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Criminal InJustice: Eastern State Penitentiary, Cautionary Tales

July 22, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, 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 CST

 

Eastern State Penitentiary, Cautionary Tales
by nancy a heitzeg

The ethics of prison tours is a subject broached here before — whether it be tours of prisons currently in operation such as LSP Angola or Central California Facility for Women, (where prisoners are encountered and sometimes displayed) or the prison as museums/tourist attractions as Alcatraz is. And so too Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), the first true prison in the U.S. and the architectural model for many institutions around the world.

The questions that always arise are these: What are we expected to learn here? Are there social justice lessons that can outweigh the costs of participation?

Eastern State Penitentiary is a story of the pitfalls of reform gone awry. Founded in an era where institutions were believed to be a panacea for social ills, ESP was meant to rehabilitate through solitary reflect and penance. It was meant to be better than the Bedlam that was once the Walnut Street Jail, but in the end, it was not. Buried alive in catacomb like cells, the endless solitary confinement produced its’ own sort of madness. Charles Dickens visited the prison in 1842, and wrote:
esp jpg

“I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore the more I denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”

Eastern State Penitentiary is also a story of repetitious history. The solitary design of ESP exactly foreshadows  — in stone rather than steel – the design and horrors of Pelican Bay, of Florence ADX, of any Super Max. Nearly 200 years ago it was known that 23 hour a day lock down and extreme social isolation would drive prisoners mad — and yet the practice persists, by default or design.

In the end, perhaps what we learn on all prison tours is this: No good can ever come of it.

As the President visits prison too,  as campaign talk of “reform” swirls, Remember.

And Resist.

12 Monkeys, filmed at Eastern State Penitentiary, 1995

Criminal InJustice: “Broken Windows”/Broken Lives, One Year Later

July 15, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

 

“Broken Windows”/Broken Lives and the Ruse of “Public Order” Policing
by nancy a heitzeg

Authors note: As we approach the one year anniversary of Eric Garner;s death, New York City reached a settlement with his family, agreeing to pay $5.9 million to resolve a wrongful-death claim. The settlement is the latest in a long series of civil pay-outs (over $1 billion) made by the city to victims of NYPD.

But that has largely been the only accounting. While still under investigation, the officers involved  in Garner;s death will likely face no legal consequences. A Grand Jury has already declined to indict them. In fact, those who filmed the police action that killed Garner – Ramsey Orta and Tanisha Allen — have singularly received more police scrutiny than the killers themselves.

The Mayor, elected on a progressive wave, has co-signed continued NYPD repression — budgeting for 1300 new officers and standing in support of both broken windows and the chokehold. This, despite growing protests over police killings in NYC and across the nation. As of this writing, that number approaches 600, a rate of more than 3 dead per day.

The death of Eric Garner, which preceded that of Mike Brown by a month, reinvigorated a national call to end police violence against Black Lives. It continues apace, perhaps has even accelerated.  And so we demand again in the name of Eric Garner and so many more:

“It Stops Today.”

***

The murder of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD brings to light again the never-ending unanswered questions. Unchecked police killings of mostly Black Men – one every 28 hours. Rampant racial profiling, most recently high-lighted in Floyd v City of New York. Excessive use of force, even in the handling of non-violent crime. Deadly restraint tactics, such as the choke-hold that killed Michael Stewart, killed Anthony Baez, and was supposedly banned in NYC despite being the on-going subject of more than 1000 civilian complaints.

“Brother Eric Garner No Longer Breathes Courtesy Of Banned NYPD Chokehold. Rest In Power.” Spike Lee

Lurking behind all these atrocities is the flawed theory and fatal practice that makes it all possible: “Broken Windows” and public order policing. Widely promoted but rarely publicly critiqued, in light of Eric Garner, let’s take a closer look.

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Criminal InJustice: Captivity, Control and Resistance

July 08, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, 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

 

Captivity, Control and Resistance
by nancy a heitzeg

The so-called “Land of the Free” is a nation of cages. Our late capitalist economy is now based almost entirely on commodification, capture, and control of people, other species, the planet.

