Criminal InJustice Kos is a weekly series devoted to exploring the myths of "crime", "criminals", and criminal justice and the intersection of race/ethnicity/class/gender/sexuality/ age/disability in policing and punishment.
Criminal Injustice Kos is committed to furthering action towards reducing inequity in the US criminal justice system.
By soothsayer99, CIK Editor
The mission of Criminal InJustice Kos has always been clear -- Analysis and Indictment of the deep structural foundations of criminal justice in racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and towards the goal, ultimately, of Abolition. From the outset, the goal of this series has been to expose this failed system at the intersections, offer alternstives for transformational/restorative justice and opportunities for action.
Thank so you much to all contributors, followers and supporters. Eternal Gratitude for You.
“The law in its’ majestic equality forbids the rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges,begging in the streets, and stealing food.(France1894)
As has been written here on many occasions, the US criminal injustice system – start to finish, from legislation to policing to incarceration and execution – is the ultimate in “Othering”. It is brutal system, run on vengeance and fear, where a small fraction of all “law-breakers” are systematically selected, stripped of all complicating aspects of identity and demonized in what the late Harold Garfinkel calls “status degradation ceremonies”, branded, marked, stigmatized - socially or physically, beaten and so they hope broken, warehoused and/or subjected to state-sponsored homicide. Of course, the status degradation rituals serve entertainment functions as well. Famous cases become public spectacles – much like the public executions or extra-legal lynchings of earlier times. The lesser known “criminals” provide the scripts for news media, “reality shows” such as COPS, Lockdown and Behind Bars, and video games such as Prison Tycoon.
These select “deviants”, these “criminals”, dehumanized, “collectively represent” all that is Evil, all that is Wrong in the midst of our “civilized” society. The ‘criminalized” serve to unify the “up-standing” citizenry --- They are Not Us. They also serve to threaten others on the margins. The criminal injustice system relies heavily on “snitches” to gather information and flip on their comrades; it sometimes catches the actually innocent and in exchange for some degree of leniency forces them to “admit guilt”. And of course, the entire endeavor is nothing without the complicity of average citizens who either stand by in silence or do the work of the police for them by reporting “crimes” and “suspicious” persons.
Of course, it is always simpler if these “Others” can be visually identified. In earlier eras with homogeneous populations, physical marks such as brands, tattoos, yes Scarlet Letters served exactly this purpose. In the United States, race has always been the primary marker. As Frederick Douglas observed nearly 150 years ago, there is no escaping “the general disposition in this country to impute crime to color”.
Prisons themselves in the United States are a direct outgrowth of slavery, a system designed and re-designed to exploit a largely black captive labor force -- first with prison as plantations and convict lease labor all supported by legal segregation and extra-legal lynching, and then later as the prison industrial complex.. In the colonial project, native peoples were simply slaughtered or dealt with by the military/policing authorities in the course of ordinary business, without need for going through a criminal system or building prisons around them. But once formal extermination was modified to cultural forms of genocide and theft of lands, native peoples, too, were swept into prisons Yes, poor whites, other people of color and white women are also swept up in these systems of ruthless control. Beaten brutalized raped aborted lynched imprisoned. They always have been. But in the paradigm of punishment, the loci of domination have always been built upon that peculiar legacy in this country of controlling the black body..
So ”Slave Codes" become Black Codes and Black Codes become gang legislation, three-strikes and the War on Drugs. In this era of there has been a corresponding shift from de jure racism codified explicitly into the law and legal systems to a de facto racism where people of color, especially African Americans, are subject to unequal protection of the laws, excessive surveillance, extreme segregation and neo-slave labor via incarceration all in the name of “crime control”. "Law and order" criminal justice policies were all guided by thinly coded appeals to white fears of high crime neighborhoods, "crack epidemics", gang proliferation, juvenile super – predators, urban unrest, school violence, and more. In all these case, the sub-text reads clearly -- fear of brown and especially black people.
And so it is no surprise then, despite no statistical differences in rates of offending, the poor, the under-educated, and people of color, particularly African Americans, are over-represented in these statistics at every phase of the criminal justice system. While 1 in 31 adults is under correctional supervision and 1 in every 100 adults is in prison, 1 in every 100 black women, 1 in every 36 Latino adults, one in every 15 black men, and 1 in 9 black men ages 20 to 34 are incarcerated. Approximately 50% of all prisoners are black, 30% are white and 1/6 Latino. Race of victim race of offender and social class remain the best predictors of who will receive the death penalty.
