† 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.
Off Track, The Myth of American Justice
by nancy a heitzeg
He could have said it anywhere, in Ferguson or Florida, in Los Angeles or the Bronx, in any Southern town from Emmett Till up till now. The song remains the same. But how many times has he said this to a room, during a moment, at what appears to be a turning point? Shouting in the wilderness is one thing. What must it be like to shout where everyone can hear you, to room after room full of people, to have everyone nod their heads and the newspapers back you and millions rally to your cause and still nothing changes? How many times can you repeat the truth? ~ Emmett Rensin, After the Train Leaves Town: A Report from Ferguson
The swirl of headlines and response is dizzying. Drip, drip, drip.
Justice for Mike Brown, for Ezell Ford, for Eric Garner, John Crawford, Rekia Boyd, Marissa Alexander, Jordan Davis (again) ! More. Fire Ray Rice, fire Adrian Peterson, fire Roger Goodell, Don Lemon too! More. Arrest Darren Wilson! Convict Michael Dunn! More. One by one by one.
Send $$$, send water, send gas masks. More. #Hashtag it. Facebook it. Petition it. Mobilize. March. Send Selfies with Signs. More. Then Do It Again. Click, click, click.
The need to react to immediate injustice is understandable. So too, the desire to have systems that supposedly dispense ” justice” to do so equally, and to hold all perpetrators – be they police or pro athletes – accountable. It is easy to understand the lull of specific debates and focused actions. But as both a participant in and scholar/observer of social movements – particularly those directed towards the criminal “justice” system, i have many questions.
These have come to the fore again in the midst of the seeming national escalation of police violence, the wave of family violence cases involving NFL players, and finally, in a local event that revealing in microcosm a political landscape always marred by personal agendas and political in-fighting, non-profits protecting their money, a projecting power structure that appeals to fear, and a media eager to report the small details, the specific skirmish, but in total avoidance of the systemic and structural issues which ultimately provide the frame.
Is this case by case approach enough? Can it be sustained? Are there more tools — questions to be asked, cautions to be raised about their most effective use? Are these the right questions to ask or demands to make ? What are the possibilities for proactive engagement rather than the endless hydraulic of reaction and retrenchment? Can we define the terms of debate on our own new terrain? Can we go bigger?