Friday, December 27, 2013

Alabama Farmers and Prison Labor

From Project Censored:
Alabama farmers turn to forced prisoner labor to replace the loss of cheap labor experienced due to changes in the state's immigration laws.  Tell me this isn't consistent with The New Jim Crow, as well as Angela Davis' work.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What is Racism?

Below is a brief I wrote for an organization that is trying to make social science research more accessible to journalists.  My goals were to provide some fundamental insights on race and to move the conversation of racism beyond its focus on the individual and intentional.

 “A National Conversation on Racism: Beyond the Intentional Individual”

Tragic events such as the Trayvon Martin murder occasionally garner wider public attention and open up opportunities to have what people call a “national conversation” on race.  These conversations are typically grounded in a certain understanding of racism, one that sees racism as the result of individual attitude and intent. Yet, decades of research reveal that racism is much more.  What should a more thorough “national conversation” on race look like? What understandings of race and racism should be recognized and incorporated?
An informed national conversation on race would recognize several factors.  First and foremost, it would recognize that race is a social construction. There is no biological or cultural validity to the term.  Second, it would move beyond the common focus on individuals and intentions to recognize the variety of ways that racism is manifest in US society.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Obama Commutes Sentences of 8 Federal Inmates Serving Time for Crack Cocaine Charges

From NBC News:

President Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of eight individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses.

In a statement, Obama said the commutation “is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness” and noted that he signed legislation in 2010 to narrow the disparity between penalties for crimes related to powder and crack cocaine.

Obama has pushed to change criminal justice policy to correct what his administration calls unfairness in sentencing and to keep down the cost of lengthy incarcerations for non-violent crimes.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” he said of inmates sentenced before the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. “Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is asked Thursday about the administration's decision to shorten the sentences of a group of individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses.
Obama also called on Congress to pass pending legislation that would make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive for some offenders.

Each of the eight offenders has served over 15 years in prison for the drug crimes.
One of the individuals, Clarence Aaron of Mobile, Ala., was convicted in the early 1990s at the age of 22 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Aaron's lawyer Margaret Love told NBC News that Aaron was "overcome" with emotion and that he will head to a halfway house in his hometown in coming weeks.

The president also pardoned thirteen other individuals for crimes ranging from drug offenses to money laundering to theft.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund praised the decision in a statement.
"The president's ability to commute sentences is an extraordinary power, and his decision to exercise that power in these cases sends a powerful signal that the White House is committed to reducing mass incarceration and working to restore fairness to the criminal justice system," said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the group's president.

The Obama administration has been vocal about the need to reduce the sentencing disparity and to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases.

In August, Attorney General Eric Holder directed federal prosecutors not to report the amount of drugs involved in an arrest if it would trigger mandatory minimums. The order applied to non-violent offenders who have no ties to drug cartels or gangs and who did not sell to children.

The attorney general said too many Americans get long prison sentences that don't fit the crime. "With an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter, and rehabilitate -- not merely to warehouse and forget."

 The number of inmates in federal prison, roughly 219,000, is eight times what it was 30 years ago, and 40 percent over capacity. Nearly half are there for drug related crimes and roughly one-fourth of them were low-level offenders.

We Are All George Zimmerman

I taught a course titled Race, Crime and Control this past semester. It was an upperlevel course that highlighted the role of the US criminal justice system as a mechanism for White's control over racialized others, Blacks in particular.  Among a number of other things, we read a book by Victor Rios called "Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys." Rios is a former gang member from Oakland, CA who through some fortuitous events and opportunities was able to put his life on a more positive and fruitful trajectory.  He's not a sociologist at UC Santa Barbara.  Pretty impressive. 

Below is a copied and pasted blog post he wrote for NYU Press on Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman (click here for the original).

We are all George Zimmerman: Trayvon Martin and the youth control complex

—Victor Rios
In ten years of studying inner city boys labeled at-risk by law enforcement and schools, I have found that poor Black Americans and Latinos are often deemed as culprits, lost causes, and menaces to society. One Black American boy in my study reported that on the day he was born nurses at the hospital commented in front of his mother, “Poor boy. He’s destined to become a dope dealer or drug addict just like his mother.”