In a tragic and ironic twist then, this over-representation is then used to further justify the white supremacy that gives rise to them. “Blacks are “criminals”, why look they must be!! There are so many more of them in prison!” Never mind of course, that the laws themselves are stacked against people of color – gang legislation, for example, involves the extensive criminalizing of mere attire and so-called “gang task forces” are notorious for over-reaching in the construction of gang databases, including of course non-members who happen to turn up in a picture standing next to Bad Cousin Jamal at a barbecue. Never mind of course the relentless surveillance by citizens and police alike in the reporting and profiling of “suspicious” persons who happen to be Driving/Walking/Standing while Black. And never mind of course the over-whelming preponderance of white prosecutors, judges and juries, with additional reliance on a handful of police officers and prosecutors of color, themselves of course operating within a white supremacist organizational structure, to provide occasional cover.
And so the system, irredeemably corrupt from the outset, is presented as fair. The Fine White Lady Justice balancing those scales, blind-folded and unbiased. The reality of course is far different and as much in this nation, criminal injustice is built On the Backs of Blacks, and further shaped and fine-tuned by sweeping other communities of color into the archepelago, now2.4 million strong, the leading incacerator in the world.
“All domination is, in the last instance, maintained through social control strategies”
If this rendition strikes an uneasy chord of familiarity, well it should. Of course, the consequences are much less threatening, but the Great Daily Kos Purge is criminal injustice in metaphoric microcosm. The events of the recent week have made it clear that in many represents, the administrative ethos at Daily Kos represents, in fact, the anti-thesis of the vision and goals of CIK.
”The Purge” even though it was sold as “law and order” efforts often are, as a means to create “civility”, “community” and “safety”, was replete with all the trappings of criminal injustice: allegedly blind “equal justice” that was biased by false framing and inaccurate premises, cheering throngs clamoring for retribution, the call for “lists”, the climate of fear, the metaphoric execution and branding of “Others” with bojo and Scarlet NRs, the delineation of the “right people of color” from the “thugs” and the “gangs” ( terms used on this blog, past and present), and of course, a disparate impact on communities of color, their allies and outspoken women of all stripes.
Daily Kos is a 93% White, disproportionately Male and over 50 community. It is a community that does not in any way resemble the universe of internet users, let alone USA population demographics and certainly not Democratic Party Voters. It is a community where African Americans are 3% of posters with Latino/as and American Indians even less represented. Despite many claims that there is a desire for more diversity here, the climate of late appears to be increasingly hostile for people of color and their allies.
So, as criminal injustice always goes, the recent purge most significantly impacted supporters and contributors to the Black Kos and Criminal InJustice Kos communities. The two of the most prominent Black Male posters – Adept2U and ThisIsMyTime (one of the founders of CIK) on this site have been banned, and more than one third of the initial 36 ratings suspensions have been for supporters of BK and CIK, and those have been disproportionately women. This would include current CIK editors such as myself, RadioGirl and princss6.
In addition to the demographic skew, Daily Kos is a “progressive” site where expressions of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism or ableism are not expressly forbidden by site rules per the FAQ and are trivialized by site administration as “pie-fights”.The result has been a climate where racist commentary – sometimes intended sometimes not – abounds, and where the largely white demographic here has many who, insist on defining racism as mere prejudice, regularly engage in the rhetorical devices of “color-blind” racism, use prominent people of color as cover for a host of racialized attacks on other posters as well as the POTUS, only accept the voices of color, with few exceptions, “who generally seem reluctant – at best – to name and confront structural racism in the liberal/progressive/left segment of the political spectrum, frequently respond to discussions of racism with wild cries of “AYCMAR?”, and where many, despite innumerable diaries, “civil” discussions and groups on systemic racism and white supremacy, flat out refuse to acknowledge or respect the lived experience of many people of color or the expertise of scholars in the field.
There is no wonder, then, in such a climate, The Purge had the impact it did, effectively “punishing” those who pushed against against the great white male sea on issues of racism and sexism. Only after huge, public pushback did site administration – which had said the purge was “petering out” – to then suddenly expand it by adding to its list some others who have openly sought to suppress discussions of racism in the liberal/left blogosphere. The intended effect, at this later date, undoubtedly is to suggest “equivalence.” But that is false, and simple expansion of The Purge of 2011 in no way addresses the systemic problems at the heart of tensions at DK over discussions of structural racism in the practices and actions of much of the liberal/progressive/left blogosphere and larger political world. Moreover, site administration apparently has been asking some kossacks for Names and Offenses, an open invitation for using The Purge as a means of settling scores of all kinds through the Naming of Names. And, yes, worse still in the aftermath of The Purge, the already “white male” leaning moderation system will become even more so, as all-white, mostly male juries can now deliberate for hours on end as to whether “Uncle Tom”, “Barry”, “No Balls”, “StepinFetchIt”, “pussy”,”bitch” and more are acceptable “political” discourse on a “progressive blog.
