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Criminal InJustice: “Broken Windows”/Broken Lives, One Year Later

July 15, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

 

“Broken Windows”/Broken Lives and the Ruse of “Public Order” Policing
by nancy a heitzeg

Authors note: As we approach the one year anniversary of Eric Garner;s death, New York City reached a settlement with his family, agreeing to pay $5.9 million to resolve a wrongful-death claim. The settlement is the latest in a long series of civil pay-outs (over $1 billion) made by the city to victims of NYPD.

But that has largely been the only accounting. While still under investigation, the officers involved  in Garner;s death will likely face no legal consequences. A Grand Jury has already declined to indict them. In fact, those who filmed the police action that killed Garner – Ramsey Orta and Tanisha Allen — have singularly received more police scrutiny than the killers themselves.

The Mayor, elected on a progressive wave, has co-signed continued NYPD repression — budgeting for 1300 new officers and standing in support of both broken windows and the chokehold. This, despite growing protests over police killings in NYC and across the nation. As of this writing, that number approaches 600, a rate of more than 3 dead per day.

The death of Eric Garner, which preceded that of Mike Brown by a month, reinvigorated a national call to end police violence against Black Lives. It continues apace, perhaps has even accelerated.  And so we demand again in the name of Eric Garner and so many more:

“It Stops Today.”

***

The murder of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD brings to light again the never-ending unanswered questions. Unchecked police killings of mostly Black Men – one every 28 hours. Rampant racial profiling, most recently high-lighted in Floyd v City of New York. Excessive use of force, even in the handling of non-violent crime. Deadly restraint tactics, such as the choke-hold that killed Michael Stewart, killed Anthony Baez, and was supposedly banned in NYC despite being the on-going subject of more than 1000 civilian complaints.

“Brother Eric Garner No Longer Breathes Courtesy Of Banned NYPD Chokehold. Rest In Power.” Spike Lee

Lurking behind all these atrocities is the flawed theory and fatal practice that makes it all possible: “Broken Windows” and public order policing. Widely promoted but rarely publicly critiqued, in light of Eric Garner, let’s take a closer look.

(more…)

Revelations: #KeepItDown

June 28, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Police State, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice: To Break the Chain

June 24, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Gun Culture, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, 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.

 

To Break the Chain
by nancy a heitzeg

Charleston.  The latest USA edition of the “race-tinged death story”.

Although the racial motivations were clear from the outset (survivors told the tale), this did not deter mainstream media and invested policy makers from spinning the familiar script. Liberals pointed towards guns and debate erupted over which language of the carceral state to adopt — was this hate crime or terrorism? The Right feigned confusion or claimed that it was really just Christians who were under attack..

The white shooter, typically,  was both isolated and humanized – arrested without a scratch, fed Burger King, described as a lone wolf who may be mentally ill or exceptionally evil, ultimately unknowable. In the words of South Carolina Governor Nikki Hayley, “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Until we did. The discovery of Dylann Roof’s last racist screed laid bare the motives, and set off another round of spin. The fact that Roof named the Council of Conservative Citizens, as both source and inspiration, induced a panic-stricken flow of returned campaign contributions, the fine line between “extremist” hate and the GOP mainstay, erased.

Exposed now, attention then turned quickly to the Confederate Flag and calls for its’ removal as remedy. The flag, which should have never flown, was long embraced by slavers and segregationists, and served as key code in the deployment of the ostensibly color-blind “Southern Strategy”. But perhaps now the costs had finally come to outweigh the benefits. Perhaps too, in keeping with the climate of premature forgiveness and healing, it was time for rapid reversal from those who had ridden the undead Confederacy to power.

As Glen Ford notes in The Perils of the Politics of Symbolism:

The demand that South Carolina remove the “Stars and Bars” from in front of the state capital building is wholly symbolic, directly affecting one pole and one piece of cloth.  The state’s governor and top Republican legislators would never consider letting go of the flag if it had not already become as much a burden as an asset to the Party… “Reconciliation,” therefore, comes cheap – and, in fact, redounds to the benefit of the former offender. Whites in South Carolina will get the chance to feel as good about voting the Confederate-free Republican ticket, as white Democrats in Iowa felt voting for Obama. Power relationships are unaffected…”

So the Flag may come down – forever or just for one day. Or it may not. It may be banned from Wal*Mart and Amazon and eBay for as long as Duck Dynasty was off the air or more. Regardless, the effects of the performance of contrition and distancing will have been achieved for those who rose to power on this very white supremacist imagery and the blood money it raised.  And we will be approaching peak color-blindness, an entire uninterrupted landscape of racism without racists, replete with complete denial-ability but deep structures which remain, untouched.

