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CI: The Irrelevance of “Innocence”

March 25, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, 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.

The Irrelevance of “Innocence”
by nancy a heitzeg

It was with great trepidation that i finally forced myself to read the Department Of Justice Report Regarding The Criminal Investigation Into The Shooting Death Of Michael Brown By Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson. I opened it long after i had reviewed the companion DOJ Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. And, it is in that order that they must be read. Whatever happened on Canfield Drive on that tragic day surely unfolded under the heavy canopy of occupation, under the sway of a corrupt police department that held the city under siege, that heavily targeted, brutalized, and then paid the bills on the backs of Blacks.

The report is a gut-wrenching read – tangled and traumatized witnesses, a pervasive climate of rumor and fear, an impossibly high legal bar for Federal Civil Rights prosecution, and the forgone conclusion that there could be no indictment, save for the piercing sentence found in the final paragraph of the report:

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CI: Low-level Offenses and Racial Profiling, Minneapolis Edition

March 18, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, 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.

Low-level Offenses and Racial Profiling, Minneapolis Edition
by nancy a heitzeg

The historical connection between low-level offenses ( e.g. lurking, loitering, vagrancy) and racialized policing is well-established. These laws emerge as Slave Codes become Black Codes; from the very outset they were “intended to circumscribe the lives of African Americans.” Low-level and “liveability” crimes were a central features of the Old Jim Crow, and remain so today, in the New Jim Crow era as pretextual police tools in racial profiling

Recent reports from the Minnesota ACLU released on October 28 verified yet again, using the Minneapolis Police Department’s own data, that Blacks are targeted for low-level arrests. (The results were replicated by a new report from the Minneapolis Police Department, which further revealed that when victims/witnesses are involved in reporting, they are overwhelmingly white). These practices persist in lieu of an official name such as ‘stop and frisk’ or or ‘broken windows” yet the net effect is the same. The data revealed “that between 2004 and 2012, an African American individual was, on average::

  • 11.5 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for marijuana possession;
  • 8.86 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for disorderly conduct;
  • 7.54 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for vagrancy; and
  • 16.39 times more likely to be arrested than a white juvenile for curfew/loitering”

In light of these persistent racial gaps, City Council Members Council Members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang have announced their intent to introduce the repeal of the city ordinances on lurking and spitting. They noted that lurking

profiling“..is one of several low-level offenses police use to target specific neighborhoods and racial groups. Over that six-year period, 59 percent of the people arrested for lurking were black, while 24 percent were white. Meanwhile, 69 percent of the people who called in to report lurking offenses, listed on reports as either victims or witnesses, were white. Just 12 percent were black.”

This repeal is supported by Coalition for Critical Change, #Blacklivesmatter Mpls, & Community Justice Project, who recently launched a petition as well calling for the repeal of all low-level ordinances in the city. These include;

  • Loitering
  • Lurking
  • Spitting, depositing tobacco
  • Congregating on the Street or Sidewalk
  • Juvenile Curfew

Please join us in combating racial profiling. Click and sign below.

Petitioning Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges

Repeal Low-Level Ordinances in Minneapolis

CI: The Attorney General of the United States

March 11, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Prison Industrial Complex, Voting Rights

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 Attorney General of the United States
Editors note from nancy a heitzeg

“While my time in the Department of Justice will soon draw to a close, I want you to know that, no matter what I do or where my own journey takes me, I will never leave this work.  I will never abandon this mission. Nor can you.  If we are to honor those who came before us, and those still among us, we must match their sacrifice, their effort, with our own.  The times change, the issues seem different, but the solutions are timeless and tested: question authority and the old ways. Work.  Struggle.  Challenge entrenched power.  Persevere.  Overcome.”

~ Attorney General Holder Reaffirms Commitment to Voting Rights in Speech to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, Selma, Alabama, United States, Sunday, March 8, 2015

It is possible, in complexity, to say that the criminal legal system is flawed at the foundations – to argue for abolition- and to also say, in the very same moment, that every inch of breathing room matters. To say that it matters who is the President, who sits on the Supreme Court, and who is the Attorney General of the United States. To say that an imperfect system can be made slightly better (or much worse) by the party and people who occupy positions of power.

