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Revelations: #KeepItDown

June 28, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Police State, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice: To Break the Chain

June 24, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Gun Culture, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, 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.

 

To Break the Chain
by nancy a heitzeg

Charleston.  The latest USA edition of the “race-tinged death story”.

Although the racial motivations were clear from the outset (survivors told the tale), this did not deter mainstream media and invested policy makers from spinning the familiar script. Liberals pointed towards guns and debate erupted over which language of the carceral state to adopt — was this hate crime or terrorism? The Right feigned confusion or claimed that it was really just Christians who were under attack..

The white shooter, typically,  was both isolated and humanized – arrested without a scratch, fed Burger King, described as a lone wolf who may be mentally ill or exceptionally evil, ultimately unknowable. In the words of South Carolina Governor Nikki Hayley, “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Until we did. The discovery of Dylann Roof’s last racist screed laid bare the motives, and set off another round of spin. The fact that Roof named the Council of Conservative Citizens, as both source and inspiration, induced a panic-stricken flow of returned campaign contributions, the fine line between “extremist” hate and the GOP mainstay, erased.

Exposed now, attention then turned quickly to the Confederate Flag and calls for its’ removal as remedy. The flag, which should have never flown, was long embraced by slavers and segregationists, and served as key code in the deployment of the ostensibly color-blind “Southern Strategy”. But perhaps now the costs had finally come to outweigh the benefits. Perhaps too, in keeping with the climate of premature forgiveness and healing, it was time for rapid reversal from those who had ridden the undead Confederacy to power.

As Glen Ford notes in The Perils of the Politics of Symbolism:

The demand that South Carolina remove the “Stars and Bars” from in front of the state capital building is wholly symbolic, directly affecting one pole and one piece of cloth.  The state’s governor and top Republican legislators would never consider letting go of the flag if it had not already become as much a burden as an asset to the Party… “Reconciliation,” therefore, comes cheap – and, in fact, redounds to the benefit of the former offender. Whites in South Carolina will get the chance to feel as good about voting the Confederate-free Republican ticket, as white Democrats in Iowa felt voting for Obama. Power relationships are unaffected…”

So the Flag may come down – forever or just for one day. Or it may not. It may be banned from Wal*Mart and Amazon and eBay for as long as Duck Dynasty was off the air or more. Regardless, the effects of the performance of contrition and distancing will have been achieved for those who rose to power on this very white supremacist imagery and the blood money it raised.  And we will be approaching peak color-blindness, an entire uninterrupted landscape of racism without racists, replete with complete denial-ability but deep structures which remain, untouched.

The juxtaposition of last week’s news-maker, the “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal, with the trajectory of the unfolding Charleston story is unsettling. The singular message is this: race and racism are individualized performances that allow for both white appropriation of Blackness when convenient and white supremacist denial of structural racism viz a viz its’ projection onto a disposable Symbol. Elusive; ephemeral.

The reality is, flag or no, the structural white supremacy that is the bedrock foundation of this country has never been redressed. The Civil War has never been over. Slavery has been unwilling to die, morphing via the “reform ” offered by the 13th Amendment into the prison industrial complex and the punishing state. And the promises of “due process”, “equal protection” and the franchise, continue to be denied.

Until there is that full accounting – in word, deed and reparation – that flag, even figuratively, will continue to fly.

Revelations: #DecorationDay

May 24, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Sunday Music Flashback

The First Decoration Day

By David W. Blight. 2011.
The People’s History of Memorial Day, Zinn Education Project

 

 “…War kills people and destroys human creation; but as though mocking war’s devastation, flowers inevitably bloom through its ruins. After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865. The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.
1865 view of the Union soldiers graves at Washington Racecourse. Library of Congress

1865 view of the Union soldiers graves at Washington Racecourse. Library of Congress

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

At 9 a.m. on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: “for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you… in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession.”

CI: Torture, Lies, and Denial

May 13, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

 

Torture, Lies, and Denial
by Kay Whitlock

Torture.

