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World Press on Biden-Trump Final Debate, Sudan and Kamala Harris: New Age Islam's Selection, 26 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

26 October 2020

• Biden And Trump’s Final Debate: Who Won?

By Will Wilkinson

• Kamala Harris, Mass Incarceration And Me

By Reginald Dwayne Betts

• Sudan Is Being Rewarded For Its Revolution With Blackmail

By Nesrine Malik

• Dare We Dream Of A Joe Biden Win? Given All That's At Stake, Not Yet

By Jonathan Freedland


Biden and Trump’s Final Debate: Who Won?

By Will Wilkinson




Jamelle Bouie To some degree Biden’s win is automatic because he didn’t fail or slip up. In the absence of anything that could move the race in a major way, Biden — who leads by an average of around eight points — is the winner. But Biden’s win is also a function of a solid performance focused on real issues, in contrast with the president’s decision to spend most of the debate on the deep lore of the Fox Cinematic Universe.

Elizabeth Bruenig A tie. Supposing we ever return to some kind of civic equilibrium, this debate should be used to teach school children about legitimation (the act of providing legitimacy) crises. Neither Biden nor Trump spent much time asserting the good of their respective philosophies, because persuasion isn’t really on the table. Instead, they disputed assertions of fact. Since the right and left no longer agree on what institutions or figures should be seen as authorities on any given issue, there’s no debate there, just an aggressive presentation of two different worlds.

Christopher Buskirk Trump won this debate hands down and he did it by upsetting expectations. In the last debate, Trump was criticized for being too aggressive. Biden gave a solid, if uninspiring performance and didn’t make a gaffe or look old or tired as his supporters feared. This time it was Trump’s turn to do the unexpected, which meant showing a much tamer, more reasonable side of himself while remaining firm and focused on his message.

Linda Chavez A draw — neither candidate lost points; Trump may have stopped the hemorrhaging. Trump was more disciplined than in the previous debate and managed not to dig himself into a deeper hole over his handling of the pandemic. Biden was at his best when he got emotional over the 545 children separated from their parents at the border that remain in U.S. custody, because the Trump administration has lost track of their parents.

Gail Collins Biden won. He was strong when he spoke directly to the audience. Trump was terrible when he talked about race. How many times has he said he’s been the best president for Black Americans since Abraham Lincoln? That was always a stunner, but he topped it when he announced that he was the “least racist person in the room.”

Matthew Continetti President Trump entered the debate with his campaign on the ropes. A poor performance would have ended any chance for a comeback. But Trump’s performance was not poor. He refrained from interrupting, contrasted his policies with Joe Biden’s proposals and defined Biden as a career politician whose almost half-century in public life has produced few tangible accomplishments. Trump didn’t convince Democratic voters or independents. But his campaign believes that a come-from-behind Electoral College victory rests not on persuading voters but on turning out wavering Republicans and low-propensity white voters without college degrees. This debate gave Trump and his team reason to hope that, despite everything, lightning might strike twice.

Michelle Cottle Biden won. For Trump to win, he needed a breakout moment, preferably one knocking Biden off balance. He failed — even when he dug in on the topic of Hunter Biden and started slinging mud at the extended Biden clan. The basic trajectory of the race remains the same, which is not good for the president.

Ross Douthat Call it Biden by a hair. The threat of the mute button made Trump seem measured, Biden was sharper than last time overall but faded more at the end, and they seemed about equal in their lies and flubs. Trump is too deep in very-online right-wing narratives and doesn’t have a good answer on health care; Biden falls back to the emptier sort of liberal talking points when he gets pressed on policy. By merely being cogent Trump probably shored up his eroding base; by merely sounding like the kind of normal politician Trump kept attacking him for being, Biden probably kept his lead, and that’s what counts.

Michelle Goldberg Joe Biden won. Trump’s willingness to lie shamelessly and prodigiously is a serious advantage, and in the first part of the debate he got away with baselessly accusing Biden of corruption. But Biden, crisper than usual, was able to position himself as the economic populist in the race, speaking urgently about the need to bail out small businesses and getting Trump to come out against both the Affordable Care Act and a higher minimum wage.

Nicholas Kristof Biden won, because Trump needed to change the dynamic and instead reinforced it. Trump again seemed to lack all empathy, to have no strategy for Covid-19, to be indifferent to suffering at the border, to be in over his head, to have no answers for Americans struggling from a pandemic of both disease and unemployment. Yes, Trump improved his behavior, but he didn’t show any sign that he has a realistic plan to deal with America’s problems.

Matt Labash Biden. This debate, unlike the last, was long on substance and specifics, short — or shorter — on interruptions and shots to the gooloos. Even Donald Trump only mocked Biden’s family 10 or 12 times, a new personal best, self-restraint-wise. In a word, boring. There was no joy or transcendence, no real kill shots or knockout punches. The needle didn’t move. But because the only laugh-out-loud lines were Trump’s, for all the wrong reasons (on Covid: “We’re rounding the turn … it’s going away”), slight advantage, Biden.

Liz Mair Trump. The debate rules worked in his favor, he was more disciplined, and even though he lied through his teeth for much of the debate, he did it and often does it in a way that is convincing for anyone who doesn’t believe he is always lying. For better or for worse, that remains a decent chunk of the electorate.

Daniel McCarthy President Trump won because he was back in top form, the Trump of 2016: bold and combative. But he also took a page from Mike Pence’s playbook in the vice-presidential debate about the effectiveness of blending firmness with politeness. He put Biden on the defensive.

Melanye Price Biden narrowly won because he seems sincere and competent.

Bret Stephens Donald Trump was less appalling than usual, probably thanks to the mute function on his microphone. But Biden had the better part of the night, for two reasons: He was mentally sharp and ideologically non-scary.

Héctor Tobar Biden won. For all Trump’s bullying of the moderator, and his insults and false attacks, he did not make a case for his re-election. Even a slightly more respectful Trump — tamed by the threat of a muted microphone — was exhausting to watch. He’s still running as a character in a reality show, but this time during an existential crisis of public health and the economy.