In that spirit, CI would to acknowledge the work of Attorney General Eric Holder – for his willingness to plainly confront systemic racism in multiple arenas and to use the power of his office to combat its’ persistent and impermissible stain on voting rights, school discipline, and policing. His Department of Justice sought to enforce the Voting Rights Act even after it had been gutted, guided the Department of Education away from zero tolerance and racialized suspensions/expulsions for the first time in more than 20 years, and indicted, in  perhaps the last DOJ Report that will bear his name, the unconstitutional cesspool that is the Ferguson Police Department and Courts.

Given the constraints of the Title and the Office, that, Sir, is Enough.

Revelations: March On

March 08, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

Eyes on the Prize (VI) — Bridge to Freedom, 1965

From the Archives: Where’s the Spirit of Selma Now? by Gay Talese

Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed, The Nation

SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA v. HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al.

No. 12-96. Argued February 27, 2013–Decided June 25, 2013

The Voting Rights Act: A Resource Page, Brennan Center for Justice

CI: A Glimpse…

March 04, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Immigration, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

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.

 
A Glimpse...
Editors’ note by nancy a heitzeg

“The Constitution has always demanded less within the prison walls”. ~ Clarence Thomas, Dissenting in Garrison S. Johnson, Petitioner v. California et al. 2005

It has been true. Even as we catch a fleeting glimpse – here in recent headlines – the Constitution has been rendered largely silent.

And so have we.

Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists

The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers…

Screen-Shot-2013-06-10-at-12.30.27-PMAccording to Correction Department data, guards used physical force against inmates 4,074 times in 2014, the highest total in more than a decade. The increase came even as the jail’s average daily population continued to decline, falling to 10,000 this year from 14,000 a decade ago.

Seventy percent of the 62 beatings examined by The Times resulted in head injuries, even though department policies direct guards to avoid blows to the head unless absolutely necessary. And more than half the inmates sustained broken bones.

In October, a typical month, one inmate had his jaw shattered by a guard after being handcuffed and led into an elevator; another had his arm broken while handcuffed; and a third had three teeth knocked out.

The Times also identified 30 episodes from August to January in which officers suffered serious injuries in altercations with inmates. While most of the inmates involved sustained head injuries, nearly half the guards fractured bones in their hands and fingers, often after striking inmates in the head.

“Predictable” Riot at Texas Prison Followed Years of Complaints

The riots that broke out this weekend at a Texas prison featured in a 2011 FRONTLINE investigation erupted after years of complaints from inmates about poor conditions and abuse at the facility, and at least one previous protest.

Prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Institution, most of them convicted for immigration or nonviolent drug offenses, set fire to the Kevlar tents where they are housed in a protest over medical care, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)….

Screen-Shot-2013-06-10-at-12.30.27-PMIn 2011, FRONTLINE uncovered more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse by guards at the facility in Lost in Detention, as well as physical and racial abuse. At the time, Willacy was run by MTC for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The facility housed people who had not yet been convicted, but were awaiting immigration hearings. Guards were accused of harassing women for sexual favors, and in some cases sexually assaulting them. Other detainees were beaten by guards who cursed them with racial epithets…

New allegations later surfaced. In June 2014, the ACLU issued a report on Willacy and four other privately run prisons in Texas, and found the inmates there are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and prevented from connecting with their families.

At Willacy, inmates are crammed 200 at a time into squalid Kevlar tents, with no private space, the report found. Insects crawl through holes in the tents. The open toilets regularly overflow with sewage, and in 2013 several inmates camped out in the yard in protest. “They treat us like animals,” one person told the the civil-rights group.

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Criminal InJustice: Abolition X

February 25, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Police Brutality, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

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.

Abolition X
Editors note by nancy a heitzeg

It is impossible to note the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination without noting too the even more urgent need for prison abolition and for a coalition between what Mumia calls “organic and radical intellectuals.”  The ubiquity of prison, in a nation ostensibly built on freedom, is a contradiction none of us can any longer bear. Voices from the inside and  out must unite. Again.

As Dan Berger notes in “Malcolm X’s challenge to mass incarceration”:

“Malcolm X spent his political life resisting the kind of criminalization of black communities that has catalyzed protests around the country over the last six months. He was an outspoken critic of a system that has justified the arrest, imprisonment and death of so many people long before it reached the kind of crisis proportions that see a black person being killed by law enforcement or vigilantes every 28 hours, on average…

Shortly before his death, Malcolm X praised civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama, for pursuing “a version of freedom larger than America’s prepared to accept.” Fifty years later, inside the world’s biggest jailer, Malcolm X still beckons us to work for an America that may one day be described as something other than a vast prison. “

Hear him now.

