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May 7, 2006 - Press & Sun Bulletin (NY)

Group Decries Racism In The Justice System

Drug War May Exacerbate Issue

By Brian Liberatore, Press & Sun-Bulletin

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

BINGHAMTON - Fifteen years ago, Teresa Aviles' son called from jail and said he was in trouble. "What is it?" she asked. "Drugs," he said.

"How much did you have with you?" she asked.

"None," he said. Aviles, who lives in the Bronx, was relieved thinking her 26-year-old son, Isidro, would be sent home.

He was never sent home. Isidro Aviles,who was black, was sentenced to 26 years in federal prison on conspiracy charges. He had no prior convictions. Seven years into his sentence, Aviles died. His mother never found out what killed him.

Aviles shared her story with about 30 people Saturday at MacArthur Elementary School, Binghamton. Her presentation was part of a community forum called "Understanding the Problem of Racism in the Judicial System."

"I can't change what happened to my son," she said. "But I can try to change the world for my other son, and my grandson."

Aviles' story led into a discussion among the group. The discussion centered around the price of the war on drugs as it is exacted disproportionately on America's minorities and their families.

Blacks make up 17 percent of the general population in New York, but more than half of the prison population, census figures show. And the majority of drug offenders in the state's prisons are minorities, according to the Binghamton University Political Action Coalition, an advocacy group working to change New York's drug laws.

"I don't think people should be allowed to sell drugs and get away with it, but drug addiction is a disease and should be treated," Aviles said. "Our money would be better spent on treatment than locking up these penny-ante drug dealers."

The group Saturday discussed theories and personal experiences with racism, police, justice and the consequences of incarcerating more than 2 million Americans. The only conclusion was there are no easy answers.

"It's important to understand what we're talking about when we say racism," Steven Munoz of Johnson City said. "Races like blacks and whites were created. This idea that there are different races was designed to create this kind of inequality."

"We have to deal with people identifying us in a particular way," said Gladys Jimenez-Munoz,who helped organize the event. "This way we identify people has social, economic and political issues tied to it."

"It's an issue that just sort of sits," said Mary Raymondi of Endicott. "It has permeated the system. There's very little action taken because it's such a large issue."

When asked what could be done, Aviles said, "You might make a difference when you vote. You might make a difference if you're on a jury."

Sponsors of the event included the Binghamton Justice Project, the Broome County YWCA, BU's School of Education and Human Development, the Office of the Dean at Harpur College, and BU's Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies program.

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