In my observations at schools I witnessed a teacher tell a truant Latino eighth grade boy, “You have a prison cell waiting for when you turn eighteen.” On the streets I witnessed a police officer tell a seventeen year old Black American boy, “We want you to kill each other off, that way we don’t have to deal with locking you up.” These kinds of examples are countless in the lives of over 200 boys that I have interviewed and shadowed.

The reality is that poor urban boys grow up surrounded by a system of punitive social control that sees them as deficient students and criminal suspects that must be controlled and contained from young ages. School officials, law enforcement personnel, neighborhood watch volunteers, store clerks, jurors, and everyday citizens perceive and interact with these young people with fear, disdain, and circumspection. This youth control complex, a collective system of negative treatment based on racialized fears of young people of color, is responsible for the criminalization and systematic stripping of dignity that many young people like Trayvon Martin encounter on a day-to-day basis.

George Zimmerman is not just an outlying overzealous rogue vigilante that hunted down an innocent Black American boy. He very much represents mainstream America. We–schools, law enforcement, the media, intellectuals, politicians, and everyday citizens–are all involved in a system that creates and perpetuates fear and outcaste of a vulnerable, marginalized segment of our population. These young people grow up feeling hopeless, undignified, and failed by the system.

As Ronny, a seventeen year old Black American boy I followed for three years puts it, “It’s like I’m invisible, like I don’t exist, like people see me as good for nothing but to be in jail.” This youth control complex produces social death among many young people of color; they are alive but are not recognized as fellow human beings with the right to live productive lives. Instead we rely on surveillance, policing, prison bars, and stand your grounds laws to control, contain, incapacitate, and eliminate them.

The difference between George Zimmerman and the rest of us is that he pulled the trigger. We simply continue to mundanely mete out punitive treatment, stigma, and systematic stripping of dignity to young people of color, slowly killing their soul and their right to pursue happiness. By the time we sit in a courtroom to determine whether Trayvon Martin’s life is worth imposing a sanction on George Zimmerman, five white jurors have already been socialized and acculturated to criminalize young racialized bodies and to view the victim as a culprit.

Politicians and school and law enforcement administrators (including those that supervise neighborhood watch programs) must demand that individuals who interact with a diverse population be trained in understanding their cognitive biases and how these inform the treatment they impose on others. We must train ourselves to recognize and eliminate our inclinations to perceive and treat young people of color as suspects and instead treat them with the dignity they deserve. Listening to the voices of young people themselves who have lived a lifetime of encounters with the youth control complex might be a good first step.

Dr. Victor Rios is a  Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys (NYU Press, 2011) and Street Life: Poverty, Gangs, and a Ph.D.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blacks Who "Stand Their Ground" are Often Imprisoned

From AlterNet, "Defendants in Florida who employ the "Stand Your Ground" defense are more successful when white and victim is black."

Not in the least bit surprised.

Click here for the whole story.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

When the Verdict Hurts: Sermon by Dr. Howard-John Wesley, Pastor

Time magazine said this is one of the best sermons in the wake of the Trayvon Martin injustice. It's 27 minutes long. I didn't get a chance to watch the whole thing but what I did see was moving.  He gets going around 7:30. Eloquent and passionate.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Michelle Alexander on "Zimmerman Mindset"

Courtesy of Democracy Now!

Zimmerman Juror: Trayvon "played a huge role" in his own death

From the infamous juror B-37: Trayvon played a huge role in his own death. He could have walked away and gone home after he was confronted.

Yes.  Didn't Trayvon know his place? He should have just put up with Zimmerman's harassment.  What's he doing there in the first place (besides basically going home).

Sound familiar? Think she feels empathy for Paula Deen?

This is bullshit.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Race, Stand Your Ground and Inconsistencies

So I just watched a clip of The Daily Show, where John Oliver talks about a black woman in Florida who fired her gun in the air to ward off her abusive husband and was arrested for it.  She was sentenced to 20 years in prison and the jury took 12 minutes to deliberate.  That's justice in the US.

David Simon on the Zimmerman/Martin Verdict

Simon says pretty much some of the things I feel.

