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CI: Commodified and Caged, Still

April 15, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, 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.

Commodified and Caged, Still
by nancy a heitzeg

Authors Note: This piece is an old one, whose time is always now.  It was originally published elsewhere, under a different name, for my anti-capitalist comrades. The goal, as you will see, was to illustrate the deep connections between speciesism, commodification and social inequalities. And yes, it was a call to Open the Cages.

So why not for Criminal InJustice? Certainly, “criminals” are routinely “de-humanized” — described as mere “animals”, “monsters”, and “brutes”. And treated as such then — caged, penned, crated, occasionally exhibited, brutalized, slaughtered. Commodified too — a ready source of profit from neo-slave labor, privatized contracts, and sometimes, even for “acres of skin”.

And why not again now? In a time of endless death on video loop, where victims, they say,  are “shot down like dogs in the street” by those that some call “pigs”, foundational  specieism is revealed in theory and practice. Our conceptions of both victims and villains rest on the assumptions that humans are better, deserve better. This leaves unquestioned and in fact perpetuates the very paradigm of domination – of dogs, of pigs, of the planet – that is the model for our treatment of dehumanized others.

As i have written elsewhere:

It is a hard and unpopular truth to say that all oppressions are connected, to say that our treatment of other species and the Earth herself has served as the template for our oppression of peoples. But it has.

It is a harder and even more unpopular truth to say that all oppressions must be undone and undone together. The lust for the false power derived from relations of domination – directed anywhere – is at the root.

What if the prison industrial complex and the social inequality which under girds it were somehow undone? What would prevent the lingering desire to crate the sow, cage the bird, chain the dog, beat the horse, gore the ox from erupting – again towards us – in some newly imagined and monstrous application?

The Answer is Nothing.

In this time of endless death on video loop, the inclination is to hunker down, narrow the focus, save our own, save who we can. But what if,  instead, now is the time to explode the vision, broaden the scope, fight for every and all breathes?

The fate of The Last Rhino is not marginal to or disconnected from the blood in the streets and the slaughterhouses, from the personal violence of our homes and that perpetrated by our social structures.

It is at the Center; it is of the very Essence.

Open the Cages and Open Them All.

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CI: Defiant Displays of White, Patriarchal Power

July 30, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

 

Defiant Displays of White, Patriarchal Power
by Kay Whitlock

It’s showtime, and, though they claim otherwise, recent performances by a number of midway carnies, confidence men, and quick change artists have nothing to do with justice.

They have everything to do with the countless ways in which the exercise of white, patriarchal political, social, and economic power in the United States masquerades as “justice.” Sometimes the displays of that power are particularly defiant: actions taken and decisions made and implemented to remind us that no matter what reforms are enacteded, white, patriarchal power remains intact.  It is often deadly, and without serious consequence: it is meant to warn, intimidate, intensify punishment, and silence: If you’re not careful – or lucky – this could happen to you.

carnivale-wallpapers-2Those who exercise or authorize this force are seldom held accountable for the harm they inflict on so many in any meaningful way. We need not rely on conspiracy theories to take note of these things; they are, in this so-called “colorblind” society, conscious as well as (sometimes unconscious) reflexive manifestations of supremacist ideology that have informed U.S. history since the days of colonial contact and the structural violence of chattel slavery.  The messages: your lives don’t matter. We can do anything to you that we want to. Your lives continue or end at our discretion. 

Those at greatest risk are people who are incarcerated and presumptively criminalized peoples: people of color, especially black people, and poor people.

White men  (no surprise here!) inflict much of this harm. But white women and men and women of color may also internalize or otherwise accept the supremacist norms and aura of untrammeled authority that have always permeated policing, the criminal legal system, and the pursuit of safety and security.

And when this power is fundamentally questioned, challenged, or resisted, it ups the ante in violent ways – all under the rubric of safety and security.

For example: Marissa Alexander, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner and “Botched” Executions.

