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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.

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.

CI: #FreeMLK

January 21, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Housing, Intersectionality, 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.

 

#FreeMLK
by nancy a heitzeg

In anticipation of the National Holiday bearing his name,  Ferguson Action announced their intention to #ReclaimMLK; “Unfortunately, Dr. King’s legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it. Impulses to remove Dr. King from the movement that elevated him must end. We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless women and men into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits .”

The Radical King was a tactical genius in the implementation of targeted direct action campaigns, a civil disobedient – a breaker of unjust laws who expected – no wanted – to go to jail, and at times,  as Joy James reminds us, a political prisoner. Often lost in the discussion is this: that famous letter from Birmingham was written from jailThe Radical King was a democratic socialist, an intersectional analyst who linked white supremacy and capitalism, a critic of war and U.S. imperialism, and a proponent of a revolution of values. Who knows — had he lived long enough, he may well have found himself an advocate too for prison abolition.

But what does it mean to #ReclaimKing at this moment? 2015 is not 1965. Ferguson is not Birmingham; Staten Island is not Selma. The Radical King must be fully embraced with a complete and nuanced understanding of his time and context as well as our own.

No, the legacy of King and the Civil Rights Movement can no longer be sanitized, but it cannot be uncritically, causally reclaimed either. In embracing the full complexity, we must not adhere only to the metaphor, but also the hard realities.  Protest is essential, but it cannot be mere performance and it is never, by itself, enough.  We must develop the long-haul strategies that make for success; that take into account the systems of power which we are engaging.  We must not be naive; if power is confronted, it will strike back. This is part of the turf, however vengeful and unjust it may seem.  This was the brilliance of King and the CRM:  the strategies anticipated and, in fact, relied on excessive responses that revealed the contradictions between legal “justice” and the violence that is inflicted by the state.

The radical vision demands so much more of us. It demands a lifetime commitment and a willingness to risk – everything if need be – with the expectation of the powerful backlash.  This must be factored into our work – not because we are martyrs, but because we are savvy and delusion free.  The test will be how we can walk into the center of the storms in our own era, stand through them, and see our way to the other side.

Last week I was in downtown Oakland, in the midst of 96 hours of MLK Weekend Action, and as usual, the movement there said it/did best. A coterie of marchers appeared and delivered this chant – not a call to reclaim and then repossess – but this:

“#FreeMLK!”

Read that Letter again with this in mind.

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CI: In the Long Shadow…

November 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, 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.

 

In the Long Shadow…
by nancy a heitzeg

This is a version of a piece that will appear soon in the Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy. It will be featured in an issue devoted to a discussion of the impact, 50 years later, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At a related conference last Spring, there was some celebration  with regard to how far we had ostensibly come and the alleged “successes” of the law. But how can we say so in the short shadow of Ferguson/Everywhere, under still the long shadow of slavery, called by any of its’ newer names?

And so, here this is –  in the aftermath of the expected non-indictment, on the eve of that thankful celebration of settler colonialism – a look at the legal contours that still shape the terrain.  And perhaps, a thought of what is required then for change.

ON THE OCCASION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964: PERSISTENT WHITE SUPREMACY, RELENTLESS ANTI-BLACKNESS, AND THE LIMITS OF THE LAW [1]

PART I INTRODUCTION

         White supremacy – once writ large in the law via slavery and Jim Crow segregation – was removed from its’ legalized pedestal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and finally, The Fair Housing Act of 1968.[2] The law became “race-neutral” and it now suddenly was illegal to discriminate on the basis on race – in housing, employment, public accommodations and access to the franchise. It was hoped that this legislation would finally bring to fruition the long overdue promise of the Civil War Amendments, long subverted via both legislation and judicial interpretation.[3]

These strokes of the pen, of course, could not remove bigotry long steeped in racist archetypes; nor could this legislation remove the structural barriers of nearly 400 years of white racial preference and cumulative advantage in the accumulation of wealth and property, access to education and housing, health and well-being, and all matter of social opportunities.[4] Racism, as both white supremacist/anti-Black [5] ideology and institutionalized arrangement, remains merely transformed with its’ systemic foundations intact. Segregation in housing and education persists at levels beyond that noted in Brown v. Board of Education, racial wealth gaps grow, and racial disparities in criminal injustice proliferate at a pace that has led to the label “The New Jim Crow”. [6]

Detail from Silouette by Kara Walker

Detail from Silouette by Kara Walker

In tragic irony, the Civil Rights Act’s requirement of race-neutrality has perhaps ushered in an era of more insidious de facto discrimination, that is now denied through “:color-blind” rhetoric. A large body of research documents the paradigmatic shift from overt essentialist racism to color-blindness.[7] This style of racism relies heavily on ideological frames and linguistic shifts which allow whites to assert they “do not see race”, deny structural racism, claim a level playing field that in fact now victimizes them with “reverse discrimination” and appeals to the “race card”, and argue that any discussion of race/racism is on fact racist and only serves to foment divisions rather than reflect/redress societal realities. “Color-blind racism” also creates a set of code terms that implicitly indict people of color without ever mentioning race.[8]

In the Post -Civil Rights Era, the color-blind paradigm has become deeply ensconced in law and politics. Continued movement towards “race-neutrality” is the hallmark of a series of Supreme Court decisions that deny the role of institutionalized racism and increasingly limit the role of race in constitutional remedies for inequality in matters of affirmative action and educational access, voting rights, and all matters of criminal injustice. [9]Criminal justice – as it did post- Reconstruction – continues to play a central role in the continued subjugation of Blacks in particular and will serve as the central example of both past and current patterns of discrimination.

On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, questions again must be raised about its’ ultimate impact on racial justice. While this legislation made a substantial contribution to effectively dislodging white supremacy from overt expression in the law, the call instead to race-neutrality left anti-blackness unchallenged. The result, buttressed by judicial interpretations that further limit the consideration of race and the proliferation of color-blind rhetoric throughout popular and political discourse, has resulted in a situation of continued subjugation, particularly through the criminal justice system. One must ask – given Constitutional history, Supreme Court rulings that grind at a snail’s pace from the legitimation of slavery and exclusion to segregation to no consideration, and legislative lethargy – what are the pathways towards racial redress and equal protection of the law?

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CI: On Birmingham, #Ferguson and the Meaning of Movement

October 15, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, Voting Rights, 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.

 

On Birmingham, #Ferguson and the Meaning of Movement
by nancy a heitzeg

From the earliest days of unrest after the murder of Mike Brown, comparisons have been made to the Civil Rights Movement. Certainly Mike Brown himself evoked thoughts again of Emmett Till, as for 4 and one half hours, the whole watched as his body lay in the street. We saw what they had done to Leslie McSpadden’s boy. Then came the Ferguson Police Department with the dogs, reminiscent of Birmingham, the Bloody Sunday-like excesses of official response to non-violent protesters. And, in the 68 days since Mike Brown’s death from August 9th through #FergusonOctober, there have been unrelenting marches, protests, sit-ins, shut-downs, flash mobs,  and more.

The comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s have been furthered by both activists and media. 1964 = 2014. Ferguson = Birmingham. But does it ?

Although there are many points of comparison there are questions too. What has changed? What does that mean for movement vision and tactics today? There are many questions to consider– no concrete answers to had. Movements of course are organic – by their very nature , they evolve to address the issues of the time, and past movements are never a perfect template for present or future. Movements emerge and take on a life of their own that no amount of planning  or calculated questions can ever fully account for. But ask we must. And since History is a Weapon, Eyes on the Prize can serve as one of our guides.*

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