contact us

 

         

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

Blog

Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Tag: racism

"It's Probably Nothing, But...": How Governments Make Us Responsible For Our Own Security

Nickie Phillips

NTAS

Part 4 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on Terror

Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger

Following on from last week’s post, this week I’ll be discussing Selchow’s third dynamic that is engendered by the Dispositif of Precautionary Risk (DPR), a pre-emptory risk –based mode of governance: the internalization of security issues and the process of ‘responsibilization’. As touched upon last week, the creation of an archetypal Muslim terrorist figure in the U.K. has essentially depoliticized the issue of the governance of terrorism for the majority of the population, while the blame for the root of terrorism has been placed firmly on Islamic extremism and the British Muslim community by association. Thus, it’s evident that the dynamics of depoliticization and responsibilization are intimately linked. Through the governmentality approach, the DPR mode of governance shows that its assemblages of surveillance and risk discourse both work to construct sectors of society that are ‘dreamt up, marginalized and put under suspicion’; and ‘normalize’ the rest of the population, thereby ‘inviting citizens to become security guards, spies and informants’ on the ‘risky’ Muslim community (Mythen and Walklate 2006:390-392). This means that the Muslim community is not only blamed for the problem of terrorism, but are ultimately pressured to provide the solution to the problem by looking inwardly at themselves; effectively, the Muslim community has to internalize the problem of national security in this way, taking it on their own shoulders while simultaneously easing the responsibility of the government to engage fully with the problem.

Those who do not fall under the ‘suspect community’ are responsibilitized in a way that not only allows the continued allocation of blame on the ‘suspect community’, but also places the onus on them to report on anything ‘abnormal’. This dynamic is most clearly seen in government campaigns such as the recent one by the Metropolitan Police emphasizing that it is the Londoners’ responsibility ‘to be vigilant’ for anything ‘out of place in normal day to day lives’.

met police sign

Mythen et. al. (2012:394) thus articulate the core of this politics of normalcy: ‘this requirement to present an outwardly safe identity…reveals the coercive social pressures that a pervasive climate of suspicion has engendered’. Indeed, this has led to ‘checking behaviors’ such as selective use of dialect, clothing and curbing of outward behavior in the public sphere (p. 391). As the 7/7 bombers were ‘home-grown’ from the Muslim community in Yorkshire, the onus of protecting society has fallen hardest on the Muslim communities in the U.K. The consequences of this element of responsibilization via the allocation of blame has led to the targeted surveillance of Muslim communities through stop and search policies, questioning at ports under Schedule 7 of the Terrorist Act, pre-emptory raids, and the pressure to spy on their own communities through the creation of Muslim Community Units through the PREVENT strategy. Notably, even though these pre-emptory actions are based entirely on suspicion of intent, the person who is targeted has barely any rights in place to protect them from the effects of human error in judging their ‘riskiness’. A corollary to this is the 600% increase in Islamophobia since 2001 and its associated increase in violence on Muslim people and mosques (Spalek, 2008:420).

How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics

The dynamic of responsibilization can be seen as directly related to the discourses of power surrounding the ‘battle for truth’ regarding justice. Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) iterates that this dynamic makes HRO work safeguarding human rights standards all the more significant: ‘the stuff that is most unpopular is some of the most important…because it’s the issues that others won’t pick up on…that don’t have public support’. As Liberty (2007:16) articulate, it is unlikely that the majority of Britons ‘upon waking up…felt more subject to surveillance than they did yesterday’; however, targeted surveillance over the Muslim community means that they truly feel the interlinked dynamics in Burchell’s (1991) sense of having to change the way they see themselves as governed subjects, due to the way they are governed. CagePrisoners explains, ‘the way the government speaks, the way the media speaks and the way the average person on the street speaks all perpetuate this cycle of fear’, thus responsibilitizing society wholesale through the DPR’s rationalities of zero-risk and shifting of the burden of proof.

However, from CagePrisoners’ personalized responses in interview, we can see that governance through the DPR and the social dynamics it engenders has a much sharper effect on the ‘suspect community’ of Muslims. CagePrisoners explains that this suspicion has a chilling effect on the politics of the community as a whole: ‘if we stick our heads above the parapet, they’re going to come after us next’. It is thus evident that CagePrisoners feels the four interrelated dynamics engendered by DPR in a way that cuts right to the social core of what the application of risk does to society. As CagePrisoners says, ‘wherever you see a threat coming from a community which goes against the norm of understanding of criminal behavior, you will see a disproportionate response to those threats’. CagePrisoners’ responses emphasize that the key role of the organization is to empower the Muslim community to break away from inactivity and submission to the prevailing rationalities of zero-risk and the shift of the burden of proof.

Due to its unique vantage-point as a Muslim organization, CagePrisoners engages in this ‘battle for truth’ on a level that has a much more personal tone than any of the other human rights organizations (HROs) interviewed. For example, in a CagePrisoners article (Balaratnam, 2012) regarding United Kingdom BorderAgency  (UKBA) policy of detaining people at the border for questioning under Schedule 7, the article speaks directly to a Muslim audience and is presented as a Muslim voice. Although not articulated in the terminology of risk, the article essentially asks Muslims to break through the dynamic of responsibilization whereby the allocation of blame on the Muslim community is legitimized through the reflexive internalization of blame. The article asserts it point by provocatively asserting that if the reader is stopped at the border, they have to concede ‘it’s my fault I got stopped today – my fault for being brown’. The form of resistance encouraged by CagePrisoners, therefore, is one that is very different to collective action. It is essentially micro-resistance whereby the individual only resists what affects them on an individual, direct level. Thus, if the affected community itself does not even question the rationalities that legitimize racially-prejudiced forms of profiling and surveillance, CagePrisoners warns that no one will, therefore undermining any lobbying conducted by HROs at the state-level.

This insight is even more powerful when one considers the recent uproar over the detention of David Miranda under Schedule 7 – only when one of the majority non-Muslim population was affected did the media question it, let alone campaign against it. Ultimately, it was only picked up by the media because Schedule 7 affected a Guardian journalist’s partner (Greenwald, 2013). This relation epitomizes the importance of the ‘micro’ level of resistance in countering what is essentially a cultural shift to living through risk, when faced with the multitude of arguments that focus on the global erosion of rights and the need for macro-analyses of power.

