CI: Desperately Seeking Assata

May 08, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, 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.

CI: Desperately Seeking Assata

by Kay Whitlock

Why Assata Shakur?  Why now, of all times?

Last week, on May 2, 2013, 40 years to the day after a shootout in which Assata Shakur, a well-known Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army activist, was shot twice, and a fellow activist and a New Jersey state trooper were killed, the FBI announced that Shakur, whose original name was Joanne Chesimard, was the first woman to be placed on the agency’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.  (It’s worth taking a look at the makeup of the list; notice anything about it?)

At the same time, the New Jersey state police and the FBI doubled – from $1 million to $2 million – the reward offered for Shakur’s capture.   As it happens, she escaped from prison in 1979 – an embarrassing development which law enforcement still cannot coherently explain today – and made her way to Cuba, where she sought and received political asylum.

Why on earth would law enforcement dredge up a 40-year old case and enshrine it in the annals of Most Wanted Terrorists?  Welcome to the surreal world of Racist Criminalization.

There’s a lot about the way the police targeted her for the trooper killing that never made a shred of sense in terms of the official story – including the fact that medical experts testified that her injuries were so severe that she could not have fired the fatal shot.  (Disclosure: I don’t believe she was guilty, and I remember how the case played out in the day.)  Assata Shakur was simply the Designated Dangerous Black Radical of the moment.

And through COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program), the FBI was then utilizing legal and illegal means to disrupt and discredit anti-war organizing and movements for social justice and liberation.

Black leaders and organizations – from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to the leadership of the Black Panther Party – were among those most heavily targeted.  If you were politically active during that time – and I was – then you know that actual guilt for actions charged was not remotely necessary for the hunt to assemble and the racist, criminalizing din to take over.

But this isn’t a column about what happened in that case, although that deserves to be known.  You can read about Shakur here and in her autobiography and latest book.  Listen to her voice.  It’s important to know that before she was finally convicted of several felonies related to the shootout, including killing NJ state trooper Werner Foerster, Shakur was indicted in six other criminal incidents that included murder, attempted murder, armed bank robbery, and kidnapping.  Three of those charges were dismissed, and the remaining three resulted in Shakur’s acquittal.   But law enforcement was out to get her, and, for a while, they did.

And now they’re trying again.

This is a brief glance into the bleak, racist mythos surrounding U.S. law enforcement conceptions of terror.


CI: For Intervening Variables, Not Yet Seen

March 27, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

For Intervening Variables, Not Yet Seen
by nancy a heitzeg

“…while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Eugene V.  Debs, Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act, 1918

This was going to be a rant. Certainly, there is no shortage of stress-inducing topics to choose from:

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Roberts Gang seems about ready, with one hand, to throw a crumb of marriage recognition to gays and lesbians. As usual, the outcome and scope of the rulings will hang on the whims of one Anthony Kennedy. How tired are we of worrying about his moods? With the other hand, the SCTOUS may well undo any last remnant of Affirmative Action and gut the Voting Rights Act, rendering the the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause completely color-blind. And of course, turning back the clock oh 50 to 100+ years depending on how you want to do the math. Derrick Bell is still right – And We Are Not Saved.

NYPD Stop and Frisk

Yes, the odious racist practice is finally on trial, with gripping testimony and audio evidence that verifies what those subject to it have always known — said plain here in this exchange between Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack and Police Officer Pedro Serrano:

“Mott Haven is full of black people, so who are the right people?” Serrano asks.

MacCormack: “The problem was male blacks, 14 to 20, 21.”

Of course, we are pleased that this racist, ineffective and unconstitutional practice is on trial, but how many times do we really have to do this? How many times must white supremacist policing be framed as the result of a few bad policies enacted by a few “bad apples” in a few big cities? However many well-intentioned individuals choose to sign up for “protect and serve”, the damn system has been built from the start on “racial profiling” or any name you want to give it. Somebody say so.

