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Welcome to the Criminal Injustice Series


Criminal Injustice is a weekly series devoted to exploring the myths of "crime", "criminals", and criminal justice at the intersections of race/ethnicity/class/gender/sexuality/age/disability in policing and punishment. Criminal Injustice is committed to furthering action towards reducing inequities in the US criminal justice system.

Criminal Injustice seeks to be a space where we can come together to collectively learn about, analyze, and talk about strategic responses to the structural racism and other forms of violence -- misogyny, heterosexism, ableism, class violence -- that are foundational to the criminal legal system in the United States and people caught up in it who have multiple and sometimes differing experiences of that violence.

We wholeheartedly embrace Critical Mass Progress' values and principles as the foundation for those discussions.

Our focus here is on progressive movement building, and that's hard work, because it brings us together across various group and political histories, experiences, and views.

From time to time, real tensions and conflicts arise at various blogs. We seek to keep CI a place where we focus on the subject matter of the posts and not bring those conflicts in. People must feel they are welcome here, regardless of blog affiliation and participation. We want to ensure that, as in the past, CI remains a welcoming place for all those who seek to discuss CI issues in good faith.

Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

© Copyright 2010-2013, Nancy A. Heitzeg, Kay Whitlock, and Seeta Persaud of CMP. All rights reserved. All articles and posts published by Criminal Injustice may not be distributed, re-published or cross-posted in any format, including print or electronic format, without express and explicit written permission from the copyright holders, including CI editors (Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock) and criticalmassprogress.com.

CI: What We Are Capable Of

April 16, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, 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.

What We Are Capable Of
by nancy a heitzeg

“…Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death—
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) “
~ General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, Vachel Lindsay, 1913

This week, the judeo-christian tradition celebrates a passing over made possible via the slaughter of innocents, and marks the state-sponsored execution of one jesus of nazareth as sacrifice in service of redemption. Thousands of years on,  and we are not saved. It is worth a brief glimpse – just this week, from just one publication – of what we still are capable of…

Torturing Children At School, New York Times

“Federal investigators have opened an inquiry into the tragic case of a high school student in Bastrop County, Tex., who suffered severe brain damage and nearly died last fall after a deputy sheriff shocked him with a Taser, a high voltage electronic weapon.

In North Carolina, civil rights lawyers have filed a complaint with the Justice Department, charging the Wake County school system with violating the constitutional rights of minority children by subjecting them to discriminatory arrest practices and brutality by police officers assigned to schools. In one nightmarish case described in the complaint, a disabled 15-year-old was shocked with a Taser three times during an interrogation at school, resulting in punctured lungs. And in New York, civil rights lawyers have sued the city of Syracuse on behalf of two students. One was shocked three times, not for threatening behavior but for lying on the floor and crying, they say, and another was shocked while trying to break up a fight.

Complaints about dangerous disciplinary practices involving shock weapons are cropping up all over the country. The problem has its roots in the 1990s, when school districts began ceding even routine disciplinary duties to police and security officers, who were utterly unprepared to deal with children. Many districts need to overhaul practices that criminalize far too many young people and that are applied in ways that discriminate against minority children. In the meantime, elected officials need to ban shock weapons in schools…”

Secret Drugs, Agonizing Deaths by Megan McKracken and Jennifer Moreno

“For more than 30 years, every state carrying out executions by lethal injection used the anesthetic thiopental, in combination with other drugs. In 2011, the American pharmaceutical firm Hospira stopped making thiopental. Departments of corrections at first responded by importing it from abroad, but the federal courts ruled that the Food and Drug Administration was prohibited from allowing in the unapproved drugs.

Other states replaced thiopental with pentobarbital, which eventually became the new norm. But Lundbeck, a Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, did not want its name or its product (Nembutal) associated with executions. Changing its distribution system, it made sodium pentobarbital unobtainable for executions….

Even as states adopted riskier and untested drugs, they argued that the identities of the suppliers must remain secret to insulate them from criticism. But that consideration can hardly trump the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishments.

These are not academic concerns. Both compounded pentobarbital and the mixture of midazolam and hydromorphone have resulted in executions that went very wrong.

After receiving an execution dose of pentobarbital, an inmate should quickly lose consciousness and be without awareness until death occurs. But according to The Associated Press, after the drug was administered to Eric Robert in South Dakota in October 2012, he “appeared to be clearing his throat and then began gasping heavily,” and “his eyes remained opened throughout.” His heart beat for 10 minutes after he stopped breathing, suggesting the drug was not fully effective.