Whilst Liberty, AIUK and Reprieve revealed their primary state-level focus by identifying the depoliticization dynamics of secrecy and the narrative of fear as the greatest obstacles to checking government overreach, CagePrisoners stated ‘misunderstanding and blind ignorance’. For them, the social impact of society not understanding the Muslim community, ‘what they’re about and their belief system’ is a major factor in the way government policy is formed. His responses suggest that the government construction of a ‘paradigm of who we are and the way that we engage’ has completely neglected the crucial importance of micro power dynamics. In a reflection of the multitudinal networks of Foucauldian power relations, Asim Qureshi, Executive Director of Cageprisoners, outlines that ‘our identity is not just an identity; it’s a multitude of identities that superimpose themselves one on top of the other’. It may seem logical and practical for the UK government to ask the Muslim community to report on ‘bad’ Muslims through policies such as PREVENT; however, the top-down engagement with only the archetypal ‘good’ Muslim that has been created in the political imagination effectively renders the policy counter-productive and end up pushing away the majority of Muslims who feel they do not fit that rigid definition. CagePrisoners gave the example of Muslims being targeted by the government for simply disagreeing with government policies such as going to war with Iraq. At a recent lecture, CagePrisoners’ founder, Moazzam Begg, spoke of a teenage girl arrested for writing poetry that was seen as ‘extremist’. In their view, the government-led counter-terror policy is ‘dictated by people who are not willing to engage in a way that is useful’, thus simultaneously legitimizing more and more extreme measures against ordinary people in order to secure the state, while creating resentment and isolation among communities who would be willing to engage on their own terms.

Moazzam-Begg-640x360

This insight cuts to the social core of the combined dynamics of risk engendered by the DPR; ultimately, as asserted by CagePrisoners, this ‘criminalization of people based on an assumption of what you think they are’ takes away Muslim agency. It says, ‘you’re not capable of making up your own mind…you’re not capable of engaging with society…and so we’re going to put you all in the same tub and treat you all in the same way’. This is why the policy shift from targeting violent actions to ‘extremist’ thoughts dictated by UK counter-terror policy worries CagePrisoners so much; it is inherently disenfranchising and disempowering.

Indeed, this micro-level understanding of power dynamics in the context of risk-governance and the need to resist them is also demonstrated by Reprieve in a way that connects the global, macro-level power dynamics inherent in the War on Terror; apart from the macro-issues of the rendition program and Guantánamo, they acknowledge that it is ‘Life After Guantánamo’ (LAG) that poses a big social problem (Reprieve, 2009). Their LAG program thus attempts to overcome the social and psychological difficulties experienced by ex-detainees that result from absorbing all four dynamics of risk via pre-emptory policies and the way that society treats them when they are finally released.

The U.K. government’s perpetuation of what CagePrisoners calls a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ ultimately produces a Muslim identity that is inherently perceived as ‘risky’. Not only does this dynamic force the Muslim community as a whole to feel responsible for the devastation created by terrorist attacks they had no connection with, the government’s attempts to use this community as an intelligence source ends up actually isolating them further. The rest of society, meanwhile, sinks further into a cycle of constant vigilance and suspicion: is the neighbor with the blinds constantly down up to no good? The perpetuation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘suspicious’ and ‘normal’ labels within UK security practice mean that it is likely that majority society will accept – even crave – extension of security measures and further curtailments on the rights of socially constructed ‘bad people’. The state of constant readiness for the next attack that is physically taken on by the U.K. population thus leads to the dynamic I will be focusing on next week: the expansion of ‘securitization’.

Aditi Gupta

Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013.  She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the fourth installment in her five-part series on Crimcast which began on January 3, 2014.

An Exploration into How Risk-Based Security Policy Depoliticizes Counter-Terrorism Measures

Nickie Phillips

NTAS

Part 3 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on Terror

Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger

The impact of the dynamic outlined in last week’s post (decoupling of political decision-making from actuality) is linked to the second dynamic put in motion by the application of risk-logic to govern terrorism in the UK: depoliticization. The governance of terrorism is essentially stripped of any politicized concern from the public as the interlinked rationalities that drive the Dispositif of Precautionary Risk (pre-emptory mode of governance) enable policy-makers to present security issues as something that needs immediate attention, leaving no time for reasoned debate.

Furedi (2005) explains that this presentation of issues is inextricably linked to a ‘politics of fear’ that overshadows informed debate, thus depoliticizing security issues. De Londras (2011) shows that in the aftermath of an attack, the desires of both the state and the people come together to create a politico-legal space where repression is possible. In the UK this process was triggered by fear following the traumatic attack on London underground transport on 7th July 2005 (7/7) by Yorkshire-born suicide bombers. This legitimized the DPR’s (mode of risk based precautionary governance) central rationalities of worst-case-scenario-thinking and risk of serious and irreversible damage and thus justified the deployment of technologies of zero-risk.

Handwritten letter of condolence after the 7/7 attacks (Photo: Stephen Hird— Reuters/Corbis)

As Johnston (2005) notes, many of the raft of new powers that were introduced after 7/7 were previously sought by the police. However, it was the aftermath of the attack that ‘changed the political environment within which they debated’, allowing for the acceptance of new anti-terror measures to inflate police and executive power. Thus, the ‘politics of fear’ that underlies the dynamic of depoliticization engendered by this risk-based governance can be argued to be a major force in the acceptance of policies that require unprecedented levels of government intervention.

The rationality of zero-risk, however, is one that is self-perpetuating as it drives the imperative to act, to present the terrorist threat as controllable. However, this threat is incalculable according to traditional statistical models of risk based on what is ‘abnormal’. Thus, the fetishization of control that emerges of out the DPR mode of governance's combined rationalities is based on an imagined creation of the terrorist ‘other’. This has translated itself in the UK in two interlinked social constructions that set in motion the dynamic of depoliticization: that of the afore-mentioned panoptic screening process for potential terrorists presented as fair and objective; and the creation of a calculable, controllable Muslim ‘terrorist’ to create a visible target of control.

Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) argues that the extreme circumstances presented by 7/7 allow governments to depoliticize mass surveillance by claiming it ‘treats all citizens the same’, and ‘if everyone does the right thing…then they have nothing to worry about’. However, as outlined in my first post, this front of objectivity obscures fundamentally value-laden choices. The introduction of RIPA in 2000 saw mass surveillance with nearly 444,000 authorizations for communications data between 2005-2006, and techniques such as data mining, cross-department sharing or ‘profiling’ that allow seemingly innocuous data to suggest tendencies that might target the individual for suspicion. The Information Commissioner regarded this practice so depoliticized that we are ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society’ (Crossman, 2007). Indeed, even after the vast reach of the NSA PRISM scandal and revelations of TEMPURA (mass surveillance databases laundered between the UK and the US) were exposed, polls indicated that the majority of Britons still valued the protection that they felt surveillance afforded them. Thus the dynamic of depoliticization hides the penetrating nature of these surveillance policies through a front of objectivity.