Charlie Warzel It is legitimately difficult for me to imagine the undecided voter who would learn much from this evening. Both candidates were better than the last run, but this election is ultimately a referendum on Donald Trump, which means he needed a decisive victory for people outside the base. Biden won.

Peter Wehner Biden won because for the first hour he did better than he did at any previous debate, either presidential or in the primaries. He was energetic, strong, showed empathy and was in command. He prosecuted his case effectively and got in some excellent lines. Biden stumbled during the last part, but he didn’t lose ground, and may have marginally gained ground, in a race he’s winning.

Will Wilkinson Biden won. Character is on the ballot, Biden said, repeating a theme of his campaign. He’s right, and the contrast was evident all night. When Trump again scurrilously smeared Biden’s son, Biden honorably refused to take a shot at Trump’s kids. It can be tempting to think he missed a ripe opportunity to hit back, but the basic decency of Biden’s restraint did not go unnoticed and made the case for his candidacy in a way that Trump is completely helpless to rebut.

Jamelle Bouie Voters care about nothing more than Covid, and the Covid moment at the beginning was the most important one. Biden could speak to the challenge of the pandemic, while Trump dismissed it. Once that happened, the debate was functionally over.

Elizabeth Bruenig When Biden decided to bring up the allegations swirling around his son Hunter before the moderator could touch the subject, it seemed to jolt Trump out of his practiced irenity. From there on, the real Trump emerged, tossing out catty barbs and bitchy insults. (The cut-mic rule seemed to effectively discourage him from interruption sprees, probably because he knows mouthing ripostes silently looks impotent.)

Christopher Buskirk Early in the debate I thought the pivotal moment for Biden was when he refused to deny unequivocally the legitimacy of Hunter’s emails and texts, saying only that nothing unethical or illegal was done. Though that may come back to haunt him, it was late in the debate when he said he would legalize millions of people in the country illegally and that he would put the oil industry out of business over time, which seems more likely to cause serious electoral damage in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Linda Chavez The debate’s new microphone-muting policy saved Trump from himself.

Gail Collins Trump on children being separated from their parents at the border was just chillingly cold. And, on the same subject, announcing that the people who come back for their court hearings had “the lowest IQ.”

Matthew Continetti The contrast on the coronavirus was stark. Trump said he was for resuming in-person schooling and opening the economy as much as possible, while Biden left open the possibility of future lockdowns. The many parents who have grown frustrated with remote schooling may be receptive to Trump’s approach.

Michelle Cottle Repeatedly, Biden stressed that he doesn’t look at challenges and policies in terms of red states and blue states. He promised to be the president of all Americans and to make sure that even those who don’t vote for him feel represented. This message has been central to Biden’s campaign and his brand. It will sound hokey to many political obsessives, but it is a compelling one for a nation exhausted by the past three years of division, rage and chaos.

Ross Douthat Biden managed to somewhat pre-empt Trump’s attacks on his son’s alleged buckraking by bringing up the president’s taxes, which bogged Trump down in a long self-justifying ramble. If this was the president going for the jugular, his thrust was too easily blunted to define the night or change the race.

Michelle Goldberg Mocking Biden’s concern for struggling families sitting around their kitchen table, Trump tried to position himself as being above political clichés, but he just came off like a callous schmuck.

Nicholas Kristof Whenever Covid-19 comes up, Trump inevitably flounders. He blames China, he says that even more people would have died without him, he says that Democrats are blocking an economic stimulus package, he blames Dr. Anthony Fauci — but none of it is credible. When the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population and roughly 20 percent of the world’s Covid-19 deaths, there is just nothing Trump can say. He had no defense for his failure to respond adequately to Covid-19.

Matt Labash I would rather eat a live puppy with baby-seal sprinkles than moderate one of these things. It’s that thankless a task. And NBC’s Kristen Welker generally did a bang-up job. But when Trump asked Biden “what’s that all about?” on the most pressing news item of the night — Biden being implicated by his son’s former business partner as potentially profiteering on a China contract — she rescued Biden by cutting Trump off. Why? Let ‘em scrap.

Liz Mair It’s possible that Trump’s assaults on Biden as “bought and paid for” by foreign governments, companies and people will prove more effective than detractors expect because normal people don’t have time to read news stories debunking these kinds of claims, and they generally believe all politicians are crooks who are lining their pockets whenever they can.

Daniel McCarthy Trump was effective in calling attention to two Biden weaknesses: members of his party are more favorable to socialized medicine than Biden is, setting up a conflict — or betrayal — if he becomes president, and the failure of Biden to deliver on his current promises when he was part of the Obama administration, and in his nearly five decades in government.

Melanye Price Best moment was when Biden called Trump Abraham Lincoln. The humor of it only highlighted how ridiculous Trump was for making the comparison.

Bret Stephens Did I catch Biden saying, in an echo of Reagan in his debate with Jimmy Carter, “There you go again”? As Borat might say: “It’s a very nice!”

Héctor Tobar Trump succeeded in taking over big sections of the debate. But Biden fought back with moments of pointed anger. When Trump went after “blue state” governors over Covid, Biden said he’d be president for all Americans. Biden rightly called the separation of immigrant children a national disgrace — and looked truly outraged as he did so.

Charlie Warzel The president’s response to reports that his administration cannot find the parents of 500-plus children separated at the border was that the facilities are very clean and the children are “so well taken care of.” There were plenty of low points this evening, but this one stood out.

Peter Wehner Biden spoke with authentic passion about Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents. Trump not only showed no remorse; he argued that those kids were being “so well taken care of.” Biden showed compassion toward parentless children while Trump showed callousness. So it turned out to be more than a moment in a debate; it was a window into the soul of both men.

Will Wilkinson Shortly after raising false hope that a Covid-19 vaccine will soon be available, Trump backpedaled. “I didn’t say over soon,” the president said, adding that “we’re learning to live with it.” Learning to live with it? Biden retorted, people are “learning to die with it.” Biden effectively blamed America’s atrocious death toll on Trump’s vain ineptitude and made a strong case that he’d do better. By itself, that’s enough to win the debate and, probably, the election.

