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CI: The Attorney General of the United States

March 11, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Prison Industrial Complex, Voting 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.

The Attorney General of the United States
Editors note from nancy a heitzeg

“While my time in the Department of Justice will soon draw to a close, I want you to know that, no matter what I do or where my own journey takes me, I will never leave this work.  I will never abandon this mission. Nor can you.  If we are to honor those who came before us, and those still among us, we must match their sacrifice, their effort, with our own.  The times change, the issues seem different, but the solutions are timeless and tested: question authority and the old ways. Work.  Struggle.  Challenge entrenched power.  Persevere.  Overcome.”

~ Attorney General Holder Reaffirms Commitment to Voting Rights in Speech to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, Selma, Alabama, United States, Sunday, March 8, 2015

It is possible, in complexity, to say that the criminal legal system is flawed at the foundations – to argue for abolition- and to also say, in the very same moment, that every inch of breathing room matters. To say that it matters who is the President, who sits on the Supreme Court, and who is the Attorney General of the United States. To say that an imperfect system can be made slightly better (or much worse) by the party and people who occupy positions of power.

In that spirit, CI would to acknowledge the work of Attorney General Eric Holder – for his willingness to plainly confront systemic racism in multiple arenas and to use the power of his office to combat its’ persistent and impermissible stain on voting rights, school discipline, and policing. His Department of Justice sought to enforce the Voting Rights Act even after it had been gutted, guided the Department of Education away from zero tolerance and racialized suspensions/expulsions for the first time in more than 20 years, and indicted, in  perhaps the last DOJ Report that will bear his name, the unconstitutional cesspool that is the Ferguson Police Department and Courts.

Given the constraints of the Title and the Office, that, Sir, is Enough.

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Revelations: March On

March 08, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

Eyes on the Prize (VI) — Bridge to Freedom, 1965

From the Archives: Where’s the Spirit of Selma Now? by Gay Talese

Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed, The Nation

SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA v. HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al.

No. 12-96. Argued February 27, 2013–Decided June 25, 2013

The Voting Rights Act: A Resource Page, Brennan Center for Justice

CI: Undercurrents of #Pointergate

November 12, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Anti-Racism, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Voting 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.

Undercurrents of #Pointergate ~ White Supremacist Policing and Racialized Voter Disenfranchisement
by nancy a heitzeg

Unless you have been in a media blackout, then surely the news of #Pointergate has come your way. It began with this inflammatory story last Thursday night on KSTP news. The provocative headline read: Mpls. Mayor Flashes Gang Sign with Convicted Felon; Law Enforcement Outraged.”

Old White Men Stoke Racialized Fears on KSTP TV

The photo of Mayor Betsy Hodges and Navell Gordon was taken at a get- out-the- vote event with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change  (more on NOC later).  Once everyone realized this was real and not some ludicrous Onion-esque parody, the reaction from Minneapolis residents was immediate; the hashtag #pointergate was created and trending within the hour. Since then the story has gone national with coverage that is focused on the blatant racism including the equation of the pointing with “gang signs”, and the smearing of Gordon as a “twice convicted felon.” The KSTP story was a textbook example of the racist conflation of Blackness with both criminality and gangs that pervades media and public perceptions. (For the best discussion of this dimension of these aspects of the story, please see the response from Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) Chair Ken Martin, Professor Nekima Levy -Pounds, “Dear White People: Mayor Betsy Hodges is Not in a Gang” and Melissa Pestroyrry-Harris’ interview with both Navell Gordon and Anthony Newby, Executive Director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.)

Questions also emerged with regard to the timing of the piece. The following day, the City of Minneapolis was about to introduce a pilot program that required Minneapolis Police to wear body cameras. This requirement has long been part of Mayor Hodges’ platform and one source of conflict between the Mayor and the police union over growing community demands for accountability. The other98 blog offers a timeline of the evolving tensions and a closer look into the events preceding the body cam announcement:

Battle of the Open Letters

… late September of 2014. Councilwoman Hodges was now Mayor Hodges, and as such was facing higher expectations from the community. On September 26, a coalition of local professors, religious leaders, community groups and others penned “An Open Letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges,” which was later published in the Star Tribune, a local paper. The letter laid out serious concerns about the conduct of the Minneapolis Police Department, particularly residents’ frustration with the behavior of Chief Harteau, who had abruptly dropped out of a listening session intended to address these very concerns. The letter urges Mayor Hodges to break her “silence” on the growing tension and start working to regain public trust of both the police department and local government.