The construction of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ is propagated by the UK Counter-terror strategy’s unambiguous identification of the ‘new’ threat of terrorism coming from Islamists, thereby explicitly linking Islamists and terrorism (HM Government 2006:1). This has been supplemented by a discursive construction of the Muslim community as suspect: ‘few terrorist movements could have lasted for long without a supportive community’ (cited in McGhee 2008:69). This discursive creation by its very nature depoliticizes every single policy, strategy and risk technique deployed within the DPR because, in targeting a minority, it has ensured that the majority of the population does not feel politically or socially threatened by this form of governance.

How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics

Through Foucault’s governmentality framework we can see the constant flux not only in the dynamics of power, but in the technologies that are deployed as part of the DPR mode of governance. O’Malley (2008:69) argues that ‘resistances shape existing risk techniques and practices’. Thus, Selchow’s dynamics engendered by the DPR are not simply an effect of a mode of governance through risk but articulations of the constant negotiations between the multiple networks of power active within the state’s journey to its goal of zero-risk. This dialogue is most clearly seen by the deployment of the technology of secrecy in order to safeguard the discourses and technologies of the DPR. For example, Reprieve points to the introduction of the Justice and Security Act (JSA) as a ‘response to the efforts of human rights groups to hold the UK to account’ for its complicity in rendition and torture cases.

binyam

The JSA pulls together all three areas of UK pre-emptive counter-terror policy: detention, surveillance and complicity in extraordinary rendition. It stipulates that cases involving ‘sensitive’ information pertaining to security need to be tried in secret, using closed evidence that the defendant is not allowed to see. Therefore, those suspected in the War on Terror are stripped of their right to fair trial (Bowcott & Cobain, 2012). It is thus revealing that the JSA came into being due to the legal action of Binyam Mohammed against the UK Government, backed by Reprieve, for their complicity in his rendition and torture. As CagePrisoners asserts, ‘independence and transparency are the key to dealing with problems within society – the JSA is the perfect example of how the government is going in a reverse trend to this’. In general, abuses are very difficult ‘to get the slightest information about’ (Reprieve Interview). This evidence-gathering strategy is thus essentially emasculated if it is not possible to obtain evidence, or even to challenge the evidence put forward by the government in security cases as access to it is now blocked by the JSA.

The failure of the human rights organizations  (HROs)to challenge the JSA reveals the powerful depoliticizing force that the construction of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ represents. All of the HROs interviewed acknowledged that a significant factor in their failure to defeat the JSA was the fact that people ‘don’t think it will affect them’ (Reprieve Interview). Reprieve detailed that Ken Clarke, the U.K. Justice Secretary, argued that the closed evidence mechanism would only have ‘narrow’ use, and that ‘people accept that’. This is because the non-Muslim majority have not felt negatively affected by any of the counter-terror policies that have been rolled out.

This narrow focus is seen by all four HROs as a barrier to reaching the non-Muslim population; in the ‘battle for truth’ regarding the JSA, AIUK laments that the government ‘put forward a very compelling narrative’ that argued that this bill ‘will make things fairer’. Both Liberty and AIUK illustrate that this depoliticized narrative was much harder to challenge as the political argument against it now had to use very technical legal concepts to explain why it was actually inherently unfair. If the majority of cases affect only Muslims, then this explains why the profound social impact of giving up the guaranteed right to a fair trial has not gained traction as a wider societal issue.

This disproportionate effect on Muslims is compounded by the dehumanization of this suspect community, thus legitimizing these measures. As AIUK indicates, the depoliticization engendered by the DPR allows for exceptions for a discursively created ‘bad’ people who do ‘bad’ things. Indeed, CagePrisoners sees the legitimization of these measures as a by-product of the ‘demonization’ of Muslims. He sees the essential criminalization of the Muslim community as based ‘on an assumption of what [the government] thinks we are’ due to a paranoia of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we believe in’. CagePrisoners’ impassioned response was given a sharper edge in their example of a government list of children ‘at risk of extremism’ with one child less than three years old. It is assumptions like these that feed back into the DPR technology of surveillance assemblages that submerge individual cases into types, creating new risk assessed identities based on these broad categories. Thus, in the UK, depoliticization follows Krassman’s (2007) observation that it is no longer necessary to actually see the person one judges. Indeed, from the perspective of power-relations one can see that HRO attempts to humanize policies results in aggressive response. As Reprieve states, ‘they do turn around and come after you’ if you break ‘the unwritten rule of “never make the prisoner human”. In Reprieve’s case, aggression was precipitated by the level of success they had achieved in showing the human costs of Guantánamo by publicizing the hunger strike. Reprieve’s viral video that showed rapper, MosDef, being force-fed in a Guantánamo jumpsuit brought the brutal human impact home to thousands of viewers.

mos def

Therefore, the main effect of the dynamic of depoliticization is that the majority of the population does not feel affected by counter-terror security policy due to the dual construction of a terrorist Muslim ‘other’ and seemingly objective screening process. Burchell (1991:146) argues that individuals only feel affected when ‘the way they are governed requires them to alter how they see themselves as governed subjects’; it is only then that we become aware of the ways the political power of the state impinges on our lives, that ‘we feel it’. Ultimately this means that the counter-arguments to security policies engendered by risk-logic are not just forced to prophesize the future, but due to their narrow focus, have to campaign in the realm of the social imagination.

Aditi Gupta

Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013.  She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the third in her five-part series on Crimcast which began in early January, 2014.

What Introductory Criminal Justice Students Need to Know About the Media and Crime

Nickie Phillips

social-media-myths-and-your-sales-300x198

At the start of a new semester, criminal justice professors face the daunting task of demystifying media myths

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast Correspondent

The media, through various means, has become the primary source of news and entertainment for many Americans. Each day the media reaches millions of viewers, listeners and readers throughout the world and provides a rapid broadcast of knowledge and information. Although the ability to have “the world at our fingertips” is beneficial, the inaccuracies and rash portrayals of current events can lead to inadvertent consequences.

Crime in the news

Crime is portrayed in the media on a daily basis, whether it is in the newspapers, on television, via video or written blogs, among other means. As criminologist Ray Surette explains, news regarding crime may be general, referring to broad trends and issues, or specific, in reference to a particular crime incident. The media has one objective, to sell stories. Therefore, it chooses which crimes, victims and court cases merit attention, often choosing to expose the most sensational, emotional, and significant crime stories. Unfortunately, the media does not always broadcast information in an objective or accurate manner, which can lead to unintended consequences.