Jamelle Bouie President Trump has said many monstrous things during his time in office, but responding to a question on separated children with a brag about the conditions in which they suffer (“They are so well-taken care of”) is grotesque.

Elizabeth Bruenig When Biden, exasperated with Trump’s attacks on the specter of universal health care, declared “he is running against someone else,” he was right. The suggestion that Biden is a far-left radical is transparently absurd; as Biden pointed out, he ran to beat the left, and he won. People who need more than modest, smartly negotiated incremental help will have to wait a little longer.

Christopher Buskirk During the discussion of Covid-19 early in the debate, Biden described the pillars of his plan as including the deployment of rapid testing and keeping customers at restaurants socially distanced, including the use of plexiglass between tables. Both measures have been widely implemented for months. Here in Arizona, where I live, rapid tests are plentiful and my friends and family have gotten results in less than hour. Likewise restaurants have been open using the protocols he described. This suggests that he’s unaware of how many states have successfully implemented such plans.

Linda Chavez When Biden looked at his watch to check how much time remained in the debate, it was reminiscent of a moment in the 1992 town hall debate when George H.W. Bush also checked his watch. Biden appeared to be gauging how much time he had left to close the sale. Unlike Bush, he delivered when in his closing statement he promised to be a president for all Americans.

Gail Collins OK, not a good moment when Biden checked his watch.

Matthew Continetti Biden didn’t deny his goal of “transitioning” from the oil industry. That admission is guaranteed to show up in attack ads soon.

Michelle Cottle In response to Biden’s outrage over this administration’s inhumane policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border, Trump probably should have skipped bragging about cleanliness of the facilities where the kids were held and how perfectly they were treated. He could also have skipped the part where he snarked that the only migrants who bother to show up for their court dates under the “catch and release” system are those with “the lowest IQ.”

Ross Douthat Biden really, really doesn’t want to admit his son did anything wrong with his alleged influence-peddling, to the point of denying that he or anyone else made money in China. The election isn’t likely to turn on that point, but it does seem like a lie.

Michelle Goldberg Kristen Welker asked about people, especially people of color, who live near oil refineries and chemical plants that are making them sick. Trump had no idea what she was talking about. Biden gave a detailed and humane answer about “fence-line communities,” suggesting real familiarity with the language of environmental justice.

Nicholas Kristof When the issue of the U.S. government separating migrant children from parents and then being unable to locate some children’s parents came up, any normal person would feel compassion. But Trump showed not a hint of empathy and simply lashed out at smugglers, at Biden, at everyone. He cemented the unappealing sense that he has the capacity to feel compassion only for himself.

Matt Labash Trump was allegedly cleared as being COVID-negative by his doctor. Which doctor, we can’t say. (Dr. Sebastian Gorka?) But Biden might have made a huge boo-boo tonight by letting the debate commission remove the plexiglass partition. He is, by all accounts, sitting on a big, fat polling lead, even in swing states that Trump won in 2016. And now that even Texas is reportedly tied up, Trump’s best bet might have been to hock a Covid loogie on Biden, infect him with viral load, and let the fates take their course before Election Day. Take extra zinc, Uncle Joe.

Liz Mair Biden seemed to redefine his own health care plan to mean automatic Medicaid enrollment in certain states and not a true “public option,” which a Senate packed with a fresh block of moderate Democrats would never pass given the price tag and cost problems in states like Washington anyway.

Daniel McCarthy Something big but revealing is the overemphasis on Covid-19 during these debates — no president can deliver a miracle cure, and no plan amounts to more than waiting for a vaccine. Topics where a president can do more were shortchanged for an emotional media narrative. The virus is a big concern, but that doesn’t mean there’s a political answer.

Melanye Price A little noticed but important moment was when Biden seemingly broke with Barack Obama on immigration. It may be his Sister Souljah moment, an appeal to Latinos by criticizing Obama’s deportation policies.

Bret Stephens The moment Biden slyly made fun of Trump by calling him “Lincoln.” He punctured the president’s pomposity like a needle popping a helium balloon.

Héctor Tobar In the section about racial justice, Trump repeated his risible claim that he has done more for the African-American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln. Silly, ridiculous — and perhaps a fittingly stupid end to his political career.

Charlie Warzel The moment I was watching for was how Trump would spin the Rudy Giuliani-led allegations about Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails. But the president’s attacks were nearly incoherent. I have closely followed the saga playing out online, and I barely understood the references. I think it’s an example that the Trump campaign is so deep in its own information universe that they don’t realize it’s actually quite hard for outsiders to follow.

Peter Wehner Trump started out showing discipline and seemed nearly normal, but once again he showed he’s psychologically unable to stay there. About 25 minutes into the debate, the limbic system started to take charge. He was overwhelmed by his bottomless well of grievances and self-pity. Oh, and the greatest energy Trump demonstrated wasn’t on the pandemic, health care, racial injustice or the climate; it was on Hunter Biden laptop. QAnon and OANN world were pleased; the rest of America, not so much.

Will Wilkinson Trump claiming that “I am the least racist person in this room” and then arguing that asylum seekers who show up for their hearings have “the lowest IQ” perfectly encapsulates the man’s signature combination of mendacity, bigotry and gall.


Jamelle Bouie, Gail Collins, Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg, Nicholas Kristof and Bret Stephens are Times columnists.

Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) is a Times opinion writer.

Christopher Buskirk (@thechrisbuskirk) is the editor and publisher of the journal American Greatness and a contributing opinion writer.

Linda Chavez (@chavezlinda), a former Reagan White House director of public liaison, is a political commentator.

Matthew Continetti (@continetti) is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michelle Cottle (@mcottle) is a member of the Times editorial board.

Matt Labash, a former national correspondent at The Weekly Standard, is the author of “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader.”

