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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: Undercurrents of #Pointergate

November 12, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Anti-Racism, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

Undercurrents of #Pointergate ~ White Supremacist Policing and Racialized Voter Disenfranchisement
by nancy a heitzeg

Unless you have been in a media blackout, then surely the news of #Pointergate has come your way. It began with this inflammatory story last Thursday night on KSTP news. The provocative headline read: Mpls. Mayor Flashes Gang Sign with Convicted Felon; Law Enforcement Outraged.”

Old White Men Stoke Racialized Fears on KSTP TV

The photo of Mayor Betsy Hodges and Navell Gordon was taken at a get- out-the- vote event with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change  (more on NOC later).  Once everyone realized this was real and not some ludicrous Onion-esque parody, the reaction from Minneapolis residents was immediate; the hashtag #pointergate was created and trending within the hour. Since then the story has gone national with coverage that is focused on the blatant racism including the equation of the pointing with “gang signs”, and the smearing of Gordon as a “twice convicted felon.” The KSTP story was a textbook example of the racist conflation of Blackness with both criminality and gangs that pervades media and public perceptions. (For the best discussion of this dimension of these aspects of the story, please see the response from Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) Chair Ken Martin, Professor Nekima Levy -Pounds, “Dear White People: Mayor Betsy Hodges is Not in a Gang” and Melissa Pestroyrry-Harris’ interview with both Navell Gordon and Anthony Newby, Executive Director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.)

Questions also emerged with regard to the timing of the piece. The following day, the City of Minneapolis was about to introduce a pilot program that required Minneapolis Police to wear body cameras. This requirement has long been part of Mayor Hodges’ platform and one source of conflict between the Mayor and the police union over growing community demands for accountability. The other98 blog offers a timeline of the evolving tensions and a closer look into the events preceding the body cam announcement:

Battle of the Open Letters

… late September of 2014. Councilwoman Hodges was now Mayor Hodges, and as such was facing higher expectations from the community. On September 26, a coalition of local professors, religious leaders, community groups and others penned “An Open Letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges,” which was later published in the Star Tribune, a local paper. The letter laid out serious concerns about the conduct of the Minneapolis Police Department, particularly residents’ frustration with the behavior of Chief Harteau, who had abruptly dropped out of a listening session intended to address these very concerns. The letter urges Mayor Hodges to break her “silence” on the growing tension and start working to regain public trust of both the police department and local government.

Mayor Hodges responded on October 8 with an Open Letter of her own, emphasizing her commitment to “eliminating gaps based in race and place, growing inclusively, and running the city well for everyone.” The letter goes on to lay out, in exhaustive detail, the plans and goals Hodges had for improving relations between police and the community at large. Early in the letter, this passage appears:

Hundreds of police officers serve respectfully and collaboratively every day to keep people safe and make neighborhoods across our city stronger. But not all do: some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it. Minneapolis has, and has had, officers like that. These officers do not represent a majority of the department, but their behavior disrupts community trust for all officers in the community… This is why it is so important to check bad behavior and end it, once and for all.

Well. Minneapolis Police were pissed, to put it lightly. In the third and final entry of the Battle of Open Letters, the President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, John Delmonico, wrote a blistering reply to the Mayor, calling her words “repeated and personal slaps in the face to every member of the Minneapolis Police Department.” He accused her of painting all officers with the same unfair brush, and expressed anger that all of her plans for improving community relations involved changes in the department (Delmonico did not offer alternative plans, nor clarify as to what it would look like to reform the community rather than the police).

Certainly the KSTP story was a distraction from (and perhaps retaliation for) the announcement of the new body camera requirement. What has not yet been fully explicated in the #pointergate story, however, is a deeper discussion of the role of race in policing, including a new Minnesota ACLU Report on racial disparities in low level arrests, and the targeting of efforts to enfranchise Black voters.

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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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Revelations: “blood river run”

August 24, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Wanda Coleman, Emmett Till

CI: No Justice, Still, for Us

August 13, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

Peace, Finally, for Rodney King/No Justice, Still, for Us
by nancy a heitzeg

For Mike Brown, For Ferguson. For the Unnamed.

Editors Note: In light of the extra-legal police execution of Mike Brown and the ensuing events in Ferguson, Missouri, CI is republishing this piece written two years ago on the occasion of the death of Rodney King.

