CI: For CeCe McDonald – “You Survived”

March 06, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, 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.

cece jpgFor CeCe McDonald – “You Survived”
Editors note from nancy a heitzeg

CeCe McDonald is free now. Questions remain as to whether she should have been imprisoned at all, questions which again lead us to ask who legally has a self to defend or ground to stand.  And what are the consequences for those who survive?

Today, I’ll let the artists answer.

Letter to a Minnesota Prison (unplugged)

by Aj McKenna @AnathemaJane
Apples + Snakes & Paul Hamlyn Foundation, commissioned it for @rageandradiate

Democracy Now!
: Black Trans Bodies are Under Attack

“After serving 19 months in prison, the African-American transgender activist CeCe McDonald is free. She was arrested after using deadly force to protect herself from a group of people who attacked her on the streets of Minneapolis. Her case helped turn a national spotlight on the violence and discrimination faced by transgender women of color. In 2011, McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they were reportedly accosted with homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was hit with a bar glass that cut open her face, requiring 11 stitches. A brawl ensued, and one of the people who had confronted McDonald and her friends, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, was killed. Facing up to 80 years in prison for his death, McDonald took a plea deal that sentenced her to 41 months. In the eyes of her supporters, McDonald was jailed for defending herself against the bigotry and violence that transgender people so often face and that is so rarely punished. At the time of the attack, the murder rate for gay and transgender people in this country was at an all-time high. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Transgender teens have higher rates of homelessness and nearly half of all African-American transgender people — 47 percent — have been incarcerated at some point.

McDonald joins us on her first trip to New York City. We are also joined by one of her supporters, Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, producer and activist who stars in the popular Netflix show, “Orange is the New Black.” She plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman in prison for using credit card fraud to finance her transition. She is producing a documentary about McDonald called “Free CeCe.” We also speak to Alisha Williams, staff attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.”

Promotional Trailer for FREE CeCe documentary

This video was created to raise funding for the documentary FREE CeCe please donate to make this film a reality here

See: Anti-Transgender Violence: How Hate-Crime Laws Have Failed by Victoria Law
Reconsidering Hate: A Forum on the “Hate” Frame in Policy, Politics and Organizing By Kay Whitlock
Remembering Transgender Victims of Structural Violence by nancy a heitzeg

More Federal Privileges to Extend to Same-Sex Couples

February 09, 2014 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights, LGBTQ

From NYT:

The federal government will soon treat married same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples when they file for bankruptcy, testify in court or visit family in prison.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was preparing to issue policies aimed at eliminating the distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex married couples in the federal criminal justice system, according to a speech given at a Saturday event organized by a prominent gay-rights group.

“In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages,” Mr. Holder’s said.

The changes were set in motion last year when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to refuse federal benefits to married same-sex couples, a ruling that Mr. Holder supported.

I.R.S. to Recognize All Gay Marriages, Regardless of State

August 29, 2013 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights, Intersectionality, LGBTQ

From NYT:

All legally married same-sex couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of whether the state where they live recognizes the marriage, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service said Thursday.

The federal rules change is one of many stemming from the landmark Supreme Court decision in June that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling found that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits, but left open the question of how the federal government would actually administer those benefits.

As of the 2013 tax year, same-sex spouses cannot file federal tax returns as if they were single. Instead, they will have to opt for filing as “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.” The location of their marriage — as long as it is legal — or residence does not matter: a same-sex couple who marry in Albany and move to Alabama will be treated the same as a same-sex couple who marry and live in Massachusetts.

“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax-filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

The Treasury said that the ruling applies to “all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an I.R.A., and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.”

CI: The “Criminal” Court and the Needlessly Divided “Left”

June 26, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, Voting Rights, 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.

The “Criminal Court” and the Needlessly Divided “Left”
by nancy a heitzeg

Today, I was going to post a nice uplifting tribute to Sister Helen Prejean – on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Dead Man Walking. The power of one voice, and yes that is true.

Maybe someday. In light of recent news items and SCOTUS rulings, frankly i am not in the mood. While media and many are distracted by cult of personality wars over Paula Deen, Edward Snowden and his mouthpiece, The Supreme Court of the United States set the Civil Rights clock back on many issues of legal equality, I can’t even began to calculate just how far.

Yes the odious Section 3 of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional today in United States v. Windsor and SCOTUS further invalidated the California same-sex marriage ban in Hollingsworth v. Perry. (Please note: these rulings do not over-turn the same-sex marriage bans in 37 states.) These are great and overdue victories on the long road to LGBTQ equal rights under the law. Forward.

But the whiplash inducing “logic” of SCOTUS both giveth and taketh away. A series of decisions this term undercut hard fought legislation that served to protect minorities and women. All, of course, while strengthening the power of corporations, as ever post – Citizens United. Key cases this term decided mostly by 5 old smug white  black-robed white-minded  men:

This is the legal solidification of the color-blind paradigm just decried here. War on Black – now fully legalized in soothing “race-neutral” language. War on Women too.

