† 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 and Considering Hate, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
The Insidious Allure of the Videotape
by nancy a heitzeg
Yesterday, the City of Chicago, under court-order, released the long suppressed tape of the 16 shot police street execution of Laquan McDonald . Today, in Minneapolis, the 4th Precinct remains occupied after the police killing of Jamar Clark, as protesters demand the immediate release of the tapes.
The tapes, in these and all cases, may or may not lead to clarity, charges or ultimately, convictions. They may or may not lead to the realization of some narrow vision of “justice” for Laquan, Jamar. too many…
I do know that beyond the immediate satisfaction of certainty, of a tactical or legal victory, the tapes will not produce justice. I know without watching — you know too — that police lie, deadly force is used too freely especially against Blacks, and that legal recourse will be wanting. Most importantly, I know without watching — you know too – that Laquan, Jamar, too many — should still be alive.
That could be Justice. But nothing less.
Those old enough to remember the videotaped 56 blow beating of Rodney King by LAPD and the murder of Latasha Harlins have known forever that the white gaze sees what it will. Have known forever too that what is called evidence is easily made lynching spectacle. A movable souvenir postcard. Black Death on Loop. Viewer Discretion Advised.
Over and Over. On Autoplay. In Gif.
Last August at the death of Mike Brown, I wrote this in #Ferguson, Spectacle and Script:
That was right and I wish it wasn’t. But I was uncertainly optimistic then, believing that perhaps, people had finally seen too much. Would finally Rise! Would finally say Enough! Many have — Chicago! Oakland! more — with strategic and bold radical visions for change. And I know I am not supposed to say anything about the sometimes messy rest, that is too often just swept off in the wave of romanticized activism, narrow goals and/or off target direct actions. But fascism is rising and the world is burning — we don’t have 50 odd years to keep relearning the old lessons of Selma. So here it is.
Make no mistake — it is crucial to go to the streets, to honor the fallen, to #SayHerName, to expose the official lies, to seek some crumb of whatever our system calls “justice” for them and those who are left behind. But the politicians and the twitterati and the “reformers” and the vultures and the careerists will hijack our good intentions. Lure us into the endless rewind of hashtags, long marches to nowhere, calls to the system that kills us for “justice”, and demands for reforms – like body cams– that expand our own surveillance and the prison industrial complex with it. The non-profit industrial complex too., because their very survival depends on this: no problem can ever be solved.
They would have us do this same drill forever, while some get rich, get famous, and nothing ever changes but the Names of the Dead. And you can do so if you want too — it sometimes feels right in the moment, seems like it is better to do something. But please do so knowing that if this stops here, you are playing the rigged game they want you to — you know, the one where the house always wins. And we lose.
You could pause that tape, imagine more and demand it. Put pressure on their money. Demand divestment from police and prisons — and reinvestment instead in social services and schools. Demand an end to public order policing — demand an end to police as we know them. Demand whatever you imagine is needed, but always less of the legal system – not more.
Imagine a world without police and prisons. Imagine Abolition.
It is the only way.