Liz Mair (@LizMair), a strategist for campaigns by Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the founder and president of Mair Strategies.

Daniel McCarthy (@ToryAnarchist) is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Quarterly.

Melanye Price (@ProfMTP), a professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, is the author, most recently, of “The Race Whisperer: Barack Obama and the Political Uses of Race.”

Héctor Tobar (@TobarWriter), an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, is the author of “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” and a contributing opinion writer.

Charlie Warzel, a New York Times Opinion writer at large, covers technology, media, politics and online extremism.

Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner), a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the previous three Republican administrations, is a contributing opinion writer and the author of “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.”


Will Wilkinson, the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center, is a contributing opinion writer.


Kamala Harris, Mass Incarceration and Me

By Reginald Dwayne Betts

Oct. 20, 2020

Because senator Kamala Harris is a prosecutor and I am a felon, I have been following her political rise, with the same focus that my younger son tracks Steph Curry threes. Before it was in vogue to criticize prosecutors, my friends and I were exchanging tales of being railroaded by them. Shackled in oversized green jail scrubs, I listened to a prosecutor in a Fairfax County, Va., courtroom tell a judge that in one night I’d single-handedly changed suburban shopping forever. Everything the prosecutor said I did was true — I carried a pistol, carjacked a man, tried to rob two women. “He needs a long penitentiary sentence,” the prosecutor told the judge. I faced life in prison for carjacking the man. I pleaded guilty to that, to having a gun, to an attempted robbery. I was 16 years old. The old heads in prison would call me lucky for walking away with only a nine-year sentence.

I’d been locked up for about 15 months when I entered Virginia’s Southampton Correctional Center in 1998, the year I should have graduated from high school. In that prison, there were probably about a dozen other teenagers. Most of us had lengthy sentences — 30, 40, 50 years — all for violent felonies. Public talk of mass incarceration has centered on the war on drugs, wrongful convictions and Kafkaesque sentences for nonviolent charges, while circumventing the robberies, home invasions, murders and rape cases that brought us to prison.

The most difficult discussion to have about criminal-justice reform has always been about violence and accountability. You could release everyone from prison who currently has a drug offense and the United States would still outpace nearly every other country when it comes to incarceration. According to the Prison Policy Institute, of the nearly 1.3 million people incarcerated in state prisons, 183,000 are incarcerated for murder; 17,000 for manslaughter; 165,000 for sexual assault; 169,000 for robbery; and 136,000 for assault. That’s more than half of the state prison population.

When Harris decided to run for president, I thought the country might take the opportunity to grapple with the injustice of mass incarceration in a way that didn’t lose sight of what violence, and the sorrow it creates, does to families and communities. Instead, many progressives tried to turn the basic fact of Harris’s profession into an indictment against her. Shorthand for her career became: “She’s a cop,” meaning, her allegiance was with a system that conspires, through prison and policing, to harm Black people in America.

In the past decade or so, we have certainly seen ample evidence of how corrupt the system can be: Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book, “The New Jim Crow,” which argues that the war on drugs marked the return of America’s racist system of segregation and legal discrimination; Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” a series about the wrongful convictions of the Central Park Five, and her documentary “13th,” which delves into mass incarceration more broadly; and “Just Mercy,” a book by Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer, that has also been made into a film, chronicling his pursuit of justice for a man on death row, who is eventually exonerated. All of these describe the destructive force of prosecutors, giving a lot of run to the belief that anyone who works within a system responsible for such carnage warrants public shame.

My mother had an experience that gave her a different perspective on prosecutors — though I didn’t know about it until I came home from prison on March 4, 2005, when I was 24. That day, she sat me down and said, “I need to tell you something.” We were in her bedroom in the townhouse in Suitland, Md., that had been my childhood home, where as a kid she’d call me to bring her a glass of water. I expected her to tell me that despite my years in prison, everything was good now. But instead she told me about something that happened nearly a decade earlier, just weeks after my arrest. She left for work before the sun rose, as she always did, heading to the federal agency that had employed her my entire life. She stood at a bus stop 100 feet from my high school, awaiting the bus that would take her to the train that would take her to a stop near her job in the nation’s capital. But on that morning, a man yanked her into a secluded space, placed a gun to her head and raped her. When she could escape, she ran wildly into the 6 a.m. traffic.

My mother’s words turned me into a mumbling and incoherent mess, unable to grasp how this could have happened to her. I knew she kept this secret to protect me. I turned to Google and searched the word “rape” along with my hometown and was wrecked by the violence against women that I found. My mother told me her rapist was a Black man. And I thought he should spend the rest of his years staring at the pockmarked walls of prison cells that I knew so well.

The prosecutor’s job, unlike the defense attorney’s or judge’s, is to do justice. What does that mean when you are asked by some to dole out retribution measured in years served, but blamed by others for the damage incarceration can do? The outrage at this country’s criminal-justice system is loud today, but it hasn’t led us to develop better ways of confronting my mother’s world from nearly a quarter-century ago: weekends visiting her son in a prison in Virginia; weekdays attending the trial of the man who sexually assaulted her.

We said goodbye to my grandmother in the same Baptist church that, in June 2019, Senator Kamala Harris, still pursuing the Democratic nomination for president, went to give a major speech about why she became a prosecutor. I hadn’t been inside Brookland Baptist Church for a decade, and returning reminded me of Grandma Mary and the eight years of letters she mailed to me in prison. The occasion for Harris’s speech was the annual Freedom Fund dinner of the South Carolina State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P. The evening began with the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and at the opening chord nearly everyone in the room stood. There to write about the senator, I had been standing already and mouthed the words of the first verse before realizing I’d never sung any further.