When compounded pentobarbital was administered to Michael Lee Wilson on Jan. 9, in Oklahoma, he cried out, “I feel my whole body burning.” Seven days later, Ohio executed Dennis McGuire with midazolam and hydromorphone. A witness reported: “His body strained against the restraints around his body, and he repeatedly gasped for air, making snorting and choking sounds for about 10 minutes. His chest and stomach heaved; his left hand, which he had used minutes earlier to wave goodbye to his family, clenched in a fist.” Mr. McGuire took more than 20 minutes to die…”

Echoes of the Superpredator, New York Times

“In a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, the court ruled that juveniles may not receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole, because it prevents judges from considering the “hallmark features” of youth — including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Recognizing that younger offenders have a greater capacity for change, the court required that judges give them “individualized” sentencing decisions and, except in extremely rare cases, a “meaningful opportunity” for release “based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

Some states have taken the court’s rulings, and its reasoning, to heart. Since the ruling in Miller, five states have abolished juvenile life without parole in all cases. In March, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that provides parole review for any juvenile who serves at least 15 years in adult prisons. Similar legislation is pending in Connecticut and Hawaii.

But other states keep fighting to prevent their juvenile offenders from ever having the chance to see the light of day. Michigan now gives judges the “choice” of imposing a minimum sentence of 25 to 60 years instead of life without parole. Courts in other states have refused to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively, stranding many of the more than 2,000 inmates who were sentenced before the Miller decision.”

CI: Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance –An Angola 3 News interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

April 09, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, 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.

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance –An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle
by Angola 3 News

A new 40-minute documentary film by Canadian History Professor Ron Harpelle, entitled Hard Time, focuses on the life of Robert Hillary King, who spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001.

 Along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Robert King is one of three Black Panther political prisoners known as the Angola 3. Last October, Herman Wallace died from liver cancer just days after being released from prison. Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to do this day, with the upcoming date of April 17, 2014 marking 42 years since he was first placed there.

Robert King and Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival. View more photos here

Robert King and Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival. View more photos here

When Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time in February 2013, his release was halted because the Louisiana Attorney General immediately appealed to the US Fifth Circuit Court, despite an Amnesty International campaign calling on the AG to respect US District Court Judge James Brady’s ruling and not appeal. The Amnesty campaign (take action here) is now calling for Woodfox’s immediate release.

 In March, Amnesty released a new interview with Teenie Rogers, the widow of correctional officer Brent Miller, the man who Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were wrongfully convicted of murdering. “This needs to stop, for me and my family to get closure,” Rogers says. She expresses sadness that she tried but was unable to see Herman before he passed and explains: “I am speaking out now because I don’t want another innocent man to die in prison.”

In an email message sent out by Amnesty, Robert King said: “Teenie believes me. She believes that the Angola 3 had nothing to do with her husband’s murder. She believes that Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and I suffered years of cruel solitary confinement as innocent men…The state hasn’t done justice by her, either. She’s angry. We both are. Louisiana authorities are hell bent on blaming the wrong person. Well, I’m hell bent on setting him free.”

 Hard Timewas recently shown in Canada at both the Toronto and Montreal Black Film Festivals, following Robert King’s testimony in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Scienceearlier that month. On April 20, Hard Time will be shown in Paris, with French subtitles, at the Ethnografilm Festival.

 The full, 40-minute version of Hard Time can now be viewed online, along with Ron Harpelle’s previous film, entitled In Security. Our interview with him is featured below.

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CI: Translation

April 02, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

Translation

Editors’ note from nancy a heitzeg

The Personal is Political they say, and so, at root, it is. But this truth is not self-evident; the individual stories must always lead back to the structures that collectively oppress.

And this requires:

Exposition. Connection. Translation.

Angela Davis – How Does Change Happen?

Angela Davis speaks about the habits of thinking and imagination that have historically constituted social movements and social change. She encourages people to adopt a “critical posture” towards the tools, concepts, vocabularies and organizing practices that characterize landscapes of struggle – including the conditions under which leadership develops and victories are achieved; the erasure of community organizers, particularly women, from narratives of progressive social change; the dangers of heroic individualism; and weak notions of “diversity” that leave structures of injustice and inequality intact.

CI: Animals Rights, Human Wrongs and the Limits of the Law

March 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, 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.

