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CI: In the Long Shadow…

November 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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 pm.

 

In the Long Shadow…
by nancy a heitzeg

This is a version of a piece that will appear soon in the Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy. It will be featured in an issue devoted to a discussion of the impact, 50 years later, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At a related conference last Spring, there was some celebration  with regard to how far we had ostensibly come and the alleged “successes” of the law. But how can we say so in the short shadow of Ferguson/Everywhere, under still the long shadow of slavery, called by any of its’ newer names?

And so, here this is –  in the aftermath of the expected non-indictment, on the eve of that thankful celebration of settler colonialism – a look at the legal contours that still shape the terrain.  And perhaps, a thought of what is required then for change.

ON THE OCCASION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964: PERSISTENT WHITE SUPREMACY, RELENTLESS ANTI-BLACKNESS, AND THE LIMITS OF THE LAW [1]

PART I INTRODUCTION

         White supremacy – once writ large in the law via slavery and Jim Crow segregation – was removed from its’ legalized pedestal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and finally, The Fair Housing Act of 1968.[2] The law became “race-neutral” and it now suddenly was illegal to discriminate on the basis on race – in housing, employment, public accommodations and access to the franchise. It was hoped that this legislation would finally bring to fruition the long overdue promise of the Civil War Amendments, long subverted via both legislation and judicial interpretation.[3]

These strokes of the pen, of course, could not remove bigotry long steeped in racist archetypes; nor could this legislation remove the structural barriers of nearly 400 years of white racial preference and cumulative advantage in the accumulation of wealth and property, access to education and housing, health and well-being, and all matter of social opportunities.[4] Racism, as both white supremacist/anti-Black [5] ideology and institutionalized arrangement, remains merely transformed with its’ systemic foundations intact. Segregation in housing and education persists at levels beyond that noted in Brown v. Board of Education, racial wealth gaps grow, and racial disparities in criminal injustice proliferate at a pace that has led to the label “The New Jim Crow”. [6]

Detail from Silouette by Kara Walker

Detail from Silouette by Kara Walker

In tragic irony, the Civil Rights Act’s requirement of race-neutrality has perhaps ushered in an era of more insidious de facto discrimination, that is now denied through “:color-blind” rhetoric. A large body of research documents the paradigmatic shift from overt essentialist racism to color-blindness.[7] This style of racism relies heavily on ideological frames and linguistic shifts which allow whites to assert they “do not see race”, deny structural racism, claim a level playing field that in fact now victimizes them with “reverse discrimination” and appeals to the “race card”, and argue that any discussion of race/racism is on fact racist and only serves to foment divisions rather than reflect/redress societal realities. “Color-blind racism” also creates a set of code terms that implicitly indict people of color without ever mentioning race.[8]

In the Post -Civil Rights Era, the color-blind paradigm has become deeply ensconced in law and politics. Continued movement towards “race-neutrality” is the hallmark of a series of Supreme Court decisions that deny the role of institutionalized racism and increasingly limit the role of race in constitutional remedies for inequality in matters of affirmative action and educational access, voting rights, and all matters of criminal injustice. [9]Criminal justice – as it did post- Reconstruction – continues to play a central role in the continued subjugation of Blacks in particular and will serve as the central example of both past and current patterns of discrimination.

On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, questions again must be raised about its’ ultimate impact on racial justice. While this legislation made a substantial contribution to effectively dislodging white supremacy from overt expression in the law, the call instead to race-neutrality left anti-blackness unchallenged. The result, buttressed by judicial interpretations that further limit the consideration of race and the proliferation of color-blind rhetoric throughout popular and political discourse, has resulted in a situation of continued subjugation, particularly through the criminal justice system. One must ask – given Constitutional history, Supreme Court rulings that grind at a snail’s pace from the legitimation of slavery and exclusion to segregation to no consideration, and legislative lethargy – what are the pathways towards racial redress and equal protection of the law?

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CI: Any Day Now

November 19, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Criminal Injustice Series, 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 pm.

Any Day Now
by nancy a heitzeg

Because it The Year of the Diamond Dogs — I have gone to Chicago.

Be Back Next Week.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong. Stay Savvy.

“This ain’t Rock’n’Roll -~This is Genocide”

 

dogscontact1

Halloween Jack, 1974

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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CI: We Join Forces with Truthout to Separate “Criminal Justice Reform” Fact from Fiction

November 05, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Smoke and Mirrors, 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.

 

We Join Forces with Truthout to Separate “Criminal Justice Reform” Fact from Fiction

 By Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg

For several years, the weekly Criminal Injustice series here at Critical Mass Progress has focused on policing and punishment at the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, and disability. Week after week, we examine and help to expose racist myths concerning “crime,” “criminals,” the criminal legal system, and expansion of the prison industrial complex (PIC). We help connect readers to organizing resources – groups, analysis, information – in order to help people better understand the far reach and unholy, brutal influence of the PIC.

