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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 2010-2015, 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: #FreeMLK

January 21, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Housing, 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.

 

#FreeMLK
by nancy a heitzeg

In anticipation of the National Holiday bearing his name,  Ferguson Action announced their intention to #ReclaimMLK; “Unfortunately, Dr. King’s legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it. Impulses to remove Dr. King from the movement that elevated him must end. We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless women and men into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits .”

The Radical King was a tactical genius in the implementation of targeted direct action campaigns, a civil disobedient – a breaker of unjust laws who expected – no wanted – to go to jail, and at times,  as Joy James reminds us, a political prisoner. Often lost in the discussion is this: that famous letter from Birmingham was written from jailThe Radical King was a democratic socialist, an intersectional analyst who linked white supremacy and capitalism, a critic of war and U.S. imperialism, and a proponent of a revolution of values. Who knows — had he lived long enough, he may well have found himself an advocate too for prison abolition.

But what does it mean to #ReclaimKing at this moment? 2015 is not 1965. Ferguson is not Birmingham; Staten Island is not Selma. The Radical King must be fully embraced with a complete and nuanced understanding of his time and context as well as our own.

No, the legacy of King and the Civil Rights Movement can no longer be sanitized, but it cannot be uncritically, causally reclaimed either. In embracing the full complexity, we must not adhere only to the metaphor, but also the hard realities.  Protest is essential, but it cannot be mere performance and it is never, by itself, enough.  We must develop the long-haul strategies that make for success; that take into account the systems of power which we are engaging.  We must not be naive; if power is confronted, it will strike back. This is part of the turf, however vengeful and unjust it may seem.  This was the brilliance of King and the CRM:  the strategies anticipated and, in fact, relied on excessive responses that revealed the contradictions between legal “justice” and the violence that is inflicted by the state.

The radical vision demands so much more of us. It demands a lifetime commitment and a willingness to risk – everything if need be – with the expectation of the powerful backlash.  This must be factored into our work – not because we are martyrs, but because we are savvy and delusion free.  The test will be how we can walk into the center of the storms in our own era, stand through them, and see our way to the other side.

Last week I was in downtown Oakland, in the midst of 96 hours of MLK Weekend Action, and as usual, the movement there said it/did best. A coterie of marchers appeared and delivered this chant – not a call to reclaim and then repossess – but this:

“#FreeMLK!”

Read that Letter again with this in mind.

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CI: The Rock, Reclaimed

January 14, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, 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 Rock, Reclaimed
by nancy a heitzeg

Walls Will Crumble 1/12/15

All Walls Will Crumble

Some day when i am not 10,000 Light Years from Home and wind- swept, i will have more to say about Alcatraz. The island turned fortress, turned brutal end- of -the -line Federal prison, turned wildly popular National Park – referred to recently as “prison as Disneyland.” Much has been said already, much remains still buried in creases of the thick files of men who served there, dutifully read/coded by me and graduate student comrades for a man who refused to understand. Simultaneously sensationalized and trivialized, Alcatraz remains an enigma, seen by so many millions, yet eternally shrouded in ubiquitous fog.

It is clear that this was a prison, but i wonder how those who come from other less locked up nations or who don’t think about mass incarceration every day see  — if they do — the connection to now. The museum exhibit on Federal Prisons conveniently ends at 1991, and there is a prevailing sense that all this is past and far away, in a bygone era of gangsters and great escapes. Even a major art installation on political prisoners by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei somehow masks the scope of the American Gulag. Amongst only a handful of USA prisoners noted in the multimedia installation, you can, for example, write a postcard to Chelsea Manning but none to Leonard Peltier.

Trinity

Trinity

But maybe, despite the billing, Alcatraz is really no longer even a prison at all – it has been reclaimed. First by the American Indian Occupation – still in evidence by writing on the walls. But reclaimed by Nature too. Every time i have been there i  am struck again by the utter defeat of past evil, erased now by the succulent gardens, the surprise of a hummingbird, the brilliant blooms, the bright banana slugs that line the rocks. Alcatraces is left to its’ namesakes, to the rule of the sea birds, who, as in so many ancient abandoned places, oversee all to the last detail.  Even unto the ferry ride out. They must make sure you have left there, and only willingly – if ever –  return.

May this be a metaphor for the entirety of this Prison Nation.

Let it be so.

The King of Alcatraz

The King of Alcatraz

CI: The Year of Resistance 2015

January 07, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, 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 Year of Resistance 2015

eric-garner-protests-11

2015 will be the Year of Resistance where we are all called to stand  – in whatever ways we can — against the hegemony of brutal policing and punishment, against the callous capitalism which destroys our lives and the planet, against the charlatans who profit off protest, against the smoke and mirrors of treacherous/tepid calls for reform.

Be ready for anything. Stop for nothing.

Let history be your weapon.

But Stand too — for Another Way.

 

CI: Forty-Two Years

December 31, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Criminal Defense, 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.