The juxtaposition of last week’s news-maker, the “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal, with the trajectory of the unfolding Charleston story is unsettling. The singular message is this: race and racism are individualized performances that allow for both white appropriation of Blackness when convenient and white supremacist denial of structural racism viz a viz its’ projection onto a disposable Symbol. Elusive; ephemeral.

The reality is, flag or no, the structural white supremacy that is the bedrock foundation of this country has never been redressed. The Civil War has never been over. Slavery has been unwilling to die, morphing via the “reform ” offered by the 13th Amendment into the prison industrial complex and the punishing state. And the promises of “due process”, “equal protection” and the franchise, continue to be denied.

Until there is that full accounting – in word, deed and reparation – that flag, even figuratively, will continue to fly.

CI: On Violence

April 29, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, 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.

 

 On Violence

“Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance. “

~ Hannah Arendt (1906–1975),  “On Violence,” (1972).

CI: Low-level Offenses and Racial Profiling, Minneapolis Edition

March 18, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

Low-level Offenses and Racial Profiling, Minneapolis Edition
by nancy a heitzeg

The historical connection between low-level offenses ( e.g. lurking, loitering, vagrancy) and racialized policing is well-established. These laws emerge as Slave Codes become Black Codes; from the very outset they were “intended to circumscribe the lives of African Americans.” Low-level and “liveability” crimes were a central features of the Old Jim Crow, and remain so today, in the New Jim Crow era as pretextual police tools in racial profiling

Recent reports from the Minnesota ACLU released on October 28 verified yet again, using the Minneapolis Police Department’s own data, that Blacks are targeted for low-level arrests. (The results were replicated by a new report from the Minneapolis Police Department, which further revealed that when victims/witnesses are involved in reporting, they are overwhelmingly white). These practices persist in lieu of an official name such as ‘stop and frisk’ or or ‘broken windows” yet the net effect is the same. The data revealed “that between 2004 and 2012, an African American individual was, on average::

  • 11.5 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for marijuana possession;
  • 8.86 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for disorderly conduct;
  • 7.54 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for vagrancy; and
  • 16.39 times more likely to be arrested than a white juvenile for curfew/loitering”

In light of these persistent racial gaps, City Council Members Council Members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang have announced their intent to introduce the repeal of the city ordinances on lurking and spitting. They noted that lurking

profiling“..is one of several low-level offenses police use to target specific neighborhoods and racial groups. Over that six-year period, 59 percent of the people arrested for lurking were black, while 24 percent were white. Meanwhile, 69 percent of the people who called in to report lurking offenses, listed on reports as either victims or witnesses, were white. Just 12 percent were black.”

This repeal is supported by Coalition for Critical Change, #Blacklivesmatter Mpls, & Community Justice Project, who recently launched a petition as well calling for the repeal of all low-level ordinances in the city. These include;

  • Loitering
  • Lurking
  • Spitting, depositing tobacco
  • Congregating on the Street or Sidewalk
  • Juvenile Curfew

Please join us in combating racial profiling. Click and sign below.

Petitioning Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges

Repeal Low-Level Ordinances in Minneapolis

CI: The Attorney General of the United States

March 11, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, 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.

The Attorney General of the United States
Editors note from nancy a heitzeg

“While my time in the Department of Justice will soon draw to a close, I want you to know that, no matter what I do or where my own journey takes me, I will never leave this work.  I will never abandon this mission. Nor can you.  If we are to honor those who came before us, and those still among us, we must match their sacrifice, their effort, with our own.  The times change, the issues seem different, but the solutions are timeless and tested: question authority and the old ways. Work.  Struggle.  Challenge entrenched power.  Persevere.  Overcome.”

~ Attorney General Holder Reaffirms Commitment to Voting Rights in Speech to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, Selma, Alabama, United States, Sunday, March 8, 2015

It is possible, in complexity, to say that the criminal legal system is flawed at the foundations – to argue for abolition- and to also say, in the very same moment, that every inch of breathing room matters. To say that it matters who is the President, who sits on the Supreme Court, and who is the Attorney General of the United States. To say that an imperfect system can be made slightly better (or much worse) by the party and people who occupy positions of power.