Animals Rights, Human Wrongs and the Limits of the Law
by nancy a heitzeg

For Inesperado ~

On March 19, 2014, Joe Drape and the New York Times published the following article, “PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses.” The trainers in question were Steve Asmussen, who is second in career victories and racing’s fifth all time $$ winner,, and his right hand man Scott Blasi. The complaints come as the result of an undercover investigation (with 7 hours of video) at Asmussen’s barns at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, and Saratoga Race Course in New York. PETA filed a 285 page complaint with both state agencies and federal authorities charging that Asmussen  “forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train.” Among the infractions documented in the video (PETA quoted and paraphrased below):

  • “Although it’s approved only as a prescription medication for horses with hypothyroidism, the drug thyroxine was being administered to many, if not all, horses in Asmussen’s New York stable, without any apparent testing or evidence of any thyroid condition. (This is the same drug linked to the death of 7 Bob Baffert – trained horses in a sixteen month period ). This drug was recklessly administered seemingly just to speed up metabolism—not for any therapeutic purpose.
  • Lasix—a controversial drug banned in Europe on race days—was injected into “basically all” of Asmussen’s horses who were being raced or timed in New York. A powerful drug meant to prevent pulmonary bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, Lasix is a diuretic that can serve as a masking agent for other drugs and also dehydrates horses to make them lose weight and run faster. One of New York State’s top horse-racing veterinarians admitted on camera to PETA’s investigator that Lasix is a performance-enhancing medication.
  • Horses’ legs showed multiple scars from being burned with liquid nitrogen―a process called freeze-firing―and burned with other irritating “blistering” chemicals, purportedly to stimulate blood flow to their sore legs.

  • Horses were also given muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other potent pharmaceuticals to be used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness, and inflammation, at times even when the animals had no apparent symptoms.
  • Some horses were reportedly electro-shocked with concealed buzzers. One of Asmussen’s trainers, Scott Blasi, jokingly called his top jockey, Ricardo Santana,  a “machine rider”―a nickname for riders who shock horses. And Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas laughed as he described how, at New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs racetrack, it was like “a full-blown orchestra. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Everybody had one.”
  • Of particular note was the abuse suffered by Nehro, a horse that came in second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. What race enthusiasts and reporters never knew was that just a few years later, Nehro was racing and training on chronically painful hooves with holes in them. One of the hooves was, at one point, held together with superglue…yet Nehro was kept on the track and forced to participate in workouts. Just two years after that Derby finish, Nehro developed colic and went mad from pain. He was euthanized at Churchill Downs on the day of the 2013 Kentucky Derby.”
  • PETA also accused Asmussen of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms and conspiring with Blasi to produce false identification documents, according to complaints filed with state and federal agencies.

In the immediate aftermath,  Scott Blasi has been fired by Asmussen Stables, and Asmussen himself was removed  as one of the finalists for the Racing Hall of Fame. Zayat Stables  (owners of Nehro) has terminated Steve Asmussen and moved all 12 of its horses that were previously in the trainer’s care. 3-year-old Finesse - ridden by Ricardo Santana and trained by Steve Asmussan – collapsed and died of an apparent “cardiac issue” on March 21 after finishing second in a race at Oaklawn. And, the New York State Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New Mexico Racing Commissions have launched investigations. Demands increased again for federal oversight of horse-racing and the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2012). To be sure, more to follow.

For even causal observers of horse-racing, these revelations, however disturbing, were no surprise. Horse-racing is the USA is not the “sport of kings” but rather a marginalized meat-grinder industry which chews up both young and old horses at an alarming rate. It is a loosely regulated association of state “gaming” commissions with little Federal oversight, (and in fact, Federal exemptions to profit from  off-track and internet betting). an industry where serial dopers are Eclipse Award winners and mufti-millionaire breeders may neglect and starve their horses. U.S. horse racing is awash in drugs – both legal and otherwise. Lasix, steroids, Clenbuterol, cortisone, lidocaine, mevipacaine, EPO, cobra venom, “milk-shaking”/TCO2, amphetamines and vodka injections are just a partial listing of licit and banned substances used regularly in racing.

Mostly, it is an industry that kills off its’ athletes. Some of the dead are famous like the ill-fated Barbaro, Eight Belles who died in the dirt with two broken ankles after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, and Go For Wand, whose breakdown in the 1990 Breeder’s Cup Distaff was one racing’s most gruesome nationally televised moments. Most of the dead are lesser known – some former stakes horses, like Inesperado. that have fallen down through the claiming ranks, others are mere 2 year olds, and many are old geldings raced endlessly long past their prime. The majority of horses die in low level claiming races or during training with little fanfare and perhaps less remorse. They have inelegant names and ignominious ends like Private Details whose breakdown caused a 5 horse pile-up at Aqueduct or Mr. Smee, a five year old gelding who broke a hind leg, went through the rail and drown in the in-field lake at Lone Star Park.

