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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.

CI: The Year in State-Sponsored Homicide

December 18, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, International Law, 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.

The Year in State-Sponsored Homicide
by nancy a heitzeg

As 2013 comes to a close, both Amnesty International  and the Death Penalty Information Center offer us a final look at the year in Killing States, both in the USA and around the world. While the overall trend is towards abolition, capital punishment remains an both option and a grim reality in the 31 countries that carried out executions in 2013.

Without further adieu, the numbers. These include only judicially mandated executions and not extrajudicial killings  by police, security guards and vigilantes. Those numbers would add untold thousands more.

And the only word I have left: Abolition.

Executions Worldwide

While more than two-thirds of the world’s nations are now abolitionist in law or in practice, thousands are executed around the world each year.  China keeps its’ execution numbers a secret, so a complete accounting is not available. Concern has been expressed recently over the increase in secret executions in Japan, and the high rate of executions in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the United States is ranked in the top five of countries carrying out executions.

Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and various kinds of shooting (by firing squad, and at close range to the heart or the head). Public executions were known to have been carried out in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. In Saudi Arabia, executions are usually beheadings with a sword. In one case recorded by Amnesty, a Sudanese man’s head was sewn back onto his body and hung from a pole in a public place.

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Troy Anthony Davis (10/9/1968 – 9/21/2011)

September 21, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

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Two years after Troy Davis’ execution, our fight to end the death penalty lives
and

On 21 September 2011, the state of Georgia killed Troy Anthony Davis as the world looked on, aghast that Georgia was proceeding with the execution, overlooking a mountain of evidence that pointed towards Troy’s innocence…

In our new book I Am Troy Davis, we highlight the risk of executing an innocent person and underscore the hidden price that so many people pay with each and every execution. Told from the perspective of Troy and his family, we reveal the impact that capital punishment has, not just on the condemned prisoner, but on his family, his friends, and even the guards and prison officials whose job it is to take part in these state-sanctioned (and highly-scripted) killings. We expose Troy’s dignity and humanity, juxtaposed against the inhumanity of the death penalty.

In the two years since Troy’s controversial execution, we have made significant strides towards ending the broken death penalty system in the United States

We believe many of the achievements in the fight to abolish the death penalty were inspired by Troy and the global fight to prevent his execution, yet more critical work remains to be done. We will continue to fight this fight, in Troy Davis‘ name.

  “I Am Troy Davis”: Supporters, Family of Georgian Man Executed in 2011 Push to End Death Penalty

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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White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman

July 14, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

From The Nation:

When Zimmerman was acquitted [last night], it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe.

Media on the left, right and center have been fanning the flames of fear-mongering, speculating that people—and black people especially—will take to the streets. That fear-mongering represents a deep white anxiety about black bodies on the streets, and echoes Zimmerman’s fears: that black bodies on the street pose a public threat. But the real violence in those speculations, regardless of whether they prove to be true, is that it silences black anxiety. The anxiety that black men feel every time they walk outside the door—and the anxiety their loved ones feel for them as well. That white anxiety serves to conceal the real public threat: that a black man is killed every twenty-eight hours by a cop or vigilante.

People will take to the streets, and with good reason. They’ll be there because they know that, yes, some people do always get away—and it tends to be those strapped with guns and the logic of white supremacy at their side.

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CI: Sister Helen Prejean, Abolition, and The Power of One Voice

July 10, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Poverty, 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.

Sister Helen Prejean,  Abolition, and The Power of One Voice
by nancy a heitzeg

Every week, Criminal InJustice details the systemic and structural oppressions that characterize our legal system. Challenging the entailed web of inequality that creates and connects the prison industrial complex and all its’ tentacles seems daunting indeed. The system is monstrous, in both scope and scale. Certainly the work of dismantling it requires collaboration, coalitions and as Michelle Alexander has called for, a new social movement that both organizes and mobilizes many.

In the face of sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds, it is always important to remember the power of  a single voice. Always crucial to recall that we can and we must speak out, and that we can never calculate the change that may flow from our doing so.

Sister Helen Prejean is such a voice. June marked the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, and it is no under-estimation to say that with it, Sister Helen changed the course of the death penalty debate.