Mayor Hodges responded on October 8 with an Open Letter of her own, emphasizing her commitment to “eliminating gaps based in race and place, growing inclusively, and running the city well for everyone.” The letter goes on to lay out, in exhaustive detail, the plans and goals Hodges had for improving relations between police and the community at large. Early in the letter, this passage appears:

Hundreds of police officers serve respectfully and collaboratively every day to keep people safe and make neighborhoods across our city stronger. But not all do: some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it. Minneapolis has, and has had, officers like that. These officers do not represent a majority of the department, but their behavior disrupts community trust for all officers in the community… This is why it is so important to check bad behavior and end it, once and for all.

Well. Minneapolis Police were pissed, to put it lightly. In the third and final entry of the Battle of Open Letters, the President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, John Delmonico, wrote a blistering reply to the Mayor, calling her words “repeated and personal slaps in the face to every member of the Minneapolis Police Department.” He accused her of painting all officers with the same unfair brush, and expressed anger that all of her plans for improving community relations involved changes in the department (Delmonico did not offer alternative plans, nor clarify as to what it would look like to reform the community rather than the police).

Certainly the KSTP story was a distraction from (and perhaps retaliation for) the announcement of the new body camera requirement. What has not yet been fully explicated in the #pointergate story, however, is a deeper discussion of the role of race in policing, including a new Minnesota ACLU Report on racial disparities in low level arrests, and the targeting of efforts to enfranchise Black voters.

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Watch Live Coverage of 2014 Midterm Elections

November 04, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

PBS NewsHour will stream its coverage, which is co-anchored by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, starting at 3pm PT / 6 pm ET.

2014 Midterms: Where to Vote, What’s On Your Ballot, What You Need to Bring to the Polls

November 04, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

CI: On Birmingham, #Ferguson and the Meaning of Movement

October 15, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, Voting 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.

 

On Birmingham, #Ferguson and the Meaning of Movement
by nancy a heitzeg

From the earliest days of unrest after the murder of Mike Brown, comparisons have been made to the Civil Rights Movement. Certainly Mike Brown himself evoked thoughts again of Emmett Till, as for 4 and one half hours, the whole watched as his body lay in the street. We saw what they had done to Leslie McSpadden’s boy. Then came the Ferguson Police Department with the dogs, reminiscent of Birmingham, the Bloody Sunday-like excesses of official response to non-violent protesters. And, in the 68 days since Mike Brown’s death from August 9th through #FergusonOctober, there have been unrelenting marches, protests, sit-ins, shut-downs, flash mobs,  and more.

The comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s have been furthered by both activists and media. 1964 = 2014. Ferguson = Birmingham. But does it ?

Although there are many points of comparison there are questions too. What has changed? What does that mean for movement vision and tactics today? There are many questions to consider– no concrete answers to had. Movements of course are organic – by their very nature , they evolve to address the issues of the time, and past movements are never a perfect template for present or future. Movements emerge and take on a life of their own that no amount of planning  or calculated questions can ever fully account for. But ask we must. And since History is a Weapon, Eyes on the Prize can serve as one of our guides.*

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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.

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The Massive Progressive Protest You Didn’t Hear About This Weekend

February 10, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Education, Fourth Estate, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Tax Policy, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World, Workers' Rights


Credit: Planned Parenthood

From ThinkProgress:

Somewhere between 80 to 100,000 people from 32 states turned out to protest four years of drastic state Republican initiatives in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday.

The “Moral March on Raleigh,” organized by Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ), marched from Shaw University to the state capitol to push back against the “immoral and unconstitutional policies” of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory during the 2013 NC General Assembly session. Since North Carolina Republicans took over both legislative chambers in 2010, legislators have eliminated a host of programs and raised taxes on the bottom 95 percent, repealed a tax credit for 900,000 working families, enforced voter suppression efforts, blocked Medicaid coverage, cut pre-Kindergarten funding, cut federal unemployment benefits, and gave itself the authority to intervene in abortion lawsuits.

Activists have gathered at weekly protests, called ‘Moral Mondays,’ in North Carolina since 2013 as a way to give voice to individuals whose rights were under attack by the Republican-controlled legislature. While there were no reported arrests in Saturday’s protest, hundreds of nonviolent protesters were arrested during last year’s Moral Monday events.