† 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
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.
Those 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.