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Each table in the banquet hall was filled with folks dressed in their Sunday best. Servers brought plates of food and pitchers of iced tea to the tables. Nearly everyone was Black. The room was too loud for me to do more than crouch beside guests at their tables and scribble notes about why they attended. Speakers talked about the chapter’s long history in the civil rights movement. One called for the current generation of young rappers to tell a different story about sacrifice. The youngest speaker of the night said he just wanted to be safe. I didn’t hear anyone mention mass incarceration. And I knew in a different decade, my grandmother might have been in that audience, taking in the same arguments about personal agency and responsibility, all the while wondering why her grandbaby was still locked away. If Harris couldn’t persuade that audience that her experiences as a Black woman in America justified her decision to become a prosecutor, I knew there were few people in this country who could be moved.

Describing her upbringing in a family of civil rights activists, Harris argued that the ongoing struggle for equality needed to include both prosecuting criminal defendants who had victimized Black people and protecting the rights of Black criminal defendants. “I was cleareyed that prosecutors were largely not people who looked like me,” she said. This mattered for Harris because of the “prosecutors that refused to seat Black jurors, refused to prosecute lynchings, disproportionately condemned young Black men to death row and looked the other way in the face of police brutality.” When she became a prosecutor in 1990, she was one of only a handful of Black people in her office. When she was elected district attorney of San Francisco in 2003, she recalled, she was one of just three Black D.A.s nationwide. And when she was elected California attorney general in 2010, there were no other Black attorneys general in the country. At these words, the crowd around me clapped. “I knew the unilateral power that prosecutors had with the stroke of a pen to make a decision about someone else’s life or death,” she said.

Harris offered a pair of stories as evidence of the importance of a Black woman’s doing this work. Once, ear hustling, she listened to colleagues discussing ways to prove criminal defendants were gang-affiliated. If a racial-profiling manual existed, their signals would certainly be included: baggy pants, the place of arrest and the rap music blaring from vehicles. She said that she’d told her colleagues: “So, you know that neighborhood you were talking about? Well, I got family members and friends who live in that neighborhood. You know the way you were talking about how folks were dressed? Well, that’s actually stylish in my community.” She continued: “You know that music you were talking about? Well, I got a tape of that music in my car right now.”

The second example was about the mothers of murdered children. She told the audience about the women who had come to her office when she was San Francisco’s D.A. — women who wanted to speak with her, and her alone, about their sons. “The mothers came, I believe, because they knew I would see them,” Harris said. “And I mean literally see them. See their grief. See their anguish.” They complained to Harris that the police were not investigating. “My son is being treated like a statistic,” they would say. Everyone in that Southern Baptist church knew that the mothers and their dead sons were Black. Harris outlined the classic dilemma of Black people in this country: being simultaneously overpoliced and underprotected. Harris told the audience that all communities deserved to be safe.

Among the guests in the room that night whom I talked to, no one had an issue with her work as a prosecutor. A lot of them seemed to believe that only people doing dirt had issues with prosecutors. I thought of myself and my friends who have served long terms, knowing that in a way, Harris was talking about Black people’s needing protection from us — from the violence we perpetrated to earn those years in a series of cells.

Harris came up as a prosecutor in the 1990s, when both the political culture and popular culture were developing a story about crime and violence that made incarceration feel like a moral response. Back then, films by Black directors — “New Jack City,” “Menace II Society,” “Boyz n the Hood” — turned Black violence into a genre where murder and crack-dealing were as ever-present as Black fathers were absent. Those were the years when Representative Charlie Rangel, a Democrat, argued that “we should not allow people to distribute this poison without fear that they might be arrested” and “go to jail for the rest of their natural life.” Those were the years when President Clinton signed legislation that ended federal parole for people with three violent crime convictions and encouraged states to essentially eliminate parole; made it more difficult for defendants to challenge their convictions in court; and made it nearly impossible to challenge prison conditions.

Back then, it felt like I was just one of an entire generation of young Black men learning the logic of count time and lockdown. With me were Anthony Winn and Terell Kelly and a dozen others, all lost to prison during those years. Terell was sentenced to 33 years for murdering a man when he was 17 — a neighborhood beef turned deadly. Home from college for two weeks, a 19-year-old Anthony robbed four convenience stores — he’d been carrying a pistol during three. After he was sentenced by four judges, he had a total of 36 years.

Most of us came into those cells with trauma, having witnessed or experienced brutality before committing our own. Prison, a factory of violence and despair, introduced us to more of the same. And though there were organizations working to get rid of the death penalty, end mandatory minimums, bring back parole and even abolish prisons, there were few ways for us to know that they existed. We suffered. And we felt alone. Because of this, sometimes I reduce my friends’ stories to the cruelty of doing time. I forget that Terell and I walked prison yards as teenagers, discussing Malcolm X and searching for mentors in the men around us. I forget that Anthony and I talked about the poetry of Sonia Sanchez the way others praised DMX. He taught me the meaning of the word “patina” and introduced me to the music of Bill Withers. There were Luke and Fats; and Juvie, who could give you the sharpest edge-up in America with just a razor and comb.

When I left prison in 2005, they all had decades left. Then I went to law school and believed I owed it to them to work on their cases and help them get out. I’ve persuaded lawyers to represent friends pro bono. Put together parole packets — basically job applications for freedom: letters of recommendation and support from family and friends; copies of certificates attesting to vocational training; the record of college credits. We always return to the crimes to provide explanation and context. We argue that today each one little resembles the teenager who pulled a gun. And I write a letter — which is less from a lawyer and more from a man remembering what it means to want to go home to his mother. I write, struggling to condense decades of life in prison into a 10-page case for freedom. Then I find my way to the parole board’s office in Richmond, Va., and try to persuade the members to let my friends see a sunrise for the first time.

The C.D.C. offers tips for voting safely during a pandemic.

New York City billboards featuring Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner draw a threatening letter.

Kamala Harris urges Georgia’s Black voters to reject racism with their ballots.

Juvie and Luke have made parole; Fats, represented by the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law, was granted a conditional pardon by Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam. All three are home now, released just as a pandemic would come to threaten the lives of so many others still inside. Now free, they’ve sent me text messages with videos of themselves hugging their mothers for the first time in decades, casting fishing lines from boats drifting along rivers they didn’t expect to see again, enjoying a cold beer that isn’t contraband.