But this cannot stand. Repression breeds resistance and all life tends towards – not just survival – but freedom.

We will break out together.

Revelations: If A Tree Falls…

July 05, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Eco-Justice, Intersectionality

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOhkaB7oU7E

“Eco-terrorism” and the Green Scare, Green is the New Red

Criminal InJustice: Restorative Justice is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation

July 01, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Corrupt Judiciary, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

 

Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation –An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

By Angola 3 News

On Monday, June 8, 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The next day, at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of release set to expire on Friday, June 12.

As the week intensified following Judge Brady’s ruling, both Albert Woodfox and his family, friends & supporters wondered if he would finally be released over 43 years after first being placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International USA launched a petition calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to honor Judge Brady’s ruling.

On June 9, US Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) issued a statement declaring that “Attorney General Caldwell must respect the ruling of Judge Brady and grant Mr. Woodfox his release immediately…This is an obviously personal vendetta and has been a waste of tax payer dollars for decades. The state is making major cuts in education and healthcare but he has spent millions of dollars on this frivolous endeavor and the price tag is increasing by the day.”

On June 11, eighteen members of the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution (H.R. 208) urging Attorney General Caldwell to stop standing in the way of justice, withdraw his appeals, and let Judge Brady’s unconditional writ and release ruling stand.

However, on Friday, June 12, the Court responded by scheduling oral arguments for late August and extending the stay of release at least until the time that the Court issues its ruling later in the Fall.

Among those who communicated with Albert during that emotional week was Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In the days following Judge Brady’s ruling, she was a featured guest on several television and radio shows that focused on Albert’s case, including National Public Radio. In this interview with Angola 3 News, Prof. Bell discusses her new law journal article and reflects upon the latest developments in Albert’s fight for freedom. She argues that recent Angola 3-related media coverage in the US is becoming “more substantive,” and that this month “the media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.”

Literally hundreds of news websites around the world published articles about Judge Brady’s ruling. The New York Times, who in an earlier editorial from 2014 declared Albert’s four decades in solitary to be “barbaric beyond measure,” chose a headline for their June 10 article that cited Albert’s “Torturous Road to Freedom.” The next day, the NY Times reprinted an Associated Press article entitled “What Has Louisiana Got on the Last of the Angola Three?”

Answering the question posed by the headline, the articles states: “Woodfox’s long-simmering story has been the subject of documentaries, Peabody Award winning journalism, United Nations human rights reviews and even a theatrical play. It’s a staggering tale of inconsistencies, witness recants, rigged jury pools, out-of-control prison violence, racial prejudice and political intrigue.”

Media coverage in the state of Louisiana itself also seems to be improving. For example, writer Emily Lane of the NOLA Times-Picayune responded to Brady’s ruling with a series of in-depth articles, focusing on the specifics of how and why Albert has been in solitary for over 40 years, as well as the physical and mental impact of such treatment. In another article, the Times-Picayune quoted extensively from a statement made by Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller. “I think it’s time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent,” Rogers said. Meanwhile, Albert remains in solitary confinement, with Louisiana authorities “not letting up on” the “last of the ‘Angola3.'”

Our first interview with Prof. Bell, entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial, followed the release of her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind.”

Our second interview, entitled Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party, examined her 2014 article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil.”

This new interview, now our third, is timed with the release of of Prof. Bell’s latest article, published by the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, entitled “A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party.”

Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha TwoThe Black Panther Party and Revolutionary ArtDylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas“We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,”  Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.

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Revelations: #KeepItDown

June 28, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Police State, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice: To Break the Chain

June 24, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Gun Culture, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, 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.

 

To Break the Chain
by nancy a heitzeg

Charleston.  The latest USA edition of the “race-tinged death story”.

Although the racial motivations were clear from the outset (survivors told the tale), this did not deter mainstream media and invested policy makers from spinning the familiar script. Liberals pointed towards guns and debate erupted over which language of the carceral state to adopt — was this hate crime or terrorism? The Right feigned confusion or claimed that it was really just Christians who were under attack..

