CI: Of Charles Ramsey & Stanley Tookie Williams ~ Redemption & Transformation, Part 1

May 15, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, 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.

Of Charles Ramsey and Stanley Tookie Williams ~

Redemption and Transformation, Part 1
by nancy a heitzeg

“People forget that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched.”
~ Stanley Tookie Williams December 2, 2005

Many tales of criminal injustice emerged out of Cleveland last week. As the 10 year ordeal of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter came to an end, the horrors were revealed. Kidnapping. Rape. Torture. Forced miscarriages. False imprisonment.

Questions emerged too – about potential laxness on the part of the Cleveland police in investigating further both the missing women and suspicious activity around Ariel Castro’s home. Questions about the role of race and class generally in driving missing persons police action and media coverage. Questions about “The Missing White Woman Syndrome”.

But before the week was over the spot-light turned away from both victims and perpetrator to focus on one Charles Ramsey, the too honest neighbor and eventual rescuer of Berry and the others. From the very first interview, it was clear that Ramsey made the media nervous. His life at the margins of both race and class. His raw honesty about race and some “white girls” — Dead Give-away.

He wasn’t our typical hero. So first, the laughter, then the quick turn to viciousness, as smokinggun and others dug the dirt. Just as they thought, Charles Ramsey was “the criminal-black-man” after all. The cognitive dissonance was now melting away away — Maybe he wasn’t a “hero” after all?? How, in our culture of simplistic either/or binaries, could he be?

In all that has been written since the news broke out of Cleveland, it is Liliana Segura of The Nation who reveals the central questions in Race, Redemption and Charles Ramsey. (The piece is excerpted throughout this essay, but please read the original in its’ entirety.) She finds hope in the support that Ramsey has continued to receive from  many – hope that, by embracing him, we may be more generous to others as well.

The story of Charles Ramsey is a story of redemption that strikes deep at the heart of rigid social constructions of  “criminals” and the cultural charades we endure to maintain them. It is a story of the complexity of the human condition – one that defies all monolithic labels. And, so, it is a window into the possibilities of transformative justice.


CI: The City that Never Stops Frisking

May 30, 2012 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

The City that Never Stops Frisking
by nancy a heitzeg

New York City has many nicknames — The Big Apple, Gotham, The Empire City, The City that Never Sleeps and more. Since I am here again — in a New York State of Mind — I am going to coin my own –

The City that Never Stops Frisking.

View the Center for Constitutional Rights Times Square Ad

GOP Rethugs Dishonor Trayvon Martin

March 28, 2012 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

The undisputed facts of the case are these:

  • Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.
  • Zimmerman was acting alone, thereby making him a vigilante, not a neighborhood watch captain.
  • Zimmerman was following Martin, a pedestrian, in his van.
  • Zimmerman was armed. Martin was carrying skittles and a drink.
  • Zimmerman was told by the police not to follow Martin.
  • A 911 call by Martin exists.
  • Zimmerman uttered “coons” not “goons.”
  • Martin was in no way obligated to tell Zimmerman what he was doing, where he was going, and why he was in the neighborhood.
  • Zimmerman did not seek medical treatment after he killed Martin.
  • Martin was drug tested while Zimmerman was not.
  • A background check was run on Martin, while one was not run on Zimmerman.
  • Martin was tagged for three days as a “John Doe” notwithstanding the fact that the Sandford police had Martin’s cell phone and other identifying information.
  • There is more than enough probable cause to have permitted Sanford police to arrest Zimmerman.
  • Zimmerman remains unarrested and uncharged.
  • Zimmerman remains armed.
  • Zimmerman claims, through his distasteful surrogate Joe Oliver, that he has “lost” his life just like Martin.
  • Unfounded allegations of marijuana possession are completely irrelevant to the case at bar and any and all attempts to defame Martin’s character is unconscionable and rooted in structural/historical racism and white supremacy.


If Zimmerman was indeed hurt in a scuffle with Martin – and news reports suggest he was bloody and bruised, with head lacerations that came from Martin pounding his skull into the sidewalk – why are there no photos? Why wasn’t Zimmerman taken to a hospital? The fact remains: An unarmed teenager was shot dead, and the man who shot him faced no rigorous interrogation. Can anyone believe that if the circumstances were reversed, and the young black man was the shooter, he’d have walked away without at minimum a meticulous collection of evidence? It’s hard to imagine he’d have walked away at all. The police were entirely too quick to believe Zimmerman had to shoot the boy in self-defense.

Also Monday we learned that Martin had been suspended from school because officials found an empty baggie that once held marijuana (that’s after Geraldo Rivera told us he brought on his own death by wearing a hoodie). Wow. A teenager might have smoked weed. Stop the presses. There is indeed something outrageous about that story – and it’s the fact that Martin was suspended for having merely an empty bag that once held weed under Miami’s “zero-tolerance” drug policy. I happen to think marijuana should be decriminalized, and I also believe schools have gone too far with their “zero tolerance” rules. This was a young man described as an A and B student who “majored in cheerfulness.” He had no known arrest record. It’s not too much to say that Trayvon Martin would still be alive if he hadn’t been suspended; he only visited Sanford in the first place because he was out of school.

And what does Martin’s suspension have to do with this case, anyway? That and other details are now being selectively released by Sanford Police, whose early reports about what happened were noteworthy for their factlessness. Why are police helping impeach the character of Trayvon Martin, while selectively confirming details that suggest he was the aggressor? (That wasn’t the worst attempt to smear Martin, by the way. Michelle Malkin’s website Twitchy posted a photo it claimed was Martin in saggy pants, giving the finger — and later was forced to admit it wasn’t Martin. It’s still making the rounds on conservative and white supremacist sites, anyway.)

CI: Schoolhouse/Jailhouse

March 14, 2012 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

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. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

by nancy a. heitzeg

Earlier today, i had the honor of being listed amongst presenters at the fifth annual symposium hosted by a local law school; the topic, How Are The Children Part V: From the Classroom to the Courtroom, Exploring a Child’s Journey through the Justice System.

The short answer — Not Good. Not good that is if you are a student of color in an under-resourced, over-policed inner city school.

For more than ten years now, scholars, activists, educators, juvenile justice personnel and parents have been discussing the so-called School to Prison Pipeline All this discussion has not produced meaningful policy changes that result in the lessening of the flow of youth of color from schools into legal systems.

As a recent report from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights indicates, the pipeline is alive and gushing an increasing number of youth of color out of school and into jail:

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions..

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

When will this be considered a national emergency??


Woman Sentenced After Lying About Black Men Kidnapping Her

February 01, 2012 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

From The Root:

A Philadelphia woman who told police that two black men kidnapped her — and was later found to have lied — was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bonnie Sweeten, 40, who made headlines two years ago after triggering a massive search when she called police and said that black men had kidnapped her and her 9-year-old daughter, will have to pay $1 million in restitution.

While this woman should be ashamed at herself, we are highly disappointed in the federal government and law enforcement for not doing their due diligence in this case. Once the authorities heard “white mother and daughter” and “two black men,” they immediately feared the worst. It turns out the woman was just at Disney World.