How the media portrays crime

The media increases crime salience through agenda setting, priming and framing the “best-selling” stories. The public is exposed to certain crime issues and then primed to believe that those issues warrant more political attention. The media chooses which social problems merit greater attention and relies on the government and experts to interpret and contextualize these problems to the public. As viewers, we rely on the government and experts to frame the news for us and determine the criteria by which we judge public policies or crime related issues. Lastly, the media encourages its audience to arrive at certain conclusions by promoting a particular treatment recommendation or moral evaluation to the problem. It often focuses blame on a particular individual or larger social or political institution, which ultimately affects punitiveness and future policy preferences.

Representations of the police in the media are often overdramatized and romanticized. Research has shown that police are often presented favorably in television and movies; as fictional television dramas show the majority of cases solved and criminal suspects successfully apprehended. Unfortunately, crime presented as entertainment distorts viewers understanding of criminal investigations. Subsequently, the public develops unrealistic expectations regarding the investigation process, police use of force and forensic evidence. Such portrayal reinforces traditional law enforcement tactics including increased police presence, harsh penalties and increasing police power.

The effect on viewers

It has been argued that heavy television viewers have an altered perception of the “real world”, shaped by the media. Therefore, these viewers feel a greater threat from crime and believe that crime is more prevalent than statistics indicate. Violent crime is disproportionately broadcast and portrayed as more violent, random and dangerous than in the “real world”. Subsequently, viewers internalize these crime stories and develop a “scary” image of reality. Unfortunately, this threatening perception of society initiates fear, mistrust, and alienation, causing viewers to support more “quick-fix” solutions against crime.

Leading to punitive policies

globe2

Misinformation dispersed by the media heightens public sensitivity to the crime problem, reinforcing public sense of immediate and inescapable danger. Subsequently, fear and anxiety develop as the public pressures politicians for a “quick-fix” and extreme solution to the crime problem. These “quick-fix” solutions focus on short-term crime relief, resulting in more punitive rather than preventative polices and encourage more policing, arrests and longer sentences.

The media coverage of minorities and crime demonstrates the disproportionate portrayal of minorities shown in menacing contexts. Blacks are more likely than whites to be shown in mug shots, in physical custody of the police and victimizing strangers and members of different races. Media representations of minorities result in exaggerations of crime statistics including the number of blacks arrested for crimes and the likelihood that the public will be victimized by minorities. This ultimately attributes the crime problem to blacks as a group. This false depiction of minority criminals leads to public fear and mistrust of minorities, allowing for the expansion of punitive policies based on race.

This culpability was demonstrated by the media’s coverage of the “War on Drugs”. The media exposed an imminent and threatening national crisis and recommended the use of power and mobilization of massive resources to curb the threat and vanquish the “enemy”. Images and stereotypes of the “enemy”, exposed by the media, included young, inner-city, minority males in gangs terrorizing communities and innocent citizens while conducting illegal drug deals and committing various crimes. Subsequently, the public became fearful and began to alienate themselves from the community, while pressuring politicians for an immediate “quick-fix” solution. Consequently, the police crackdown on street-level drug dealers and harsher sentences resulted in additional arrests and longer prison sentences. However, the underlying conditions leading to the drug problem remained unidentified and unaffected. In addition, the punitive “quick-fix” solution lead to unintended consequences, including angry and hardened attitudes towards offenders, increased costs of the criminal justice system and intensified racial tensions, resulting from targeting minorities. Concerns about constitutional and civil rights waned, citing more immediate concerns for public safety. Respect for the law eroded, as the public encouraged more aggressive policing strategies, exposing citizens to expanded discretion of law enforcement and infringements of their Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

danielle

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast contributor, teaches Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Danielle earned her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2011 from John Jay College where she was awarded the Claude Hawley Medal and Graduate Scholarship. She currently lives in New York City.

Redeeming the Dream: Reflections on the March on Washington

Nickie Phillips

IMG_1099

It was a day to commemorate a watershed event in civil rights history and the thousands at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington yesterday soaked it all in-- from inspirational speeches to demonstrations and sign-waiving from groups such as the NAACP to lone protestors standing up for a $15 federal minimum wage or an end to Stand Your Ground laws.

march handout

Though Crimcast hoped to live-tweet impressions from the speeches, we were not able to get in ear-shot of them (so we caught up later with news clips).  We were also thwarted by elaborate anti-terrorism fencing that dispersed people widely.  We arrived after the event had started and the crowd flow was confusing, so we ended up side-lined behind the Lincoln Memorial and later at the WWII Memorial--both areas were filled with supporters and demonstrators (who made the most of the day with signs and mini-marches and music and spoken word).

The majority of our tweets were crowd impressions and photos of signs and slogans.  Below see some of our favorite shots of calls for jobs, justice and freedom.  The big takeaway from the day: the civil rights movement is needed now just as ever before.  In light of Trayvon Martin and the recent SCOTUS decision on voter registration, to name just a couple such events, people must continue to speak up for an America that provides the promises of democracy and equal justice for all.  Redeem the dream!

IMG_1074
IMG_1090 - Version 2
IMG_1097
IMG_1079
IMG_1085
IMG_1087
IMG_1089
IMG_0761

Stop and Frisk Appeal is Anti-Civil Rights

Nickie Phillips

Mayor Bloomberg just doesn't get it

graphic: ACLU

The judgment in Floyd v. City of New York this week was a victory for the countless New Yorkers of color who over the years have been subject to illegal stops and frisks. As Crimcast has previously written, the case was mired in statistics as to the alleged effectiveness of stop and frisk as a police tool.  Judge Sheindlin, however, made clear that statistical arguments were peripheral to the main issue, the constitutionality of the stops. She explained that stop and frisk, as practiced by the NYPD, through a lack of a required, individualized notion of reasonable suspicion -- such as simply being in a designated high crime area-- indirectly generates unconstitutional stops and frisks that people of color are much more likely to experience.  We applaud her for refusing to let a false notion of increasing public safety through stop and frisk (see this report from John Jay College, Center on Race, Crime, and Justice) erode important Constitutional rights.  She has imposed increased oversight over the practice of stop and frisk and a better articulated reporting of the circumstances that factor into individual stops and frisks.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg refuses to accept the judgment, arguing that the stop and frisk as practiced is a needed part of the city's crime-fighting arsenal and that the practice does not constitute racial profiling, directly or indirectly.  The city will file an appeal, apparently unwilling to take to heart the lived experience of many of its own citizens of color.