For obvious reasons, there is little transparency here. The industry only recently began to collect and does still not regularly publish national fatality data, but an average of 24 horses suffer fatal breakdowns at tracks across the country every week, – more than 3 Dead per Day — and 10,000 broken-down thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter every year. (Please see the excellent New York Times investigation, Breakdown: Death and Disarray at America’s Race Tracks).

For jaded observers, questions remain as to whether or not this will finally finally finally — how many do you need? – be the wake-up call that leads to federal oversight and long needed horse-racing reforms. But no one is holding their breath. The truth of the matter is this – perhaps the harshest legal consequences to result from the ensuing investigations will be for the Federal  violations around use of undocumented workers and falsification of tax records. Even if the accusations of animal cruelty meet the legal bar (and they should), this case will most likely reveal again, that when it comes to animals, there are many limits to the law.

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CI: The Prison Industrial Complex, By the Slice

March 19, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality, 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 Prison Industrial Complex, By the Slice
Editor’s note by nancy a heitzeg

From time to time, when the morass of numbers becomes too great, we need a picture that is worth More than 1000 Words . Prison Policy Initiative offers us just that with Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie A Prison Policy Initiative briefing By Peter Wagner and Leah Sakala March 12, 2014. The graphic below offers some clarity at  a time when there are claims of decreasing incarceration rates, and  additional confusion and debate about the size and location of the U.S  population on lock down


(click image for a larger view)

From the policy briefing:

There is a lot of interesting and valuable research out there, but definitional issues and incompatibilities make it hard to get the big picture for both people new to criminal justice and for experienced policy wonks. On the other hand, piecing together the available information offers some clarity. This briefing presents the first graphic we’re aware of that aggregates the disparate systems of confinement in this country, which hold more than 2.4 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories….

Now that we can, for the first time, see the big picture of how many people are locked up in the United States in the various types of facilities, we can see that something needs to change. Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.4 million people on any given day, giving us the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Both policy makers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice in turn to ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each category behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs. We’re optimistic that this whole-pie approach can give Americans, who seem increasingly ready for a fresh look at the criminal justice system, some of the tools they need to demand meaningful changes to how we do justice.

CI: The Promise/The Peril of This Moment

March 12, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, 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 Promise/The Peril of This Moment
by nancy a heitzeg

” Well, I think we have to act as if there is hope. “ Angela Davis, March 2014

In a recent interview with Democracy Now! , the miracle that is Angela Davis reminds us again that there is power in struggle, there is opportunity in the moment, but warns us too of the potential pitfalls of  “criminal justice reform”.

Well, yes. I think that this is a pivotal moment. There are openings. And I think it’s very important to point out that people have been struggling over these issues for years and for decades. This is also a problematic moment. And those of us who identify as prison abolitionists, as opposed to prison reformers, make the point that oftentimes reforms create situations where mass incarceration becomes even more entrenched; and so, therefore, we have to think about what in the long run will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars, and hopefully, eventually, in the future, the possibility of imagining a landscape without prisons, where other means are used to address issues of harm, where social problems, such as illiteracy and poverty, do not lead vast numbers of people along a trajectory that leads to prison.

CI has expressed similar concerns here ( See Smoke and Mirrors?, Confidence Men and Prison Reform, Con Artists, Profits, and Community Corrections ) . There are many questions to be asked about the ostensible movement away from mass incarceration   embraced by the right, most notably by Right on Crime. As Kay Whitlock notes, ‘the right reinvented as prison reformers”. If this makes you nervous, it should.  Expanded privatization schemes, profits and deregulation are, per usual, the ultimate end game.

It is easy to be suspicious of the right-wing agendas. But well-meaning Scandinavian model liberals can do their own sort of damage. I was reminded of this again at a  panel hosted by the League of Voters last week, Interrupting the Prison Pipeline: Partnerships, Prevention, Advocacy, Intervention. The panel included a host of well-connected Minneapolis political, non-profit and faith-based “leaders”.  And despite the claims of “interrupting” in the title, the primary focus was in providing services to those already incarcerated or to ex-offenders in the form of increased employment opportunities via Ban the Box legislation, expanded voting rights for probationers, and more Second Chances.

And of course we are for that. But where was discussion about prevention, alternatives to criminal justice, dismantling the school to prison pipeline, the impetus for the first chances?

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Angela Davis on Prison Abolition, the War on Drugs and Why Social Movements Shouldn’t Wait on Obama (Full Transcript)

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CI: For CeCe McDonald – “You Survived”

March 06, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, 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.

cece jpgFor CeCe McDonald – “You Survived”
Editors note from nancy a heitzeg

CeCe McDonald is free now. Questions remain as to whether she should have been imprisoned at all, questions which again lead us to ask who legally has a self to defend or ground to stand.  And what are the consequences for those who survive?