 

Free Albert Woodfox!

February 18, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prisoner Rights

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.

Free Albert Woodfox!
by Angola 3 News

Editors note: The State of Louisiana, unparalleled in the scope of mass incarceration – is unparalleled too in unrelenting cruelty and venase form Angola 3 News. Please read shsre and offer ss on the latest in Woodfox’s cgeance towards many of itsases.  prisoners, but especially the Angola 3.  Of the three, Albert Woodfox remains imprisoned. ( Robert King was freed in 2001; Herman Wallace was released shortly before his death in 2013.)  Below are updates and action requests from Angola 3 news — to whom we are eternally grateful for championing these cases. Please sign too Amnesty Internationals Petition of Support.

2014Free Albert Woodfox

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CI: The Supreme Court and the Shape of Social Movements

February 04, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2012 Election, 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World

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 Supreme Court and the Shape of Social Movements
by nancy a heitzeg

I spend too much time thinking about the Supreme Court (although one could argue that others do not do so enough), and more now too, in light of recent events. There is a lot that i could say about the insanely unchecked power of nine robed people, their shadowy grip over the entirety of all our legal endeavors,  and the insidious death star that is the Roberts Court – about to knee-cap Obamacare, rule Gay Marriage a state’s right issue, destroy the legal protections against discrimination afforded by  “disparate impact,”  allow states to torture condemned prisoners to death with any old randomly mixed drug cocktail, additionally constrict women’s protections against discrimination in employment and reproductive matters, and ensconce, even further, the flow of corporate “persons” $$$ into all arenas of politics, while simultaneously diluting the votes of real flesh and blood people.

But I won’t.

Instead, a word about the impact of the Supreme Court on social movements. In the midst of Black History Month, screenings of Selma, and current movements against racialized police state violence, we must remember the significance of Brown v the Board of Education, Topeka Kansas (1954). Despite the practical limits of Brown in effecting desegregation or the failure to implement the directives of Brown II, there can be no denying that the ruling – “separate but equal is inherently unequal” – created a over-arching legal framework that emboldened the Civil Rights Movement.

The repudiation, at the Federal last word level, of the Jim Crow machinery set up in Plessy freed the Civil Rights Movement to pursue direct action civil disobedience with the confidence of victory. Certainly, there was the omnipresent risk/reality of brutal police response, extra-legal violence and death. But segregation could now be challenged at the local and state levels — the buses in Montgomery, the lunch counters in Greensboro, the beaches in Florida, everything in Birmingham – with the assurance that should the cases wend their way through the Federal Courts, the protesters would prevail. The highest Court in the land was 9 – 0, unanimously, on their side.

There are no such assurances today. To the contrary. The Roberts Court, in a series of heavily partisan 5-4 decisions, has largely undone the major legislative and judicial achievements of the Civil Rights Era, and dragged us back towards an Ante-Bellum landscape of extreme state’s rights. Read: state’s right to discriminate.

At the inspiring, poignant end of Selma, the teletype across the screen updates us as to the fate of protagonists. But missing is the fate of the signature legislation which resulted from the many bloody sundays, mondays, tuesdays. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 too lies dead – disemboweled by the Roberts Court in Shelby County v Holder (2013). The victory and sacrifice of so many, undone, by mere paper.

All of this is not to discourage the movements of this moment, but rather to say, Know the Terrain. The Supreme Court offers now no umbrella of support for demands of equality, inclusion, protection from State violence. We will not be saved. Our tactics, our strategies, our protests must take account of the current legal landscape. They must be bold imaginative, community-centered, and untethered to any expectation of sanctuary in the courts. They must operate outside the frame.

This is to say too, even to those who eschew electoral politics, keep a close eye on those nine robed judges and to the possibility of who may appoint them. It matters; their decisions shape the space for movements for decades, for generations not yet born, and mean the difference between raw repression and a small bit of breathing room.

And finally, this is to say that progress is not an uninterrupted forward motion, that no victory is guaranteed forever, Whatever we win today, we must be prepared to defend and re-defend without tire. For the long haul.

Onward.