The white shooter, typically,  was both isolated and humanized – arrested without a scratch, fed Burger King, described as a lone wolf who may be mentally ill or exceptionally evil, ultimately unknowable. In the words of South Carolina Governor Nikki Hayley, “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Until we did. The discovery of Dylann Roof’s last racist screed laid bare the motives, and set off another round of spin. The fact that Roof named the Council of Conservative Citizens, as both source and inspiration, induced a panic-stricken flow of returned campaign contributions, the fine line between “extremist” hate and the GOP mainstay, erased.

Exposed now, attention then turned quickly to the Confederate Flag and calls for its’ removal as remedy. The flag, which should have never flown, was long embraced by slavers and segregationists, and served as key code in the deployment of the ostensibly color-blind “Southern Strategy”. But perhaps now the costs had finally come to outweigh the benefits. Perhaps too, in keeping with the climate of premature forgiveness and healing, it was time for rapid reversal from those who had ridden the undead Confederacy to power.

As Glen Ford notes in The Perils of the Politics of Symbolism:

The demand that South Carolina remove the “Stars and Bars” from in front of the state capital building is wholly symbolic, directly affecting one pole and one piece of cloth.  The state’s governor and top Republican legislators would never consider letting go of the flag if it had not already become as much a burden as an asset to the Party… “Reconciliation,” therefore, comes cheap – and, in fact, redounds to the benefit of the former offender. Whites in South Carolina will get the chance to feel as good about voting the Confederate-free Republican ticket, as white Democrats in Iowa felt voting for Obama. Power relationships are unaffected…”

So the Flag may come down – forever or just for one day. Or it may not. It may be banned from Wal*Mart and Amazon and eBay for as long as Duck Dynasty was off the air or more. Regardless, the effects of the performance of contrition and distancing will have been achieved for those who rose to power on this very white supremacist imagery and the blood money it raised.  And we will be approaching peak color-blindness, an entire uninterrupted landscape of racism without racists, replete with complete denial-ability but deep structures which remain, untouched.

The juxtaposition of last week’s news-maker, the “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal, with the trajectory of the unfolding Charleston story is unsettling. The singular message is this: race and racism are individualized performances that allow for both white appropriation of Blackness when convenient and white supremacist denial of structural racism viz a viz its’ projection onto a disposable Symbol. Elusive; ephemeral.

The reality is, flag or no, the structural white supremacy that is the bedrock foundation of this country has never been redressed. The Civil War has never been over. Slavery has been unwilling to die, morphing via the “reform ” offered by the 13th Amendment into the prison industrial complex and the punishing state. And the promises of “due process”, “equal protection” and the franchise, continue to be denied.

Until there is that full accounting – in word, deed and reparation – that flag, even figuratively, will continue to fly.

CI: Isolation

June 17, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, 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.

 

Isolation
Editors note by nancy a heitzeg

For Albert Woodfox, Kalief Browder, Millions more..

June is Torture Awareness Month. How ludicrous really to type these words – to imagine, in the 21st Century, that torture remains an issue here (or anywhere), or that we are unaware.

But of course it is an issue here.  Our entire system of criminal injustice — from policing to prison to capital punishment – in built in varying degrees on torture. Built on a desire to control/cage, dehumanize/kill that is insatiable in its’ scope (due in part to the penchant for profit here) or in any limits to conditions of cruelty. The long-standing struggles of Albert Woodfox and Kalief Browder in isolation are but two of millions. They are not isolated cases.

And of course we are aware. Most of us have, in fact, cosigned this. Others claim condemnation. But tepid requests for “reform”, outrage over selected cases, hope that if we say enough names, click enough petitions, tweet/retweet enough egregious cases that something will magically change — all of these responses, in the end, solidify a system which is well-equipped to manage the predictable spectacle and script.

So connect all the stories to the level of structure, eschew the proposed quick fixes and the click-bait merchants. Go to the root – indict and dismantle the very system.

Only one word is relevant now and it is Abolition.

 

National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Breaking Down the Box

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