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CI: Beyond the Pessimism of Certainty

February 19, 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.

Beyond the Pessimism of Certainty
Editors Note from nancy a heitzeg

There is a pessimism in certainty. We expect the Verdict, knowing  laws and legal systems purported to be “race-neutral” are anything but,  knowing a system rooted in the criminalization of Blackness, cannot make the case for the humanity of its Black victims, knowing that only some are granted ground to stand or selves to defend.

We and others have written — with a grim certainty — the same words time and time again, searching for new ways to express the familar pain, looking for fresh takes on the old system that is, in the end, just simply slavery by another name.

But not Today – there will be only this….

noj nopThe Optimism of Uncertainty
by Howard Zinn

From an excerpt of Paul Rogat Loeb’s book “The Impossible Will Take a Little While“:

“In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning.

To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. This confounds us, because we are talking about exactly the period when human beings became so ingenious technologically that they could plan and predict the exact time of someone landing on the moon, or walk down the street talking to someone halfway around the earth.

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Jordan Davis: What We’ve Come to Expect

February 18, 2014 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

From Colorlines:

Still, Michael Dunn’s murder case seemed cut and dry. A white man emptied his semi-automatic into a car full of black teens, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis—then fled the scene and didn’t turn himself in until the following morning. There are, of course, other details, but what happened following Dunn’s arrest speaks volumes to the profound racial preoccupations that the killer holds.

In his letters from jail, Dunn became obsessed with the idea that he was somehow the victim of a system that routinely discriminates against white men. He explained how he was becoming more prejudiced against black people in jail, and proposed killing black people as habit so that “they may take the hint and change their behavior.” Dunn’s letters illustrate that the idea that white men can and should be harsh disciplinarians—and that black people can and should surrender to that power. If black people object, they should be killed as examples, so that others will learn.

On the witness stand, Dunn took what many thought was the unusual position of lacking remorse for killing an unarmed child. He cried, instead, when he talked about his dog. But perhaps more telling are Dunn’s last words to Jordan Davis. He testified that he shouted, “You’re not going to kill me, you son of a bitch.” If Davis is the “son of a bitch,” then we are to understand that Davis mother, Lucia Kay McBath—who was in the courtroom, just a few feet away from her son’s killer—McBath is the “bitch” that Dunn is referring to. She is not a mother who lost the son she gave birth to. She is not a human being who deserves more respect than to be called a dog. She is simply an object of Dunn’s dehumanizing attack.

In the end, Dunn was found guilty not of murdering Jordan Davis, but of the attempted murders of Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson and Tommie Stornes, who were in the SUV along with Davis the evening that Dunn killed him. We can speculate, then, that if all four youth had been killed, then Dunn may have walked a free man. His only mistake, perhaps, was that he didn’t kill enough black teens to get away with it. Dunn held that he was terrified because he had seen Davis holding a weapon—but that weapon never existed. By not finding Dunn guilty of murder, the jury could not unanimously conclude that one white man’s imagination was worth more than one black teen’s life.

Revelations: “here on this bridge between starshine and clay…”

December 29, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality, Spirituality, What People are Doing to Change the World

won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton

Rachel Jeantel’s Short Blue Dream by Kiese Laymon

black line Capture

 

CI: Remembering Trayvon Martin, Special Edition of ProudFlesh

November 27, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Gun Culture, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World, 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.

Remembering Trayvon Martin, Special Edition of ProudFlesh
by nancy a heitzeg

 CI is thankful for the publication of a Special Travyon Martin Issue of ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics, and Consciousness. Although this journal usually requires a subscription, the editors have made this issue free and available in perpetuity, and are encouraging its’ use in classroom and community education. If you are interested in accessing the entire issue , just go to the link above and create an account for free access.

proud fleshA special issue on Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American teenager killed by George Zimmerman, while walking home. May your soul rest in peace (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012). The issue is guest-edited by Azuka Nzegwu, Ph.D.

