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Here you will find all archived articles and posts under the selected category. Thank you for visiting and supporting the movement.

Criminal InJustice: Eastern State Penitentiary, Cautionary Tales

July 22, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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 CST

 

Eastern State Penitentiary, Cautionary Tales
by nancy a heitzeg

The ethics of prison tours is a subject broached here before — whether it be tours of prisons currently in operation such as LSP Angola or Central California Facility for Women, (where prisoners are encountered and sometimes displayed) or the prison as museums/tourist attractions as Alcatraz is. And so too Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), the first true prison in the U.S. and the architectural model for many institutions around the world.

The questions that always arise are these: What are we expected to learn here? Are there social justice lessons that can outweigh the costs of participation?

Eastern State Penitentiary is a story of the pitfalls of reform gone awry. Founded in an era where institutions were believed to be a panacea for social ills, ESP was meant to rehabilitate through solitary reflect and penance. It was meant to be better than the Bedlam that was once the Walnut Street Jail, but in the end, it was not. Buried alive in catacomb like cells, the endless solitary confinement produced its’ own sort of madness. Charles Dickens visited the prison in 1842, and wrote:
esp jpg

“I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore the more I denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”

Eastern State Penitentiary is also a story of repetitious history. The solitary design of ESP exactly foreshadows  — in stone rather than steel – the design and horrors of Pelican Bay, of Florence ADX, of any Super Max. Nearly 200 years ago it was known that 23 hour a day lock down and extreme social isolation would drive prisoners mad — and yet the practice persists, by default or design.

In the end, perhaps what we learn on all prison tours is this: No good can ever come of it.

As the President visits prison too,  as campaign talk of “reform” swirls, Remember.

And Resist.

12 Monkeys, filmed at Eastern State Penitentiary, 1995

Criminal InJustice: “Broken Windows”/Broken Lives, One Year Later

July 15, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

 

“Broken Windows”/Broken Lives and the Ruse of “Public Order” Policing
by nancy a heitzeg

Authors note: As we approach the one year anniversary of Eric Garner;s death, New York City reached a settlement with his family, agreeing to pay $5.9 million to resolve a wrongful-death claim. The settlement is the latest in a long series of civil pay-outs (over $1 billion) made by the city to victims of NYPD.

But that has largely been the only accounting. While still under investigation, the officers involved  in Garner;s death will likely face no legal consequences. A Grand Jury has already declined to indict them. In fact, those who filmed the police action that killed Garner – Ramsey Orta and Tanisha Allen — have singularly received more police scrutiny than the killers themselves.

The Mayor, elected on a progressive wave, has co-signed continued NYPD repression — budgeting for 1300 new officers and standing in support of both broken windows and the chokehold. This, despite growing protests over police killings in NYC and across the nation. As of this writing, that number approaches 600, a rate of more than 3 dead per day.

The death of Eric Garner, which preceded that of Mike Brown by a month, reinvigorated a national call to end police violence against Black Lives. It continues apace, perhaps has even accelerated.  And so we demand again in the name of Eric Garner and so many more:

“It Stops Today.”

***

The murder of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD brings to light again the never-ending unanswered questions. Unchecked police killings of mostly Black Men – one every 28 hours. Rampant racial profiling, most recently high-lighted in Floyd v City of New York. Excessive use of force, even in the handling of non-violent crime. Deadly restraint tactics, such as the choke-hold that killed Michael Stewart, killed Anthony Baez, and was supposedly banned in NYC despite being the on-going subject of more than 1000 civilian complaints.

“Brother Eric Garner No Longer Breathes Courtesy Of Banned NYPD Chokehold. Rest In Power.” Spike Lee

Lurking behind all these atrocities is the flawed theory and fatal practice that makes it all possible: “Broken Windows” and public order policing. Widely promoted but rarely publicly critiqued, in light of Eric Garner, let’s take a closer look.

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Revelations: #KeepItDown

June 28, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Police State, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice: To Break the Chain

June 24, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Gun Culture, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, 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.

 

To Break the Chain
by nancy a heitzeg

Charleston.  The latest USA edition of the “race-tinged death story”.

Although the racial motivations were clear from the outset (survivors told the tale), this did not deter mainstream media and invested policy makers from spinning the familiar script. Liberals pointed towards guns and debate erupted over which language of the carceral state to adopt — was this hate crime or terrorism? The Right feigned confusion or claimed that it was really just Christians who were under attack..

