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Momentum builds for repealing Hamilton County jail tax

By Gregory Flannery · August 11th, 2007 · Porkopolis
  Remembering the atrocity at Hiroshima: Activists march Aug. 6 in International Friendship Park along the Ohio River.
Jared M. Holder

Remembering the atrocity at Hiroshima: Activists march Aug. 6 in International Friendship Park along the Ohio River.

In a stinging rebuke to Hamilton County leaders, voters have demanded a referendum on the sales tax for construction of a new jail. The coalition that formed to put the measure on the ballot included groups as politically diverse as Cincinnati Progressive Action, a left-leaning organization that argues reform of the criminal justice system, not a new jail, is what's needed; and Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, a right-leaning organization founded on the principle that almost every tax is a bad idea. Perhaps it took such an odd assemblage to override the wishes of the equally weird alliance between the new Democratic majority on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and the extreme conservatism embodied by Republican Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.

Opponents of the jail tax needed 28,750 signatures to win a place on the ballot. The Hamilton County Board of Elections confirmed 38,961 valid signatures were obtained. With the referendum headed to the ballot Nov.

6, the tax -- 0.5 percent for eight years and 0.25 percent for an additional seven years -- is on hold. The tax would pay for a $198 million, 1,800-bed jail and various rehabilitation programs, for a total of $736 million over 15 years.

Voters handily rejected a different version of the jail tax last year, so the enthusiasm for repealing this new one isn't surprising. What is surprising is the deafness of the two Democratic county commissioners who, soon after the election, imposed it against the popular will.

Sending a Big, Compassionate Welcome
History shows that the only effective response to racist laws is to publicly embrace the groups who are targeted. That's what the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center is working on. In Butler County, Sheriff Richard O. Jones has become a national celebrity for his anti-immigrant fulminations. That's why the Interfaith Workers Center plans to erect a billboard in Butler County, welcoming immigrants. Among the messages will be a citation of the verse from the book of Leviticus: "Welcome the strangers in your midst."

"We certainly want to challenge -- not necessarily confront -- Sheriff Jones and his policies that are tearing apart families," says Don Sherman, coordinator of the Interfaith Workers Center.

While Latino immigrants are the target du jour, people from many parts of the world are suffering from the anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the country. Last week at least six African immigrants in Cincinnati were rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

"Those are the people we know about," Sherman says. "We understand there were also Middle Easterners, but we haven't accounted for them yet."

The organization is distributing copies of Know Your Rights, a DVD in Spanish and English. The group also plans a dance next month to raise money for the billboard. Details are still being planned. For more information, to obtain a copy of the DVD or to make donations for the billboard, call 513-621-5991.

Taking a cue from filmmaker Michael Moore, who has asked Americans for their health insurance horror stories, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) is asking students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors and others to share their experiences with aggressive military recruiters. IJPC has an active outreach that aims to counter the influence of military recruiters in local high schools. E-mail your stories to kristen@ijpc-cincinnati.org or call 513-579-8547.

Aug. 6 was the 62nd anniversary of one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated by a government in human history: the use of a nuclear bomb to destroy Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II, incinerating tens of thousands of civilians. The United States used another nuke to destroy the city of Nagasaki a few days later, making us the only country in the world ever to use nuclear weapons. To commemorate the massacres and remember the victims, peace activists held a march and vigil Aug. 6 in International Friendship Park along the Ohio River.

For more reports about opposition to the jail tax, the oppression of immigrants and the war in Iraq, visit CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at blogs.citybeat.com/porkopolis.

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