† 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”
by nancy a heitzeg
In the week before Election 2016, we observed this:
Any study of social movements and social change in the United States reveals this dynamic. Decades – no centuries – of struggle for inclusion, for people of color, for women and the LGBTQ community, for labor, the very planet — bring short-term, heavily circumscribed gains that are co-opted or thrown off at a moments notice, Efforts at inclusion give way to the dark magnetic pull of history, encapsulated by the calls to”Make America Great Again”.
And so here we are. In the 70 some days of the so-called Trump Regime, both incompetence and brutality have been on bold display. The Muslim Ban. The effort to deny 24 million healthcare. Dramatic cuts to Federal agencies in the proposed draconian budget. Climate change denial and efforts to undercut the EPA and Paris Climate accord. Nepotism, pay for play cabinet appointments, privatization schemes, profiteering, and more.
Criminal justice policy is one arena where seismic shifts are already underway. Trump’s “law and order” platform/executive orders and the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General signals a dramatic sea change. Whatever their shortcomings, the tenures of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch have been marked by some efforts to ensure civil rights, voting rights, sentencing reform, attention to racial discrimination in criminal justice and the school-to-prison pipeline, and some measure of police accountability. Those days are over.
The changed climate is apparent at both the federal and state levels as “law and order” measures gain traction.. A few key issues to watch.
This legislation seeks to include police among the ranks of groups that are protected by hate crime statues, and in effect, increase the legal protections for an already heavily protected occupation. The hashtag and the ensuing legislation conflates occupational choice with ascribed statuses such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Lawmakers in 14 states have introduced at least 32 bills proposing that members of law enforcement be included in hate crime protections ― like those received by people of color, religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ community ― since the beginning of the year..
Last year, Louisiana became the first state to loop law enforcement into its state hate crime statute, with its so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill. Several states soon followed. The Mississippi state Senate advanced a similar bill on Jan. 26. It was killed by a House committee on Feb. 28. The Kentucky House of Representatives advanced its own version on Feb. 13. That bill is now headed to the governor’s desk to be signed or vetoed. …
A Louisiana police chief said in January that anyone who resists arrest or physically assaults a police officer could be charged with a hate crime under the state’s new law.
This interpretation is dangerous: Cops can use charges of resisting arrest to justify excessive force and cover up abusive behavior. Videos of police brutality commonly include officers shouting “stop resisting!” as they pummel a defenseless ― and not resisting ― victim. Charges of resisting arrest or assaulting an officer often follow.
“Any legislation for a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill seeks to instill intimidation and fear,” said Mike Lowe, a Black Lives Matter activist in San Antonio. “These protections make it easy to silence the voices of those seeking justice and accountability. I will not be silenced by it. All we want is justice and accountability, and law enforcement officers must be held accountable.”
In addition to #BlueLivesMatter laws, activists are also threatened by efforts that seek to heavily criminalize protest. This legislation augments the growing practice of over-charging activists to with felonies under the existing law.
From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent.
While the fate of these laws is unclear, the proliferation of attempts to pass such legislation is an indication of an increasingly punitive climate towards protest, And, the goal of course, is to suppress dissent through imprisoning activists, running up court costs and legal fees, and creating a chilling effect that is designed to quell protest before it even begans.
Rolling Back Police Reforms and Federal Oversight
In most recent news, Attorney General Sessions has issued an order for a sweeping review of existent Federal consent decrees mandating police reform in nearly two dozen cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Ferguson, Seattle and Cleveland. This reserves a 20 year pattern of Federal involvement in police oversight. The full order can be found here and below.
This new edict, in plan language, is consistent with Session’s pro law enforcement position and his states rights, anti – Civil Rights stances. This move away from policing reform — in addition to concerns raised about data collection on police killings of civilians chronicled in Who Counts in 2017- puts legal efforts to reign in police abuses in jeopardy. In fact, the order “signals an alarming retreat away from ensuring that police departments engage in constitutional policing.”
None of this is surprising. Or new. Nor will it stop resistance.
But the paradigm has shifted clearly. We are moving away from a neoliberal color-blind frame that has been open to some “reforms” and somewhat, albeit grudgingly , responsive to protest. We are moving rapidly towards the overt call to “Law and Order” and all the intolerance that entails.
Be aware. Be ready.
Know exactly what “Law and Order” means.
Eyes On The Prize – (Part 12) A Nation of Law 1968–1971