I was with my son this past weekend when the verdict was announced. He just moved to Atlanta with his mother and her partner. This was my first visit since they moved about a month ago. We were playing video games and watching a movie Saturday night when I heard the jury had made a decision.  My son is just about to turn 13. He's black/hispanic (mom's hispanic, dad's black--I'm technically his stepdad, but have been with him since he was 3 and by all purposes am his dad).  You try to protect them from these things for as long as you can, but the fact is that he's getting older and needs to know the way the world work when it comes to being a young black male in society.  He's goofy, funny and funky, all things that make him special.  But to someone who doesn't know him and has stereotypes of young black boys, those things aren't recognized and don't matter.

I cut and pasted the entire as much of it summarized how I feel (see below the break).  You can go to the original post by clicking here.

"Others" and the Social Contract

Courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

MSNBC host Thomas Roberts on Monday said his network was not doing enough to dispel myths that women who used birth control were "sluts," immigrants just came to the United States to have "anchor babies" and LGBT people were pedophiles and disease carriers.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict, Roberts was joined by MSNBC hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Toure on Monday to discuss what the case's racial aspects meant for the social contract in America.
Roberts noted that defense attorney Mark O'Mara had asserted over the weekend that Zimmerman never would have been charged if he had been black.

"That is the most absurd assumption that we have heard throughout this," Toure pointed out.

"Trayvon [Martin] wouldn't be dead if he were white," Roberts agreed.

"If George Zimmerman had been black, well, he would have been dealing with the mass incarceration of black people that we have in this country when we're over arresting -- we can talk about stop-and-frisk in New York, that policy goes out, throughout the nation, many other places -- over arrested, over prosecuted, over convicted, over sentenced once convicted," Toure observed. "I mean, this idea that if George Zimmerman were black then suddenly he would invoke, what, black privilege and not have to go through all this? That's absurd."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman Acquitted

I'm completely baffled by the jury's decision of "not guilty" in the trial over George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin. I thought second degree was a tough sell, not because it wasn't realistict, but because the lack of the kinds of evidence courts typically require to prove guilt.   In theory, the court system fluctuates between models of due process and control.  In the model of due process, the burden is on the state to prove the defendant guilty. That's why the verdict is not guilty rather than innocent.  That's also why I thought second degree murder would be difficult.

While I'm not surprise about the second degree charge, I was expecting the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter.  I'm really shocked on that one.  I read in other places that lawyers in other states are shocked at what Florida's "Stand your Ground" law allows.  As long as the defendent claims self defense, the prosecution has to prove it wasn't self-defense.  Since the only other witness to the event (Trayvon Martin) is dead, there is no eyewitness to verify or challenge Zimmerman's defenses (and their inconsistencies). Since people with money (Zimmerman was bringing in through online sites tens of thousands of dollars to pay for his legal fees) benefit from a criminal justice model more akin to the due process one, the burden is on the prosecution.  This poses a huge hurdle, and helps explain Zimmerman's verdict.  If jury members are doing their job correctly and making their decision based on their honest understanding of the law, this can lead to a not-guilty verdict.  That's because it becomes the prosecution's ability to prove Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense that becomes the key point upon which the argument revolves and the judge and jury act. Usually justice is not this way.  Typically it's much more of a crime control model--swift, severe and certain punishment.  Innocent people might be found guilty, but fewer guilty people will roam free.  Sit in a court on a typical day and you'll see plenty of mostly poor, Black and brown men and women in on a range of drug related and gun charges.  Zimmerman certainly didn't have to deal with this model of justice.  My guess is that the jury's verdict was significantly affected by how Trayvon Martin was constructed in the immediate aftermath of the murder and in lead-up to the court case.  Without any Black men or women on the jury, buying into the construction of Trayvon as a one-dimensional, stereotypical thuggish kid without a future becomes much more easy and reinforces the need of not just evidence, but overwhelming evidence that Zimmerman's acts were not justified as self defense.  Black kids and young Black men and women don't typically receive this type of treatment when they're the defendants.  Nor do they when they're the prosecution.