Today, I’ll let the artists answer.

Letter to a Minnesota Prison (unplugged)

by Aj McKenna @AnathemaJane
Apples + Snakes & Paul Hamlyn Foundation, commissioned it for @rageandradiate


Democracy Now!
: Black Trans Bodies are Under Attack

“After serving 19 months in prison, the African-American transgender activist CeCe McDonald is free. She was arrested after using deadly force to protect herself from a group of people who attacked her on the streets of Minneapolis. Her case helped turn a national spotlight on the violence and discrimination faced by transgender women of color. In 2011, McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they were reportedly accosted with homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was hit with a bar glass that cut open her face, requiring 11 stitches. A brawl ensued, and one of the people who had confronted McDonald and her friends, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, was killed. Facing up to 80 years in prison for his death, McDonald took a plea deal that sentenced her to 41 months. In the eyes of her supporters, McDonald was jailed for defending herself against the bigotry and violence that transgender people so often face and that is so rarely punished. At the time of the attack, the murder rate for gay and transgender people in this country was at an all-time high. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Transgender teens have higher rates of homelessness and nearly half of all African-American transgender people — 47 percent — have been incarcerated at some point.

McDonald joins us on her first trip to New York City. We are also joined by one of her supporters, Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, producer and activist who stars in the popular Netflix show, “Orange is the New Black.” She plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman in prison for using credit card fraud to finance her transition. She is producing a documentary about McDonald called “Free CeCe.” We also speak to Alisha Williams, staff attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.”

Promotional Trailer for FREE CeCe documentary

This video was created to raise funding for the documentary FREE CeCe please donate to make this film a reality here http://igg.me/at/freececedoc/x/3898742

See: Anti-Transgender Violence: How Hate-Crime Laws Have Failed by Victoria Law
Reconsidering Hate: A Forum on the “Hate” Frame in Policy, Politics and Organizing By Kay Whitlock
Remembering Transgender Victims of Structural Violence by nancy a heitzeg

CI: Stand Against Solitary

February 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Military Industrial Complex, 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.

Stand Against Solitary
by nancy a heitzeg

For Roses in Concrete

prison-hungerstrike-poster

“Prison policy is usually shaped out of public view, but the duration and visibility of the hunger strike has helped make the subject politically urgent. Last week, New York State agreed to extensive new restrictions on whom it could confine to its SHU. This week, in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing titled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement.” Other states have also curtailed the use of isolation recently—Indiana, where change was compelled by a federal judge’s ruling, and Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, which had faced pressure from prisoners’-rights groups. These changes are too few to constitute a total rejection of the practice. But for the first time, it has begun to seem plausible that the American attachment to this special kind of imprisonment is not a national peculiarity so much as a generational one, and that a 25-year experiment may be ending.”  ~ “The Plot from Solitary”, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

The struggle to end the tortuous use of solitary confinement is a grim one. Like the movement to abolish the death penalty, it forces us to grapple with horrifying details of life in box, buried alive, slow motion death – the gradual, state-sponsored decay of both body and mind. Worse still even,  victory in the abolition of these practices will never be enough. They are mere symptoms of the pathology of mass incarceration, mere branches never the root, that end up afflicting a numerical minority of those 2.3 million persons who languish, one way or another, in the context of the prison industrial complex. Yet resist we must.

Excessive and extensive use of long term solitary confinement is amongst the most egregious of the many human rights violations in US prisons and jails. The practice is now so pervasive that, according to Solitary Watch: “Based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.” These stints are no longer the “proverbial “30 days in the hole” but regular conditions of confinement that last for decades, sometimes, as in the cases of Hugo Pinell and Albert Woodfox  ranging up to 40 years. There is widespread agreement that this is tantamount to torture.

The routinization and expansion of long term solitary confinement in the late 20th century is intended to control – not just individual inmates, but the general population as well. Indefinite and ambiguously administered solitary confinement looms as a threat to all. It is no accident that the proliferation of control units and SuperMax prisons emerges in the aftermath of successful inmate organizing and a growing connection between “imprisoned intellectuals “ and the community outside. ( See Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement –An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan ) Control units serve decidedly political functions – they are meant to quell dissent and stymy inmate organizing.

Despite some particular and short-lived successes, even here the Carceral State has failed. The legal victories noted below all emanate from inmates themselves who have managed to be heard, to reach out, to organize and mobilize, even from 6 feet under. Roses that grew in concrete. More power to them.

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

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