It’s not somebody else’s problem. It’s an American problem. It’s our problem. We bear some measure of responsibility for it because it goes forward in our names, by public and private actors and institutions who comprise much of the mainstream of civic life.

Torture isn’t perpetrated by rogue actors and “bad apples.” It is foundational to American policing, prisons, and military action.

Many people seek to justify torture, or the euphemisms that try to disguise its nature:  “enhanced interrogation” and “special methods of questioning.” Others – most people – simply deny its existence or, if made uncomfortably aware of it,  make frantic efforts to explain it away and  cover up complicity in its authorization, administration, and human, ethical, and spiritual impact.

Politicians won’t make it stop. Professional advocates won’t make it stop. Religious leaders won’t make it stop. It can’t be arrested and jailed away; that’s part of the same mentality that produced it. Torture will only stop if we make it stop, through visionary as well as practical forms of movement building and community organizing that build unstoppable momentum, linking growing numbers of people across myriad constituencies and issues.

In light of several notable revelations concerning torture, Criminal Injustice is reprising an earlier post, with this new introduction.

On May 6, 2015, following decades of organizing, litigation, and journalism and, more recently, a concerted six-month grassroots campaign, the Chicago City Council passed an unprecedented reparations package for survivors of torture, administered by former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives, and survivors’ families.

CI’s gratitude for this landmark victory goes to those who led the campaign –Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA, We Charge Genocide, and Amnesty International – USA, as well as to everyone who actively supported it. We also express gratitude and respect to the People’s Law Office, especially Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor, for more than a quarter century of tireless effort to bring the torture of over 110 African American men and women to light and obtain justice.

The reparations package includes a formal apology for the torture; specialized counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members on the South Side; free enrollment and job training in City Colleges for survivors and family members (including grandchildren) as well as prioritized access to other City programs, including help with housing, transportation and senior care; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools to 8th and 10th graders; and the construction of a permanent public memorial to the survivors. It also sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that will allow those still living to receive some measure of financial compensation for the torture they endured.

For decades, many Chicago officials tried to minimize awareness of this violence and the extent of its harm. It is now our job to ensure that the Rahm Emmanuel and subsequent administrations are never permitted to view this package as a “fine” to be paid and forgotten while business as usual, in the form of police violence, continues.  May this tangible acknowledgment serve to inspire us all to greater activism, to more urgent and sustained demands for accountability for violence administered not only by the state but with the active participation of professional individuals and organizations and corporations who reap benefits from their involvement.

And, as Joey Mogul rightly points out, “While the reparations for Burge survivors focus on a finite set of particularly egregious cases, they can serve as a model for what reparations might look like for systemic police abuse plaguing cities across the nation.”

Even as the police torture reparations victory was in the making in Chicago, it was confirmed through new disclosures of email communication  that the prestigious American Psychological Association (APA) had secretly worked to bolster “a legal and ethical justification” for the post-9/11 “war on terror.”  The APA, too has tried to deny this. But psychologists and other health care professionals play essential roles in implementing and providing cover for torture.

And torture was center stage in a court room in Boston, not under interrogation, but rather, as rationale for denying the death penalty. The  “defense” attorneys for now convicted Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev opened their arguments in the penalty phase with an appeal to the jury for sentencing to a “punishment worse than death.” Tsarnaev would spend his life, they said, buried alive in the ADX Supermax at Florence, Colorado. His life should be spared, they argued, so he could be sentenced instead to the slow motion torture of  this “living hell.”

Of course, this is the subtext of some resistance to capital punishment –  it isn’t punishment enough.  And yes, the defense in its’ contradictory everything but the kitchen sink approach to the penalty phase did call Sister Helen Prejean at last as a witness for mercy.

But the first and central defense argument was an open call to torture. And nothing can ever remove that stain.

(more…)

CI: ‘Whiteness’, Criminality, and Double-Standards of Deviance/Social Control

May 06, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

‘Whiteness’, Criminality, and the Double-Standards of Deviance/Social Control
by nancy a heitzeg

“All domination is, in the last instance, maintained through social control strategies” ~ Eduardo Bonilla-Silva 2001

Authors Note: The following is an excerpt from a piece recently published in Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice. The full article can be downloaded here.

