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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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Revelations: #LastWords/#LastWords Heard

November 02, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, What People are Doing to Change the World

CI: #Ferguson/#Everywhere

October 29, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Copyleft/Free Culture, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, 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.

 

#Ferguson/#Everywhere
by nancy a heitzeg

As the world continues to watch events unfold in Ferguson and awaits word on what will most likely be the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, some thoughts. It is crucial to honor the specifics of the Ferguson Struggle and the names of the fallen, Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell and VonDerrit Myers. It is essential to support the activists on the ground there.

But remember too, that Ferguson is Everywhere.  The City of Ferguson, surrounding St. Louis, the State of Missouri and all elected /appointed officials aren’t particularly  exceptional with extra “bad apples”, more perverse laws, or more corrupt political figures. They operate under a national umbrella that routinizes racialized police violence. The names and details may change, but the structural white supremacy that allows for unchecked police/state violence permeate the U. S. legal system – no, it is foundational.

It is normative. it is the bedrock. Everywhere.

What We Know (And Have Known Forever).

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CI: #Oct22/Stolen Lives

October 22, 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.

 

#Oct22/Stolen Lives
by nancy a heitzeg

Today marks the 19th Anniversary of the National Day of Protest on October 22, organized by  The October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. The October 22 Coalition also coordinates The Stolen Lives Project, which documents/honors those killed by police violence.

Hopefully you found an event wherever you are. Say the Names. Honor the Dead. Commit to Fighting like Hell for the Living. This has always been so, but especially now. From the full statement of The October 22 Coalition:

In the United States, this year has seen a litany of state violence, with increasing documentation and coverage making these ongoing atrocities more difficult to deny. Over 800 people have been killed by law enforcement nationwide, at least 200 since Mike Brown, and at least 23 people in one week. Although police criminalization of and violence against women and transgender people is nothing new, they have become more newsworthy of late. There seems to be no level too low for law enforcement to stoop in their violence, whether it is against children and young teens, the elderly, the deaf, or those who are emotionally or mentally distressed.

It is unsurprising that death by police has a racial dynamic. We have long been alerted to this by experience and many sources, including the tireless work of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and their reports — see Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Vigilantes. Recently, an analysis of federally collected data on 1,217 fatal police shootings by Propublica  verified what long time observers already knew: young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police .

police killlings

As with all matters related to the criminal injustice system, any efforts to redress police killings must openly confront the white supremacist underpinnings of the entire endeavor. There is no other way.

To that end, please also support the National Week of Action from #BlackLivesMatter. And, every day, as always, Let Your Motto Be Resistance.

 

 

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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CI: Misdirection ~ Imposing Silence; Criminalizing Reality

October 01, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

Misdirection: Imposing Silence; Criminalizing Reality

by Kay Whitlock

So the problem in Ferguson, Missouri isn’t the extrajudicial execution by a local police officer of 18-year old Michael Brown, who was unarmed and had his hands up. The problem isn’t the fact that Brown’s murder constitutes part of a grotesque, racist national tapestry of killings of unarmed people of color by police, security guards, and self-appointed white vigilantes.  The problem isn’t that law enforcement misconduct and abuse are endemic.  The problem isn’t racial profiling within a framework of white supremacy, or the criminalization of entire communities of color and U.S. race-based mass incarceration.

The problem, said Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, as he called out the national guard and state highway patrol to buttress local policing of demonstrators, is “a violent criminal element intent upon terrorizing the community.” Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson agreed that the “criminal element” is riling up – agitating – the protesters. He also believes that “that some — and he emphasized some — of the media outlets on the ground in Ferguson were enabling the looters and criminals embedded within the otherwise peaceful protestors.” In this way, protesting itself – purportedly a Constitutional right – becomes the problem, and the people doing the protesting are themselves framed as the source of violence.

Silence is a Lie- Urban Art

Silence is a Lie- Urban Art

And the problem when Amy Meyer stood on a strip of public land outside a Utah slaughterhouse to video a “downer cow” – one who is alive but too sick or injured to stand and walk – being moved around on a forklift was not the misery of that cow. It was neither the cruelty and horrific mistreatment of living beings, nor the lousy labor practices and unsanitary conditions endemic to the meat-producing arm of Big Ag – the huge feedlots, factory farms, and slaughterhouses. The problem isn’t the kind of supremacist belief that encourages human beings to permit countless animals to be subjected to unimaginable suffering at our hands.*

The problem, according to the “Ag-Gag” legal frame under which she was the first to be charged, is that she was an “animal rights terrorist.”  (Charges against her were dropped, but more arrests have been made under Utah’s law.)  The goal of such a terrorist? To destroy America’s agricultural industry. While charges against Meyer were dropped, more Ag Gag arrests are being made; in fact, state and federal Ag Gag laws constitute a chilling, much broader template for criminalizing undercover, independent exposure of cruelty and protest directed at that cruelty.  It’s a cautionary lesson; one need not be an animal rights activist to learn from it.