The issue chronicles the case from the initial petition for prosecution from Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton through the trial and aftermath with the work of artists, musician, scholars, poets, activists. An editorial by Azuka Nzegwu, PhD  opens the journal and is reprinted below. Appropriately, the issue closes with the recent report issued by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the extrajudicial killing of 313 Black people by police, security guards and vigilantes and Let Your Motto Be Resistance (covered here in The War on Black ~ “Color-blindness” and Criminalization, Part 1 and Part 2)

Readers may recognize several pieces that have been published at CI: Am I Next? by Rodney Coates, After Trayvon Martin Revisited by Kay Whitlock with Nancy A. Heitzeg, Of the Verdict, “Whiteness” and Abolition by Nancy A. Heitzeg, and What Would Real Justice for Trayvon Martin Look Like? by Kay Whitlock.

We are so honored to be included here.

So as we approach a day of thanks giving, CI would like to thank ProudFlesh for creating this issue and making it available for all. Thank you to Azuka Nzegwu, PhD  for allowing us to reprint the introductory editorial. Thank you to everyone, everywhere who helped create awareness around the Martin case and the too many that resemble it. And special thanks to @princss6 and a Twitter storm that keeps on bringing the news, even now.  Thanks to so many others, too many to name.

No Justice/No Peace.

Never Forget.

Trayvon – Jasiri X

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CI: Black Life, Perceived Threat, and “Stand Your Ground”

November 13, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Gun Culture, 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.

Black Life, Perceived Threat, and “Stand Your Ground”
by nancy a heitzeg

Almost one year ago, CI published Standing Up to Stand Your Ground in response to the murder of Jordan Davis. In the ensuing months, we have witnessed an intensifying climate of toxic Anti-Blackness, where fear and explict/implict bias turn deadly and white killers walk.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin . The death of Jordan Davis. The death of at least 6 Black men, women or children at the hands of someone employed or protected by the US government. Jonathan Ferrell, who survived a car crash only to be shot 10 times by the police while seeking help. And now Renisha McBride, another help-seeking crash survivor shot in the head with a 12 gauge shotgun by a Stand Your Ground Michigan homeowner. Brittany Cooper in Asking for Help While Black: How it Became a Capital Offense:

Screen-shot-2013-11-08-at-2.27.20-PMWhite supremacy is no country for black people. Gender be damned. And it remains abundantly clear that black life is still considered a reasonable price to pay for the protection of white property and white life. White supremacy works to reassert and maintain dominance by striking fear in the hearts of black and brown people, by restricting our free movement through the world, by reminding us at every turn, that we might end up the indiscriminate victims of white rage. We are made to believe that white rage is ephemeral, though, such that we look up in its aftermath, devastated by its inhabitation, but remain unable to track, trail or trap it. With a kind of profound certitude, though, we can generally trust its trail of black destruction.

Video by dream hampton

Drip, drip, drip.

So too the calls for “justice” – one by one by one – from a system designed to devalue  it. Ultimately, we must challenge both the cultural constructs and structural processes which collude/collide/conspire to devalue Black Life. As Kay Whitlock notes in What Would Real Justice for Trayvon Martin Look Like?:

blPNGWhile the NRA may solidify its ethically bankrupt power by encouraging an ethos of enmity and expendability, great leaders for social change—King, Gandhi, Chavez, Huerta, Malcolm X, Archbishop Oscar Romero—have always rightly noted the importance of simultaneous forms of transformation at both individual and structural levels.

Where are the civic and faith-based leaders calling for such transformation today?   Where are today’s risk-takers who are willing to step out into the great storms of fear—those who are willing to call not for more policing, punishment , and retribution, but for justice that not only names and confronts, but works to transform and heal the terrible wounds of structural racism in this purportedly “colorblind” society?

Even as we mourn the loss of Trayvon Martin and so many other young people of color, let us reflect on the collective duty before us: valuing their lives by dismantling all the neutral-sounding ways in which racism manifests—anti-immigrant laws, gutting of the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression efforts, Stop and Frisk police practices, race-based mass incarceration and more. If we’re serious about racial justice, we have to embrace measures equal to the challenge.

The challenge is a daunting. Legal challenges to Stand Your Ground laws remain a starting place. Since CI originally published its’ critique, a growing body of research indicates that these laws have contributed to the racially fueled climate of guns and violence, with white shooters being wide latitude to kill Blacks. For example, a recent study of homicide conviction rates in the 22 states with such laws, found that 17% of the homicides of black victims by white defendants were ruled justifiable, while only 1% of the homicides of white victims by black defendants were deemed legally justifiable.

Resistance has mounted as well. But repealing these laws will  largely be a state by state struggle. And so, as a reminder of the scope and legal pitfalls of expanding “gun rights” legislation, CI revisits an updated Standing Up to “Stand Your Ground” below..