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Revelations: “Every 3 Minutes…”

March 16, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Education, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

CI: Poverty as a Prison

January 08, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Poverty, 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.

Poverty as a Prison
by nancy a heitzeg

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
                                                                            ~Anatole France, The Red Lily, 1894

Before the War on Drugs became our national fixation, there was a short-lived, halfheartedly implemented War on Poverty. Would that the same amount of resources and political will been expended here. But hyper-individualism, rampant capitalism, and a political discourse that persistently racializes poverty and stigmatizes governmental assistance continue to stand in the way.

We are left instead with the War on the Poor.

The gaps between rich and poor grow, while Congress slashes $ 1 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), refuses to extend meager Unemployment Insurance (UI) to millions out of work, and an increase in the minimum wage ( which would still fall far short of Living Wage) remains contentious.

Our national failure to provide any meaningful economic opportunities for tens of millions of Americans is doubly bitter when poverty and homelessness — a realm of little to no choice – is then reframed as exactly choice, the result of some failure of “personal responsibility”.

The reality of course is that over-whelming majority of the 47 million officially poor are there because of structure and policy — low wages, lack of affordable housing, a shrinking social safety net, a decimated public education system, a host of conservative and neo-liberal “reforms – not because of flawed personal choices.

The reality is that poverty per se is a sort of prison, where choice is heavily constrained, surveillance is endless, “social services” are characterized by red-tape, condescension and increased overlap with the criminal justice system, where survival shapes daily life, and Right Now is the key consideration.

If this were not challenge enough, poverty itself is additionally criminalized via a host of federal, state and local laws, Not that this is new – but the cumulative effect of these laws in the context of the prison industrial complex, a collapsed job market, and a government bent on “privatization” is a particularly toxic mix at this moment.

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CI: Victim Blaming, Backlash, and Distractions

October 23, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Military Industrial Complex, Poverty, 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.

Victim Blaming, Backlash, and Distractions
by nancy a heitzeg

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, first observed in 1987. The month will remind us of many horrific statistics ( high-lighted throughout), call us to Stop the Violence!, offer a few words of advice, and create some short-lived solidarity.

dv2Then we move on – to the next Steubenville, the next Maryville, the next Marissa Alexander.

Frankly, I am tired of “months” that come and go decade after decade, with little sustained attention to real change. I am tired of “solutions” that focus on the criminalization of individual perpetrators and merely cosmetic law enforcement efforts that ultimately make matters worse. I am tired of the denial of the toxic structural and cultural forces that shape and sustain violence, including that perpetrated by the state. I am tired of the sensationalistic media focus on select cases, almost always with some eventual blaming and shaming of the victims themselves, as if they were responsible for their own assault and abuse.

What is required is this: an acknowledgement that we swim in a violent structural and cultural milieu which harms us all — women, men children.  What is required is this: Transforming A Rape Culture .

As Lisa Factora-Borchers  notes:

Rape culture is like smoke.  Insidious, it hangs in the air, getting into everything, staining and deteriorating whatever it touches.  It’s highly adaptive, cunning; clever in its ability to morph into whatever context it is placed.   Rape culture prices and prioritizes human dignity, as if it’s something to earn and not inherent.  Rape culture sets behavioral prescriptions and if one does not adhere to them, they deserve violence or, at the very least, are somehow responsible for it…

Rape culture .. is a deeply engrained and believable operating system in our collective conscience, whispering its influence into every aspect of life, at every stage of personal formation and development.  Rape culture is not a separate culture from the one you and I are living in.  They are one and the same.

And rape culture is more than just sexual violence against women; it is part and parcel of a system of oppression that metes out violence, both interpersonal and structural, across multiple lines of race class and gender difference. It is, at root, about power and raw domination.

