BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Criminalization’

Cooperation is the Problem

February 26, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking

When I speak to people about a cooperative society, I often get a lot of push back. I’m told that people are competitive. I’m given examples of scary people, violent people, sociopaths. I’m told that cooperative society is against human nature.

I generally respond by telling people there is plenty of scientific evidence out there that cooperation is actually what humans, and other species, do naturally. We wouldn’t have survived very long without cooperation and mutual aid.

Today, as I am serving jury duty, I am struck by how incredibly cooperative people are. Unfortunately, people are often cooperative with the wrong people and for the wrong reasons.

The jury receives its instructions almost entirely from the prosecutor’s office, the exception being the judge who swore us in. That judge, to his credit, told us that we did not work for the prosecutor’s office and said several times that we were a buffer between the state and the accused. But since that initial moment with the judge, all of our information has favored the prosecution and the jury wants to cooperate.

They tell us that our job is only to find probable cause and that a jury will later determine the facts. They don’t mention that a mere 3% of federal cases go to trial. They tell us that the defendant will be represented by counsel. They don’t mention that they aren’t entitled to good counsel. They tell us that we should not concern ourselves with what will happen to the person at the end of the line. I’m sure that’s what they told the person stamping transport documents in Nazi Germany too.

People are mostly inclined to go along. They are inclined to follow the rules (maybe especially in a place like DC where so many work for government or nonprofits or were class valedictorian).  But it isn’t just that they acquiesce to authority, it is that they also don’t want conflict. And this is how you have relatively decent people who have some doubts about the process, or at least feel uncomfortable with the system, going along with it.

People want to cooperate. They don’t want to be hated. They don’t want to make the nice lady in the prosecutor’s office job harder. They don’t want to hold everyone up from going to lunch because there is more to discuss. Fighting against the current – whether majority opinion or bureaucratic process – goes against most people’s desire to cooperate.

The only small positive thing I have to say is that every person who is non-cooperative makes it just a little harder for people to go along. The more we can tip the scales, the less it becomes about whether or not to cooperate and the more it becomes about who or what to cooperate with. The more it becomes about the difference between cooperation amongst equals and deference to authority. And then, maybe, we can start having some real talk.

A Little Help? Anarchist on Grand Jury Duty

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking

Marisa Tomei in My Cousin VinnyI’m on grand jury duty starting Monday and lasting five fucking weeks. This isn’t the first time I’ve been called for grand jury duty. The last time went like this.

My fellow grand jury members and I were put in a room. A jovial prosecutor explained a wee bit about what was going to happen. We would hear witnesses and then we would decide if there was enough evidence to send the accused to trial. Oh wait. Did I say witnesses? Sorry. I meant witness.

You see, I was on a “special” speedy grand jury where each case had only one witness – a cop. Almost all the cases were bullshit drug cases.  For example, a cop comes in and says he found some dude on the street with a crack pipe. My fellow grand jury members would raise their hands to say that they should go to trial. End of case. Next.

Presumably, they needed to institute this speedy process to go through all the black people they are picking up for weed.

In a grand jury, you don’t need to have a unanimous decision. It isn’t like I could vote no and nullify. So I just refused to participate. After a couple of days of me sitting in the hallway reading books and a mild interrogation by the lead prosecutor, they dismissed me.

But here we are again.

I’ve started to do a little grand jury research. But I could use some help. I’m specifically interested in information about how I can fuck up the process. So send it my way. If you don’t want to share it in a comment, email me at mel (at) broadsnark.com

Thanks!

Harassment is About Power

August 22, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Criminalization, Sex, Stratification, Work

Yesterday it came out that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is resigning in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. Apparently he enjoys groping his employees. Also a groper is  Kentucky state representative John A. Arnold Jr. Just the latest in what is pretty much everyday news.

Earlier this week, Rolling Stone blasted Bloomberg for claiming to care about the safety of New York City children when 21% of the 145,652 NYPD street stops were of children. You might not think these things have much to do with one another. But they do.

I actually used to work for a law firm that represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. There were bosses that busted into locker rooms while employees were changing. Bosses who liked to grope their employees. Bosses who conditioned promotions on getting their dicks sucked. Some all around charming dudes. (And yes. All of the defendants sued by the law firm were dudes. And all of the people who ever called for sexual harassment related consultations were women.)