This is how is you utilize the political and cultural art of misdirection in order to alter reality, or at least the perception of it. This is how you convince people that multiple forms of cruelty, abuse, dishonesty, and exploitation aren’t really happening.  Or if they are, that they aren’t  that widespread or worrisome because the problems are caused by only a few “bad apples” within institutions that are basically fair, responsible, and trustworthy.

This is how you render invisible massive, structural forms of violence  that are so commonplace as to be normative.

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CI: Off Track, The Myth of American Justice

September 24, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, 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.

 

Off Track, The Myth of American Justice
by nancy a heitzeg

He could have said it anywhere, in Ferguson or Florida, in Los Angeles or the Bronx, in any Southern town from Emmett Till up till now. The song remains the same. But how many times has he said this to a room, during a moment, at what appears to be a turning point? Shouting in the wilderness is one thing. What must it be like to shout where everyone can hear you, to room after room full of people, to have everyone  nod their heads and the newspapers back you and millions rally to your cause and still nothing changes? How many times can you repeat the truth? ~ Emmett Rensin, After the Train Leaves Town: A Report from Ferguson

The swirl of headlines and response is dizzying. Drip, drip, drip.

Justice for Mike Brown, for Ezell Ford, for Eric Garner, John CrawfordRekia Boyd, Marissa Alexander, Jordan Davis (again) !  More. Fire Ray Rice, fire Adrian Peterson, fire Roger Goodell, Don Lemon too! More. Arrest Darren Wilson! Convict Michael Dunn! More.  One by one by one.

Send $$$, send water, send gas masks. More. #Hashtag it. Facebook it. Petition it.  Mobilize. March. Send Selfies with Signs.  More. Then Do It Again. Click, click, click.

train_tracks_and_approaching_train_by_ffelkat-d5cw2lsThe need to react to immediate injustice is understandable. So too, the desire to have systems that supposedly dispense ” justice” to do so equally, and to hold all perpetrators – be they police or pro athletes – accountable. It is easy to understand the lull of specific debates and focused actions. But as both a participant in and scholar/observer of social movements – particularly those directed towards the criminal “justice” system, i have many questions.

These have come to the fore again in the midst of the seeming national escalation of police violence, the wave of family violence cases involving NFL players, and finally, in a local event that revealing in microcosm a political landscape always marred by personal agendas and political in-fighting, non-profits protecting their money, a projecting power structure that appeals to fear, and  a media eager to report the small details, the specific skirmish, but in total avoidance of the systemic and structural issues which ultimately provide the frame.

Is this case by case approach enough? Can it be sustained? Are there more tools — questions to be asked, cautions to be raised about their most effective use? Are these the right questions to ask or demands to make ? What are the possibilities for proactive engagement rather than the endless hydraulic of reaction and retrenchment? Can we define the terms of debate on our own new terrain? Can we go bigger?

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CI: Captive Genders ~ Embodying Resistance and Envisioning Safety

September 03, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, 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.

 

Captive Genders: Embodying Resistance and Envisioning Safety
by Jed Walsh*

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex has burning cop cars on the cover and incendiary content on every one of its 365 pages to match. Edited by Nat Smith and Eric Stanley, the immensely wide-ranging anthology begins with an introduction by Stanley titled “Fugitive Flesh: Gender Self-Determination, Queer Abolition, and Trans Resistance” and ends with tools and resources for prison abolitionists to use in their organizing. In the acknowledgments, Stanley and Smith say that “writing must always be produced within the context of action. Similarly, action devoid of analysis often makes for shaky ground upon which to build.” This is one of the central tenets of the book, and each contribution to the anthology is very clearly produced from lived experience. Captive Genders urges those who read it to take action as part of movements for queer and trans prison abolition now!

cgCENTERING PRISON ABOLITION IN QUEER AND TRANS MOVEMENTS

One of the most invaluable things to me about Captive Genders is the clarity with which the contributors reject the mainstream LGBT agenda and the entirety of the gay rights movement’s attendant violence and exclusion. In my coming of age years, I’ve watched gay marriage legalized in my home state and increasingly across the country, and I have experienced gay marriage take hold of popular imagination as “the” single LGBT issue. How did it get to be this way? When I was 17 and first getting politicized around opposing the Iraq war, I know that my dreams of social justice were bigger, more colorful, and far more wide-reaching than a single cause like gay marriage. Now as a queer and transgender person and someone working to end prisons, it’s heart-breaking to me to see how far away from my deepest values the gay rights movement has traveled. Luckily, there are increasingly visible examples of queer/trans activists and organizations that are working to oppose all forms of oppression, to reject the prison-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex, and to create livable, healthy communities for all.

The very first piece in Captive Genders succinctly lays out the fundamental differences between mainstream LGBT politics and radical queer/trans justice struggles. In “Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement With Everything We’ve Got,” Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee, and Dean Spade present a chart outlining the current LGBT political landscape that I think is absolutely essential in understanding the limitations of mainstream gay politics (see the chart here: h). The chart has three sections: “big problems” faced by queer/trans people, “official solutions” to those problems from a gay rights standpoint; and “transformative approaches” being used by radical queer/trans organizations.

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