In February, after 25 years, Virginia passed a bill making people incarcerated for at least 20 years for crimes they committed before their 18th birthdays eligible for parole. Men who imagined they would die in prison now may see daylight. Terell will be eligible. These years later, he’s the mentor we searched for, helping to organize, from the inside, community events for children, and he’s spoken publicly about learning to view his crimes through the eyes of his victim’s family. My man Anthony was 19 when he committed his crime. In the last few years, he’s organized poetry readings, book clubs and fatherhood classes. When Gregory Fairchild, a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, began an entrepreneurship program at Dillwyn Correctional Center, Anthony was among the graduates, earning all three of the certificates that it offered. He worked to have me invited as the commencement speaker, and what I remember most is watching him share a meal with his parents for the first time since his arrest. But he must pray that the governor grants him a conditional pardon, as he did for Fats.

I tell myself that my friends are unique, that I wouldn’t fight so hard for just anybody. But maybe there is little particularly distinct about any of us — beyond that we’d served enough time in prison. There was a skinny light-skinned 15-year-old kid who came into prison during the years that we were there. The rumor was that he’d broken into the house of an older woman and sexually assaulted her. We all knew he had three life sentences. Someone stole his shoes. People threatened him. He’d had to break a man’s jaw with a lock in a sock to prove he’d fight if pushed. As a teenager, he was experiencing the worst of prison. And I know that had he been my cellmate, had I known him the way I know my friends, if he reached out to me today, I’d probably be arguing that he should be free.

But I know that on the other end of our prison sentences was always someone weeping. During the middle of Harris’s presidential campaign, a friend referred me to a woman with a story about Senator Harris that she felt I needed to hear. Years ago, this woman’s sister had been missing for days, and the police had done little. Happenstance gave this woman an audience with then-Attorney General Harris. A coordinated multicity search followed. The sister had been murdered; her body was found in a ravine. The woman told me that “Kamala understands the politics of victimization as well as anyone who has been in the system, which is that this kind of case — a 50-year-old Black woman gone missing or found dead — ordinarily does not get any resources put toward it.” They caught the man who murdered her sister, and he was sentenced to 131 years. I think about the man who assaulted my mother, a serial rapist, because his case makes me struggle with questions of violence and vengeance and justice. And I stop thinking about it. I am inconsistent. I want my friends out, but I know there is no one who can convince me that this man shouldn’t spend the rest of his life in prison.

My mother purchased her first single-family home just before I was released from prison. One version of this story is that she purchased the house so that I wouldn’t spend a single night more than necessary in the childhood home I walked away from in handcuffs. A truer account is that by leaving Suitland, my mother meant to burn the place from memory.

I imagined that I had singularly introduced my mother to the pain of the courts. I was wrong. The first time she missed work to attend court proceedings was to witness the prosecution of a kid the same age as I was when I robbed a man. He was probably from Suitland, and he’d attempted to rob my mother at gunpoint. The second time, my mother attended a series of court dates involving me, dressed in her best work clothes to remind the prosecutor and judge and those in the courtroom that the child facing a life sentence had a mother who loved him. The third time, my mother took off days from work to go to court alone and witness the trial of the man who raped her and two other women. A prosecutor’s subpoena forced her to testify, and her solace came from knowing that prison would prevent him from attacking others.

After my mother told me what had happened to her, we didn’t mention it to each other again for more than a decade. But then in 2018, she and I were interviewed on the podcast “Death, Sex & Money.” The host asked my mother about going to court for her son’s trial when he was facing life. “I was raped by gunpoint,” my mother said. “It happened just before he was sentenced. So when I was going to court for Dwayne, I was also going for a court trial for myself.” I hadn’t forgotten what happened, but having my mother say it aloud to a stranger made it far more devastating.

On the last day of the trial of the man who raped her, my mother told me, the judge accepted his guilty plea. She remembers only that he didn’t get enough time. She says her nose began to bleed. When I asked her what she would have wanted to happen to her attacker, she replied, “That I’d taken the deputy’s gun and shot him.”

Harris has studied crime-scene and autopsy photos of the dead. She has confronted men in court who have sexually assaulted their children, sexually assaulted the elderly, scalped their lovers. In her 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” Harris praised the work of Sunny Schwartz — creator of the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project, the first restorative-justice program in the country to offer services to offenders and victims, which began at a jail in San Francisco. It aims to help inmates who have committed violent crimes by giving them tools to de-escalate confrontations. Harris wrote a bill with a state senator to ensure that children who witness violence can receive mental health treatment. And she argued that safety is a civil right, and that a 60-year sentence for a series of restaurant armed robberies, where some victims were bound or locked in freezers, “should tell anyone considering viciously preying on citizens and businesses that they will be caught, convicted and sent to prison — for a very long time.”

Politicians and the public acknowledge mass incarceration is a problem, but the lengthy prison sentences of men and women incarcerated during the 1990s have largely not been revisited. While the evidence of any prosecutor doing work on this front is slim, as a politician arguing for basic systemic reforms, Harris has noted the need to “unravel the decades-long effort to make sentencing guidelines excessively harsh, to the point of being inhumane”; criticized the bail system; and called for an end to private prisons and criticized the companies that charge absurd rates for phone calls and electronic-monitoring services.

In June, months into the Covid-19 pandemic, and before she was tapped as the vice-presidential nominee, I had the opportunity to interview Harris by phone. A police officer’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, choking the life out of him as he called for help, had been captured on video. Each night, thousands around the world protested. During our conversation, Harris told me that as the only Black woman in the United States Senate “in the midst of the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery,” countless people had asked for stories about her experiences with racism. Harris said that she was not about to start telling them “about my world for a number of reasons, including you should know about the issue that affects this country as part of the greatest stain on this country.” Exhausted, she no longer answered the questions. I imagined she believes, as Toni Morrison once said, that “the very serious function of racism” is “distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.”

