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CI: The Ubiquity, the Banality of Mediated Policing & Punishment

May 27, 2015 at 6:38 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Fourth Estate, Media Conglomeration, 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 Ubiquity, the Banality of Mediated Policing & Punishment
by nancy a heitzeg

“Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.”Hannah Arendt

One of the many benefits of rarely watching TV is this: when you do turn it on, you are shocked anew by the uninterrupted routinization of policing and punishment, shook awake from the otherwise somnambulist gaze.

Certainly we have come to expect, with few questions, the demonization of  “criminals”, the fueled fear of crime,  the glorification of police, prosecutors, and prison as “appropriate punishment. We have come to expect too the racialized framing that deems a 100+ Gun/9 Dead shootout with police in Waco a Kerfuffle, a mere “melee”, while 1 burned CVS amidst Baltimore protests constitutes a riot. This is the overt script for the “news”, the text of “reality” police and prison shows - LockUp, Jail and Cops –  the fodder for the serial glorification of Blue Bloods, Walter White(ness) and Dirty Harry/Die Hard/Mad Max marathons, and the premise of endless incarnations of Law and Order, CSI, and more.

Perhaps most insidiously, policing, punishment and prison pervades as subtext and unexamined backdrop. Our fears are subverted into twisted humor, often as prison rape jokes that float through even children’s programming, and are also used to sell us an array of consumer products. Here, most recently imagine my surprise at this — in the age of #Ferguson/#Baltimore/#Everywhere and any number of untold deaths by Taser – Dollar Shave Club razors.

Beyond the billions in profit churned  –  yes this too is part of the prison industrial complex — this cultural hegemony normalizes policing and prison as part of the everyday landscape. It is routine; it is to be expected. Policing, punishment and prisons are such blatantly recurrent elements of cultural commodfication that they are embedded as normative within our psyches and collective subconscious.  The hyper-visible atrocities  are, in effect, rendered completely invisible. They are so Everywhere that they are Nowhere at all.

And how do you dismantle a system of excessive repression that many can no longer even see?

 

Revelations: #DecorationDay

May 24, 2015 at 11:45 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Sunday Music Flashback

The First Decoration Day

By David W. Blight. 2011.
The People’s History of Memorial Day, Zinn Education Project

 

 “…War kills people and destroys human creation; but as though mocking war’s devastation, flowers inevitably bloom through its ruins. After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865. The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.
1865 view of the Union soldiers graves at Washington Racecourse. Library of Congress

1865 view of the Union soldiers graves at Washington Racecourse. Library of Congress

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

At 9 a.m. on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: “for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you… in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession.”

CI: #StudentsNotSuspects #NoSROs #Mpls

May 20, 2015 at 7:08 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Education, Police State, 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.

 

#StudentsNotSuspects #NoSROs #Mpls
by nancy a heitzeg

Minneapolis is a beautiful Blue City. It ranks near or at the top of a number of livability indices: low unemployment, high income and low poverty rates, affordable housing, literacy and high educational attainment, robust voter turnout and political engagement,  high percentages of colleges, art/theater, bike paths, green space, lakes and coops per capita.

Minneapolis ranks near or at the top too on indicators that reveal the city is less than “livable” if you are Black. The Black unemployment rate is nearly 4 times that of white, making it the highest racial unemployment gap in the nation. Black-white gaps  in the City of Minneapolis on census indicators such as household income, homeownership and educational attainment contribute heavily to Minnesota’s ranking as the worst state for financial inequality. Racial segregation persists by neighborhood and school; about 62 percent of black students attend high-poverty schools, compared with 10 percent of white students. Unsurprisingly, the s0-called “achievement gap” as measured by test scores and graduation rates is also amongst the highest in the nation.

Minneapolis similarly ranks high with regard to racial gulfs in matters of criminal injustice. The racial disparities are staggering, with Blacks and American Indians dramatically over-represented in arrests for the low-level offenses used as pretexts for racial profiling, and  in all aspects of correctional control from probation to prison. This racially biased policing extends to the Minneapolis Public Schools which again runs one the nations  “leading” school to prison pipelines.

Minneapolis School to Prison Pipeline and the Role of SROs

Minneapolis Public Schools have come under Federal scrutiny for the dramatically disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for students of color. For more than a decade the rate at which Black and American Indian students were suspended/expelled exceeded the national average, achieving at the zenith, a rate of nearly 5 times more than white peers. The most recent data shows that Black students are 4 times more likely to get suspended compared with white students. Special education students and American Indians were the next most likely to get suspended.

In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Minneapolis School District has now enacted a new policy where every non-violent suspension of a Black, Hispanic, or American Indian student will now be reviewed by the Superintendent’s office before they are approved.

National Ranking for School Arrests by Racial Disproportionality

National Ranking for School Arrests by Racial Dis-proportionality

While this begins to address one pillar of the school to prison pipeline, it fails to account for the role of police in the hallways and in-school arrests. Minneapolis Public Schools spends $1 million annually (matched by another $500,000 from the city) to employ 16 Minneapolis Police Department officers as Security Resource Officers (SROs) in the schools. While arrests have slightly declined in recent years,  the racial dis-proportionality reflected in suspensions and expulsions is present here too, leaving us again with amongst the highest rankings for racial gaps in arrests. It is important to note too, that the overwhelming majority of school based arrests are for minor misbehavior. Nearly 90% of these arrests are for misdemeanors or lesser offenses.

In Minneapolis, as elsewhere, a police presence in schools results in the criminalization of minor and typical youthful misbehavior. In addition to the risks posed by zero tolerance policies and suspension/expulsion, police in the schools are a direct conduit into the pipeline.

