poverty-StatisticsOne reason as to why poverty is so high in this era is because of how hard it is to come out of it.  Timothy Sneeding, a professor at The University of Wisconsin, states ” We’re risking a new underclass. Young, less-educated adults,mainly men, can’t support their children and have stables families because they are jobless.” It is apparent that once one falls into the flow of poverty, it is hard to get out because of the difficulty in finding jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

These statistics are illustrated well in the movie,” Inequality for All.”  This film portrays the problems that we face as a country by giving stats such as the richest 400 people in America make more money than half of the United States.  The director, Jacob Kornbluth, explains his thought process while making the film. ” I have lived among the most conservative and liberal people in America, in urban and rural communities across this amazingly diverse country, and have experience dealing with billionaires and homeless people and everything in between.”  He goes on to say,   My hope in making this film was that I would be able to take all of those experiences and use them to help make a film that a wide variety of people can connect to. ”  What really stands about with this film is how it raises awareness.

What is so great about this movie is that it raises awareness to an issue that is frequently overlooked.  When our country is ruled by the wealthy the lower class gets pushed aside.  As our economy continues to bounce back and grow, I predict our poverty line will drop significantly.

Jacob Riis


   One photographer that stood out in the late 1800’s was Jacob Riis.  Riis was born in Ribe, Denmark and came to the United States  in 1870, when he turned 21.  He immediately found himself living in poverty, moving from lodging house to lodging house, unable to find a steady job. 

  His first entry into journalism came three years after coming to New York City.  He found a job as a police reporter with the New York Evening Sun and from this, Riis found his passion with photography.   The neighborhoods which he was assigned to cover were the neighborhoods of high crime rates which ironically contained a large population of immigrants.  Eventually, Riis began to bring a camera with him when he would cover these neighborhoods so he could document how poor these living situations were.  As someone who once had this style of poor living, Riis could associate well with the less fortunate.   

   Riis is also well known for his novel,  How The Other Half Lives, where he accurately depicts just how poor these living commons were.  Riis was not alone in this efforts.  Theodore Roosevelt was a close friend with Riis and as police commissioner, he asked Riis to bring him along to show him exactly how the immigrants were living.  

I truly believe that Riis was one of a kind.  He made it his mission to make sure that no one would have to endure what he went through when he came to America.   As someone who lives in the city that he was trying to help, I can safely say his work has not gone unappreciated.  After his death in 1914, New York renamed a park in Rockaway to Jacob Riis park, where it still lies today.  


Stereotyping in New York City

Throughout my life I have witnessed stereotyping.  I have grown up in Brooklyn, NY and personally seen people of certain ethnicities get targeted over others.   

I live in a middle class neighborhood that is not considered dangerous.  However, two blocks away, there are a group of housing projects called the gawanus projects.  Because they are labeled projects, automatically people are afraid to walk through them, when in reality, they are just as safe as walking down a random street in the city.  I do admit that in some cases there are projects that are more dangerous than others, but these do not have that reputation.   During the summer, I witnessed a police car stop a group of black males just sitting on a stoop near these housing projects.  Within minutes the cops had all of them in hand cuffs, when it was clear they were doing nothing wrong.  It was appalling to me that people who are sworn in to protect the law can abuse it in such a way.  

Recently in NYC, stop an frisk laws were banned due to racial profiling.  The stop and frisk law was a way for the New York City police to stop any random pedestrian on the street and search them for illegal contraband.   In 2011 684,000 people were stop and frisked, the majority being of african american or latino decent.  Of those 684,000, 9 out of 10 people were found innocent. According to the New York Times, the main reason it was revoked was because “it violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city.”  

I applaud New York for taking initiative and stopping a law that was clearly not affective. 



Difference In Freedom of Speech

One of the biggest differences in Freedom of Speech comes between the United States and China.    The United States is home to 314 million people, all of which have the freedom of press and the freedom of speech.  However in China, 1.4 billion people are unable to freely speak their mind or even freely search the internet.

The United States has heavily incorporated social media in every day lives.   According to “digital marketing rambling” over 128 Million people use Facebook every day.   Also because of Facebook, 10 million apps have been created, 150 billion new friends have been made and 240 billion photos have been put up.  However none of these numbers are coming from the largest populated country in the world.   This is because China’s online freedom of speech has completely been taken away.   China’s reasoning for it’s lack of social media is that it takes away any form of writing that can speak negatively about the government. Without websites like Facebook and twitter the Chinese have far less outlets.   The writer for the Freedom House states that ” According to the official Xinhua news agency, the seven principles to which online content must conform are legal regulation, the socialist system, the national interest, citizens’ rights and interest, public order, morality and information accuracy.  The noticeable subordinate placement of ‘information accuracy suggests that the guidelines are meant to suppress content that clashes with the communist party’s political priorities than to limit the spread of falsehood.”  This is one huge quality that differentiates the United States and China.