Certainly, much work remains. Texas — the most killing of all states — recently executed #500. Florida — the state with the largest number of exonerations – recently passed legislation to further fast track executions. Georgia is preparing to execute Warren Hill – an inmate with a documented IQ of 70 - in violation of Atkins.Torturous conditions remain; LSP Angola inmates recently filed suit over extreme heat, citing heat indices on death row of between 126 and 195 degrees. . The Missouri Attorney General is calling for the return of the gas chamber.

Nonetheless, the death penalty landscape has seismically shifted; in no small part due a lone nun who answered both a single letter and the larger call.

This one’s for Sister Helen…

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CI: Of Charles Ramsey & Stanley Tookie Williams ~ Redemption & Transformation, Part 1

May 15, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, 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.


Of Charles Ramsey and Stanley Tookie Williams ~

Redemption and Transformation, Part 1
by nancy a heitzeg

“People forget that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched.”
~ Stanley Tookie Williams December 2, 2005

Many tales of criminal injustice emerged out of Cleveland last week. As the 10 year ordeal of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter came to an end, the horrors were revealed. Kidnapping. Rape. Torture. Forced miscarriages. False imprisonment.

Questions emerged too – about potential laxness on the part of the Cleveland police in investigating further both the missing women and suspicious activity around Ariel Castro’s home. Questions about the role of race and class generally in driving missing persons police action and media coverage. Questions about “The Missing White Woman Syndrome”.

But before the week was over the spot-light turned away from both victims and perpetrator to focus on one Charles Ramsey, the too honest neighbor and eventual rescuer of Berry and the others. From the very first interview, it was clear that Ramsey made the media nervous. His life at the margins of both race and class. His raw honesty about race and some “white girls” — Dead Give-away.

He wasn’t our typical hero. So first, the laughter, then the quick turn to viciousness, as smokinggun and others dug the dirt. Just as they thought, Charles Ramsey was “the criminal-black-man” after all. The cognitive dissonance was now melting away away — Maybe he wasn’t a “hero” after all?? How, in our culture of simplistic either/or binaries, could he be?

In all that has been written since the news broke out of Cleveland, it is Liliana Segura of The Nation who reveals the central questions in Race, Redemption and Charles Ramsey. (The piece is excerpted throughout this essay, but please read the original in its’ entirety.) She finds hope in the support that Ramsey has continued to receive from  many – hope that, by embracing him, we may be more generous to others as well.

The story of Charles Ramsey is a story of redemption that strikes deep at the heart of rigid social constructions of  “criminals” and the cultural charades we endure to maintain them. It is a story of the complexity of the human condition – one that defies all monolithic labels. And, so, it is a window into the possibilities of transformative justice.

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The Central Park Five: Same As It Ever Was

April 16, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

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The Film

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Directed and produced by Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, the film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice. PBS

The Central Park Five will air on PBS Tuesday, April 16, 2013. To find where and when the documentary is showing at a theater near you, visit the Facebook page.

NYC’s Ongoing Denial of the ‘Central Park Five’ Is a Disservice to Black, Latino Men

I’m outraged at New York City. As a young black man recounting this case from the Central Park Five’s perspective, trying to not be outraged wasn’t even an option. I had the details to this story as I did Emmett Till, The Scottsboro Boys, Trayvon Martin and countless other cases of young black men being victimized by false claims of victimizing white people (specifically white women) — staying indebted to a historical and institutionalized hatred and fear of the black man. But beforehand, I didn’t have the details on this level, and I was mind-blown from start to finish of this documentary. So much it’s been a process to articulate it and put it in these words.

NYC owes the Central Park Five an apology (and their money — a $250 million civil suit filed in 2003), which really in itself won’t make up for the many years lost among the five men. But NYC refuses to give it — will not even acknowledge any wrongdoing in the case — some claiming that the actual serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, was just the sixth missing person involved in the rape. NYC also asked for a subpoena of the documentary’s footage — claiming the filmmakers aren’t journalists and the documentary is one-sided. But the subpoena was denied being that the filmmakers are protected under freedom of speech. According to the documentary’s well-known filmmaker, Ken Burns, asked for the city of New York’s voice in the documentary, but prosecutors and police refused to give it.