As Prof. Delores Jones-Brown points out in her blog post on The Crime Report:

In this, the 50th year, of the March on Washington, when thousands of Americans joined with African Americans to affirm their rights as full-citizens of the United States, especially their right to freely use public space, it is tremendously disheartening to see that in a city as diverse as New York  with the largest and most respected police force,  these high level public officials fail to yield to overwhelming evidence that a decade-long practice, however  well-intentioned,  has deprived many law-abiding New Yorkers of the very rights that were adamantly fought for a half century ago.

photo (3)

Crimcast senses that a new civil rights era is galvanizing to pave the road ahead.  With the controversy around this and the recent George Zimmerman trial, we see that the forces that would take the civil rights era backwards need constant checking by people who value the principle of equality for all.  Judge Sheindlin takes us forward, the jury in the ZImmerman case and Mayor Bloomberg would take us backwards, but the crowds expected at the anniversary March on Washington event on August 24, 2013, will no doubt show which direction Americans want to go.

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman:  A Duty to Retreat v. Stand Your Ground

Nickie Phillips

Post by Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD This past week, I, along with the rest of the country, found myself transfixed (and more than a little outraged) by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in what many still call the Trayvon Martin Case, notwithstanding the convention that criminal prosecutions are denominated People (or State) against Defendant.  I was taken, for the second time, by President Barack Obama’s moving commentary in this regard. Last year, he referred to Trayvon as “America’s son.” This week, Obama went on television, unannounced, and spoke movingly about himself being racially profiled 35 years ago, then amended the time frame to include generally prior to his becoming a senator (as an aside, I met a successful lawyer in Minnesota some years ago, who, after a run near his upscale lake front property, was fishing in his sock for his key, when police interrupted him and questioned him, signaling that Obama is correct that this experience was more common than not).  In the past week, I have also seen Trayvon Martin’s parents interviewed by Barbara Walters and that they spoke with quiet dignity (in the presence of their lawyer, and whether coached or not) brought tears to my eyes.

Now might be a good moment for me to say that I don’t care a bit whether Trayvon had a history with marijuana, or was out of place in the place where he was shot and killed (whatever your political or legal position, the inalterable fact is that Martin was shot and died of the gunshot wound).   Indeed, the last case I tried before taking a judicial appellate clerkship and then in turn going back to school for a Masters and PhD was a gun possession case in which my client (for whom I secured an acquittal after trial) was charged with gun possession; his defense was “temporary lawful possession,” i.e., that he wrested the gun away and disarmed a person who tried to rob him of admittedly ill-gotten gambling winnings in a crack house (I note my African American client was over 6 feet and muscular, the would-be robber a tiny little woman of my height, reinforcing the fact that a gun is a great equalizer, here, where my client who had dozens of non-violent petty theft and drug offenses, but nothing involving weapons or guns). In other words, I do, however, very much care that George Zimmerman had a gun in his possession, and am firmly of the belief that the mere possession of the lethal weapon by definition escalated the events of the day. Think about it, if Zimmerman had a knife on him, a switchblade as did the innocent “other” wrongly accused in 12 Angry Men (1957) of Italian or Spanish origin, in a non-Brooklyn and non-Spanish-is-the-second-language-of-America-setting, Martin may well be alive today. One might have been injured (and perhaps even mortally), but a gun exponentially escalates.

Before I make a legally related commentary, I point to a personal one. In 1991/1992, I did a Masters in Criminal Justice Policy at the London School of Economics, before which I had been a criminal trial and appeals lawyer, and a judicial appeals clerk. The third week of school, I was assigned to present a seminar paper on policing. As the resident “Yank” in the program, I expressed my dismay that police were unarmed (with the exception of a small elite team of what was called, simply, Gun Police).  My supervisor, Professor Robert Reiner, the Dean of Policing in the  United Kingdom, listened to my otherwise not controversial presentation benevolently, then asked me (in the nicest of ways) for the murder statistics of New York City the year before. The number I had was 2,262. I was then told (in the nicest of ways) that the number of homicides in the United Kingdom (read, England plus Scotland, plus Wales plus Northern Ireland) in 1990 was less than 600. A reason largely credited for the disparity of rates (greater New York, about 10 million people, the United Kingdom, about 60 million people, making the numbers even more starkly divergent) was the then-lack of guns. Off I went to read that Sir Robert Mark, who served for 5 years in the 1970s as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (after a turn as Chief Constable of Leicester), wrote that a police officer’s greatest weapon was his mouth (his was in the original, I assume that today, Sir Robert would say “his or her”).  While I don’t remember the name of the book, I remember it was red, threadbare, and contained this most influential quote (at least for me, perhaps folks in the UK took it as a given). I can only wonder what a “mouthy” confrontation would have resulted in – perhaps a fistfight, perhaps a flight, certainly not a death.

While I frequently do not give my personal views on controversial topics (indeed, Janet Pinkley, who authored the first review of my first book, entitled, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, earlier this year, gave plaudits for my presentation of arguments and sides, without taking a side in this polarizing debate), I am giving an opinion in this piece. I am not a fan of allowing civilians to carry guns. When I teach, I make the self-mocking comment that any New Yorker who has been cut off in traffic is a reason why guns should not be allowed. More seriously, a gun can (usually easily) be turned against even the most righteous and lawfully possessing would-be victim of a crime.  I absolutely believe that if George Zimmerman had not had a gun that fateful February night, both he and Trayvon Martin would likely be alive today – perhaps scarred, but alive.  Trayvon Martin could have retreated from an altercation that George Zimmerman should never have provoked. They could have engaged in fisticuffs. And so on.