But these days, even in the conversations that I hear my children having, race suffuses so much. I tell Harris that my 12-year-old son, Micah, told his classmates and teachers: “As you all know, my dad went to jail. Shouldn’t the police who killed Floyd go to jail?” My son wanted to know why prison seemed to be reserved for Black people and wondered whose violence demanded a prison cell.

“In the criminal-justice system,” Harris replied, “the irony, and, frankly, the hypocrisy is that whenever we use the words ‘accountability’ and ‘consequence,’ it’s always about the individual who was arrested.” Again, she began to make a case that would be familiar to any progressive about the need to make the system accountable. And while I found myself agreeing, I began to fear that the point was just to find ways to treat officers in the same brutal way that we treat everyone else. I thought about the men I’d represented in parole hearings — and the friends I’d be representing soon. And wondered out loud to Harris: How do we get to their freedom?

“We need to reimagine what public safety looks like,” the senator told me, noting that she would talk about a public health model. “Are we looking at the fact that if you focus on issues like education and preventive things, then you don’t have a system that’s reactive?” The list of those things becomes long: affordable housing, job-skills development, education funding, homeownership. She remembered how during the early 2000s, when she was the San Francisco district attorney and started Back on Track (a re-entry program that sought to reduce future incarceration by building the skills of the men facing drug charges), many people were critical. “Youre a D.A. Youre supposed to be putting people in jail, not letting them out,’” she said people told her.

It always returns to this for me — who should be in prison, and for how long? I know that American prisons do little to address violence. If anything, they exacerbate it. If my friends walk out of prison changed from the boys who walked in, it will be because they’ve fought with the system — with themselves and sometimes with the men around them — to be different. Most violent crimes go unsolved, and the pain they cause is nearly always unresolved. And those who are convicted — many, maybe all — do far too much time in prison.

And yet, I imagine what I would do if the Maryland Parole Commission contacted my mother, informing her that the man who assaulted her is eligible for parole. I’m certain I’d write a letter explaining how one morning my mother didn’t go to work because she was in a hospital; tell the board that the memory of a gun pointed at her head has never left; explain how when I came home, my mother told me the story. Some violence changes everything.

The thing that makes you suited for a conversation in America might be the very thing that precludes you from having it. Terell, Anthony, Fats, Luke and Juvie have taught me that the best indicator of whether I believe they should be free is our friendship. Learning that a Black man in the city I called home raped my mother taught me that the pain and anger for a family member can be unfathomable. It makes me wonder if parole agencies should contact me at all — if they should ever contact victims and their families.

Perhaps if Harris becomes the vice president we can have a national conversation about our contradictory impulses around crime and punishment. For three decades, as a line prosecutor, a district attorney, an attorney general and now a senator, her work has allowed her to witness many of them. Prosecutors make a convenient target. But if the system is broken, it is because our flaws more than our virtues animate it. Confronting why so many of us believe prisons must exist may force us to admit that we have no adequate response to some violence. Still, I hope that Harris reminds the country that simply acknowledging the problem of mass incarceration does not address it — any more than keeping my friends in prison is a solution to the violence and trauma that landed them there.


Sudan Is Being Rewarded For Its Revolution With Blackmail

By Nesrine Malik

25 Oct 2020


A protest against economic hardship in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 October 2020. Photograph: Marwan Ali/AP


Few countries in the world have been subjected to as many punitive sanctions as Sudan. After the deposed president Omar al-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989, the country was gradually cut off from the rest of the world, with the upholding of human rights the rationale. Economic sanctions were followed by a spot on the state sponsors of terrorism list, and then by the indictment of Bashir by the international criminal court. At some point it became hard to keep up with all the legislation, punishment for the reckless harbouring of terrorists in the 1990s, and the brutal slaughter of marginalised ethnic groups in areas such as Darfur. There were sanctions on individuals, a US travel ban on all Sudanese-born people, acts of Congress and lawsuits by members 9/11 victims’ families.

The country became a sort of human rights cause celebre, attracting Hollywood stars and a vast network of lobbyists in Washington who, whenever it seemed like there might be a relaxation of sanctions, campaigned fiercely to keep them going. Bashir was a president over whom it was easy to reach consensus. Here was an African brute in the classic mould, a military man who turned on his own people, and a sharia-wielding terror sponsor to boot.

But it was not Bashir or his government that suffered. He remained in power, if anything getting stronger. He and his vast network of cronies had the means to circumvent sanctions, finding ways to do business and enrich themselves. The Sudanese people, those whom the global human rights community was ostensibly supporting, struggled in isolation, in poverty and with a lack of access to basic healthcare. Eventually, interest in Sudan faded. The war on terror ran out of steam after the killing of Osama bin Laden and the weakening of al-Qaida, and the moral outrage over Darfur found catharsis via war crimes indictments. The international community moved on, but all the sanctions stayed.

The world remembered Sudan last year, when an epic revolution overthrew Bashir at long last. His removal came at a heavy cost. Many were killed in confrontations with security forces, and the economy, already on the brink, was pushed over the edge. But it was worth it. The feeling on the streets was that the blood, the economic instability, the political jeopardy were all worth it if the Sudanese were to have a shot at democracy and dignity.

The United States, the Sudanese people’s alleged white knight, took one look at the success of the Sudanese revolution and decided to blackmail the country in return for taking it off the state sponsors of terror list, reintegrating it into the international financial and trade system, and providing aid. Last week Donald Trump made clear that the price tag would be $335m (£256m) of compensation for terrorist attacks that took place under the old regime. Alongside this, the US is forcing the fragile new interim government, already struggling to maintain its mandate amid worsening economic conditions and the plotting of Bashir loyalists, to recognise Israel and normalise relations – a move that is hugely unpopular with the Sudanese people, and about which they weren’t consulted.