So, who beyond the immediately impacted groups and their proven allies is gonna care? And then what are you gonna do? And i am talking about real world ACTION not signing some damn on-line petition. or tweeting until your fingers blee,d or writing a blog post calling for the fantasy of a Constitutional Amendment on Voting. Doesn’t count – doesn’t cut it. People died for these rights – where you gonna be for the next round?


CI: Policing Gender/Style, Still

April 10, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, 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.

Policing Gender/Style, Still
by nancy a heitzeg ( w/Kay Whitlock)

“There were always rumors of plainclothes women circulating among us, looking for gay girls with fewer than three pieces of female attire.” ~Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, A Biomythography

NYPD’s stop and frisk policy continues to be tried in Federal Court ( see Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.), with much attention focused on the role of race in pretextual stops. And with good reason:

Floyd focuses not only on the lack of any reasonable suspicion to make these stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but also on the obvious racial disparities in who gets stopped and searched by the NYPD—90 percent of those stopped are Black and Latino, even though these two groups make up only 52 percent of the city’s population- which constitute a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

But as the policy continues to be scrutinized in the bright light of day, new dimensions continue to emerge, including the persistent practice of policing gender/style.


Four Burning Questions for Dean Spade, professor, lawyer, civil rights activist

April 10, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Workers' Rights

An interview with Dean Spade excerpted from McGill Reporter:

This year it’s ten years since same-sex marriage was first possible in Canada and the US Supreme Court will soon rule on the question. What is so troublesome about the push for same-sex marriage?

The same-sex marriage agenda in the U.S. has been heavily critiqued by a wide variety of queer and trans activists because it fails to meaningfully address the key material problems facing queer and trans people, such as criminalization, immigration enforcement, poverty, health care access and homelessness, while it consumes enormous resources. It also has been a conservative shift in queer and trans politics, which has moved away from feminist and anti-racist critiques of marriage as a terrible and unfair way to distribute life chances and toward a conservative celebration of marriage as key to healthy families. This has happened alongside a right wing push in the U.S. to blame poverty on people’s failure to marry and to further cut poverty alleviation programs. In the U.S., after same-sex marriage is legal, queer and trans people will still face the same problems of a racist and violent growing immigration enforcement system, a growing wealth divide, and racist mass imprisonment. Some people who have immigration status or wealth to share with a partner will benefit, but the queer and trans people in the worst situations will still be facing the same dangers.

You’ve expressed serious concerns about trans people’s push for formal legal equality, such as their inclusion in protection from hate crime. What’s wrong with that goal?

Hate crime laws that provide more resources to law enforcement and/or enhance criminal penalties have been critiqued by many trans organizations and activists because they do nothing to prevent attacks against trans people but they expand the criminal punishment system which is the most significant source of violence against trans people in the U.S. They build that system in our names, and that system has been growing rapidly for several decades, such that now the US is the most imprisoning country in the world, with five per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. A trans movement that is really about reducing harm and violence to trans people has to be an anti-criminalization movement, and a movement that doesn’t just try to get the law to say something our lives are meaningful, but instead seeks to dismantle legal systems that are killing us.

In your organizing and activism, you follow a different approach. Tell us about that.

I’m part of trans activism and organizing that centers poverty and racism. This work aims to analyze what is actually shortening trans people’s lives and work on changing those material conditions, so it centers trans people experiencing imprisonment, poverty, immigration enforcement and other life and death issues. It seeks to provide immediate support to people in those conditions, to dismantle systems that create those dangers, and to build systems and ways of being together that actually give people what they need.

What would be a major victory or advance for you on the path towards greater justice for trans people?

I’ll name a few of the things people in the US are working on that would be a significant benefit to trans people’s well-being: decriminalizing prostitution, stopping federal programs where local police forces turn immigrants they arrest over to the immigration authorities, ending exclusion of trans health care from health insurance programs, getting rid of surgery requirements for changing gender on ID, decriminalizing drugs, ending “3 strikes” laws, getting rid of sex offender registries. These are all vitally important efforts to address the violence trans people are facing, and they are part of broader trans political visions of a world without prisons, border, or poverty.

CI: For Intervening Variables, Not Yet Seen

March 27, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prisoner 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.

For Intervening Variables, Not Yet Seen
by nancy a heitzeg

“…while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Eugene V.  Debs, Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act, 1918

This was going to be a rant. Certainly, there is no shortage of stress-inducing topics to choose from:

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Roberts Gang seems about ready, with one hand, to throw a crumb of marriage recognition to gays and lesbians. As usual, the outcome and scope of the rulings will hang on the whims of one Anthony Kennedy. How tired are we of worrying about his moods? With the other hand, the SCTOUS may well undo any last remnant of Affirmative Action and gut the Voting Rights Act, rendering the the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause completely color-blind. And of course, turning back the clock oh 50 to 100+ years depending on how you want to do the math. Derrick Bell is still right – And We Are Not Saved.