Thus, this reminded me of another case, of gun possession past, that of Bernhard Goetz.  With Zimmerman, rather than stand your ground (which I think is a dreadful departure from the historic duty of safe retreat principle, and invites shootings by people who should not necessarily have a gun in the first place), a central theory in the Zimmerman trial was that the shooting was in self-defense while Trayvon was on top of him after an altercation.  In Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, I am recollecting the New York case of Bernhard Goetz, 68 N.Y.2d 96, 497 N.E.2d 41, 73 A.L.R.4th 971, 55 USLW 2107 (N.Y., 1986), who shot would be muggers (one of whom approached Goetz on the subway and asked for $5.00) who possessed screwdrivers (which could as easily be used as weapons as for malicious mischief). One of the alleged  would-be muggers was paralyzed for life. Goetz was not convicted of murder or assault, but was convicted of gun possession.  Goetz, the victim of prior muggings, may have set up the subway confrontation, in an area of the Bronx where a man of his fair complexion was perhaps as out-of-place as Martin may have been in the gated community where he died. I decline to accept a theory of victim precipitation as to mugging or as to walking in a neighborhood other than one’s own. Skin tone should not be a reason to mug, follow, or create circumstances where a shooter, licensed or not, provokes a shooting.  The New York Court of Appeals in Goetz held that it would be dangerous to use an entirely subjective test to determine whether the use of deadly force is appropriate, whether there was an imminently dangerous situation requiring it;  the court went on to hold that if a reasonable person under the circumstances would have felt himself in imminent danger of serious physical  injury or death, then there was a possible defense.  A jury, trying the case on remand, found Goetz Not Guilty of all charges, save that of  Criminal Possession of a Weapon, for which Goetz ultimately served eight months of a one-year sentence.  However, in a related civil proceeding, would-be potential mugger Darrell Cabey, found a different result. The jury found in favor of Cabey and awarded him the sum of $18,000,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000,000 in punitive damages.

Zimmerman was in quite a different circumstance than Goetz was. He followed Trayvon Martin. He disregarded a 911 dispatch instruction to remain in his car and let the police attend to the business at hand (assuming that there was any criminal mischief afoot, not a given with Trayvon Martin). He brought a gun. He initiated a confrontation.  He did not even have the duty of retreat matter to consider, since he was the aggressor.

As with the objective/subjective issue presented in Goetz, Zimmerman brought a gun to what was not even a knife (or screwdriver) fight, to paraphrase the classic 1987 movie, The Untouchables, in which Sean Connery’s beat cop, Malone, intoned the wisdom of not bringing a knife to a gun fight.

And, as a postscript, there was a bit on the morning news today (July 23, 2013) that Zimmerman, in less than a week after his acquittal, was a good Samaritan helping a family whose vehicle had rolled over, helping them to escape. I worry that Zimmerman is already jumping into the deep end of a pool in which he should be – at the very least – reluctant to be wading, let alone swimming in.  Should the family be grateful for the assistance, certainly. Should there remain national outrage over Zimmerman’s persistence with Trayvon Martin, equally certainly.

Barack Obama’s remarks  reminded me of another African American who was mistreated and abused under pretext of policing – Rodney King. It was King himself who called for peace when the LA riots threatened to burn the place down after the verdict. Admittedly, the elite white President at the time of that verdict would not have made much of an impact (let alone a positive one) had he called for peace at the time. That we now have a tall, elegant, eloquent President (who grew up in a complicated family and culture) who happens to be African American served the American people – all the people – in his remarks.

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD currently teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named the 2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year. Her first book, Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America: The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, (Greenwood Press,  2012) (100 year study of US and UK  doctors prosecuted for medical euthanasia/assisted suicide and role of media) has been nominated for the 2013 BSC Criminology Book Prize.  She has practiced trial and appellate criminal law, clerked for an appellate judge and served as a PINS mediator for the Children’s Aid Society in New York. Her last trial, People v. Williams (1991) was tried to acquittal on a theory of temporary lawful possession of a gun.

The Verdict: What does it mean to you? - John Jay College of Criminal Justice Event

Nickie Phillips

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at Jul 16, 2013, 2.40.15 PM

The Verdict: What Does it Mean to You?

All voices are welcome at this informal reflection to share reactions, thoughts and feelings about the verdict of the State v. Zimmerman case.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

image002

1:30—3:00pm

East End of the Cafeteria, 2nd Floor

Light Refreshments Will Be Served

John Jay  College of  Criminal Justice

524 West 59th Street, Suite 621T

New York City, NY 10019

"Racism Savings Time": Trayvon Martin Verdict Sets the Clock Back 60 Years

Nickie Phillips

Image

Acclaimed comic book writer Mark Waid summed up the frustration with last Saturday's verdict when he tweeted: "Remember, it's Racism Savings Time tonight. Don't forget to set your clock back 60 years before you go to bed." Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets last night to demonstrate their outrage that Florida's criminal justice system could end up acquitting an armed vigilante who gunned down a black kid who was returning to his home from getting a snack at a convenience store. Demonstrators also amassed in Los Angeles, D.C. and Oakland.  They are asking, who or what is to blame?  The jury?  The prosecutors? The judge?  "Stand your ground" laws?   A racist system?  A racist society?  As one demonstrator summed it up, anyone who cares about social justice knows that the wrong verdict was reached for whatever reason.

But reasons matter.  If something is broken, the fix, however difficult, must confront the reality of the problem. Here are some notable takes on why Zimmerman was acquitted and what it means for American criminal justice and society in general.

  • CNN weighs in saying that the prosecution's case was weak in a number of ways, including over-charging the defendant in the first place. The prosecutors, then, used poor discretion.
  • USA Today opines that the defense failed to refute the Zimmerman's self-defense claim adequately, suggesting they missed an opportunity to paint the picture of racism-based vigilantism that was operating in the situation.
  • One can question whether a mostly white and all female jury could truly understand the social reality of being a black male teenager.  Dr. Delores Jones-Brown has documented the "symbolic assailant" assumption that people often paste onto young black men regardless of their actual individual behavior. In this case, Trayvon, the vicitim, was under suspicion, made all the more easy by stereotypes about young black men as perpetrators.
  • Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic and Common Dreams write that the problem is Florida's Stand Your Ground laws (Cohen: "You can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime.")
  • The Martin's family attorney says that Trayvon Martin is a symbol of unequal justice in America, along with Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, suggesting that the court failed to provide justice given the context of continued American racism in the minds of criminal justice actors and/or the system itself. (Sadly, in the same press conference, Zimmerman's attorney rolled out reverse racism in suggesting that Zimmerman was vilified because he wasn't black.)
  • Gawker and Racism Review reminded us before the verdict that some media engaged in a racism smear campaign that attempted to discredit Trayvon Martin as a victim; some of these attitudes may have made their way to the courtroom or been in jurors' minds.
  • The genuine, heartfelt reactions of demonstrators say it best here; The criminal justice system just isn't in line with the present-day social justice concerns of Americans.

Crimcast takes issue with State Attorney General Angela Corey's statement that criminal justice should only take place in a courtroom and that people should refrain from having opinions on the Trayvon Martin case and its verdict.  Criminal justice takes place everywhere-- in courts but also online and in movies and on television and in schools and in one's imagination-- and it is a part of public life in a democracy.  We find Corey's appeal, which privileges alleged technical and legal competency, tragically forgets that the criminal justice system must work for the American people.  It does not exist in a vacuum.  It is a system that absolutely must be up for commentary.  Whereas we agree that the court is the formal place for justice, and that it should be respected as an institution aimed at actualizing the rule of law, we also believe that its meaning in the context of the issues of the day and whether it is working is always up for debate.  Participating in a democracy fundamentally means that none of its institutions or actors should be beyond opinion-making-- even when those opinions are critical or uncomfortable.  And progressive criminologists in particular should not be silent in doing newsmaking criminology.