Even for those of us in Sudan who had given up expecting more, this naked exploitation of a country brought to its knees but still crawling to freedom is hard to stomach. The choice for the Sudanese government is to risk economic collapse and a resurgence of the old forces – essentially the overturning of the revolution – or to accept all of the US’s conditions. That is no choice at all. Trump crowed about the deal, tweeting that Sudan had “agreed” to pay the $335m, and that this was “justice” for the American people. The agreement to normalise relations with Israel was announced last week, and has already triggered anger domestically. The condition seems to have been thrown in just because the US could, and amounts to bullying a country with which Israel is not likely to have many trade or diplomatic ties anyway. It’s about building numbers and momentum in the Arab world so that more valuable regional assets, such as Saudi Arabia, can be convinced to normalise relations too.

That is all Sudan is – a weak pawn. It’s a case study in how the moral framework within which human rights law is drafted and enforced is designed not to bring about regime change and the safety and security of people suffering under despots, but to leverage the victimhood of those people to advance other interests. The first of these interests is self-image. Western powers can maintain their charade of virtue by coming down hard on poor countries that have little strategic importance. The second is a need to divert scrutiny away from allies, such as Saudi Arabia, that have never been in the dock to answer questions about sponsorship of terrorism or the quashing of internal dissent. Who has attempted to hold Riyadh accountable for its palming off of Osama bin Laden to other countries to wreak havoc, its exportation of dangerous hardline Islamism? Indignation, sanctions, censure and condemnation are instead reserved for countries such as Sudan.

Even with these burdens, the Sudanese people managed to liberate themselves from Bashir’s grip. But the injustice they have suffered was compounded by the very system that was supposed to help them: the west’s hypocritical, counterproductive human rights regime.


Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist


Dare We Dream Of A Joe Biden Win? Given All That's At Stake, Not Yet

By Jonathan Freedland

23 Oct 2020

Afriend calls to say he’s been having anxiety dreams about Donald Trump. Another, a highly rational man with a forensic intellect, tells me he’s found himself praying for a Joe Biden victory. A third reports checking polling website in the dead of night. Sometimes twice.

None of these people live in the US, and none is a US citizen. More to the point, none of them is especially neurotic. But something about the US presidential election, little more than a week away, is stressing people out. One study for the American Psychological Association found that more than two-thirds of American adults describe the current contest as “a significant source of stress in their lives”, and that angst is radiating across the world.

Last night’s second and final TV debate will hardly have helped. Trailing in the polls, it was Trump who needed a moment that might upend the race, and he didn’t get one. On the other hand, he performed better than in the first bout – still the same stream of lies, but delivered with greater self-restraint – allowing commentators to rate this encounter a tie, give or take. Which means we’re back to the status quo ante, with all the same dread as before.

The pundit class has an extra layer of unease. Addressing her fellow TV talking heads on Thursday, the MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt declared that none of them were daring to say what they truly think because “we’re all too shell-shocked by what happened in 2016”. If they hadn’t been so badly burned by the experience of mistakenly assuming Hillary Clinton would win four years ago, they’d now be willing to say out loud what, in Hunt’s view, is obvious: that all the signs point to a comfortable Biden victory on 3 November.

For all that, I’m in the same camp as my insomniac friends, doomscrolling through the news at ungodly hours. I admit that much of this is superstition, with little relationship to reason. But after what happened last time, and with so much at stake – not only for the US, but for the planet – I’d argue that it falls into a category we might call justified irrationality.

It might be the warning from polling guru Nate Silver that, sure, his model currently gives Trump only a 12% chance of victory, but that “12% is not nothing”. It might be that in the key battleground states, “Republicans have swamped Democrats in adding new voters to the rolls”, according to one expert analysis.

That raises the possibility that, while Trump is palpably losing among women, people of colour and Americans with college degrees, he’s expanding the segment of the electorate that has always loved him: white male voters in rural areas especially. In 2016, the number-crunchers assumed he had maxed out that demographic, but what if there’s more meat on that bone? Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the Trump campaign has a “massive get-out-the-vote” operation in the key states, “with a larger volunteer effort that has been on the ground longer than Biden”.

I can keep going in this vein, but here are two specific worries. First, a poll lead of a few points in a must-win state is not good enough for Biden. Voter suppression – deliberately reducing turnout in Democratic areas, especially among Black and minority Americans – is deeply entrenched. Witness this month the early voters queueing for 11 hours to cast a ballot this month, inevitable when Black neighbourhoods have far fewer polling stations than white neighbourhoods. It means that wanting to vote for Biden is not the same as actually managing to do so.

What’s more, millions of Americans are voting for Biden by mail – and yet postal ballots tend to get rejected in greater numbers than in-person votes, deemed spoilt because someone used the wrong kind of envelope, their signature didn’t match the one on file, or their vote arrived late. Legal battles over which votes to accept could ultimately go all the way to the Supreme Court. Next week is set to see the swearing-in of Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett, just in time to enable Republicans to win those election-related cases by at least a 5-4 majority.

A second worry arises from a 2016 memory. At the Republican convention in Cleveland that year, I heard Kellyanne Conway predict that Trump would do better than expected, because so many voters were not telling the truth to pollsters: it was not “socially acceptable” to back Trump, so people kept it quiet. Given all he’s said and done since, surely it’s even more socially unacceptable, at least in some circles, to be a Trump supporter now. Could polls be missing shy Republicans, including those who were looking for permission to vote for Trump and found it in his relatively restrained debate performance last night?

Set against all that is, I know, a much greater weight of evidence in Biden’s favour. He’s so far ahead that even if the polls are badly off, he still wins. And he leads in the states that matter most. It’s true that Clinton was ahead in 2016 too, but her lead was much more volatile; Biden’s has been steadier. His campaign has a huge war chest, comfortably able to outspend Trump in TV ads in this last stretch.

Above all, this is not 2016: Trump is now a known quantity, and Biden is not the polarising figure that Clinton was. Most Americans regard Biden as safe, unthreatening and fundamentally decent (which is why Democrats were shrewd to pick him).

Those are all rational reasons to breathe easy and prepare for a Biden win. The trouble is, elections are not a wholly rational business. They involve fear and hope, our future and our fate. That’s why they invade our dreams.



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