A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Last week a federal lawsuit against stop-and-frisk took major steps forward, and a decision by Judge Shira Scheindlin about whether the suit can proceed as a class action is soon expected.

The suit, originally filed in 2008, accuses the NYPD, Ray Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg, the city, and several individual officers of using the practice of stop-and-frisks to maintain an unconstitutional racial profiling system.

Judge Scheindlin should be applauded for refusing to cave to pressure from city and NYPD lawyers to shut down the suit, and for ruling that that testimony of Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University professor of criminology, can be used in the case.  Fagan, after studying five years of NYPD stops, found the NYPD “made 150,000 unconstitutional or legally unjustified stops” between 2004 and 2009.

Despite the fact that possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in 1977, the NYPD continues to use the practice of stop-and-frisk to illegally search and arrest tens of thousands of New Yorkers each year.

Over the past decade, the NYPD has arrested 400,000 people for low-level marijuana possession, most of whom are Black and Latino despite whites using at higher rates. Last year, a record 684,330 New Yorkers were stopped and frisked.  Almost all of those stopped were Black or Latino (87%), a figure that matches prior years

Milk Not Jails is continues to fight against racist criminal justice and policing practices which have torn communities apart and wasted scarce economic resources.  Join Milk Not Jails and other organizations at Foley Square in Manhattan this Sunday at 2pm for a demonstration against stop-and-frisk and illegal marijuana arrests.  Click here for more information about the event.

Update 5/16: Judge Scheindlin grants case class-action status, opens door for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers unlawfully stopped and frisked.

In March 2010, Lauren Melodia was finishing a cold winter in a rural New York prison town.  She had moved upstate with the ambitious plan of organizing residents to end the town’s economic dependence on incarceration.  It was not going well.

Founder Lauren Melodia (left) and early supporter Dara Greenwald (right) serve up some vanilla at the the ice cream social in Syracuse, New York, Milk Not Jails’ first.

“I thought my community development experience and my dedication would convince people to work with me,” Melodia says, “but I couldn’t get the town planner to work with me, because he felt my funding source – George Soros’ Open Society Foundation (OSF) – was too liberal.

Before relocating to a prison town in upstate New York, Melodia had spent four years organizing for criminal justice reform with prison families and another year organizing for community development with public housing residents.  She’d played a large role in a movement to end the high cost prison families had to pay to receive calls from their loved ones inside.  The Campaign for Telephone Justice was victorious in 2009, and while Melodia was ecstatic about the victory she felt it was just one small drop in a bucket of criminal justice reform.

Then, as now, Republicans controlled the State Senate and they voted as a block to oppose drug sentencing reform, alternatives to incarceration, and prison closures.  They feared that such reforms would cost their districts jobs and revenue.  The Campaign for Telephone Justice had tremendous difficulty getting a Republican to sponsor its bill – the only way to move anything through the Senate Crime Committee.  The strategizing to galvanize rural politicians to support the Campaign for Telephone Justice’s bill made Melodia think, “we have to figure out how to make it easier to win or demands.  The Campaign for Telephone Justice took three years.  How can we ask for more? And make changes faster?”

Melodia was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship from OSF with the plan to find new strategies to build rural support for criminal justice reform.  She started her fellowship with a bike trip through the Adirondacks, one of the country’s largest public parks that is also home to 10 prisons.  “Seeing the region at such a slow pace, one really gets a sense of its potential.  There are tons of beautiful lakes and forest.  But the rest of the Adirondacks is spotted with GMO corn fields, golf courses, and prisons.”

She met with community groups, Industrial Development Agencies, and County Chambers of Commerce in every district where there was at least one prison.  And she eventually relocated to one town, which was home to two prisons.  “If prisons were central to the economy in these communities, then I wanted to figure out the right way to start the conversation of transitioning out of the prison economy.”  As she struggled to get meetings and start conversations, Melodia was still in touch with her allies downstate.  She realized that her skills didn’t get her much traction in rural areas, but she had access to another source of power: downstate purchasing power.

The idea for Milk Not Jails was born.  When the group that would become the New York State Prisoners Justice Network announced a conference in Albany in March 2010, Melodia quickly printed up quarter-sheet fact fliers declaring “milk not jails.”

Soon after that Melodia was approached by her good friend Dara Greenwald, who was working on Spectres of Liberty, a month of events and activities looking at the history and future of abolitionism in Syracuse, New York.  Dara invited Melodia to host a Milk Not Jails ice cream social as part of Spectres of Liberty.  “Dara understood milk not jails before anyone else did.  Dara intensely studied social movements and had more passion for them – and their successes and failures and absurdity – than anyone I know.  She understood the brilliance of mobilizing people with the idea that you can change the prison system by eating more ice cream.  In political organizing you have to be smart and dare to be fun, too, and it was awesome to pull together the first ice cream social with Dara.”