Despite all this though, what I keep thinking is that didn't Zimmerman first spot Trayvon and then start to follow him?  Isn't that basically stalking?  And, regardless of Trayvon's reaction, couldn't lots of reactions be seen as self-defense? If someone told me that they were being followed by someone, I think a range of reactions would be justified.  They could either run away, try to be chill as if nothing was happening, or turn and confront the person.  All of these seem like sensible responses to me. If so, then are these responses defensible as "Standing Your Ground"?  Despite the specifics of his reaction, couldn't Trayvon have been standing his ground and defending himself from an unknown assailant who was following him?  Think about it.  He was a 17-year old kid.  Most of us have been 17 and know what it was like for us and our friends.  I think if it were me, at 17, and I thought some guy was following me, I would've run. Stranger danger (but not the kiddie version).  I was also kind of a woose back then. But, I definitely had friends who would have said something.  If there were more than two of them, it certainly could become physical, but not in a life-threatening way.  Unless, of course, one carried certain stereotypes and assumptions about the guys I was hanging with, read too much into the situation, and overreacted.  So, again. Didn't Zimmerman see Trayvon, thought he looked suspicious and decided to follow him through this communal property that he felt the need to patrol (and that Trayvon had every right to be on given that his father's girlfriend lived there as well)?  Given this situation, doesn't whatever Trayvon's reaction was that evening equate to standing his ground in self-defense?  In fact, one of the witnesses for the prosecution and who was on the phone with Trayvon when all this was going down noted that he said some "crazy cracker" or something like that was following him.  Doesn't that kind of negate Zimmerman's defense?  How could he claim self defense if he was the one who started it by stalking Trayvon in the first place?  He profiled Trayvon (who deserved to be on that property just as much as Zimmerman) and decided to follow him.  He was nervous and probably scared because of the type of person he assumed Trayvon was and he over-reacted in all that followed.  He was found not guilty of murder because he claimed he was defending himself.  But he was supposedly defending himself from a situation that he actively put himself into in the first place.  Further, it seems conceivable to me that the person he killed could have reacted in any number of justifiably defensive ways, including physical and that these could be seen as self-defense from a guy who for some reason is following him.  For me I think fight of flight might kick in. Flight and I'd be the fastest runner you've ever seen, hopping over fences like a natural. Fight and I'd be berserker-punching, biting, scratching, gouging, everything.  Either reaction is possible since I'd feel for my personal safety.

While Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic (and I would have categorized him as such), in my eyes he was clearly constructed as different from Trayvon and his parents, and therefore benefitted by being located nearer to the white side of the socially constructed racial spectrum.  Usually, we see the criminal justice system function to incarcerate young Black men and kids who are the defendants.  Here, we see how the system suddenly works in its ideal fashion (innocent until proven guilty) when the prosecution represents a Black person and the defendant is not.  Two sides of institutionalized racism and the courts.

Monday, July 8, 2013

White Like Me author Tim Wise on HuffPost Live

Here's Tim Wise on HuffPost Live addressing white skin privilege -- the unseen, unrecognized benefits to life that come with being seen as white. Tim worked with The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond and graduated from Tulane University.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shelby County v. Holder: The US Supreme Court's Ruling on the Voting Rights Act

On Tuesday, June 25 in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Shelby vs. Holder. This case revolved around Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which established the requirement of federal oversight to changes in voting requirements for a number of mostly southern states with a history of racial discrimination. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act identified which states were to need federal preclearance while Section 5 established the need of preclearance and federal oversight to changes in state level voting laws. Without Section 4 in place, Section 5 becomes irrelevant, as there are no states identified as requiring oversight.  Some changes to state voter laws include voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, and voter redistricting lines, all of which will disproportionately affect African Americans living in urban environments.  Now, changes to voting laws will only be subject to “after-the-fact” litigation.  In other words, these states can now implement changes but they can’t be subject to legal challenges until after election periods.  Hours after this decision was announced, officials in Texas, North Carolina, and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement photo identification laws for voting. Florida will likely set new early voting rules and Georgia will implement new voting districts.