Forty-Two Years: Free Albert Woodfox
by International Coalition to Free the Angola 3

Editors Note: As 2014 comes to a close, we remember all who have suffered under the long reach of policing and punishment – prisoners, their families, their communities, the living and the dead. Some names are known; many are not. Of those we have come to know,as political prisoners, few have been tortured longer than Albert Woodfox, the last incarcerated member of the Angola 3. (Robert King was released in 2001 and Herman Wallace was released 3 days before his death in 2013). It is long past time to set him — and all of us — Free.

On February 26, 2013, Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time. The two previous overturned convictions had been reinstated by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, on November 20, 2014,  the Fifth Circuit ruled against the Louisiana Attorney General’s request to reinstate Albert’s conviction for a third time, upholding the 2013 lower court ruling by a unanimous 3who -0 decision.

Today, in Homer Louisiana, Albert Woodfox remains in his cell – 42 years in solitary and held under increasingly severe restrictions. From the unnecessary and extensive use of the black-box during transport, to the ‘catch-22′ system making it impossible for Albert to have contact visits, it appears that the response to his most recent court victory is to continue turning the screws ever tighter.

Not surprisingly, the Louisiana Attorney General has filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court asking them to review their recent ruling that upheld a lower court’s 2013 overturning of Albert’s conviction. We anticipate a response from the Fifth Circuit in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, want to register our concern with the Louisiana Department of Corrections about the recent denial of contact visits to Albert, as explained further in the section below. We hope you’ll join us in contacting the Department of Corrections to request that they apply their visitation policy fairly.

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Revelations: Assata

December 21, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Police Brutality, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex

CI: Torture and the Lie: “That’s Not Who We Are”

December 17, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, 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.

 

CI: Torture and the Lie: “That’s Not Who We Are”

by Kay Whitlock

“That’s not who we are.”

The phrase is repeated endlessly, like a mantra, in the wake of the release of the redacted 525-page executive summary of the post- 9/11 “torture report” – the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program [PDF].  Even President Obama uttered it.

It’s a reassuring phrase that seeks to (ever so) briefly acknowledge some expression of sadistic violence inflicted by powerful people on vulnerable others that somehow, inconveniently,  enters public awareness. At the same time, it asserts this violence is an aberration, a temporary departure from American values of goodness, freedom, and democracy. Others take refuge in the idea that recent torture revelations are evidence that a once moral nation has “lost its way.”

More accurate phrases would be: “That’s not how we want to see ourselves,” or “That’s not who we wish we were.” Or even just “Blame somebody, anybody else, except me/us.”

But torture is who “we” are as a society, whether we want to believe it or not.  It is not a case of unintentionally wandering astray, off some unambiguously moral and ethical path so designated by unambiguously good people. No amount of denial or distancing from that terrible and painful truth can change the reality that torture isn’t – and never was – primarily the province of evil others – “extremists,” psychopaths, crazed loners and misfits, depraved criminals, terrorists, and a handful of “bad apples.”  The real culprits are much closer to home; often, they look, uncomfortably, just like you and me.

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CI: Beyond Words

December 10, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, 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.

 

Beyond Words
by nancy a heitzeg

How many words have been written of Mike Brown? of Ferguson? How many more will come — Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Darrien Hunt, Vonderitt Myers, Kajieme Powell, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, one every 28 hours?

We’ve written many ourselves — some here, here, here, here, and here – but now, what new words are there?  Suspended for the moment – like an ant in ancient amber- I can only return again to the first words on Ferguson, written before we even knew Darren Wilson’s name… Back to the beginning, to August 13, to Jelani Cobb in The Anger in Ferguson:

“The hazard of engaging with the history of race in the United States is the difficulty of distinguishing the past from the news of the day….The truth is that you’ve read this… so often that the race-tinged death story has become a genre itself, the details plugged into a grim template of social conflict.”

In this spectacle and script, all that has changed are the names. What it is left to say?

So no words now. The bodies in the street, the die-ins on the freeways, the symbolic protests will carry us through. And the artists will give us strength to fight another day.

 

The New Age of Slavery by Patrick Campbell

The New Age of Slavery by Patrick Campbell

h/t @Luvvie, Luvvie’s Lane

CI: The Power of Symbolic Protest in Sports

December 03, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, 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.

 
 

CI: The Power of Symbolic Protest in Sports
complied by nancy a heitzeg and Kay Whitlock

 

A Brief History Of Racial Protest In Sports, npr codeswitch

“On Sunday, five St. Louis Rams players jogged onto the field with their arms raised by their heads, a stream of fog behind them: hands up, don’t shoot.

The players — Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Stedman Bailey — were invoking the gesture that’s been widely used in protesting the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson…

“No matter what happened on that day, no matter how the whole situation went down, there has to be a change,” said Cook, a tight end for the Rams.”

1968:The Black Power Salute

Forty Million Dollar Slaves, William C. Rhoden

Requiem for a Lightweight

The Trials of Mohammad Ali, Independent Lens

“Sports recapitulates the most serious and deeply-rooted cultural social values in every society,” Edwards said…

“These are not tragedies. Mike Brown was not a tragedy. It was part of a pattern. Since Michael Brown was shot, there have been 14 young unarmed African-American men shot across this country,” Edwards said. “And this is what these athletes are saying, and I’m so proud of them I don’t know what to do.”

 

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