Sexual harassment cases in the U.S., even the ones that should properly be called assault, are handled in civil court. If you get sued for sexual harassment, you may just have to pay a couple million dollars in damages. And I have to admit that winning those cases felt good. It was rare that someone actually lost their job for assaulting their employees. But watching some douchebag have to fork over millions of dollars does bring a certain satisfaction.

In theory, the law firm I worked for also did employment discrimination cases. But we never took any because they were so impossible to win. Even when some guy called us because n$%%@r was spray painted on his door, we didn’t take it. That kind of harassment wasn’t a winning case.

Mind you, at the law firm where I worked, we regularly put in 15 hour days. We worked weekends. We got yelled at. We were expected to do personal errands for our bosses. We got calls at 3 o’clock in the morning to be asked about files (at least until my phone got cut off and I let it stay cut off). In other words, we were subject to the kind of harassment that a lot of people have to deal with on their jobs. Most of us have to eat a certain amount of shit to earn a living.

I don’t say that to make light of sexual harassment or shrug off our collective shit eating. I say it because it shouldn’t be this way. For anybody. For any reason.

Public discussions about sexual harassment frustrate the hell out of me. First you have to deal with those people who deny that it exists at all. Then you have to deal with the ones who say that it exists, but women should get over it. Or the ones that hear any report of employer abuse and say people should just get a new job – as though someone who had been unemployed for years and has kids to feed can walk away so easily.

But sometimes I am even more frustrated by the people who agree it is a problem. Because invariably the response is to turn to the criminal injustice system, to become like France where you can (theoretically) be sent to prison for a couple years. Or they just want to continue suing people for money. Always, they ignore the fundamental issue.

Harassment is about power. People who have power feel they are entitled to whatever they want. People who don’t have power, or at least have less of it, will suffer consequences for sticking up for themselves against the powerful. The way to end sexual harassment, or any kind of workplace harassment, isn’t to transfer a little power from a boss to the injustice system. The answer is in getting rid of the power imbalance to begin with. That isn’t to say that, with no bosses, there would never be conflict. But confronting someone with equal power doesn’t carry the same kinds of consequences and risks. And the sense of entitlement bread by power will be, if not gone, severely diminished.

Now lets bring this out of the workplace. Because harassment doesn’t just come from bosses.

There has also been a lot of news about street harassment lately. That isn’t just people saying obnoxious shit to you on the streets. For instance, my friend Mandie recently had some guy grab her waist while she was waiting in line at 7-Eleven. My most frequently experienced harassment comes from douchebags who think it is o.k. to touch my hair. And then there was that fucker a few months back who thought it would be cool to slap my ass. I share Mandie’s homicidal thoughts when things like that happen.

Some people have an overinflated sense of entitlement. And while it may be less obvious than workplace harassment, street harassment is also an assertion of power.  You wouldn’t slap your boss’s ass, grab the waist of some MMA fighter, or go up and rub a cops hair. There would be consequences. When you do things like that to someone, what you are saying is, “I am entitled to whatever I want. And what are you gonna do about it anyway?”

And really. What are your options? Retaliation will likely end with harsher consequences for the person standing up for themselves (worth it as those charges may be). Like the woman in DC who was being accosted late at night and, after she pepper sprayed the dude, had assault charges brought against her. The law isn’t made for everybody.

Which brings us back to that Bloomberg article. Because it isn’t only random dudes on the street that are harassing people. Police harass people, especially young men of color, every day. They can stop you, grope you, and say horrible shit to you on a daily basis. Not a damn thing happens to them.

There are women who are recording street harassment of women. And there are men recording street harassment by cops. But how many of them are out recording both? The fact that Hollaback is actually sharing information about street harassment with a government agency doesn’t give me much hope that those women are making the connection.

Harassment – bosses of employees, men of women, cops of anybody they can get away with – is all about power. To try to use those very same systems of power to deal with the abuses is futile. It doesn’t help to “hold accountable” those in power. We need to be removing those positions of power and the sense of entitlement that goes with them. And we need to be making connections (though not equivalencies) between all the different power structures and hierarchies that create the conditions for abuse.