Comment below or email us (crimcast@gmail.com) if you have found a response to the verdict that is particularly good at uncovering why it happened and what it means.

Sharing the Burden: Comparing American and Dutch Drug Policies Using Distributive Justice Theory

Nickie Phillips

Dutch American flags

Guest post by Jovanni Rodriguez

As a criminal justice scholar for several years now, I am well aware of the arguments that anti-drug crusades bring about widespread social costs to certain societies. This is particularly true in comparing and contrasting the drug laws of the United States and the Netherlands; the U.S. has extremely stringent policies when juxtaposed with the Netherlands.

Using distributive justice theory we can analyze the disbursement of burdens and disadvantages in certain communities to determine which country has been truly successful in terms of achieving justice through their drug policies. Broadly speaking, distributive justice scholars look to a society's institutions, asking whether the benefits and burdens of a law or policy are distributed equally among society's groups and members. Dutch methods of leniency have led to more benefits for both the offender and society when compared to the United States.

In the Netherlands, marijuana is listed as a "Schedule II" "soft" drug, as the government views the risks associated with marijuana to be "smaller" than other drugs and less harmful to health and to society. In the U.S, marijuana was categorized as a "Schedule I" drug under The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, amongst LSD and heroin. A "Schedule I" categorization means it has been found to have no medical use and has the highest abuse potential. The difference in the legal categorization of marijuana in both countries represents the different stances each government has and takes on marijuana use.

The extreme anti-drug policies of the United States bring a multitude of problematic justice system outcomes. Some of the various negative social consequences of the U.S.'s "War on Drugs", which began under the Reagan administration in the 1980s, include high incarceration rates, diminished life chances, weak social bonds, and unemployment. These broad societal costs were found to have become particularly problematic for certain minority American populations, specifically young, African American males in inner cities. American anti-drug crusades also bring about substantial negative outcomes for American society as a whole, which, when using the distributive justice theory, shows America's punitive system to be unfair and unjust.

A coffeeshop in Amsterdam (www.holland.com)

The Netherlands's decriminalization of small cannabis transactions, the continued operation of "coffeeshops," and formal written policies of non-enforcement for minor drug violations have been successful in the Dutch's goal to regulate an unrestricted drug market. The separation of drug markets has also proven to keep Dutch cannabis users away from the orbits of hard drug users and sellers. The Netherlands’ lenient policies has not only lead to lower levels of lifetime use of marijuana when compared to the U.S., but decriminalization has also lead to several other desirable social effects involving rehabilitation of drug abusers, more government funding and attention on the trafficking of "hard" drugs, and special drug programs in schools and education campaigns. The Dutch government's pro-active approach in preventing drug abuse, rather than the U.S.'s extreme reactive approach to punishing users, serves as a superior alternative in approaching drug regulation and disbursing equal and fair justice for both the individual and the community.

Not only has the overall goal of drug prohibition and/or regulation not been reached in America, as Americans report the highest level of cocaine and marijuana use, but America's strict enforcement of drug laws and free distribution of criminal justice outcomes have failed to meet the interests of both the individual and the community. Incarceration rates are the highest in the world, as the majority of those incarcerated are not only drug offenders, but also young, African American men from inner cities. The U.S. system of deterrence and harsh legal penalties has also had broad social costs for general society, involving high tax-payer investment in enforcement activities, continued and increased drug abuse, the marginalization of certain populations, health risks, and a criminal justice system which solely focuses on drug prevention.

As the outcomes of strict drug law enforcement have unequally disabled certain demographic populations in the United States, we see that the U.S. is not guided by the concept of distributive justice. These injustices and disparities discussed are hidden by the administration of drug laws, as the apparent goals of the War on Drugs meet the interests of a society motivated by morals, safety, and basic law and order. However, U.S. drug laws are solely met with a perception of fairness and justice, as historical and current outcomes include the redirection of tax-payer money, unemployment, and poverty. When compared with the societal outcomes of the Dutch's drug policies, the U.S.'s long-term societal consequences are results of an inferior approach to drug regulation. The Netherlands distribution of justice has not only proven to be successful, due to statistics that prove that less Dutch smoke marijuana when compared to Americans, but their methods of leniency have also led to more benefits for both the offender and society, and this is the true goal of equal and fair distributive justice.

jovanni2

Jovanni Rodriguez is graduate student International Criminal Justice Masters Program (ICJ—MA) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Jovanni graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with Magna Cum Laude honors in 2012 after majoring in Criminal Justice. She was the first ever youth representative for the International Sociological Association (ISA) while interning at the United Nations, where she continues to work with NGOs. She is a full-time manager in an Italian restaurant in Staten Island, New York. Jovanni's career goals include combining her criminological research interests with her passion for international human rights and activism.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Nickie Phillips

Get tickets for the Human Rights Watch film festival here. Go here for a schedule of all the films showing at the NYC festival. "Anita" is sold out, but tickets remain for other shows.

Born this Way trailer


Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer trailer


99% The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film trailer


An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story


Being Black is Not a Crime: Rally for NYPD Stop and Frisk Reform

Nickie Phillips

panorama crowd

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights and City University of New York (CUNY) faculty and students, including John Jay College's Center on Race, Crime and Justice, came together to call for police reform outside Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York where the trial Floyd, et. al. v City of New Yorkfeatured key testimony from criminologist Jeffrey Fagan.  In Floyd, several New Yorkers and CCR are arguing that the city's stop-and-frisk policies include racial profiling and suspicion-less stops that violate constitutional protections.

Organizer and Founding Director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice Dr. Delores Jones-Brown underscored that black and Latino residents have the same constitutional rights and right to safety as anyone else.  "The commissioner and the mayor may say that these policies are effective, but their own data tell a different story," she said.

Activists held giant PowerPoint slides with NYPD data indicating that gun violence has not decreased as a result of aggressive use of stop and frisk, nor were more guns confiscated or shootings prevented.  In 9 out of 10 NYPD stops, no arrests or summons are given -- and of those stops nearly 90 percent are non-whites.  In 2012, over a half-million blacks and Latinos were stopped.  Black and Latino young men between the ages of 14 and 24 are particularly plagued by unjustified stops, accounting for approximately 42% of stops when they are only 5% of the city's total population.