Criminal InJustice Kos has always stood against demonizing and "Othering"; CIK has always stood against retribution and mob justice, and at the very heart, CIK has stood against in racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism. As Editor and one of the founders of CIK, I refuse to continue publishing this series in the current climate here. I refuse to allow our contributing editors, our followers and supporters to be tainted by association with Those of Us Who Now Proudly Wear the Scarlet Letters, to be further demonized as “gangsters” and “thugs” by hanging with the proverbial Bad Cousin Jamal up at that CIK barbecue. I refuse to allow our body of scholarly work, aimed at coalition, community and transformative justice to remain on a site that seems increasingly bent on discord and disrespect.
Not on My Watch.
For this reason, Criminal InJustice “Kos” will no longer be published here. This series on Criminal InJustice will now be published at Critical Mass Progress: Educate, Agitate, Organize, founded by seeta08, one of CIKs contributing editors.. We will keep you informed of the posting time and additional developments. Let me also encourage you to visit blog, Prison Culture for excellent resources on the prison industrial complex.
Please note that CIK’s decision includes in no way an implicit judgment on either individual’s or communities who continue to publish here.
CIK is in full support of the boycott..
And let me again, on behalf of CIK, thank all CIK editors, past and present – as well as CIK followers and readers for all of the incredible discussions, respect and yes love that flowed on what we often called the Back Porch. Extra Special thanks to RadioGirl for always attending to the climate of discussion in CIK comments with such wisdom and respect for all, and who truth be told is largely responsible for the tone and tenor of the commentary in the discussions.
Let me also offer special thanks to Black Kos and to dopper0189 and Densie Oliver-Velez in specific for their invitation for CIK to participate in the Netroots Nation Panel – Promoting People of Color in the Progressive Blogosphere. The series itself emerged out that wonderful space that is Black Kos and eternal gratitude her for all who make The Porch possible. CIK also wishes to make it clear that the views expressed in this diary are those of CIK alone and have not been developed in consultation with BK.
“The most difficult and urgent challenge of today is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice, where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.”
On a personal note, let me say that I proudly stand on my record here, as a diarist, commenter/comment rater, and member of many DK groups. I have been a traitor to the white race and an abolitionistfor a long, long time.. I don’t tolerate racism sexism classism heterosexism or ableism in real life, so why would I here??? I am educator – been that for as long as I can remember too – I have to tried to be that here. I always hold hope that people will be receptive to theory and data or at least, basic empathy. To me the basic core values of a progressive movement are rooted in Resistance to Racism Sexism Classism Heterosexism/Homophobia, in fact, All Systems of Inequality. Too often, the climate here enables the same.
I am honored to wear the Scarlet Letters with the likes of Warrior Women such as Robinswing, RadioGirl, princss6, conlakappa, sberel, JoanMar and others. Whatever false narratives/false equivalencies are being written and re-written even as I type, “The Purge”, wittingly or otherwise, was about silencing dissenting Blacks Voices and the powerful voices of women of all races who Called Things by Their Right Names. I reject the label of us as “offenders”. I reject the notion that any of us abused ratings privileges here, and I certainly will not contritely ask for the restoration of what still should be rightly ours. Nor will I be fooled by attempts to create justice by expanding a Purge that was already corrupt at its core.
I may continue to individually comment and/or diary here. I may not.
I may be inexplicably banned before the day is over.
In my work as a Professor of Sociology, as an educator/activist/author, I have had occasion to meet and work with many of the “demonized”, especially Black youth who are involved with gangs. In fact, one of the CIK pieces which I never wrote due to the complexity and the volatility of the subject was a diary on gangs. “Gangs” are almost universally vilified as unquestionably negative, and it is certainly true that gang activities have further decimated communities already plagued by poverty and the shadow of the prison industrial complex.
But gangs are a result not a cause of the trouble, and they offer their affiliates what “respectable” society will not. Perhaps most importantly, Respect. Fred Hampton saw that. Tupac saw that. Father Gregory Boyle sees that. My colleague Nekima Levy-Pound sees that. I see that too. In a world where the conventional avenues for success are closed off by racism and classism, by failed schools that now run a pipe-line to prison, by lack of employment opportunities of any sort really, by an omnipresent police presence – in that kind of world, gangs pick up the slack. In that kind of world, Code of the Street makes some sort of sense. It offers resilience, a way of controlling one’s own destiny, a self-pride in sheer defiance of the odds and oppressive labels. It is Freedom, at least for awhile. The gang boys will tell you – Life is short. You could be dead tomorrow. Be Stand-up. Represent. No Fronting – No Bowing Down.
“I Ain’t Going Out Like That”, they’ll say.
Well, Neither Am I…