We won’t see an end to sexual harassment without getting rid of bosses. We won’t see an end to police abuse without smashing the injustice system. We won’t see an end to street harassment without ending the hierarchy that mets out power, privilege and entitlement based on an accident of birth.

 

What About the Hunger Strikes?

July 23, 2013 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking, Stratification

Over the last several years there have been prison hunger strikes all over the country – North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, California… What has been going on in California is just incredible.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

Think about that for a minute. Think about the amount of coordination it took to organize 30,000 prisoners. Think about the obstacles for people trying to organize, not just within a prison, but between prisons. And many of the organizers are in solitary confinement.

The organizing crossed racial lines and gang affiliations. The collective that organized the strikes put out a statement committing to end all racial hostilities, recognizing that the prison system uses those conflicts and prejudices to keep the incarcerated divided and disempowered.

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!

I’ve written about these strikes a few times and linked to stories about them. And I’ve been continually frustrated that few people seem to be paying any attention. People’s lives are at stake. Prisoners died after the last actions. Several of the current strikers have required medical attention. And the California Department of Corrections is retaliating against the spokespeople. Our attention could actually save someone, or at least make retaliation a little more difficult.

I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m probably going to piss people off here. But I don’t understand why my inbox is filled with announcements of protests and actions for Trayvon Martin and absolutely nothing about the hunger strike.

Not. One. Thing.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Is what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin more tragic than when a cop shot an unarmed 14-year-old hiding in a shed? Is it more racist than the school to prison pipeline where 90% of New York school arrests are children of color? Is it more infuriating than the rapes and murders that regularly occur in juvenile detention centers?

For a whole lot of people it seems to be. And I really don’t understand it. But I saw something on Facebook this weekend that gave me pause. It said something like “calling Trayvon a thug is like calling JonBenet Ramsey a whore”.

I get it. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong. But what if he was? What if he had gotten into a fight or stole a car or sold drugs? Would we be talking about him? What if George Zimmerman had a badge and a gun? Would we still be talking about it? As of 2011, there were 63 police shootings in Miami-Dade county alone that were under perpetual “investigation.” Twenty-five of those involved fatalities. Who is talking about them?

Sometimes people need a symbol to get them motivated. And the temptation is to chose one that is pure and innocent. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. But some leaders of the civil rights movement didn’t want a pregnant teenager who was too low class and too dark to be their rallying cry.

But this isn’t 1955. Our injustice systems depend upon criminalization. They depend upon us accepting that “thugs” deserve what they get. Or at least some people don’t merit a public outcry when they are shot in the street, or executed by the state, or tortured and raped in prison. It isn’t o.k. to only rally around the pure and innocent any longer. We have so many laws that nobody can even count them anymore.

The whole game is to make sure that they can discredit people to keep us in check.

I really hesitated to write this post. I was hoping somebody else would do it. I try to write mostly about things I have some experience with. And I have absolutely no way to wrap my head around what it must be like to have a child, much less one that has to face so many risks. But getting shot in the street by a vigilante is a lot less likely than ending up behind bars being tortured by the state.

I know that many of the people organizing Trayvon Martin protests are focused on the bigger picture. They are connecting this shooting to systemic issues of policing, racial profiling, the school to prison pipeline… I love those kids who occupied the Florida governors office.

But not everyone is making those connections. And too many of the emails I am getting are from people who have their necks permanently stuck looking up at power. Lobbying to overturn stand your ground laws or protesting ALEC or getting those few people who have disposable income to stop buying things is not going to smash this system. But a movement led by the people who have been most pummeled by the system just might. These people have signed do not resuscitate documents. They are ready to die for their rights and we are ignoring them.

Not to mention that, while they have managed to coordinate 30,000 people across prisons, we (who are in relative freedom) can’t even manage to coordinate amongst ourselves enough not to have competing Trayvon protests.

I really don’t want to shit all over the organizing that is going on right now. I hope that this case starts something huge. I hope all the actions are successful. But I can’t bring myself to focus on them and ignore the hunger strikes. So I’ll be spending my free time contacting prison officials and prisoners. I hope some of you will make some time to do the same. The addresses and phone numbers are here.

Cops Break up NSA Spying Press Conference

June 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking

I interrupt my regularly scheduled post to share what happened today at a tiny press conference and rally about the NSA spying.