Several CUNY students spoke about their personal experiences with racial profiling and suspicion-less stops, putting faces to the statistics being debated about in the courtroom.  One white student described an incident in which he should have received a summons for two potential violations, but instead was released politely by police, while a student of color described being the victim of police abuse of the stop and frisk policy while he was doing nothing illegal.  Other activists linked the struggle for racial equality with similar struggles for police justice for LGBTQ people and the poor.

Queens College Professor Harry Levine explained that the sheer number of marijuana arrests in the city are largely the fruit of illegal frisks, saying that "The marijuana arrests are the cracker jack prize of the stop and frisks."

Crimcast sat in on expert witness Fagan's cross-examination in which sweeping questions about the normative methodological and theoretical mainstays of criminal justice were posed.  The city's attorney appeared to want to discredit Fagan's social science because the conclusions to his prior studies point to racially disparate outcomes in stop and frisk police discretion.  Rather than confront the lived reality of individuals who routinely endure suspicion-less stops, today's testimony instead had social science on the stand.  As criminologists we were surprised to learn that the city attorney hoped our field had solved major methodological quandaries of our time in completely packaged and unanimous ways, such as how to handle outlier data or whether population is a legitimate benchmark among others for stop and frisk activities.  Fagan dodged this baiting, and informed her of the true landscape of methodological variation in the field-- and in fact wise minds may take different approaches to monumentally complex datasets.

Crimcast predicts that this trial transcript may be of interest to criminologists regarding the application of their work to major policy issues of the day.  Some may even be excited to learn that academic criminology is relevant.  But we hope Floyd does not forget Floyd.  He and many others encounter the police as obstacles in going about their legitimate daily lives.  The chilling quality of these serious Constitutional violations and personal indignities are not fully captured by the numbers.

Broken on All Sides Documentary: Racial Inequalities and Mass Incarceration

Nickie Phillips

Matthew Pillischer's documentary "Broken on All Sides" takes a critical look at racial inequalities and mass incarceration in the United States.

The documentary centers around the theory put for­ward by many, and most recently by Michelle Alexander (who appears in the movie), that mass incarceration has become "The New Jim Crow." That is, since the rise of the drug war and the explosion of the prison population, and because discretion within the sys­tem allows for arrest and prosecution of people of color at alarmingly higher rates than whites, pris­ons and criminal penal­ties have become a new ver­sion of Jim Crow.

If you are in the NYC area, the documentary will screen in on March 6th (Columbia University) and March 9th (Riverside Church). For more details on these and other screenings around the country, go here.

The New Jim Crow in conversation

Nickie Phillips

Jennifer Schuessler writes what most criminal justice scholars are well aware: that that Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a best-selling book that resonates with many who believe that the criminal justice system has failed African Americans. She writes,

"For many African-Americans, the book — which has spent six weeks on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list — gives eloquent and urgent expression to deep feelings that the criminal justice system is stacked against them…."

“…The book is helping white folks who otherwise would have simply dismissed that idea understand why so many people believe it,” said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It is making them take that seriously.”

For many, the book is considered a must-read and, according to the New York Times, has sold over 175,000 copies. The book has had enormous impact, inspiring activist efforts to end mass incarceration including the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow and a Kickstarter campaign, "Bringing Down the New Jim Crow," designed to launch an on-going radio documentary series that was funded in August of 2012.

Others, however, take a more critical stance on the book. For example, see A. Johnson's post on  People of Color Organize!:

"The great success of The New Jim Crow rests on the fact that it provides a cathartic release for its readers without seriously threatening oppressive hegemonic assumptions. The book, for example, doesn’t even contain the word “capitalism” and excludes the voices of all radical black thinkers, political prisoners, anti-prison activists, black power advocates, and the most useful philosophies to the subject of mass incarceration."

The article points readers to Joseph Osel's two articles "Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash" and "Toward Detournement of the New Jim Crow or The Strange Career of the New Jim Crow" as well as Greg Thomas' "Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much."

Osel writes in "Black Out":

"…the content of Alexander's well-researched, tip-toeing book may be enlightening or nauseating depending on the reader's existing understanding of mass incarceration in the United States and their ability to think critically and contextually about complicated social issues. Privileged or sheltered progressive liberals, or for that matter any individual with the garden variety college education, as well as the vast majority of progressive academics, will likely find The New Jim Crow stimulating, maybe cathartic and probably worth recommending. On the other hand, those with any kind of serious background in Black philosophy, history, criticism, or even a passing interest in self-determination should brace themselves for the all too familiar: a breathtaking descent into the nether regions of Eurocentrism, in all its clever disguises."

Alexander's book is available here and she will be appearing at John Jay College on May 9, 2013 at 4pm to discuss her book.

Social Activist & Feminist Studies Prof. Bettina Aptheker to Speak at SFC

Nickie Phillips

St. Francis College will host a special lecture and Q&A with noted social activist and feminist thinker Bettina Aptheker.

When: Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 11:10am in Room 4202

Where: St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, NY

Bettina Aptheker, a “red-diaper baby”, grew up in Brooklyn with a mother who was a union organizer and a father who was considered the leading theoretician of the Communist Party as well a noted historian whose work changed the dominant understanding of African-American history and slavery. Her first job as a teenager was in the home of W.E.B. DuBois.

While attending UC Berkeley, she was an activist in the W.E.B. Du Bois Club of the Communist Party USA, and, eventually, a leader in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement during the fall of 1964.

During the 1970s, Aptheker worked for the defense in the high-profile trial of Angela Davis, a long-time friend and fellow Communist Party member, and eventually wrote a book about the experience.

After partly retiring from political activism, Aptheker completed a Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, where she helped develop one of the first the Feminist Studies departments and where she continues to teach today.

Aptheker will speak about growing up in Brooklyn, working with WEB DuBois, participating in the Free Speech movement,  and developing one of the first Feminist Studies programs.

Close Down Attica: End Mass Incarceration Event NYC

Nickie Phillips

If you're in the New York City area, please consider attending the Close Down Attica: End Mass Incarceration event featuring Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Marc Lamont Hill, Cornel West, Pam Africa, Asha Bandele, Suzanne Ross, Soffiyah Elijah, Juan E. Mendez and Jazz Hayden. When: September 14, 2012

Where: Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027

Time: 7-9pm

Tickets $10

Go here for Michelle Alexander's excellent book, The New Jim Crow, that delivers a scathing critique outlining how the criminal justice system continues to operate as a system of racial oppression.