The Toxic Gun Debate: Fear, Loathing, and Criminalization

No winners here. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg goes full hypocrite; Democrats go “Law and Order” with calls for more police in school and increased mandatory minimums for unlawful gun possession; the President goes Moynihan in Chicago; the NRA goes even more race-baiting crazy;  and  nice white liberals, inconsolable over dead white children killed btw by young white men,  call for more more more laws and  harsher penalties that will, as always, be enforced against “urban” communities of color. And Nobody will be  “safer” for it.

More “Smoke and Mirrors”

We are still facing a barrage of numbers claiming decarceration and a new era of “prison reform”. More long-standing “liberal’ non-profits team up with  ‘unexpected” conservative partners -aka white supremacist capitalist patriarchs- to garner funding. From the beginning of this year, Criminal InJustice has offered critical questions about the reality of both policy claims and the legitimacy of so-called reforms. Please see Smoke and Mirrors?Con Artists, Profit and Community Corrections and Confidence Men & “Prison Reform”. Eyes Wide Open. Keep asking the questions. Trojan Horses are at the gate.

But let me stop..

Because as usual, at that critical juncture where hope meets despair, I saw this:


Back on the right track, i then read Resilience, Love, and Refusing to Give Up in Chicago… And you should too..

At times like these, when there are many unanswered questions, when there is no clear light to shine the way, we are reminded. We persist, and that is enough.

Howard Zinn, in The Optimism of Uncertainty ( 2004) puts it like this:

Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people’s consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that gays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surges of military madness. It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act. Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.

And because I am a sociologist, always weighing the relative contributions of any number of factors, i like to put it like this: Waiting for Intervening Variables that Are Not Yet Seen.

So let them come. As they always do.

And we will be ready…

LISTEN: This Week’s Oral Arguments in Shelby County v. Holder (Audio/Transcript)

March 03, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Voting Rights

From The Oyez Project:

The Fourteenth Amendment protects every person’s right to due process of law. The Fifteenth Amendment protects citizens from having their right to vote abridged or denied due to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Tenth Amendment reserves all rights not expressly granted to the federal government to the individual states. Article Four of the Constitution guarantees the right of self-government for each state.

The Civil Rights Act of 1965 was enacted as a response to the nearly century-long history of voting discrimination. Section 5 prohibits eligible districts from enacting changes to their election laws and procedures without gaining official authorization. Section 4(b) defines the eligible districts as ones that had a voting test in place as of November 1, 1964 and less than 50% turnout for the 1964 presidential election. Such districts must prove to the Attorney General or a three-judge panel of a Washington, D.C. district court that the change “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect” of negatively impacting any individual’s right to vote based on race or minority status. Section 5 was originally enacted for five years, but has been continually renewed since that time.

Shelby County, Alabama, filed suit in district court and sought both a declaratory judgment that Section 5 and Section 4(b) are unconstitutional and a permanent injunction against their enforcement. The district court upheld the constitutionality of the Sections and granted summary judgment for the Attorney General. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that Congress did not exceed its powers by reauthorizing Section 5 and that Section 4(b) is still relevant to the issue of voting discrimination.

Does the renewal of Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act under the constraints of Section 4(b) exceed Congress’ authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and therefore violate the Tenth Amendment and Article Four of the Constitution?


Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We’ll hear argument first this morning in Case 12-96, Shelby County v. Holder.

Mr. Rein?

Bert W Rein: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Almost 4 years ago, eight Justices of the Court agreed the 2005 25-year extension of Voting Rights Act Section 5’s preclearance obligation, uniquely applicable to jurisdictions reached by Section 4(b)’s antiquated coverage formula, raised a serious constitutional question.

Those Justices recognized that the record before the Congress in 2005 made it unmistakable that the South had changed.

They questioned whether current remedial needs justified the extraordinary federalism and cost burdens of preclearance.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: May I ask you a question?