Capital police decided that we did not have the proper permit to be there. The speakers kept speaking. The cops warned us that we would be arrested. They then started harassing media. Cameras started shutting down. Speakers started cutting their speeches short. After the second warning, as I don’t think anybody was prepared for arrest threats at a press conference, everyone split up so that no group was more than 25 people.

The last protest that I went to was in Guatemala. You know that Central American country that people refer to as “third world” or “developing.” The place many people only know about because of civil war and genocide. That place. Well, I imagine we had a permit for being in the central plaza. But I seriously doubt we had a permit to block the road and door in front of the presidential palace and then drum annoyingly.

Amazingly, nobody was threatened with arrest.

Aren’t you estadouidenses glad that you live in a country that is a beacon of freedom for the world?

I’m tempted to go into a long diatribe about the protest, prisons, criminalization, social control, and our shrinking spaces. But I’m going to have to save it for a day when I have more time. I will just say this.

There are risks involved with doing the right things, the necessary things. The system has been increasing those risks. I think that means we are all going to need to so some serious thinking about what risks we can take and then be willing to take them. Because their plan can backfire. They are counting on us to not make sacrifices. But if we all take the risks, thoughtful and strategic risks, then we can crash the justice system and all the other systems too.

If nothing else, we should all probably prepare to be arrested for pretty much anything that we do from now on – press conferences, walking downtown, doodling on a school desk,  wearing a thong bathing suit, asking to see a warrant, being too poor to pay a debt, your kid skipping school

I mean if we are going to get arrested for that kind of bullshit anyway, shouldn’t we at least make it worthwhile?

Legality, Morality, and Dehumanization

January 25, 2013 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Criminalization, Drugs, Sex, Stratification

According to Oliver Willis, some of us on the left are dumb because we aren’t ready to declare that a woman arrested for prostitution with her son present is an open and shut case of wrongness. He claims it isn’t about whether or not we think prostitution should be legal. It is illegal. She brought her kid. She involved “her child in what is very clearly illegal activity.” End of story.

But does Willis really think that people should never do anything illegal? Back in November, Willis claimed that Martin Luther King was one of the most important figures in black American history. And in this piece, he asked “Do people on the left think that Martin Luther King simply held one protest and those in power immediately rushed to pass the Civil Rights Act?”

I certainly don’t think that MLK held one protest. I know that he held many protests. I also know that he spent quite a bit of time in jail for breaking the law, as did a whole lot of other people in the civil rights movement. It was, after all, MLK who said “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

But perhaps Willis just meant that children should never be involved in illegal activity, even the illegal activity he might find moral. It so happens that I am currently reading Freedom’s Children, interviews of people who were children during the civil rights movement. Kids were actively recruited by MLK and others to participate in protests and nonviolent disobedience. They integrated movie theaters and restaurants. They went to jail. They got their asses kicked. Does Willis think that shouldn’t have happened? I doubt it.

What about immigration, Oliver. You said Romney lost because he “embraced in a bear hug the most fringe anti-immigrant position out there.” You seem to support immigration reform and scoff at Republicans who use the term “amnesty” to refer to legalizing those who crossed our borders without papers. Do you think immigrants who crossed the border illegally with their children should be strung up from the nearest lamppost?

No. I don’t believe that this is really about legal or illegal. I think Willis would agree that disobeying unjust, immoral laws is perfectly acceptable. If not, he has some explaining to do about his love of MLK. This is about Willis’s opinion of sex work and the people who do it. It is about his willingness to dismiss and dehumanize someone because they did something he finds icky.

Back when I took my first class on the drug war, I had this click moment in my head. Even though I had never been in favor of the drug laws, even though I knew many people who were caught up in the injustice system, I never really recognized the scheme for what it was. How I never saw the process of dehumanization is incredible to me. I mean, I had been reading about Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews since grade school. I knew how vagrancy laws were used during Jim Crow. I understood how laws were enacted to criminalize certain groups and justify their oppression. But somehow I never saw it clearly when it came to the drug laws.

And it wasn’t until relatively recently that I really gave a lot of thought to the laws against sex work. Who are they meant to control? Where did they come from? Who is getting their freedom taken away? What is the result of the War on Sex Workers?