And we will continue doing that, right here. Week after week. Why is it so important? Because, as Prison Culture points out, the prison industrial complex “structures our world.” That’s no exaggeration: surveillance, criminalization, and coercive/violent control of peoples and communities regarded as “less than,” even as disposable, is the paradigm for too much of U.S. civic life. As abolitionists, we oppose this death-dealing paradigm and, in concert with so many others, imagine and organize for different, more life-affirming ways of creating new structures of justice.

As part of this effort, we’ve also been among the first to critically examine the feel-good phrases – sentencing reform, community corrections, reducing prison expenditures – used more recently to galvanize support for “bipartisan criminal justice/prison reform.” The art of the sound byte currently dominates the discussion. But these phrases don’t always have unambiguous meaning, and some “reforms” may actually make things worse, especially in the long run.

So many justice advocates and organizations are embracing generic promises of “reform” without asking what’s really embedded in the initiatives. And without recognizing that because prisons, policing, and punishment structure so much of our society, meaningful structural transformation requires a vision that is interdependent, that sees how this connects to that. “Criminal justice” was never a standalone issue.  Some reform measures deserve our support; others deserve consignment to oblivion. But how do we tell the difference, clearly and usefully?

Criminal Injustice & Truthout

In order to support that effort, and in addition to continuing with the Criminal Injustice Series, we’re joining with Truthout.org to examine what really is – and is not – embedded in emerging proposals for criminal justice and prison reform. The new series is called Smoke and Mirrors: Inside the New “Bipartisan Prison Reform” Agenda.

smoke and mirrors

“Smoke and Mirrors is a new series that dives into the details of “bipartisan prison reform” to reveal the right-wing, neoliberal carceral sleight of hand that’s really at work. By asking hard questions about the content and consequences of various proposals and exploring ways in which commitments to unregulated free markets, privatization and states’ rights drive the agenda, Smoke and Mirrors shows how this new generation of reforms will reinforce structural racism, intensify economic violence and contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society.”

Revelations: #LastWords/#LastWords Heard

November 02, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, What People are Doing to Change the World

CI: #Ferguson/#Everywhere

October 29, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Copyleft/Free Culture, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

 

#Ferguson/#Everywhere
by nancy a heitzeg

As the world continues to watch events unfold in Ferguson and awaits word on what will most likely be the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, some thoughts. It is crucial to honor the specifics of the Ferguson Struggle and the names of the fallen, Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell and VonDerrit Myers. It is essential to support the activists on the ground there.

But remember too, that Ferguson is Everywhere.  The City of Ferguson, surrounding St. Louis, the State of Missouri and all elected /appointed officials aren’t particularly  exceptional with extra “bad apples”, more perverse laws, or more corrupt political figures. They operate under a national umbrella that routinizes racialized police violence. The names and details may change, but the structural white supremacy that allows for unchecked police/state violence permeate the U. S. legal system – no, it is foundational.

It is normative. it is the bedrock. Everywhere.

What We Know (And Have Known Forever).

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CI: #Oct22/Stolen Lives

October 22, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

 

#Oct22/Stolen Lives
by nancy a heitzeg

Today marks the 19th Anniversary of the National Day of Protest on October 22, organized by  The October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. The October 22 Coalition also coordinates The Stolen Lives Project, which documents/honors those killed by police violence.

Hopefully you found an event wherever you are. Say the Names. Honor the Dead. Commit to Fighting like Hell for the Living. This has always been so, but especially now. From the full statement of The October 22 Coalition:

In the United States, this year has seen a litany of state violence, with increasing documentation and coverage making these ongoing atrocities more difficult to deny. Over 800 people have been killed by law enforcement nationwide, at least 200 since Mike Brown, and at least 23 people in one week. Although police criminalization of and violence against women and transgender people is nothing new, they have become more newsworthy of late. There seems to be no level too low for law enforcement to stoop in their violence, whether it is against children and young teens, the elderly, the deaf, or those who are emotionally or mentally distressed.

It is unsurprising that death by police has a racial dynamic. We have long been alerted to this by experience and many sources, including the tireless work of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and their reports — see Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Vigilantes. Recently, an analysis of federally collected data on 1,217 fatal police shootings by Propublica  verified what long time observers already knew: young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police .

police killlings

As with all matters related to the criminal injustice system, any efforts to redress police killings must openly confront the white supremacist underpinnings of the entire endeavor. There is no other way.

To that end, please also support the National Week of Action from #BlackLivesMatter. And, every day, as always, Let Your Motto Be Resistance.

 

 

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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