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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.”

Revelations: The Joy Of Cows

April 13, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

CowsKuhrettung Rhein-Berg

“Ganze Weltalter von Liebe werden notwendig sein,
um den Tieren ihre Dienste und Verdienste an uns zu vergelten.”
~  Christian Morgenstern

The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy

(h/t Domino14)

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.


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.


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.

Revelations: The Rite of Spring

March 30, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Intersectionality, Spirituality, Sunday Music Flashback

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Animated Graphical Score

Milestones of the Millennium, NPR

Stravinksy, Nijinsky and Riots in Paris, 1913

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.


Revelations: “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

March 23, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, Spirituality, What People are Doing to Change the World

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, Wendell Berry

(h/t Kay Whitlock)

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Government for Good: Tony Benn (1925-2014)

March 22, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Poverty, What People are Doing to Change the World

“If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”

Tony Benn, veteran Labour Leader, has died at 88, The Guardian

Ten of the Best Tony Benn Quotes, The Guardian

Remembering Tony Benn and His Five Little Questions, Bill Moyers:

“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person — Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates — ask them five questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

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