Melodia also invited Marion Rodriguez, a long-time prison families organizer who lives in Syracuse, to co-organize the event.  “Marion is one of the best organizers I know, and she turned people out for the ice cream social.”  Ever since, Milk Not Jails has been putting on socials, lobbying for more farms and fewer prisons, and building its dairy distribution start-up.  Stay tuned for many more years of growth.

Milk Not Jails is now open for business!  Two dairy farms have officially signed on to support the Milk Not Jails Political Platform, and it is now our job to show them how much New York’s consumers care about criminal justice reform!  We need you and your organization’s support now!

We are currently selling Milk Not Jails dairy products in two ways. Get more information about both below and help us find a way to content to your organization or other groups in your community.  We are more than happy to come make a presentation to your group.

The first way to buy is with a club.  We are setting-up Milk Not Jails Buying Clubs throughout New York City.  A buying club is a group of people who make a regular purchase from Milk Not Jails farms.  This demonstrates to the farmers that we have the commitment and organizing power to support them while they advocate for our criminal justice demands.  If you work at a criminal justice organization, attend a college in New York City, are a member of a congregation, etc. help us organize a buying club today!

Buying clubs purchase weekly subscriptions of milk, half & half, yogurt, and/or butter at a discount by making a commitment to receive at least 20 deliveries in 2012.  Buying clubs can also make special monthly orders of cheese, ice cream, milk, half & half, yogurt, butter, and more.  These orders are delivered directly to the buying club’s location.  Our staff has years of experience working with buying clubs and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects, and we have developed a simple, online ordering system to make purchases easy.

Second, Milk Not Jails is working to sell dairy products to neighborhood institutions that serve daily or weekly group meals, such as supportive and transitional housing facilities. Do you have a loved one living in transitional housing? Do you know of a Senior Center that offers daily meals? Is there an independent coffee shop that you frequent? We want to sell Milk Not Jails products to these local businesses and organizations. Please contact us immediately if you have any suggestions.  Personal contacts always help open doors, so if you know of anyone working at a supportive housing agency or café for us to reach directly please let us know!

Contact MILK NOT JAILS with any questions or if you’d like us to make a presentation at your organization’s next meeting or event.  Contact us anytime at milknotjails@gmail.com or (917) 719-MILK (6455).

Interested in helping us get word out? Join us for a Milk Not Jails outreach training on Friday, April 20 from 2:30-4:30pm.  There you’ll get all the facts and materials to become a Milk Not Jails ambassador in your neighborhood!  RSVP at milknotjails@gmail.com.  The training will take place at 666 Broadway (at Bond Street) in Manhattan.

Milk Not Jails says New York should promote dairy farming, not incarceration, for rural jobs.

King's Candies. Picture courtesy of his website.

Robert Hillary King has been turning prison into a dairy treat in a different way.

King, a former political prisoner, makes “King’s Freelines,” a praline-esque candy, using evaporated milk and pecans.  He perfected the recipe while locked up in Louisiana’s Angola Penitentiary, and shares the “not-so-secret” recipe on his website.

King served 32 years in prison, 29 of them in solitary confinement.  He was targeted for solitary confinement and falsely convicted in 1973, likely because of his work organizing the first in-prison chapter of the Black Panther Party.  He was released when his conviction was overturned in 2001.

Since his release he has been an advocate for the two members of the “Angola Three” who are still in solitary confinement in Angola.  Collectively, the three have been locked in solitary confinement for over 100 years.  Buying King’s candy helps fund his work to ending the cruel practice of solitary confinement.

Advocacy organization and start-up business Milk Not Jails announced their policy agenda today.  Outlining four criminal justice and four agriculture demands, the agenda calls on the New York State government to create a new urban-rural relationship.

Ahead of New York’s budget finalization, Milk Not Jails developed a policy agenda that is budget neutral.  It will not require any net spending increases to the State’s already strained budget, and helps find savings by decreasing New York State’s needless criminal justice spending.

The agenda was formed after months of discussions with dairy farmers, prison families, formerly and currently incarcerated people, and rural residents.  At least 3,000 people received a “policy ballot” asking them to rank the issues most important to them.