The United States has had the freedom of speech since the Constitution was signed.  As written in The Index on Censorship “The right to free speech is a universal human right” If it is a Universal right, then why is it that America outshines China in every Freedom of Speech category.  It is clear that because of China’s lack of democracy they are unable to speak freely even if it is not aimed at the government.   I do believe however that this is not an issue than any country should be involved in.  I strongly agree with Freedom of Speech and think it is outdated and disgraceful that China has not adapted with America.

Creating Federal Speech Laws

   Freedom of Speech is something that differentiates the United States from other Countries.  However for the past decades there has been a thin line between the Freedom of Speech and Hate Speech.

  A specific case in Skokie, Illinois shows how this line was crossed and demonstrates our countries failure to act in giving out punishment.  In 1977, the National Socialist Party wanted to march through the town of Skokie, Illinois, wearing Swastikas and rally against the Jewish community.  The NSP wanted to do this fully knowing that 1 in 6 residents in Skokie were holocaust survivors.   Attorneys from Skokie tried to argue that wearing swastikas was essentially a physical attack and that this kind of action could not be allowed.  The Supreme Court responded by saying that the use of the swastika is a “symbolic form of free speech.”  This is where the line needs to be drawn.

 A more recent incident , that Jeremy Waldron touches on in Should Hate Speech Be Outlawed?  is the story of a Muslim man who is walking with his two children and sees a sign that says “Muslims and 9/11.  Don’t Serve them.  Don’t Speak to Them.” Waldron describes ” loosely as hate speech, putting them in the same category as racist graffiti, burning crosses, and earlier generations of signage that sought to drive Jews out of fashionable areas in Florida with postings like ‘ Jews and dogs prohibited” If this kind of profanity is considered hate speech then how is parading around a town with swastikas on your clothing allowed?

 I truly believe that there needs to be federal Hate Speech laws.  These kind of actions can not continue to fall under Freedom of Speech laws when specific groups of people are being hurt.  Timothy Garton Ash agrees in “Free Speech Debate” “Even the most outspoken advocates of free speech recognize that there should be limits to how far we can allow words and images to incite to violence.”  There needs to be a precedent set by the federal government clearly defining the terms of free speech vs. hate speech.   With new Federal Hate Speech laws our country will still be able to freely say what we believe without inciting violence to a specific group of people. 



The Constitutional Gazette

The Constitutional Gazette was a newspaper that was based out of New York City and had the same affect as the New York Times does today. One huge difference is that this newspaper only came out on wednesdays and saturdays.  This newspaper was only out for a year from August 1975 to August 1976 and was discontinued due to lack of readers and high cost to maintain.

One of it’s main stories came the day before the declaration of Independence was signed.  The record unfortunately does not date on the actual 4th but it is interesting to read the articles right before one of the most monumental days for this country. The author writes in the The Constitutional Gazette, “Don’t boggle the expense when your all is at stake. It will conquer the vant land and conflictions will abundantly repay the expense of the war, and if we are overcome our all is gore, and it matters not how much we expend in the confeld.”  This writing goes on to begin to give encouragement to those who will go off to battle.   Little did the author know what would happen the next day.  This article was written to the printer and it is unclear who the author is.

The price of this newspaper was 2 coppers which is obviously higher than the 1 dollar and 25 cents that the New York Times costs today on the street.   It’s hard to imagine that this was the main source of news at the time considering its infrequent delivery.

Raising Minimum Wage

Minimum wage varies from state to state in the US.   In west coast states such as California, Oregon and Washington minimum wage ranges from eight dollars an hour to nine and a half dollars an hour. According to Tami Luhby’s article Minimum Wage Jobs on the Decline, in New York, minimum wage is seven dollars and twenty five cents.  New York City is home to over eight million people and of those eight million three and a half are paid minimum wage.

New York City as known as being one the most expensive places to live the world so how is it acceptable that almost over 40% are paid seven dollars and twenty five cents an hour.   With companies such as McDonalds and Macys, there is a limit to how many hours one can work in an average week.   That limit can range from 25-35 hours.  At 7.25 an hour that comes out to an average of $217 a week.   In places like New York and California that is considered next to nothing and will barely be enough to put food on the table for one person.

In the 90’s minimum wage was so low because it was mainly students who were working at these places but in this day in age just as many adults are working at fast food companies as students are.  If minimum wage was raised by just two or three dollars an hour it could help dramatically.