Criminal InJustice: “Justice” ~ A Short Rant

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, and author of The School-to- Prison Pipeline: Education, Discipline and Racialized Double Standards, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice and Considering Hate, is co-founder of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

“Justice”: A Short Rant
by nancy a heitzeg

Today, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced his decision not to charge Minneapolis Police Officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg in the November 15, 2015 murder of Jamar Clark . The full document dump of evidence he considered can be found here as well as at his homepage, linked above.

The Clark case has garnered both national and international attention due the ongoing protests, including an 18 day occupation of the 4th Precinct. Local organizations issued a series of demands that included #NoGrandJury, #ReleasetheTapes, #ProsecutethePolice, and most generally, #Justice4JamarClark. The first two demands have now been met, the third denied and always unlikely given the daunting legal bar outlined in Graham v. Connor . And the final demand — #Justice4JamarClark — is impossible for the system that killed him to deliver.

Being privy to the history and the players, there are untold stories that media hegemony won’t let you see. These include debates over whether it matters if Clark was handcuffed or not at the time of his death – it doesn’t; he should be alive regardless. There were deep tactical disagreements over the nature/purpose/composition of the 4th Precinct Occupation,  and the role of non-profits and faith leaders in seizing the mic and using Black death as fund-raiser. But that is a story for another day and a brief cautionary note to those who judge the authenticity of movements by their social media script.

Today the question is this: what is “Justice” for Jamar Clark or Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland or Akai Gurley or  Reika Boyd or thousands more who are simultaneously remembered but then ultimately reduced to a hashtag or protest rallying cry? Is it “justice” if officers are fired? indicted? convicted? imprisoned ?

And then what?

It is understandable the oppressed want the criminal legal system to apply the laws equally. Accountability, even for once. But the relentless movement demands for more prosecution sand punishment serve only to reify the system that must itself be indicted. In the nearly 2 years since Ferguson, police killings of Black civilians in particular are unabated — 258 this year alone — with few indictments, fewer convictions and no satisfaction. And there have been endless hours and days and months of activist energy expended in reaction to and reinforcement of the system.

Why is the vision of “justice” so narrow and carceral — demanding arrest, trial and punishment for killer after killer after killer without cease?

Justice for Jamar and Mike and Eric and Sandra and Akai  and Rekia and thousands would mean they are still alive. With as much love and solidarity and community support for them in the anonymity of everyday life as they have in the glare of death.

I’ll say it again: Stop asking for “Justice” from the system that is killing us — Demand Abolition.

Then demand more.



  • JessicaSlagle

    Hearing about Jamar Clark was extremely sad, as are the many other stories of these young men of color losing their lives. It is even more disheartening to have these young men not recognized for their memories, family, and lives that they lived, but rather under constant scrutiny for the event that took place, taking their lives. To make matters even worse, the amount of injustice that Jamar Clark received from our criminal justice system is ridiculous. Justice will unfortunately never be given to Jamar Clark and his family, and our society shows no empathy, what if you were in their shoes? How different would you feel about the matter then? I really enjoyed the end quote that Nancy put — “Stop asking for “Justice” from the system that is killing us.” It makes me wonder when and how change will occur to decrease these unjust acts, is it even possible for the criminal justice system to truly become an honest and fair institution?

  • BrookeSoller

    The story of Jamar Clark is heartbreaking similar to so many others’ stories. There are a lot of things that don’t make sense and pieces of evidence that don’t quite fit together. I completely agree with the fact that “justice” for these victims would mean that they are still alive. However, because they are not, I think what is meant by justice is that the police officers responsible for ending the lives of innocent people should be charged and held accountable for their actions. The only way this will ever happen is if the criminal justice system becomes fair and just to all, which I believe is almost impossible in today’s society. It is a sad realization, but it is the truth.

  • Rest in Power #JamarClark​

  • Rest in Power #JamarClark​