But Willis doesn’t want to ask those questions. He doesn’t want to ask why a person might do sex work. He doesn’t want to ask why sex work is looked down upon more than working for Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t want to ask why someone might have to bring their kid to work with them. To ask those questions would mean seeing that woman as a human being and not a “criminal” – that classification which justifies taking someone’s freedom, taking their children, marking them for life.

When someone dared suggest that perhaps the woman’s choices were limited and that we should try to understand more about her circumstances before we judge, Willis chose to get butthurt that people had lower standards for the poor. Apparently, he thinks that following the rules and working hard will eventually pay off for everyone – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

No, Willis. Asking questions, refusing to completely dehumanize that woman, is not a “degrading” assumption that “a poor person must break the law to eat and that that’s somehow okay.” It is an understanding that some human beings have more limited choices than others. It is an understanding that laws are often made for the purpose of controlling certain groups of people. It is the unwillingness to dehumanize and degrade.

Willis believes in “absolutes, ” by which he means that laws are laws and should be followed by all. Nobody gets a break. The guy who stole millions in mortgage fraud schemes is exactly the same as the starving guy who stole bread.  For him, anything else means “no moral guidance, no right and wrong… anarchy.”

Except that “no moral guidance” is not what anarchy means. Anarchy means no rulers. It means no hierarchies that allow a few powerful people to make laws that oppress the rest. It means understanding that moral and legal are not the same.  It means freedom, mutual aid, and respect. It means trying to understand what your fellow human beings are experiencing and not assuming that your morals and choices are universal.

Laws against sodomy, laws against miscegenation, laws against drugs, and laws against sex work have all been used to target marginalized people. And even when some of the people who support those laws have good intentions – like those who know how destructive drug abuse can be – they cannot just close their eyes to how the laws are used. That is immoral.

Thanks NRA

December 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Criminalization, Stratification

On Friday, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA held a press conference about the school shooting in Sandy Hook. Naturally, his suggestion was to put armed guards or police in every school. The liberal internets were immediately abuzz slamming one of their favorite bad guys. But nobody seemed to be mentioning the fact that this “crazy” idea from the “far right” NRA isn’t an idea at all. It’s already here.

“In 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of American students reported the presence of security guards or police officers, or both, in their schools,” says the NYT. But those students aren’t being protected by the “good guys” with guns. They are being abused.

A Houston cop broke a kids jaw on the school bus. Another Texas 12-year-old was arrested for spraying perfume. In Connecticut, a kid was tased for allegedly trying to steal a Jamaican patty in the lunchroom. A California 5-year-old was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer. (Yes. You read that correctly. A 5-year-old.) Another California child, this time 7, was pepper sprayed for climbing on a bookshelf. A New York 12-year-old was arrested for the terrible crime of doodling about loving her friends.

These are not isolated incidents. During a three month period in 2011, an average of 5 students per day were arrested in New York. The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing Birmingham schools for their consistent use of pepper spray on students. Civil rights attorneys are suing Meridian, Mississippi for abusing their students’ civil rights so egregiously that even our sad justice department had to intervene. And then, of course, there are all the students and parents who end up in truancy court.

I could spend the rest of my year finding and posting stories like this, despite that fact that most of the incidents don’t get media attention and juvenile cases are sealed for their “protection”. Not that getting rid of school police and security would make all the abuses go away. The Government Accountability Office found hundreds of cases of kids being abused or killed by school staff.

Some students are far more frequently targets for school cops and administrators. More than 90 percent of arrests in New York in the 2011-12 school year were of black and Latino students. All over the country, students of color and students with disabilities are arrested and disciplined at higher rates“Gay and transgender youth, particularly gender nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their heterosexual counterparts.” 

And if those kids are unlucky enough to end up in juvenile detention, the abuse will only get worse. 12 percent of youth in juvenile facilities say they have been sexually abused, most often by staff. They are also beaten up, denied access to medical care, denied education, put in restraints, locked in solitary for days or weeks at a time, and sometimes killed. This state by state summary is just the tip of the iceberg.

After everyone started commenting on the NRA press conference, I tweeted that New York Times article and said, “Hey buttheads: 68% of students already have sec guards or police in their schools and it is a fucking disaster”. It got more retweets than anything I’ve ever put out there – by a landslide. I followed that up with some of those incidents above and people even tweeted those.