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CI: This Week in the War on Black ~ Repression Builds Resistance

November 06, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner 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.

This Week in the War on Black ~ Repression Builds Resistance
by nancy a heitzeg

“Our country’s national crime is lynching.” ~ Ida B. Wells

This week’s CI was going to continue the discussion of what seems to be an uptick in the move towards prison privatization. There are many implications here, not the least of which concerns race – recent research suggests that Black and Latino/a prisoners are more likely than whites to be housed in private facilities that offer fewer programs that help prisoners: psychological interventions, drug and alcohol counseling, coursework towards high school or college diplomas, job training, etc.

But more on that later.

The-Red-Record-Wells-Barnett-Ida-9781409916031For now, a few words on the ruthless Anti-Blackness that shaped the week. Florida prosecutor  Corey decided to retry Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot in the ceiling  to protect herself/her children against her abusive husband. The family of deceased Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson had to apply public pressure for nearly a year (and seek 2 autopsies) in order to get  proper investigation of the case. Shopping While Black is still heavily criminalized, even when paying for expensive merchandise at high end stores. A Federal Appeals Court said NYPD is free to continue its’ racist policy of stop and frisk. Because it was Halloween,  Clueless and/or Hateful White People™ donned Blackface yet again as high fashion accessorizing, prison inmate portrayals, and even the murdered Trayvon Martin were deemed by them to be “acceptable” costumes.

And because it is any given week, at least 6 Black men, women or children were killed by someone employed or protected by the US government, while untold numbers more were brutalized, arrested and incarcerated.

But we are not here today to say all that. We are here to say what is already known:

Repression Builds Resistance.

Marissa Alexander’s name/case is known, she is in fact getting a chance at freedom at all because of relentless activism. There will be a federal investigation into Kendrick Johnson’s death. Barney’s is getting sued. Dream Defenders have forced Stand Your Ground hearings in Florida and called for National Action. NYPD stop and frisk will be over one way or another, perhaps as soon as the next NYC Mayoral election.

And More.

So we are here today to say simply, with the theologian James Cone, one more thing that is also known:

The Lynchers will Never have the Last Word.

The Cross and The Lynching Tree, James Cone

CI: A Message from Herman Wallace (and Us)

September 18, 2013 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.

A Message from Herman Wallace (and Us)
reprinted with permission from Angola 3 News with commentary by nancy a heitzeg

Over the years, CI  has had the privilege of publishing a variety of pieces from Angola 3 News, including many updates on the status of the Angola 3 – Herman Wallace, Robert King, and Albert Woodfox – and their decades of solitary confinement at LSP Angola.. Today, with great sadness, we  bring you this message from Herman Wallace and add our own requests.

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Dream Defenders Stand Their Ground, Occupying the New Jim Crow

September 18, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Gun Culture, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege


Dream Defenders and Trayvon Martin protesters take a stand in Sanford, FL. (Werth Media/Flickr)

From In These Times:

As nationwide protests erupted this July after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin, President Obama asked Americans to exercise “calm reflection” and reminded demonstrators that “we are a nation of laws.” But a group of young organizers in Florida decided that the moment instead called for civil disobedience to challenge unjust laws, and proceeded to hold a 31-day sit-in at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

The Dream Defenders, formed in the aftermath of 17-year-old Martin’s killing last year, have chapters on 7 college campuses across Florida. The group, whose name alludes to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech at the 1963 March on Washington, aims to address the structural problems at the heart of the Martin case: the criminalization of people of color, police brutality and mass incarceration—all of which add up to a system law professor Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow.”

On July 16, the activists launched an occupation of the Florida Capitol, demanding that Gov. Rick Scott (R) convene a special session of the legislature to reform Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which figured prominently in the Martin case. During their sit-in, the Dream Defenders announced their support for Trayvon’s Law, drafted by the NAACP, which would repeal Stand Your Ground altogether. Trayvon’s Law would also curtail racial profiling by police through an independent civilian complaint review board with the power to discipline offending police officers and ban the “zero tolerance” policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.

Though no special session was convened, by the time the sit-in ended, on August 15, they had met with the governor, several top-level state officials had agreed to talk with them, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford had committed to hold hearings on Trayvon’s Law this fall.