The white shooter, typically,  was both isolated and humanized – arrested without a scratch, fed Burger King, described as a lone wolf who may be mentally ill or exceptionally evil, ultimately unknowable. In the words of South Carolina Governor Nikki Hayley, “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Until we did. The discovery of Dylann Roof’s last racist screed laid bare the motives, and set off another round of spin. The fact that Roof named the Council of Conservative Citizens, as both source and inspiration, induced a panic-stricken flow of returned campaign contributions, the fine line between “extremist” hate and the GOP mainstay, erased.

Exposed now, attention then turned quickly to the Confederate Flag and calls for its’ removal as remedy. The flag, which should have never flown, was long embraced by slavers and segregationists, and served as key code in the deployment of the ostensibly color-blind “Southern Strategy”. But perhaps now the costs had finally come to outweigh the benefits. Perhaps too, in keeping with the climate of premature forgiveness and healing, it was time for rapid reversal from those who had ridden the undead Confederacy to power.

As Glen Ford notes in The Perils of the Politics of Symbolism:

The demand that South Carolina remove the “Stars and Bars” from in front of the state capital building is wholly symbolic, directly affecting one pole and one piece of cloth.  The state’s governor and top Republican legislators would never consider letting go of the flag if it had not already become as much a burden as an asset to the Party… “Reconciliation,” therefore, comes cheap – and, in fact, redounds to the benefit of the former offender. Whites in South Carolina will get the chance to feel as good about voting the Confederate-free Republican ticket, as white Democrats in Iowa felt voting for Obama. Power relationships are unaffected…”

So the Flag may come down – forever or just for one day. Or it may not. It may be banned from Wal*Mart and Amazon and eBay for as long as Duck Dynasty was off the air or more. Regardless, the effects of the performance of contrition and distancing will have been achieved for those who rose to power on this very white supremacist imagery and the blood money it raised.  And we will be approaching peak color-blindness, an entire uninterrupted landscape of racism without racists, replete with complete denial-ability but deep structures which remain, untouched.

The juxtaposition of last week’s news-maker, the “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal, with the trajectory of the unfolding Charleston story is unsettling. The singular message is this: race and racism are individualized performances that allow for both white appropriation of Blackness when convenient and white supremacist denial of structural racism viz a viz its’ projection onto a disposable Symbol. Elusive; ephemeral.

The reality is, flag or no, the structural white supremacy that is the bedrock foundation of this country has never been redressed. The Civil War has never been over. Slavery has been unwilling to die, morphing via the “reform ” offered by the 13th Amendment into the prison industrial complex and the punishing state. And the promises of “due process”, “equal protection” and the franchise, continue to be denied.

Until there is that full accounting – in word, deed and reparation – that flag, even figuratively, will continue to fly.

CI: Isolation

June 17, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

 

Isolation
Editors note by nancy a heitzeg

For Albert Woodfox, Kalief Browder, Millions more..

June is Torture Awareness Month. How ludicrous really to type these words – to imagine, in the 21st Century, that torture remains an issue here (or anywhere), or that we are unaware.

But of course it is an issue here.  Our entire system of criminal injustice — from policing to prison to capital punishment – in built in varying degrees on torture. Built on a desire to control/cage, dehumanize/kill that is insatiable in its’ scope (due in part to the penchant for profit here) or in any limits to conditions of cruelty. The long-standing struggles of Albert Woodfox and Kalief Browder in isolation are but two of millions. They are not isolated cases.

And of course we are aware. Most of us have, in fact, cosigned this. Others claim condemnation. But tepid requests for “reform”, outrage over selected cases, hope that if we say enough names, click enough petitions, tweet/retweet enough egregious cases that something will magically change — all of these responses, in the end, solidify a system which is well-equipped to manage the predictable spectacle and script.

So connect all the stories to the level of structure, eschew the proposed quick fixes and the click-bait merchants. Go to the root – indict and dismantle the very system.

Only one word is relevant now and it is Abolition.

 

National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Breaking Down the Box

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CI: The #Police in Your Heads

June 10, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, 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 #Police in Your Heads
by nancy a heitzeg

Last week the Minneapolis City Council voted 12-1 to repeal the rarely used, racially enforced, and  constitutionally questionable ordinances on Lurking and Spitting. The effort was spearheaded by City Council Members Council Members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang and passage was supported by a variety of groups, including the Minnesota ACLU, Coalition for Critical Change, #Blacklivesmatter Mpls, Community Justice Project and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. The Council was persuaded by a series of ALCU Reports that documented the role of these low level offenses in racial profiling and compelling testimony from the community as to the negative impact of “public ordering policing” and racial profiling on their everyday lives.