Until each demand is won, Milk Not Jails will work with other advocates and organizations to ensure our state government listens to the people’s call for fewer prisons and more farms.  See the policy agenda below, and visit milknotjails.org/policy to learn more about each issue.

Milk Not Jails is a grassroots alliance working to build an economic alternative to the prison industry in New York State.  We are a dairy marketing and distribution co-operative and we are a political campaign.

Milk Not Jails demands we:

Preserve New York’s Farmland. Every three and a half days, New York State loses a farm to suburban sprawl.  As more New Yorkers buy local food the state budget should be supporting local farms, not another housing bubble.

Legalize raw milk. The New York Legislature should follow the lead of 10 other states and legalize the retail sale of raw milk and allow farmers to produce other dairy products from raw milk. By legalizing the retail sale of raw milk and raw milk products, New York State could support the efforts of small family farms to produce healthy, local products that are in demand by local consumers.

Stop Dean Foods’ Monopoly. New York’s Attorney General should launch an anti-trust investigation of Dean Foods, a Texas-based corporation that controls 70 percent of all fluid milk distributed in New England.  Promoting small-scale farming is not only just, it means more jobs.

Offer More New York Food in Our Schools. The New York Legislature should pass a law requiring schools to prioritize the purchase of locally produced food, providing nutritious food for students and market opportunities for farmers.

Close Empty Prison Beds. Due largely to recent economic crises, budget constraints, drug law reform, and falling rates of incarceration over the last ten years, thousands of beds in once filled prisons are now empty.  Closing them would save the state millions each year.

End racist marijuana arrests. In the past decade the New York City Police Department has arrested over 400,000 people on low-level marijuana charges, most of them young blacks and Latinos, despite whites using at higher rates.  The police must stop this harmful, costly, and racist practice immediately.

Pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Act. This act would allow judges to sentence domestic violence survivors who are convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered to shorter prison terms and alternative-to-incarceration programs.

Pass the SAFE Parole Act. New York’s parole system is in need of reform.  This act would ensure that parole applicants are evaluated based on their readiness instead of punished with repeated, unjustified parole denials based on sometimes decades-old events.

For more information and press inquiries, contact Jeff Deutch, organizer.

MilkNotJails@gmail.com (201)669-0770

Adam Davidson, economics journalist and Wall Street apologist, turned his attention to dairy farming in today’s New York Times.

Davidson borrows the language of the Occupy movement and he rightly points out that when financial markets allow the bundling and trading of agriculture futures, small-scale farmers suffer.  Only big farms can monitor and trade their risk.

Davidson’s milk argument sours, however, when he proclaims “[b]y the early aughts, to accommodate global trade rules and diminishing political support for agricultural subsidies, the government allowed milk prices to follow market demand.”

Dean Foods is the milk monopoly unfairly controlling prices.

Davidson is wrong about both the existence of government regulation and market demand.

Milk prices are set, not only by consumer demand, but by the harmful and illegal milk processing monopoly, Dean Foods. Dean controls 70 percent of milk in the Northeast.  Their near total market power forces dairy farmers to sell at too-low prices.

The government is not powerless against this detrimental company, however.  The Justice Department should launch an anti-trust investigation into their practices.  The government should also use the so-called Milk Marketing Order to support small-scale farmers.

Davidson implies the government doesn’t regulate milk prices.  While it’s true that Congress tried to phase out subsidies in the 1996 Farm Bill, they succeeded only in consolidating, not eliminating, dairy market regulation.

The federal Department of Agriculture tightly controls the price of milk with Milk Marketing Orders.  The orders set a minimum price that “handlers,” the middle-people of milk sales, pay the dairy producers.

It’s not surprising that Adam Davidson, a free-market cheerleader, would imply a market is open when it’s actually controlled by a conglomerate.

It is surprising he would omit the discussion of the Milk Marketing Order.  Perhaps he thinks his readers are not smart enough to understand an economic picture that does not break easily into “free market vs. regulation.”  But it is an integral part of dairy markets, and one that can be used to structure a more just food system.

Join Milk Not Jails in opposing Dean Foods and promoting small, local dairy farmers.

NYPD School Safety Division

New data released by the NYPD show that on an average day, five students are arrested and nine are issued summons while in city schools.  In the 55 school days between October 1st and December 31st, 2012 there were 279 arrests and 532 summons issued.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, stated, “This data confirms that in just three months, too many school children were treated as criminals for minor infractions and pushed into the criminal justice system—often for behavior that probably should merit a trip to the principal’s office.”

Almost all of those students were Black or Latino (94%) and male (70%). The alleged cause of police involvement was disorderly conduct in most cases (63%).