Assuming I accept your premise, and there’s some question about that, that some portions of the South have changed, your county pretty much hasn’t.

Bert W Rein: Well, I–

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: In — in the period we’re talking about, it has many more discriminating — 240 discriminatory voting laws that were blocked by Section 5 objections.

There were numerous remedied by Section 2 litigation.

You may be the wrong party bringing this.


White Supremacy Unwilling to Die: Voting Rights Act Imperiled

March 02, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Intersectionality, White Privilege

The Neo-Confederate Supreme Court Gearing Up to Restore White Rule Over America, Alternet:

bloody sunday

 If white rule in the United States is to be restored and sustained, then an important first step will be the decision of the five Neo-Confederate justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act, a move that many court analysts now consider likely.

The Court’s striking down Section Five of the Voting Rights Act will mean that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting – mostly in the Old Confederacy – will be free to impose new obstacles to voting by African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities without first having to submit the changes to a federal court…..

The Supreme Court’s apparent intention to gut the Voting Rights Act also could be viewed in the continuum of its five-to-four ruling in the Citizens United case of 2010 in which the right-wing justices freed up rich Americans to spend unlimited amounts to influence political campaigns. In other words, the Court’s majority seems intent on tilting the political playing field in favor of white plutocrats.

But the Court’s Neo-Confederate rationale was underscored mostly openly by Justice Scalia and his sneering remark about minority voting rights being a “racial entitlement” and by Justice Kennedy’s insistence that Alabama has the “independent sovereign” right to set its own voting rules without federal oversight.

Top Conservatives Run PAC That Funded White Nationalists

February 04, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege

From Mother Jones:

Two prominent conservative movement officials who hold leadership positions for several right-wing groups—Ron Robinson and James B. Taylor—run a political action committee that donated thousands of dollars to a white nationalist organization, according to public records. And for several years Taylor was vice president of another white nationalist organization.

Robinson and Taylor are each board members of Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which cofounded the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and runs the conservative youth group Young Americans for Freedom. (YAF owns and manages the Ronald Reagan Ranch, trains conservative journalists, and calls itself “the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement.”) And Robinson, YAF’s president, is on the board of two other conservative groups: Citizens United, which brought the landmark Supreme Court case of the same name, and the American Conservative Union, which operates CPAC.

With these positions, Robinson and Taylor are at the center of mainstream conservative infrastructure. But each also sits on the three-person board of America’s PAC, a far-right outfit that in 2004 gave $5,000 to the Charles Martel Society, a white nationalist group, according to the PAC’s filing with the Federal Election Commission. Taylor, YAF’s former executive director and a current board member, founded America’s PAC in 1983. Both his and Robinson’s names appear on America’s PAC letterhead before and after the donation to the Martel Society. Since 2004, America’s PAC has raised and spent over $5 million, giving donations to dozens of Republican candidates.

MHP Tells George Will to Set Down the White Man’s Burden

October 07, 2012 By: seeta Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege

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Repug code words: Obama is the “Food Stamp President;” Reality: 70% of Welfare and Public Assistance Recipients are White

August 28, 2012 By: seeta Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Poverty

CMP originally posted these stats back in January. But as Romney amplifies his racial rhetoric, the stats bear repeating again.

70% of Welfare and Public Assistance Recipients are White; 66.66% of Food Stamp Recipients are White

From The Root:

White Americans, poor and middle-class alike, receive the vast majority of tax-funded government assistance programs, from monthly assistance to Social Security to food stamps.

TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), the program that provides aid to single mothers, is the most well-known welfare program, but the truth is that Social Security and Medicare are also social welfare services, funded by tax dollars. To that end, nearly 70 percent of all benefits of these programs go to white people. In fact, since African Americans have lower life expectancy, many work and pay into the Social Security and Medicare programs through their tax dollars, only to have white Americans, who have a longer life expectancy, benefit from the income they’ve left behind.