The victory was not achieved without some attempts at derailing via fear-mongering – mostly from  the sole vote against repeal, Council President Barb Johnson, Downtown Business interests , the police union , and a few random white citizens who fantasize that such ordinances may keep them “safe.” Largely ignoring the extensive data linking these offenses to racial profiling and criminalizing poverty, the red flags of livability, safety, and the slippery slope were waved; “we may find that the ripple effects from such changes simply undermine the security of individuals who live, work and visit here.”

Hardly.

Policing, here as so often, is the first knee-jerk and the last resort to anything and everything that might disrupt “whiteness” and/or property. This is the default for dealing with any sort of “other”; there is no alternative thought, no imagination.

The Police in Their Heads.

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CI: Counting

June 03, 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.

 
Counting
by nancy a heitzeg

How many are killed by law enforcement in the United States each year? And who is counting ?

While local state and Federal law enforcement agencies keep absolutely accurate records of the number of police officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty (typically less than 60 killed per year), there is no comparable systematic accounting of the number of citizens killed by police each year. This data is not nationally gathered or reported, save for a voluntary FBI reporting program. The task has largely been left to individual researchers to cobble together local and state – level data (much of which has removed racial identifiers) and report what police only seem to be concerned about in light of potential litigation.

A variety of efforts have attempted to document both the numbers and the racial disparities. Included here are a 2007 study conducted by ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter, two major reports from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (Report on the Extrajudicial Killing of 120 Black People, January 1n to June 30 2012 that documents the police killing of one Black Man Woman or Child every 36 hours and Operation Ghetto Storm: 20)12 Annual Report on the extrajudicial killing of 313 Black people by police, security guards and vigilantes #Every28Hours) and an analysis of federally collected data on 1,217 fatal police shootings by Propublica, Deadly Force in Black and White. All studies found that Blacks were substantially more likely than whites/other racial or ethnic groups to be killed by police, even when they were unarmed.

In the era of #Ferguson/#Baltimore/#Everywhere, there are calls for an accounting. Yesterday, Senators Barbara Boxer and Cory Booker introduced the The Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence Act. This that would require police departments to report any incidents in which an officer is involved in “use of force” that results in serious injury or death to the Justice Department. The chances of the bill passing remain to be seen.

In lieu of any current mandated recording, the Guardian as launched an interactive crowd-sourced database of police killings that records what government officials will not: The Counted. It represents the most comprehensive data source to date on the stories and statistics, the demography and geography of “any deaths arising directly from encounters with law enforcement”, including people who were shot, tasered and struck by police vehicles as well those who died in police custody. So far this year..

 

Please share this invaluable resource and contribute to the database via the online links if you have information on police killing(s). It is hoped Counting will lead to Accountability, but that burden rests with us.

Make the stories, make the numbers Count towards Systemic Change.

CI: The Ubiquity, the Banality of Mediated Policing & Punishment

May 27, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Fourth Estate, Media Conglomeration, 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 Ubiquity, the Banality of Mediated Policing & Punishment
by nancy a heitzeg

“Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.”Hannah Arendt

One of the many benefits of rarely watching TV is this: when you do turn it on, you are shocked anew by the uninterrupted routinization of policing and punishment, shook awake from the otherwise somnambulist gaze.

Certainly we have come to expect, with few questions, the demonization of  “criminals”, the fueled fear of crime,  the glorification of police, prosecutors, and prison as “appropriate” punishment. We have come to expect too the racialized framing that deems a 100+ Gun/9 Dead shootout with police in Waco a Kerfuffle, a mere “melee“, while 1 burned CVS amidst Baltimore protests constitutes a riot. This is the overt script for the “news”, the text of “reality” police and prison shows – LockUp, Jail and Cops –  the fodder for the serial glorification of Blue Bloods, Walter White(ness) and Dirty Harry/Die Hard/Mad Max marathons, and the premise of endless incarnations of Law and Order, CSI, and more.

Perhaps most insidiously, policing, punishment and prison pervades as subtext and unexamined backdrop. Our fears are subverted into twisted humor, often as prison rape jokes that float through even children’s programming, and are also used to sell us an array of consumer products. Here, most recently imagine my surprise at this — in the age of #Ferguson/#Baltimore/#Everywhere and any number of untold deaths by Taser – Dollar Shave Club razors.

Beyond the billions in profit churned  –  yes this too is part of the prison industrial complex — this cultural hegemony normalizes policing and prison as part of the everyday landscape. It is routine; it is to be expected. Policing, punishment and prisons are such blatantly recurrent elements of cultural commodfication that they are embedded as normative within our psyches and collective subconscious.

The hyper-visible atrocities  are, in effect, rendered completely invisible. They are so Everywhere that they are Nowhere at all.

And how do you dismantle a system of excessive repression that many can no longer even see?