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CI: A Dirge for Tucker, Torture, and Dirty Work

January 28, 2015 at 6:49 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, International Law, Military Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

A Dirge for Tucker, Torture, and Dirty Work

by Kay Whitlock

We all have our ghosts, the memories of singular people and events in our lives that changed us forever, in ways we still struggle to define with emotional clarity, and so haunt us still.

For the most part, these ghosts exist in the shadows of our lives, half-remembered more or less as we actually experienced them and half-invoked in service of personal storylines about who we wish we really were, who we think we are, who we hope to be – and, conversely, who we do not want to be.

The ghost I have been visited by most recently is a man, long dissolved into dust, probably tortured to death in Vietnam, having been responsible, in part, for the torture and assassination of countless Vietnamese people. His name is Tucker Gougelmann. He is the 78th person to be commemorated with a star on the Wall of Honor at CIA headquarters.

I knew him briefly, by accident or dumb luck, if you can call it that, in the years between 1972 and 1975, before the repatriation of (at least some of) his broken bones. I knew him not well but vividly. His very presence, by definition, was vivid.

It would be easy to hate him, but I don’t; I never have. My responses are much more complicated and have to do with a furious, searing, and ceaseless grief. He never really goes away. What am I supposed to do with him?

Tucker Gougelmann, on the right”

Tucker Gougelmann, on the right”

I suppose he rises again now from the miasma of the past to disturb my heart and spirit for several reasons. The first is the December 2014 release of the report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.   The second is the relative placement of two recently-released feature films, Selma and American Sniper, in the contest for primacy in the American imagination – the Academy Award nominations be damned.

The third is the powerful and necessary campaign for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture.  Next are the seemingly endless pre- and post-Ferguson killings of black people by police, security guards, and vigilantes in the United States.

Finally, there is my personal, apparently never-ending, search to explore the question why the most massive forms of violence are so terribly ordinary and routine, and how and why so many of us refuse to recognize or care about it; why we let it go on and on and on. And the subsequent, essential question: how is it possible to transform such lethal indifference and contempt, which produces systemic violence, into structural manifestations of civic goodness and generosity? (That is a question Michael Bronski and I explore in Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics. )

And finally, it has something to do with my personal, apparently never-ending, exploration of why the most massive forms of violence are so terribly ordinary and routine, and how and why so many of us refuse to recognize or care about it. And the subsequent, essential question: how is it possible to transform such lethal indifference into structural manifestations of civic goodness, generosity, and community wholeness?

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Revelations: I Shot a Man in Reno…

January 25, 2015 at 11:15 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Legal Debate on Using Boastful Rap Lyrics as a Smoking Gun

 Meet Tiny Doo, the rapper facing life in prison for making an album

As rappers go, Brandon Duncan’s approach is not unusual: his lyrics reflect the violent reality of the streets. But in the pantheon of rappers who have had run-ins with the courts, Tiny Doo looms large. Despite his lack of a criminal record, Duncan stands accused of nine counts of participating in a “criminal street gang conspiracy”, charges that could land him in prison for life.

But Duncan is not charged with participating in any of the crimes underlying the conspiracy, or even agreeing to them. Rather, he’s effectively on trial for making a rap album…

Putting a musician on trial for his lyrics is antithetical to Americans’ free speech rights, and quite possibly unconstitutional. What’s more, the “criminal street gang conspiracy” law that Duncan is charged with violating – part of an anti-gang initiative package passed by California voters in 2000 – stands in marked contrast to conspiracy as California has traditionally defined it.

Ordinarily, to be guilty of conspiracy in California an individual must agree with another person to commit a crime, then at least one of them must take action to further that conspiracy. The charge Duncan faces requires no such agreement: so long as prosecutors can show that Duncan is an active member of the gang and knows about its general criminal activity, past or present, he can be convicted for benefiting from its acts…

black line Capture

CI: #FreeMLK

January 21, 2015 at 7:18 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Housing, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

#FreeMLK
by nancy a heitzeg

In anticipation of the National Holiday bearing his name,  Ferguson Action announced their intention to #ReclaimMLK; “Unfortunately, Dr. King’s legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it. Impulses to remove Dr. King from the movement that elevated him must end. We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless women and men into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits .”

The Radical King was a tactical genius in the implementation of targeted direct action campaigns, a civil disobedient – a breaker of unjust laws who expected – no wanted – to go to jail, and at times,  as Joy James reminds us, a political prisoner. Often lost in the discussion is this: that famous letter from Birmingham was written from jailThe Radical King was a democratic socialist, an intersectional analyst who linked white supremacy and capitalism, a critic of war and U.S. imperialism, and a proponent of a revolution of values. Who knows — had he lived long enough, he may well have found himself an advocate too for prison abolition.

But what does it mean to #ReclaimKing at this moment? 2015 is not 1965. Ferguson is not Birmingham; Staten Island is not Selma. The Radical King must be fully embraced with a complete and nuanced understanding of his time and context as well as our own.