NYPD Stop and Frisk

Yes, the odious racist practice is finally on trial, with gripping testimony and audio evidence that verifies what those subject to it have always known — said plain here in this exchange between Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack and Police Officer Pedro Serrano:

“Mott Haven is full of black people, so who are the right people?” Serrano asks.

MacCormack: “The problem was male blacks, 14 to 20, 21.”

Of course, we are pleased that this racist, ineffective and unconstitutional practice is on trial, but how many times do we really have to do this? How many times must white supremacist policing be framed as the result of a few bad policies enacted by a few “bad apples” in a few big cities? However many well-intentioned individuals choose to sign up for “protect and serve”, the damn system has been built from the start on “racial profiling” or any name you want to give it. Somebody say so.

The Toxic Gun Debate: Fear, Loathing, and Criminalization

No winners here. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg goes full hypocrite; Democrats go “Law and Order” with calls for more police in school and increased mandatory minimums for unlawful gun possession; the President goes Moynihan in Chicago; the NRA goes even more race-baiting crazy;  and  nice white liberals, inconsolable over dead white children killed btw by young white men,  call for more more more laws and  harsher penalties that will, as always, be enforced against “urban” communities of color. And Nobody will be  “safer” for it.

More “Smoke and Mirrors”

We are still facing a barrage of numbers claiming decarceration and a new era of “prison reform”. More long-standing “liberal’ non-profits team up with  ‘unexpected” conservative partners -aka white supremacist capitalist patriarchs- to garner funding. From the beginning of this year, Criminal InJustice has offered critical questions about the reality of both policy claims and the legitimacy of so-called reforms. Please see Smoke and Mirrors?Con Artists, Profit and Community Corrections and Confidence Men & “Prison Reform”. Eyes Wide Open. Keep asking the questions. Trojan Horses are at the gate.

But let me stop..

Because as usual, at that critical juncture where hope meets despair, I saw this:


Back on the right track, i then read Resilience, Love, and Refusing to Give Up in Chicago… And you should too..

At times like these, when there are many unanswered questions, when there is no clear light to shine the way, we are reminded. We persist, and that is enough.

Howard Zinn, in The Optimism of Uncertainty ( 2004) puts it like this:

Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people’s consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that gays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surges of military madness. It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act. Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.

And because I am a sociologist, always weighing the relative contributions of any number of factors, i like to put it like this: Waiting for Intervening Variables that Are Not Yet Seen.

So let them come. As they always do.

And we will be ready…

CI: Remembering Transgender Victims of Structural Violence

November 21, 2012 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, LGBTQ

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. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Remembering Transgender Victims of Structural Violence
by nancy a heitzeg

For Venus Xtravaganza, Brandon Teena and  more..

Tuesday, November 20th, was The International Day of Transgender Remembrance. This annual event honors those world-wide who have been the victims of anti-trans violence, a violence that is rooted in personal bias and, ultimately fear. Surely there are many victims here  – 265 were commemorated this year.. The transgendered are targeted for interpersonal violence at a stunning rate; a  report from The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs indicates that trans-women in particular make up nearly 50% of all LGBT murders annually.

But the violence experienced by the transgendered – indeed by all oppressed peoples – is structural  as well. Whatever the immediate toll of direct interpersonal violence, the daily grind of systematic barriers carries an immeasurable impact too. In a culture dominated by a rigid gender binary - one linked closely with compulsive heterosexuality – the transgendered face marginalization at many turns –  employment, housing, health care and more. (Tragically, given their major contributions to Gay Liberation, the transgendered often experience marginalization within the mainstream gay/lesbian movement as well.)

Such extreme marginalization not only creates the context that makes the transgendered targets of interpersonal violence, it is in effect a violence of its own. As Iris Marion Young notes in Five Faces of Oppression:

“Many groups suffer the oppression of systemic violence…Violence is systemic because it is directed at members of a group simply because they are members of that group… Violence is a social practice…

Group-directed violence is institutionalized and systemic. To the degree that institutions and social practices encourage, tolerate, or enable the perpetration of this violence, these institutions and practices are unjust and should be reformed.”

Of all the systemic violence experienced by the transgendered, perhaps none is so direct and well-documented as that meted out by the criminal injustice system. (Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie and Kay Whitlock is the definitive sources on the range of abuses here.) At every juncture from policing to prison, the transgendered suffer the systems’ extremes of violence and abuse. Of course, this intersects as always with race/ethnicity and class as documented below by the flow chart form the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Today, we would like to take a moment to honor and acknowledge those transgender victims of structural violence, remembering those, be they alive or dead, who have suffered at the hand of the legal system, who have endured  criminal injustice. We highlight a few names, a few stories, with the knowledge that there are many many more to be told.