It is with unsurprised sorrow that we note how little has changed, save for the addition of many names: Jordan Davis, Kimani Gray, Cary Ball, Jr., Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford. More.

How many times must families grieve, communities explode? How many times must journalists re-write the same tired pieces, must we pretend that there is something called “justice” to be had for the Dead?

Wherever you are, please join us tomorrow in a National Moment of Silence #NMOS14. Please join us every day in saying this “ends today” ,  in saying the systemic siege of community by police state tactics is over. And we must find another way.

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CI: There Are No Children Here

August 06, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, 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.

 

There Are No Children Here
by nancy a heitzeg

“Racially differential treatment of children is an important yet under-explored arena within social psychology. The present findings suggest how urgently field and laboratory work are needed to fill in this research gap. In addition, they suggest that if, as Alice Walker says, “The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying’?” then, for Black children, the most important answer may be that they cry because they are not allowed to be children at all.

~ Goff, P. A., Jackson, M. C., Di Leone, B. A. L., Culotta, C. M., & DiTomasso, N. A. (2014, February 24). The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The title of this piece is of course stolen from Alex Kotolowitz whose 1987 book (and then Oprah TV movie) chronicled the lives of two boys growing up in the Henry Horner Homes.  The title is meant to convey how concentrated poverty and its’ attendant social ills deprive children of the joy of innocence and the opportunity to be carefree. But as the introductory quote from this recent study reveals, there is another meaning too. Racism, particularly anti-Blackness, and deeply held implicit biases also disfigure “innocence”, denying Black children both humanity and childhood, defining them as miniature “adults” to be feared and then controlled.

This has profound implications for everyday interaction with adult caretakers, teachers, and police. Those who are expected to protect childhood innocence are now inclined to deny it, and these singular reactions by adults in charge serve to replicate and reinforce institutional racism. This denial of innocence shapes the racial contours of the school to prison pipeline , and , as we have seen again this week, underlies decisions to charge and incarcerate juveniles as adults, and then brutalize them once they are in custody.

Because There Are No Children Here.

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CI: Essential Data/Graphics from Prison Policy Initiative

June 04, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

Essential Data/Graphics from Prison Policy Initiative 
Editor’s note by nancy a heitzeg

We are CI are indebted for the work of Prison Policy Initiative. In addition to their campaigns  against prison gerrymandering, the suppression of inmate rights to communication, and sentencing enhancement zones, they have recently provided a series of data sets/related graphs that offer clarity into the nature and scope of mass incarceration, both nationally  and at the state level.

pp1PNGIn the midst of claims that incarceration rates are falling and that the “tough on crime” era is over, the PPI data reveals the reality of a nation that still incarcerates at stunning rates, and with extreme racial dis proportionality. The majority of prisoners are located at the state level, and slight dips in national incarceration rate are driven almost exclusively by drops in New York and California, whose decline is both court-ordered and questionable. Other states continue to imprison at staggering levels with slight declines or steady rates despite clamors of “reform”.

The comprehensive portrait of our prison nation offered by PPI comes at time when clarity is most needed, and provides those committed to decarceration with the necessary tools to cut through the fog. With permission and  much gratitude,  CI is please to reprint excerpts from the following Prison Policy Initiative Briefings:

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CI: The Time Has Come

May 21, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Education, Housing, Intersectionality, Poverty, 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.

The Time Has Come
Editor’s Note from nancy a heitzeg

It is a week where there is too much to say, so instead we will say very little. We stand in the shadows of the anniversaries of the never-implemented Brown decision, and the day Philadelphia Police Department said “Let the Fire Burn!”We note the occasion of the birthday’s of Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansbury, and Ho Chi Minh, as we still demand an end to mass youth incarceration, brace ourselves for a “debate” about reparations,  and await word as to whether a Black Woman has any Ground to Stand.

Let us reflect on this recent history, not on what has been won, but what is left to be done. A History, that is neither some disregarded dustbin, nor a mausoleum/museum filled with past relics of partial victories.

History is Alive. And History is A Weapon.

Use it.

Eyes on the Prize: The Time Has Come (1964-66)
After a decade-long cry for justice, a new sound is heard in the civil rights movement: the insistent call for power. Malcolm X takes an eloquent nationalism to urban streets as a younger generation of black leaders listens. In the South, Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) move from “Freedom Now!” to “Black Power!” as the fabric of the traditional movement changes.

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