Below I offer some statements on this decision from the court (courtesy of the NYTimes):
“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

She [Ginsberg] said the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority. She said Section 5 [which becomes irrelevant with the removal of Section 4] had been effective in thwarting such efforts.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

FCC Makes Available Hundreds of Low Power, FM Radio Stations for Community Organizations: Apply Now

As part of the Local Community Radio Acts, Congress recently acted to support a movement that will make thousands of low-power, FM radio stations available for local, community organizations and groups. There is only a short window period to sign up (October 15-29 2013). The FCC encourages you to start your application early (i.e., right now, you don't need to wait until October) so that it is properly prepared come the application review period.  Applications should be submitted electronically to the FCC.  Sign up at Prometheus Radio Project to learn how to start your own station (click here for a pdf version of the application). You can access an application check list here, and click here for a free webinar on how to start a station.

Here, you can read the FCC's Public Notice.

Here's the report from Democracy Now.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marijuana Arrests in Black and White

The ACLU recently came out with its report on differential usage and arrest rates for marijuana based on race.  The report found that both Blacks and Whites use pot at roughly the same rates, which is similar to other research on drug use.  But, while usage rates are similar, Blacks are three to four times more likely to be arrested for pot than are Whites.  Some of their other key findings include:
  • 52% of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana (mostly small amounts of pot, not drug king pins).
  • Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.
  • Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than are Whites.
  • The over 8 million pot arrests between 2001 and 2010 equals roughly one arrest every 37 seconds.
  • Enforcing marijuana laws cost about $3.6 billion dollars a year, but has done virtually nothing to stop use, availability or quality.

You can read the entire report here.

Now, if you were to combine this report (as well as the other scholarly research on law enforcement and arrests) with research on the court system (ability to afford bail and quality legal counsel) and sentencing policies (mandatory minimums, school zone drug laws, truth in sentencing laws, get tough policies, etc.) you start to see an entire criminal justice system that discriminates against people of color and the poor; poor Blacks in particular.  And, if you study the history of race and racism in the US, you will come to see present day drug laws and enforcement practices as a contemporary version of a long history of racial control that goes back to European expansionism, where the social categories of race that we continue to use today were first created.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Race, Biology and Medicine

Here's an interesting article in The Atlantic that puts the critiques of Jason Richwine's doctoral dissertation into a larger theoretical perspective. You can go to the original article here, but I copied and pasted it below.

Race Is Not Biology

By Merlin Chowkwanyun
race is not biology main.jpg
aspidoscelis / flickr
During the past two weeks, much outrage has arisen over former Heritage Foundation staffer Jason Richwine's Harvard doctoral dissertation, which speculated that IQ differences between "Hispanic" and "non-Hispanic' populations were genetically rooted. The claims mirrored those of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's scurrilous The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which made similar claims about the intelligence of blacks. (Murray receives thanks in Richwine's dissertation acknowledgments and filed a piece recently in defense of Richwine at the National Review Online.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Crack Babies: A Retrospective Report

For those of you who lived in the late 1980s and 1990s you might remember the "crack epidemic." This was a huge political and media event in which crack cocaine was portrayed as a drug that led to super predators, addicted mothers who will do anything for more, and crack babies that are destined for a life living on social welfare.  This was also the time when the U.S. government and many states adopted tougher and tougher sentencing policies for drug offenses.  There was even discussion of forced sterilization for mothers who gave birth to babies addicted to crack.  However, while use of any hard drug during pregnancy is potentially troublesome, the media and political narrative seemed to over blow the case. Here's a retrospective video report from The New York Times on this popular narrative and it's relationship to reality.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Xavier Prep School to Reopen as St. Katherine Drexel Preparatory High School

I'm a little late on this, but it's certainly news worth posting.  Xavier Prep, which was scheduled to close at the end of the school year, will remain open under a new name, St. Katherine Drexel Preparatory High School. Courtesy of The Uptown Messenger.

Happy Hour with The Lens

This Thursday (May 9th) at 7pm, the folks at The Lens are hosing their first happy hour. This is an opportunity for them to meet readers and for readers to meet them, and an opportunity to learn what readers appreciate about their work and what they can do to better serve the city.  It will be held at Molly's at the Market (1107 Decatur St.). The folks with the Digital News Alliance (DNA) will also be there.  Hope to see you there.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Consent Decree Hearing Regarding Orleans Parish Prison

Tom Gogola from The Lens is live blogging this morning' meeting on the consent decree with OPP. His summary before the life blog is useful for a little primer on exactly what's going in the city with the prison.  Click here for the story and live blog.