The wholesale criminalization of Blackness is juxtaposed with the medical mitigation of white deviance, furthered by media coverage and, in a country driven by raw capitalism, buttressed by profligate profiteering, even from social control. The prison industrial complex and the treatment industrial complex serve as increasingly intertwined alternatives for defining and controlling, not just deviance, but race, in the era of “color-blindness”.

So as Black communities in Baltimore/Everywhere remain under siege, James Holmes pleads not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and more.

And the Band Played On.

(more…)

CI: On Violence

April 29, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, 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.

 

 On Violence

“Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance. “

~ Hannah Arendt (1906–1975),  “On Violence,” (1972).

CI: Commodified and Caged, Still

April 15, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

Commodified and Caged, Still
by nancy a heitzeg

Authors Note: This piece is an old one, whose time is always now.  It was originally published elsewhere, under a different name, for my anti-capitalist comrades. The goal, as you will see, was to illustrate the deep connections between speciesism, commodification and social inequalities. And yes, it was a call to Open the Cages.

So why not for Criminal InJustice? Certainly, “criminals” are routinely “de-humanized” — described as mere “animals”, “monsters”, and “brutes”. And treated as such then — caged, penned, crated, occasionally exhibited, brutalized, slaughtered. Commodified too — a ready source of profit from neo-slave labor, privatized contracts, and sometimes, even for “acres of skin”.

And why not again now? In a time of endless death on video loop, where victims, they say,  are “shot down like dogs in the street” by those that some call “pigs”, foundational  specieism is revealed in theory and practice. Our conceptions of both victims and villains rest on the assumptions that humans are better, deserve better. This leaves unquestioned and in fact perpetuates the very paradigm of domination – of dogs, of pigs, of the planet – that is the model for our treatment of dehumanized others.

As i have written elsewhere:

It is a hard and unpopular truth to say that all oppressions are connected, to say that our treatment of other species and the Earth herself has served as the template for our oppression of peoples. But it has.

It is a harder and even more unpopular truth to say that all oppressions must be undone and undone together. The lust for the false power derived from relations of domination – directed anywhere – is at the root.

What if the prison industrial complex and the social inequality which under girds it were somehow undone? What would prevent the lingering desire to crate the sow, cage the bird, chain the dog, beat the horse, gore the ox from erupting – again towards us – in some newly imagined and monstrous application?

The Answer is Nothing.

In this time of endless death on video loop, the inclination is to hunker down, narrow the focus, save our own, save who we can. But what if,  instead, now is the time to explode the vision, broaden the scope, fight for every and all breathes?

The fate of The Last Rhino is not marginal to or disconnected from the blood in the streets and the slaughterhouses, from the personal violence of our homes and that perpetrated by our social structures.

It is at the Center; it is of the very Essence.

Open the Cages and Open Them All.

(more…)

Criminal InJustice: Abolition X

February 25, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

Abolition X
Editors note by nancy a heitzeg

It is impossible to note the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination without noting too the even more urgent need for prison abolition and for a coalition between what Mumia calls “organic and radical intellectuals.”  The ubiquity of prison, in a nation ostensibly built on freedom, is a contradiction none of us can any longer bear. Voices from the inside and  out must unite. Again.

As Dan Berger notes in “Malcolm X’s challenge to mass incarceration”:

“Malcolm X spent his political life resisting the kind of criminalization of black communities that has catalyzed protests around the country over the last six months. He was an outspoken critic of a system that has justified the arrest, imprisonment and death of so many people long before it reached the kind of crisis proportions that see a black person being killed by law enforcement or vigilantes every 28 hours, on average…

Shortly before his death, Malcolm X praised civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama, for pursuing “a version of freedom larger than America’s prepared to accept.” Fifty years later, inside the world’s biggest jailer, Malcolm X still beckons us to work for an America that may one day be described as something other than a vast prison. “

Hear him now.