No, the legacy of King and the Civil Rights Movement can no longer be sanitized, but it cannot be uncritically, causally reclaimed either. In embracing the full complexity, we must not adhere only to the metaphor, but also the hard realities.  Protest is essential, but it cannot be mere performance and it is never, by itself, enough.  We must develop the long-haul strategies that make for success; that take into account the systems of power which we are engaging.  We must not be naive; if power is confronted, it will strike back. This is part of the turf, however vengeful and unjust it may seem.  This was the brilliance of King and the CRM:  the strategies anticipated and, in fact, relied on excessive responses that revealed the contradictions between legal “justice” and the violence that is inflicted by the state.

The radical vision demands so much more of us. It demands a lifetime commitment and a willingness to risk – everything if need be – with the expectation of the powerful backlash.  This must be factored into our work – not because we are martyrs, but because we are savvy and delusion free.  The test will be how we can walk into the center of the storms in our own era, stand through them, and see our way to the other side.

Last week I was in downtown Oakland, in the midst of 96 hours of MLK Weekend Action, and as usual, the movement there said it/did best. A coterie of marchers appeared and delivered this chant – not a call to reclaim and then repossess – but this:

“#FreeMLK!”

Read that Letter again with this in mind.

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Revelations: Writing on the Wall

January 18, 2015 at 12:19 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

A Pile of Crowns, for Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

A Pile of Crowns, for Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

Keith Haring: The Political Line | de Young

CI: The Rock, Reclaimed

January 14, 2015 at 8:34 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

The Rock, Reclaimed
by nancy a heitzeg

Walls Will Crumble 1/12/15

All Walls Will Crumble

Some day when i am not 10,000 Light Years from Home and wind- swept, i will have more to say about Alcatraz. The island turned fortress, turned brutal end- of -the -line Federal prison, turned wildly popular National Park – referred to recently as “prison as Disneyland.” Much has been said already, much remains still buried in creases of the thick files of men who served there, dutifully read/coded by me and graduate student comrades for a man who refused to understand. Simultaneously sensationalized and trivialized, Alcatraz remains an enigma, seen by so many millions, yet eternally shrouded in ubiquitous fog.

It is clear that this was a prison, but i wonder how those who come from other less locked up nations or who don’t think about mass incarceration every day see  — if they do — the connection to now. The museum exhibit on Federal Prisons conveniently ends at 1991, and there is a prevailing sense that all this is past and far away, in a bygone era of gangsters and great escapes. Even a major art installation on political prisoners by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei somehow masks the scope of the American Gulag. Amongst only a handful of USA prisoners noted in the multimedia installation, you can, for example, write a postcard to Chelsea Manning but none to Leonard Peltier.

Trinity

Trinity

But maybe, despite the billing, Alcatraz is really no longer even a prison at all – it has been reclaimed. First by the American Indian Occupation – still in evidence by writing on the walls. But reclaimed by Nature too. Every time i have been there i  am struck again by the utter defeat of past evil, erased now by the succulent gardens, the surprise of a hummingbird, the brilliant blooms, the bright banana slugs that line the rocks. Alcatraces is left to its’ namesakes, to the rule of the sea birds, who, as in so many ancient abandoned places, oversee all to the last detail.  Even unto the ferry ride out. They must make sure you have left there, and only willingly – if ever –  return.

May this be a metaphor for the entirety of this Prison Nation.

Let it be so.

The King of Alcatraz

The King of Alcatraz

Revelations: Lucky

January 12, 2015 at 12:05 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, Spirituality

Lucky I me and Muir Woods 1/11/2015

Lucky I
me and Muir Woods 1/11/2015

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CI: The Year of Resistance 2015

January 07, 2015 at 6:51 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

The Year of Resistance 2015

eric-garner-protests-11

2015 will be the Year of Resistance where we are all called to stand  – in whatever ways we can — against the hegemony of brutal policing and punishment, against the callous capitalism which destroys our lives and the planet, against the charlatans who profit off protest, against the smoke and mirrors of treacherous/tepid calls for reform.

Be ready for anything. Stop for nothing.

Let history be your weapon.

But Stand too — for Another Way.

 

Revelations: Rise Like Lions…

January 04, 2015 at 11:48 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Eco-Justice, Intersectionality

2014 Wildlife photographer of the Year overall and black and white category winner: The last great picture by Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols (USA) showing five female lions at rest with their cubs in Tanzania’s Serengeti national park. Photograph: Michael Nichols/2014 WPY

2014 Wildlife photographer of the Year overall and black and white category winner: The last great picture by Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols (USA) showing five female lions at rest with their cubs in Tanzania’s Serengeti national park.
Photograph: Michael Nichols/2014 WPY

2014 Wildlife Photography Awards Round-up – in pictures

Animal Photographs of the Year 2014

“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Ye are many-they are few.”

― Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Masque of Anarchy: Written on Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester