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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.


Revelations: “Song Without Borders”

September 07, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Immigration, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

“Song Without Borders” by Steve Heitzeg
Performed at UN Headquarters – Daedalus Quartet

Revelations: Bed Peace ☮ ☮ ☮

July 27, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Education, Immigration, International Law, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Spirituality, What People are Doing to Change the World


Directed by Yoko Ono & John Lennon
Starring John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Bag Productions
Copyright © 1969 Yoko Ono Lennon.


CI: Justice As Theft

June 11, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Education, Housing, Immigration, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Voting Rights, Workers' 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.

Justice As Theft: Into the Twilight Zone
by Kay Whitlock

In 2011, Tonya McDowell, a homeless woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was charged with first degree (felony) larceny  and conspiracy to commit larceny for enrolling her 6-year-old son in Brookside Elementary School in the community of Norwalk.  Because McDowell and her son did not legally reside in Norwalk, the rationale for the charges was theft of $15,686 in educational costs from the Norwalk public school system. She faced a possible sentence of 20 years in prison. Moreover, McDowell’s babysitter was evicted from public housing because she apparently assisted by providing  false documents necessary for enrolling the young boy.

McDowell and her son are black; the Norwalk public school system is predominantly white – and therefore better funded than the Bridgeport system, in which people of color predominate. Essentially, she was charged with “stealing” a good public education for her son, who is entitled to public education, but not, presumably, a good one.

This prosecution was outrageous, right?  Yes – by any reasonable standard of human decency, anyway. But we live in a societal Twilight Zone in which the often-subterranean currents of the dominant U.S. public imagination respond to virtually all claims to social and economic justice as some form of theft, with all of the dissonance, danger, anxiety, emotional vulnerability, defensiveness, and fury associated with its evocation.


Government For Good: The Wellstone! Way

October 25, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Education, Government for Good, Housing, Immigration, Intersectionality, Poverty, What People are Doing to Change the World

wellstone 2

“Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.”

~ Senator Paul Wellstone ((July 21, 1944 – October 25, 2002)

wellstone 2

In era where government is so vilified, we at Critical Mass Progress would like to consider Government for Good. Collective governance – past present and future –  can work to defend/secure rights, distribute social and economic goods, provide legal recognition, jobs, healthcare and more., create opportunities via public schools, public works, and public policy that centers everyday people.


In this recurring feature,, we will highlight the many ways that government has worked for the common good. It is a call too to imagine what more can be done – locally, at the state level, and nationally to reclaim the idea — the reality too – that government can work to “improve people’s lives.”

Perhaps there is no better recent role model here than the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who died along with  his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and five others, in that fateful plane crash 11 years ago today. His legacy and his words speak for themselves, and remind us, always,  of what  government for good can do. Please check the links below for more.

The Conscience of the Senate .

Thank you Paul, this one’s for you.

Wellstone’s Revenge: How Minnesota Democrats Took Their State Back

MPR, Memorials Keep Paul Wellstone’s Memory Alive

Al Franken, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, 10 Years Later

Wellstone Action


Steve Heitzeg has put together a bench memorial to Paul Wellstone. On the bench is a photograph of a smiling Wellstone, along with a Wellstone quote about social justice. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)

Steve Heitzeg has put together a bench memorial to Paul Wellstone. On the bench is a photograph of a smiling Wellstone, along with a Wellstone quote about social justice. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)


CI: Two Years On, UK Riots in Context

August 07, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Immigration, Intersectionality, Poverty, 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.

Riot is the voice of the unheard.
~ Maxine Waters
(Los Angeles Times, 4 May 1992)

Editors Note: It has been two years since the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham sparked 4 days of rioting in London and elsewhere in England between August 6 and 10. The riots resulted in at least 4 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and millions in property damage.

Two years later, a final police report on Duggan’s killing has not yet been released, as officers are refusing to cooperate. There are community complaints that the government has largely ignored recommendations from The Riots, Communities and Victims Panel. The conditions that laid the foundations for the riots remain — poverty and a youth unemployment rates of more than 20%, and an aggressive police presence in communities of color.

CI is pleased to republish this excellent piece from Susan Pashkoff*, originally written in the immediate aftermath of the riots. It is as relevant today as it was at the time of publication, and sadly, echoes USA issues of police violence and racism in the criminal injustice system that are covered here each week..

UK Riots in Context: Police Brutality and Institutional Racism in the UK
by Susan Pashkoff*

The name, Mark Duggan, has been absent from the discussion of the riots that have wracked first London and which have spread to the rest of the United Kingdom. But the name Mark Duggan is a name that must not be lost; mark duggan as the man, Mark Duggan, and the shooting of this young black man by police in Tottenham is the spark that led to the fires in Tottenham . His shooting by police raised clear distress and concern to family, loved ones and members of the community and the absence of an explanation by the police lead to a peaceful vigil being undertaken to request answers from the police. Consensual and Community policing is dependent upon community relations and support and this has been compromised due to a history of institutional racism, deaths in police custody and the clear racist component both in practice and in theory to Stop-and-search procedures historically in the UK. In fact, it was a stop-and-search procedure which yielded no weapons which led to the riot in Hackney that followed the next day.