Using the criminal justice system to address minor infractions that have historically been addressed by school officials is both inappropriate and expensive.  New York City spends over $200 million on the School Safety Division each year.

Part of this funding allows 200 armed police officers to patrol New York City Public Schools every day.  Unlike school officials, these officers have not completed training on adolescent behavior development and are ill-equipped to address the needs of those they “serve”.

Milk Not Jails is committed to stopping the unnecessary flow of youth into the criminal justice system and is working with legislators and organizations from around the state to create systematic change.

Visit whereismymilkfrom.com

Dairy products go through several steps before they reach our table.  Now there is an online tool that can help us learn more about our sour cream’s long trek.  Where Is My Milk From was developed by Travis Fitzgerald.  It uses the state and plant code on the side of most dairy product containers to locate where the product was processed.

The milk in my fridge right now was processed in Reading, Pennsylvania.  My yogurt in Johnstown, New York.  My Whole Foods brand butter was shipped 2,800 miles from Modesto, California to chill on my butter shelf.

Before our milk gets to us, it must be transported from the dairy farm to a processing plant where it’s pasteurized and sometimes turned into cheese, butter, and other milk-based products.  Then the products get labeled with their brand (Tuscan, Cabot, etc.).  Then the products get transported to stores.

Milk from the same cows might be sold under different brand names.  The same processing plant might label many different brands.

Just one company, Dean Foods, controls an outrageously high 80 percent of milk processing in New York.  They sell dairy products under the Meadow Brook, Land-o-Lakes, Silk, Horizon, and Lehigh Valley brands among others.  The Dean Foods monopoly forces farmers to join it and profits while its farmers receive too-low prices.

Milk Not Jails encourages New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate Dean Foods for anti-trust violations.  We also encourage projects like Where Is My Milk From that reveal a too-often opaque food system.

Stop Stop and Frisk

Stop Stop and Frisk

report released Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal found that the NYPD stopped, questioned, and frisked 684,330 New Yorkers, an all-time high, and 14% increase from 2010 which was the prior record. While the tactic of stop and frisk goes back to the start of policing itself, the tactic came to fame starting in the 1990s, when the NYPD started aggressively clamping down on minor crime. Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, the number of those stopped and frisked by the NYPD has increased 600 percent.

Last year, those targeted for stops and frisks were almost exclusively Black and Latino (87%), a figure that matches prior years. This indicates that while the NYPD does have anti-racial profiling policies in place, there remain widespread racial disparities in policing practice. Of those stopped by police, roughly 90% were not charged with a crime.

In response to the report, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne stated, “Stop [and frisk] saves lives,” and asserted that policing practices like stop and frisk prevented an estimated 5,628 homicides in the last ten years. But crime rates were falling long before the practice was put in place, and though crime rates continue to fall, it cannot be determined whether over-policing is the cause.  In fact, other cities that have not pursued stop and frisk have seen similar falling rates in crime.

Rather, targeting predominantly young people of color creates a widespread sense of mistrust and defensiveness of the NYPD in the communities in which they serve.

Milk Not Jails is working with community organizations throughout the state like Stop Stop and Frisk and the Drug Policy Alliance to end racist police policies that unfairly target innocent people.


February 20th is a national day of action. Graphic by Occupy Oakland

Bronx resident Ramarley Graham was killed by the NYPD last Thursday after they suspected the 18-year-old of possessing a small amount of marijuana, pursued him into his home, and shot him.  Graham was unarmed.

The same day, several NYPD officers beat 19-year-old Jateik Reed with batons, also suspecting Reed of possessing a small amount of marijuana.  The incident was captured on a cell phone video that has since gone viral.

These brutal events come a week after a report by the Drug Policy Alliance found more people were arrested for carrying small amounts of marijuana in 2011 than in 2010, despite a September 2011 memo by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly reiterating that possession of 25 grams or less of the substance is legal so long as it is not in public view.  The report also found that while the majority of drug users and sellers in the state are white, 90 percent of people locked up in New York prisons for drug offenses are, like Graham and Reed, Black or Latino.

Violently targeting a racially skewed demographic of drug users is not only reprehensible, it is a waste of economic resources. Milk Not Jails is working with activists and community organizations around the state to encourage alternatives to our current criminal justice system.  A healthy economy would not depend on criminalizing harmless people.

Join Milk Not Jails and dozens of other organizations in a national occupy day in support of prisoners February 20th. If you’re in New York, join us at the Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem at 2pm.  Click here for more details about the New York event, and click here for information about events nationwide.