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CI: National Action for Marissa Alexander

October 16, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

National Action for Marissa Alexander*
by nancy a heitzeg

As the national spotlight turned to the Trayvon Martin case and Florida’s troublesome Stand Your Ground legislation. the story of Marissa Alexander came to light as well. In 2012, Ms. Alexander was sentenced to twenty years in the Florida criminal correctional system for defending herself from her abusive estranged husband. She fired a single warning shot upwards into a wall to halt her abusive partner during a life-threatening beating.

Despite the fact that Ms. Alexander caused no injuries and has no previous criminal record, and despite the fact that Florida’s self-defense law includes the right to “Stand Your Ground,” she was arrested by Jacksonville police and charged with aggravated assault. After 12 minutes of deliberation, a jury of 6 people convicted Ms. Alexander of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm. Her sentence was set at 20 years in part due to the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

In September, an appeals court ruled that she receive a new trial due to flawed jury instructions, and action is needed now to pressure Prosecutor Angela Corey ( yes that Angela Corey) to drop charges altogether. Here is what you can do:

Art by Dignidad Rebelde:

Art by Dignidad Rebelde:

Angela Corey, State Attorney
Courthouse Annex
220 East Bay Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Phone: 904-630-2400
Fax: 904-630-2938
Email: sao4th@coj.net

Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Phone: 850-414-3300 or 850-414-3990
Fax: 850-410-1630

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Phone: 850-717-9337 or 850-488-7146
Email: rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com

 

  • Write to Marissa: Marissa Alexander #J46944, Lowell Annex,  11120 NW Gainesville, Rd, Ocala, FL34482

*Special Thanks to Mariame Kaba of Project NIA and Prison Culture

Revelations: Don’t Call Them Anarchists…

October 13, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Economic Terrorism, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex

FASCISM ANYONE? THE 14 DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS OF FASCISM
by Laurence W. Britt

Originally published in the Spring 2003 edition of Free Inquiry Magazine

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CI: Dangerous White Dreams, #BreakingBad

October 09, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Imperialism, Intersectionality, 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. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.


Dangerous White Dreams, #BreakingBad
by nancy a heitzeg

Five grueling seasons of the record-breaking Breaking Bad have come to the conclusion fans hoped for and I feared. Yes, the aptly named Walter White — Mitty-esque middle class middle age High School Chemistry Teacher turned sociopathic Meth Overlord aka Heisenberg – is really a Good Guy after all, vindicated as few other “gangsters” before have been. All the loose ends tied up with some truths told, revenge and vindication all around, still the Smartest Guy in the Room.

bb1sDead, yes, as we knew he would be from the onset, but on his own terms. Walter White went out – not as the “monster” many of the cast referred to him as, as many viewers claim they think he is– but as a sort of Hero.

As Steve Almond asks in American Psycho: Why We Root for Walter White: “For those with the good sense to be distressed by this fact, the question remains: where does that leave the rest of us?”

Oh I know there are those who will object to this critique. “Lighten up  — it is just a TV show! And one that was well-written and acted at that.” Others will claim that there is nothing new to see here — that we have always been fascinated by various iconic gangsters and drug lords – most recently and famously Tony Montana, Michael Corleone, and Tony Soprano. “Same as it ever was”, they say.

But it is not. Walter White is, well unambiguously white, no ethnic identity attached – past or present – that once compromised “whiteness”. He “breaks bad” rather than being “born bad” or at least connected from the outset to criminal subcultures. He chooses, and he prevails, unlike the others whose ultimate ends serve as a cautionary tale.

Despite terrorizing both his immediate and extended family, despite subjecting his former student/partner to an array of psychological and physical abuses, despite leaving behind a mountain of mostly brown bodies , despite becoming a ruthless Drug Kingpin in the midst of a Law and Order/War on Drugs era –   Walter White goes out a Winner. Because that is what the viewers wanted.

And this, reveals more than just our penchant for gangster thrillers, it reveals, at rock bottom, our deeply rooted cultural construction and sometimes, celebration,  of White Male Criminality.

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