† 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.
“Law and Order” Edition 2016
by nancy a heitzeg
In the midst of the ever-unfolding debacle that is the Donald Trump’s GOP Convention, it is easy to be distracted by the growing stash of comedy gold. Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech. The Logo Fail. The empty seats. The magled schedule. Chris Christie. Scott Baio??!!
The messy sideshow has ominous underpinnings and the well known dangers of the Trump crew are now coming into even bolder relief. Trump’s new mantra — “Law and Order” is stolen from the playbook of Richard Nixon 1968 whom Trump has openly embraced. Make America Safe Again was the doom-laden theme of the GOP Convention ‘s opening night.
Safe from what ? From Whom? The Law and Order” call from Nixon onward has been a thinly coded appeal to white racial fear and resentment. As Daniel Denvir notes in “Strong man: Violence is a force that gives Donald Trump meaning” –
Law and order expresses itself through white identity politics as a racial policy. But it also stems from more general turmoil, from anti-war protest and generational (and gender) change in the 1960s to economic crisis and demographic (and gender) shifts today. Law and order isn’t just a policy but also a readymade narrative for Americans looking for explanations in complicated times. Now, the demand for answers comes fast as social media churns and the status quo of American politics has been exploded. Masters of chaos step into the void.
For those not alive in 1968, it is worth a closer look at what “Law and Order” leads to. The repression and corruption of the Nixon years in fact laid the groundwork for the very issues we battle today: police violence, the prison industrial complex, government surveillance and attenuated civil rights. People who know me get tired of me making them watch this episode of Eyes on the Prize over and again – but everything is there. COINTELPRO, the Chicago police assassinations of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Angela Davis issuing an early warning on the insidious nature of the entire criminal legal system — not just the police. George Jackson and prisoner politicization. The Attica Uprising and the resultant aftermath. You can see the very genesis of this current moment.
A Nation of Law 1968–1971 (Part 12) chronicles the leadership and murder of Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Chicago. The second part of the film covers the Attica Prison rebellion in Attica, New York.
We are living through the legacy of “Law and Order”, and the dangers present then are magnified today. The climate is such that even Lee Atwater’s “Southern Strategy” of coded appeals to white racial resentment can be abandoned by Trump and his followers in favor of raw, unvarnished racist screeds. (And let’s be honest – the GOP’s real disconmfort with Trump is that he pulled off the hoods.) There is no slightly sympathetic independent media — just a incorporated right wing machine, Police are extensively militarized -literally and via mindset. The surveillance state so much expansive that the days of wiretaps and Watergate. The prison industrial complex has expanded and exploded along with the criminalization of much dissent. The War on Drugs/Crime is about to be merged with the War on Terror. Yohuru Willlims on “The Coming War on Black Nationalism”:
All of this rhetoric is part of a rising chorus after the Texas and Louisiana killings, an effort to define a new category in the war on extremism—so-called black-nationalist terrorism. Proponents struggle to manufacture a domestic equivalent for Al Qaeda. Efforts to link the violence against law enforcement to some mythical, larger Black Separatist movement, which has made retaliatory violence against police one of its chief aims, is weak at best and irresponsible at worst…
This the terrain in which Campaign 2016 will be played out on. There will be no meaningful opposition from the political mainstream — just a sightly more tempered version of the call to order and safety. Hillary 3 am.
All of this to say again what you probably already know: #HistoryIsAWeapon so use it. Don’t under-estimate the stakes here, Be ready.
We are on our own .