O’Hare’s research in his 2009 report “The Forgotten Fifth: Child Poverty in Rural America,” reveals that 57 percent of rural poor children were white and 44 percent of all urban poor children were white. But theirs is a story rarely told, their faces hardly seen. High poverty rates for poor and working-class whites have worsened since the 2008 economic crisis. Rural white poverty was already more systemic than urban poverty. Poor whites are more likely to lack basic education levels and remain in poverty for generations.

The Food Stamp Fallacy and GOP Strategy

In December 2009, the New York Times published a series of related articles showing that poor whites across Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta and through the Midwest, Deep South and Texas borderlands were the highest percentage of Americans relying on the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or food stamp, program.

According to the New York Times, 36 million Americans relied on food stamps. More than 24 million of them were white, 8 million were African American and 6 million were Hispanic of any race.

See also: The Power of Words: Racially Coded Political Rhetoric

Newt Gingrich has repeatedly referred to President Obama as “The Food Stamp” President while contrasting that with his own aims to become “The Paycheck” President.

Ron Paul, in an attempt to beat unruly logic into submission, has tried to convince us that “entitlements” are not “rights.”

When Will Black and Brown Individual Sovereignty Be Recognized? Do You Value Your Gun More than Life?

August 06, 2012 By: seeta Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, White Privilege

As many have heard by now, the COWARD that massacred the innocent peace-loving Sikhs in Wisconsin was a neo-nazi white supremacist, who has been on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for at least a decade. When are we going to stop letting these COWARDLY WHITE TERRORISTS literally get away with murder? When are we going to stop letting these COWARDLY WHITE TERRORISTS obtain weapons?

Gun toting zealots say, “go out and get a gun.” But guess what, black and brown folk are more likely to be scrutinized by the police and government for obtaining weapons than white folk. And black and brown folk are more likely to be targeted by the white terrorists who hate them for no other reason than apparent and perceived differences. One need not go further back than the history of the Black Panthers. So guess who is made more vulnerable by the lax gun control laws in this country — a white supremacist or an innocent brown or black person merely going about their day?

And what about those who oppose carrying weapons because it is antithetical to their own philosophical and moral framework? Antithetical to their own belief and value system? Those who are overzealous about their guns embrace a culture of fear and machismo, a culture that has been nothing but destructive.

When will the black and brown person’s individual sovereignty be recognized? When will those who cherish their beloved guns do the responsible thing and advocate for better protection of black and brown folk from organized hateful white supremacists in this country? Do you really value your gun, and the false sense of security and machismo it gives you, more than the lives of others?

A piece in Colorlines today hit the nail on the head:

Murderous insanity can infect any community, and maybe that leads people to call these senseless acts of random violence. But of course they are neither senseless nor random, and the vast majority of such incidents here involve white men. Racism holds a terrible logic, for a concept with no grounding whatsoever in science or morality, yet too many white people don’t see any patterns.

I think about the young woman who taught me to speak English in a tiny rural schoolhouse, the widow who gave me my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the father of my best friend who was so kind to me while I was growing up. Yesterday, did they quietly hope that the shooter wasn’t one of theirs? Probably not, even though the link between violence, masculinity and whiteness is well-established. White men seem to be in deep crisis, and white people would do well to deal with it, as Tim Wise points out again and again. I implore of my white friends, when your nutty uncle or classmate goes off about some set of foreigners, you must make a fuss, cause a family crisis, become unpopular, speak up. We cannot do this for you.

I despair for our country on days like these. How long before paranoia and fear, recast in the language of moral fortitude (stand your ground!), cut so deeply into the beautiful American friendliness, open-mindedness, and generosity that I have grown up with? How many Trayvon Martins, Brisenia Floreses and Balbir Singh Sodhis must there be before white folks question whether suspicion of brown skin is justified? Must I arm my mother and send her to the shooting range if she wants to wear a sari in public? In two weeks, 20 families have lost a beloved member. Are we going to have 20 more every month for the foreseeable future?