The thing is, I tweet and blog about these things all the time. In fact, almost everything in this post I have put out before. Nobody pays any attention. It seems people only care about this stuff if the NRA says it is a good idea. So thanks, NRA. Perhaps if you had a press conference every day to suggest that we inundate schools with police, arrest all the students of color, and torture kids for not being perfectly socialized automatons then people would notice. Maybe they’d even want to do something about it.

Drug War History – And So It Begins

September 17, 2012 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Drugs

Reefer MadnessWhile I was pulling up articles for my last post, I re-read the infamous New York Times piece Negro Cocaine “Fiends” Are a New Southern Menace. The article is a very convoluted argument against prohibition. And it is made by trying to scare the crap out of  ignorant people.

The doctor who wrote the article claimed that cocaine “may produce the wildest form of insane exaltation, accompanied by the fantastic hallucinations and delusions that characterize acute mania.” (They didn’t have very strict standards for doctors back then did they?)

Also, when on cocaine, a person “imagines that he hears people taunting or abusing him, and this often incites homicidal attacks upon innocent and unsuspecting victims.” (Given that this is 1914 in the South, I’m guessing those black men were not imagining the taunts and abuses.)

Did I mention that cocaine makes you impervious to bullets? No really. That’s what the good doctor said. Do a few bumps and your skin turns to kevlar or something.  So those poor cops in the South had to get bigger guns.

Oh and then there is this.

When we consider that even a single ounce – a quantity that does not fill an ordinary watch pocket – will keep fifty “fiends” well “doped” for a week or more, we can readily understand why every effort to suppress the traffic utterly fails.

OK now. You might have convinced me that there is some really good shit out there that gives you awesome hallucinations. I might have even gone for the bulletproof thing. But a single ounce wouldn’t have lasted me one night at Warsaw.* I’m gonna have to call bullshit.

Naturally, there is no solution to this insanity. “Once the negro has formed the habit he is irreclaimable. The only method to keep him from taking the drug is imprisoning him.”

It’s easy to make fun of this article and movies like Reefer Madness. They are so incredibly ridiculous. But what’s even more ridiculous is how much of it is still part of the public narrative. The crack cocaine reports I grew up with in the 80s weren’t a whole lot different from that 1914 article. One taste and a person is ruined for life. They are going to lose their mind. They will be violent.

There will be no social control!

And by social control we actually mean control of black men and women and “locoed” Mexicans – people like that. We can’t have bulletproof black guys just walking around. And what about those women who smoke weed and become all lusty and whatnot. The only legitimate response is to lock em all up, or at least tuck them away in a suburban kitchen making hamburger helper.

And that is the beginnings of the drug war. The only thing that changed is that it just kept getting worse.

_______________

*I cannot believe Warsaw is now a deli, that MSNBC’s Morning Joe broadcasted out of no less. South Beach has gone to shit.

Some Thoughts on the GA Prisoner Strike

July 30, 2012 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking, Stratification

Sadly, most people don’t seem to be paying much attention to all the prisoner strikes that have been happening across the country. In Georgia, two prisoners went without food for more than 47 days. You really need to watch this video.

One of the things that struck me about that interview was the part at the end where Bruce Dixon talks about how it is not just race but also class that increases a person’s chances of being in prison.

African Americans, who are one eighth of the nation’s population, make up over forty percent of this nation’s prisoners. Latinos, who are another one eighth, make up an additional thirty percent and their numbers are climbing. So that means that between blacks and Latinos, who make up one fourth of the nations population, are three fourths of its prisoners…

Back in the days of Jim Crow, Jim Crow was inflicted on all black people regardless of class.  The enormous numbers of African Americans who are in prison now are not your African Americans who have been to college. A college educated black man now stands perhaps one third the chance of going to prison than he did 25 or 30 years ago. Whereas a young black man who is a high school dropout has six times the likelihood of going to prison than he did 30 years ago. So the prison state visits its afflictions upon us not just based on race but by a combination of race and class. The prison state targets lower economic class blacks and Latinos.