These incidents cannot be understood as isolated events. Police brutality against working class people, but especially people of colour, and institutional racism in policing (both in theory and in practice) and in the judicial system has a long history in the UK. The death of Mark Duggan is the latest in a history of problems of race and class that has plagued the UK since black immigration began in the post-war period.


Turning Up the Heat on GOP During August Recess

August 01, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Education, Immigration, Poverty, Workers' Rights

Tomas Martinez, of Atlanta, chants during a rally in front of the White House on July 24, calling for of immigration reform.
(Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)

From USA Today:

As they prepare to leave the Capitol for a month-long August recess, Republican members of the House of Representatives are taking with them legislative summaries and informational packets to tackle tough questions in their districts about immigration.

Supporters of a proposal to revamp the nation’s immigration laws plan to use the recess to pressure House GOP members in their districts to pass a plan like that which passed the Senate in June.

Those in favor of granting citizenship to an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants say they will use rallies, marches, coordinated phone calls, social media campaigns and pressure from big-dollar donors.

“This is the beginning of a long, hot summer for the House of Representatives,” said Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, a labor union that supports the Senate’s immigration bill.

Republicans will also face pressure from Tea Party groups and other opponents of the Senate immigration bill.

From HuffPo:

“This is a new approach. The theory in the past has been to be stealth about the effort to confront members at town halls — but sometimes it’s been too stealth, and we haven’t generated enough activity,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of the progressive group Americans United for Change. “Since everyone knows that both sides are doing this, we’re going to be public-facing about it.”

On Wednesday, the group is launching Accountable Congress, a new website meant to be a summer toolkit for the progressive community, providing information about where Republican members of Congress and senators will be speaking during the August recess away from Capitol Hill. It includes progressive talking points on issues of the day, including immigration, climate change and gun violence, in addition to suggested questions to ask Republican lawmakers.

Woodhouse said he wants supporters to confront the elected officials, ask them tough questions and record the exchanges. The group plans to share noteworthy responses, and to collect and share information about what Republicans are doing and saying. Americans United has presented its plan to various progressive organizations already and will be holding daily calls with activists to coordinate the strategy.

“We’re also not just focusing exclusively on swings -– whether in the issue or electoral sense,” said Woodhouse. “We’ll try to have a presence at any GOP member event.”

House Republicans are putting together their own August recess playbook. The House Republican Conference has created a 31-page document offering instructions to members for meeting with constituents, promoting the House GOP’s agenda and garnering media attention. It does not, however, advise members on how to deal with confrontational town halls.

Democrats took a thumping during the 2009 summer recess, when lawmakers faced tea party activists at town hall meetings during the height of the health care debate. The party lost control of its message, with the myth of “death panels” often dominating discussions.

North Carolina’s Moral Mondays

July 23, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Education, Housing, Immigration, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Voting Rights, White Privilege

Moral Mondays protest in North Carolina. Photographer: Eric Etheridge.

From The Nation:

North Carolina was long regarded as one of the most progressive Southern states—an island of moderation amid a sea of conservatism. But since Republicans took over the state legislature in 2010 and the governorship in 2012—putting the GOP in control for the first time since 1896—the state has personified the hard-right shift in state capitols across the country after the 2010 elections, moving abruptly from purple to deep red. So far this year, legislation passed or pending by Republicans would eliminate the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; decline Medicaid coverage for 500,000; end federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slash taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; allow for guns to be purchased without a background check and carried in parks, playgrounds, restaurants and bars; ax public financing of judicial races; and prohibit death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts. “They’ve drank all the Tea Party they could drink and sniffed all the Koch they could sniff,” Barber says.

The Moral Monday protests began in April, after the legislature introduced voting restrictions that would require a state-issued photo ID (which 318,000 registered voters don’t have) to cast a ballot, drastically cut early voting, eliminate same-day registration during the early voting period, end the $2,000–$2,500 child dependency tax deduction for parents whose college students vote where they attend school, and rescind the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons. Pro-democracy groups dubbed the legislation the Screw the Voter Act of 2013 and the Longer Lines to Vote Bill. The clear aim was to dampen turnout of the young and minority voters who propelled Obama to a surprise victory in North Carolina in 2008 and a near repeat in 2012.

On April 29, Barber and sixteen others, mostly ministers, were arrested inside the North Carolina legislature for trespassing and failure to disperse. He called it a peaceful “pray-in.” The next week, thirty more people were arrested, including the former dean of arts and sciences at Duke University. The numbers grew quickly. By July 15, 838 people had been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.

“It really caught on like in the old days,” says Bob Zellner, a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who lives in the city of Wilson. “We’ve been waiting for a renewal of the civil rights movement, and this is it.” The protests are building something unique in North Carolina—a multiracial, multi-issue movement centered around social justice. It’s the kind of thing the South hasn’t seen much of since the 1960s, when students at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro jump-started the modern civil rights movement by refusing to leave the lunch counter at Woolworth’s.

Barber is the MLK of the Moral Monday movement, a charismatic preacher and savvy political organizer. “What do we do when they try to take away our rights?” he asks at the church. “We fight! We fight! We fight!” the crowd shouts, standing and pumping their fists. “Forward together,” Barber says, invoking the slogan of the protesters. “Not one step back,” the congregation responds. Simple placards are passed around: Protect Every American’s Right to Vote; Stop Attacks on the Poor and Working Poor; Why Deny Unemployment Benefits?