In that spirit, CI would to acknowledge the work of Attorney General Eric Holder – for his willingness to plainly confront systemic racism in multiple arenas and to use the power of his office to combat its’ persistent and impermissible stain on voting rights, school discipline, and policing. His Department of Justice sought to enforce the Voting Rights Act even after it had been gutted, guided the Department of Education away from zero tolerance and racialized suspensions/expulsions for the first time in more than 20 years, and indicted, in  perhaps the last DOJ Report that will bear his name, the unconstitutional cesspool that is the Ferguson Police Department and Courts.

Given the constraints of the Title and the Office, that, Sir, is Enough.

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Revelations: March On

March 08, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

Eyes on the Prize (VI) — Bridge to Freedom, 1965

From the Archives: Where’s the Spirit of Selma Now? by Gay Talese

Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed, The Nation

SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA v. HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al.

No. 12-96. Argued February 27, 2013–Decided June 25, 2013

The Voting Rights Act: A Resource Page, Brennan Center for Justice

CI: The Supreme Court and the Shape of Social Movements

February 04, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2012 Election, 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Police State, 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.

 

The Supreme Court and the Shape of Social Movements
by nancy a heitzeg

I spend too much time thinking about the Supreme Court (although one could argue that others do not do so enough), and more now too, in light of recent events. There is a lot that i could say about the insanely unchecked power of nine robed people, their shadowy grip over the entirety of all our legal endeavors,  and the insidious death star that is the Roberts Court – about to knee-cap Obamacare, rule Gay Marriage a state’s right issue, destroy the legal protections against discrimination afforded by  “disparate impact,”  allow states to torture condemned prisoners to death with any old randomly mixed drug cocktail, additionally constrict women’s protections against discrimination in employment and reproductive matters, and ensconce, even further, the flow of corporate “persons” $$$ into all arenas of politics, while simultaneously diluting the votes of real flesh and blood people.

But I won’t.

Instead, a word about the impact of the Supreme Court on social movements. In the midst of Black History Month, screenings of Selma, and current movements against racialized police state violence, we must remember the significance of Brown v the Board of Education, Topeka Kansas (1954). Despite the practical limits of Brown in effecting desegregation or the failure to implement the directives of Brown II, there can be no denying that the ruling – “separate but equal is inherently unequal” – created a over-arching legal framework that emboldened the Civil Rights Movement.

The repudiation, at the Federal last word level, of the Jim Crow machinery set up in Plessy freed the Civil Rights Movement to pursue direct action civil disobedience with the confidence of victory. Certainly, there was the omnipresent risk/reality of brutal police response, extra-legal violence and death. But segregation could now be challenged at the local and state levels — the buses in Montgomery, the lunch counters in Greensboro, the beaches in Florida, everything in Birmingham – with the assurance that should the cases wend their way through the Federal Courts, the protesters would prevail. The highest Court in the land was 9 – 0, unanimously, on their side.

There are no such assurances today. To the contrary. The Roberts Court, in a series of heavily partisan 5-4 decisions, has largely undone the major legislative and judicial achievements of the Civil Rights Era, and dragged us back towards an Ante-Bellum landscape of extreme state’s rights. Read: state’s right to discriminate.

At the inspiring, poignant end of Selma, the teletype across the screen updates us as to the fate of protagonists. But missing is the fate of the signature legislation which resulted from the many bloody sundays, mondays, tuesdays. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 too lies dead – disemboweled by the Roberts Court in Shelby County v Holder (2013). The victory and sacrifice of so many, undone, by mere paper.

All of this is not to discourage the movements of this moment, but rather to say, Know the Terrain. The Supreme Court offers now no umbrella of support for demands of equality, inclusion, protection from State violence. We will not be saved. Our tactics, our strategies, our protests must take account of the current legal landscape. They must be bold imaginative, community-centered, and untethered to any expectation of sanctuary in the courts. They must operate outside the frame.

This is to say too, even to those who eschew electoral politics, keep a close eye on those nine robed judges and to the possibility of who may appoint them. It matters; their decisions shape the space for movements for decades, for generations not yet born, and mean the difference between raw repression and a small bit of breathing room.

And finally, this is to say that progress is not an uninterrupted forward motion, that no victory is guaranteed forever, Whatever we win today, we must be prepared to defend and re-defend without tire. For the long haul.

Onward.