In The South it is a little different too. I should say. I’m from Chicago, from The North. When you go to the criminal courts building in Cook County in Chicago you hardly see a white face. In The South they actually do

lock up white people – poor white people – but there is a significant percentage of whites in the prisons in Georgia. Lastly I should say too that there are white prisoners among the leaders of this prison strike and the hunger strike. The prisoners standing up for their rights are black, brown and white –  something which is the opposite of what we hear or think of when we think of prisons in the United States. Prisoners are standing together across those lines.

At one of the events I was at about mass incarceration, someone asked how to get white people to care. Of course, by white people, they meant a certain kind of white person. Michelle Alexander responds to a similar question during this talk as well.

As an advocate, I had thought of my job as how do you persuade kind of those mainstream white voters to think differently. And much of advocacy has been geared towards (civil rights advocacy I mean) has been geared towards how do we make that group of people think differently and care about our issues, our concerns, and our needs. Well I think at this stage of movement building, my own view, is that the first order of business is how can we get our communities to care about each other. That the first order of business is consciousness raising and developing a sense of care, compassion, and concern within the communities most affected by it before we really even begin to address kind of those mainstream white swing voters that we are ultimately going to have to persuade through our advocacy work. And I say this in part because one of the things that I have been really struck by in my own work on these issues is that, with Jim Crow, African Americans were stigmatized, but they had their own businesses. They had their own churches, theaters, workplaces. There was a sense of solidarity within the community. There was a degree of racial solidarity and community. Well mass incarceration has turned the black community against itself, has turned communities of color against itself. And I think we first need to begin to build unity and a common understanding of the nature of this system and kind of an agreement of what must be done about it.

She goes on to talk about lessening the stigma in communities and working with former prisoners and their families. I agree with her for the most part. But I’m not sure that Alexander focuses enough on class when she is thinking about what needs to be done. What I mean is, she does not say that there is a class divide that needs to be bridged when you are talking about getting communities of color to care.

She also completely misses talking about what people in prison can do, are doing, and have historically done. And just like in that Attica uprising in 1971, the Georgia prisoner strike cuts across racial divides. All white people are not middle/professional/managerial class swing voters. There are a lot of “poor white trash” out there that are directly affected by the system. When people talk about how to get white people to care, they seem to write those people off. We’ve been so convinced that poor white people are hopeless.

We should be paying attention to these prison strikes. They are a very important part of how we are going to end the prison state. We also need to be careful when we talk about the most affected. We need to consider that those people are going to look different in different places, that class is a major factor in incarceration, and that classism is a major obstacle to ending it. We shouldn’t just write off the poor white people who are targets. And we sure as hell shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that those liberal, white voters are going to be more likely to tip scales in the right direction. I think they are – for the most part – going to be dragged kicking and screaming.

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More info on the Black Agenda Report

Occupy DC Targets Wells Fargo and the Prison Industrial Complex

December 03, 2011 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking

Yesterday, the criminal justice committee of Occupy DC organized on action targeting Wells Fargo’s involvement in private prisons through their investments in the GEO Group. Pics of the march and pre-march are below.

I loved this action for a whole lot of reasons:

  • The injustice system is one of the most hideous manifestations of the racist, exploitative, militarized state. It needs to be central.
  • Focusing on Wells Fargo’s participation highlighted how the prison system is central to economic exploitation.
  • The action focused on the local effect of a national problem. They highlighted GEOs involvement in Rivers Correctional Institution, a place that locks up thousands of DC residents for mostly parole violations.  In a city where 3 out of 4 black men will end up in prison this is an issue the local community has a real personal stake in.
  • Related to the above, the march was not focused on congress or the Whitehouse.
  • Most of the slogans were radical. There was a bit of “money for education not incarceration” and some stuff about private prisons (as though state prisons are great). But most of the chants and comments were along the lines of
Wells Fargo, Tear it Down. The Whole Damn System, Tear it Down.
This is not a protest. This is a boycott.
Get your money out of Wells Fargo. Stop Funding your own incarceration.
We don’t want to reform Wells Fargo. We want to shut it down.
They get bailed out. We get locked up.
Incarceration is the new Jim Crow.

P.S. I also attended the general assembly. Since I criticized them a bit the other day for the lack of women speaking at the GA, I have to give some props for that not being the case at all last night.


Wells Fargo Action – Images by Pinorrow Photography