This has to stop. In Minneapolis, the Coalition for Critical Change and the Social Justice Education Movement are calling for an end to SROs in the schools. Please join us  – wherever you are – in imagining how to better spend $1.5 million in our schools.

And yours.

Revelations: “The blues was bleeding the same blood as me”

May 17, 2015 at 8:05 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Sunday Music Flashback

Undiscovered Genius Of The Mississippi Delta. Jeam-Michel Basquiat 1983

Undiscovered Genius Of The Mississippi Delta. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1983

B.B. King (1925-2015) American Roots Music, Oral Histories

CI: Torture, Lies, and Denial

May 13, 2015 at 5:52 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

 

Torture, Lies, and Denial
by Kay Whitlock

Torture.

It’s not somebody else’s problem. It’s an American problem. It’s our problem. We bear some measure of responsibility for it because it goes forward in our names, by public and private actors and institutions who comprise much of the mainstream of civic life.

Torture isn’t perpetrated by rogue actors and “bad apples.” It is foundational to American policing, prisons, and military action.

Many people seek to justify torture, or the euphemisms that try to disguise its nature:  “enhanced interrogation” and “special methods of questioning.” Others – most people – simply deny its existence or, if made uncomfortably aware of it,  make frantic efforts to explain it away and  cover up complicity in its authorization, administration, and human, ethical, and spiritual impact.

Politicians won’t make it stop. Professional advocates won’t make it stop. Religious leaders won’t make it stop. It can’t be arrested and jailed away; that’s part of the same mentality that produced it. Torture will only stop if we make it stop, through visionary as well as practical forms of movement building and community organizing that build unstoppable momentum, linking growing numbers of people across myriad constituencies and issues.

In light of several notable revelations concerning torture, Criminal Injustice is reprising an earlier post, with this new introduction.

On May 6, 2015, following decades of organizing, litigation, and journalism and, more recently, a concerted six-month grassroots campaign, the Chicago City Council passed an unprecedented reparations package for survivors of torture, administered by former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives, and survivors’ families.

CI’s gratitude for this landmark victory goes to those who led the campaign -Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA, We Charge Genocide, and Amnesty International – USA, as well as to everyone who actively supported it. We also express gratitude and respect to the People’s Law Office, especially Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor, for more than a quarter century of tireless effort to bring the torture of over 110 African American men and women to light and obtain justice.

The reparations package includes a formal apology for the torture; specialized counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members on the South Side; free enrollment and job training in City Colleges for survivors and family members (including grandchildren) as well as prioritized access to other City programs, including help with housing, transportation and senior care; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools to 8th and 10th graders; and the construction of a permanent public memorial to the survivors. It also sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that will allow those still living to receive some measure of financial compensation for the torture they endured.

For decades, many Chicago officials tried to minimize awareness of this violence and the extent of its harm. It is now our job to ensure that the Rahm Emmanuel and subsequent administrations are never permitted to view this package as a “fine” to be paid and forgotten while business as usual, in the form of police violence, continues.  May this tangible acknowledgment serve to inspire us all to greater activism, to more urgent and sustained demands for accountability for violence administered not only by the state but with the active participation of professional individuals and organizations and corporations who reap benefits from their involvement.

And, as Joey Mogul rightly points out, “While the reparations for Burge survivors focus on a finite set of particularly egregious cases, they can serve as a model for what reparations might look like for systemic police abuse plaguing cities across the nation.”

Even as the police torture reparations victory was in the making in Chicago, it was confirmed through new disclosures of email communication  that the prestigious American Psychological Association (APA) had secretly worked to bolster “a legal and ethical justification” for the post-9/11 “war on terror.”  The APA, too has tried to deny this. But psychologists and other health care professionals play essential roles in implementing and providing cover for torture.

And torture was center stage in a court room in Boston, not under interrogation, but rather, as rationale for denying the death penalty. The  “defense” attorneys for now convicted Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev opened their arguments in the penalty phase with an appeal to the jury for sentencing to a “punishment worse than death.” Tsarnaev would spend his life, they said, buried alive in the ADX Supermax at Florence, Colorado. His life should be spared, they argued, so he could be sentenced instead to the slow motion torture of  this “living hell.”

Of course, this is the subtext of some resistance to capital punishment –  it isn’t punishment enough.  And yes, the defense in its’ contradictory everything but the kitchen sink approach to the penalty phase did call Sister Helen Prejean at last as a witness for mercy.

But the first and central defense argument was an open call to torture. And nothing can ever remove that stain.

Read the rest of this entry →

Revelations: Mama Told Me Not To Come…

May 10, 2015 at 12:19 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Sunday Music Flashback

For B ~  Mother’s Day

CI: ‘Whiteness’, Criminality, and Double-Standards of Deviance/Social Control

May 06, 2015 at 5:50 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

‘Whiteness’, Criminality, and the Double-Standards of Deviance/Social Control
by nancy a heitzeg

“All domination is, in the last instance, maintained through social control strategies” ~ Eduardo Bonilla-Silva 2001

Authors Note: The following is an excerpt from a piece recently published in Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice. The full article can be downloaded here.

The wholesale criminalization of Blackness is juxtaposed with the medical mitigation of white deviance, furthered by media coverage and, in a country driven by raw capitalism, buttressed by profligate profiteering, even from social control. The prison industrial complex and the treatment industrial complex serve as increasingly intertwined alternatives for defining and controlling, not just deviance, but race, in the era of “color-blindness”.

So as Black communities in Baltimore/Everywhere remain under siege, James Holmes pleads not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and more.

And the Band Played On.

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Revelations: Turn Out the Lights…

May 03, 2015 at 9:43 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Sunday Music Flashback

“Irreversible Collapse?”