Just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it’s right

Philadelphia has had an interesting election regarding their District Attorney. Larry Krasner won the contest, but his career isn’t as a prosecutor–it’s as a defense attorney. Krasner’s platform highlighted the many ways in which the American justice system is abused and promised to end these practices. But what is bizarre is that the media is covering him like it’s a total surprise he’d gut dozens of state prosecution positions for their role in this abuse, despite him explicitly saying this was his agenda.

The Inquirer is not alone. At The Philadelphia Citizen, co-Executive Director Larry Platt compared an inexperienced Krasner to Trump and Oprah, lampooning his “amateurish first week,” pointing to the “freaked out Assistant District Attorneys” blowing up his phone. “It had,” he hyperbolically suggested, “the feel of an authoritarian (Trump-like?) purge.” But the Trump comparisons will fall flat. Most Philadelphians hate Trump, and they voted for Krasner in a landslide. And though Philadelphians voted against typical prosecutorial expertise in carrying out systematic justice, Krasner has considerable experience in the Philadelphia criminal justice system as a defense attorney. What’s more, Trump is a monstrous bigot fomenting a smokescreen of fear and hate to advance a war against poor people. By contrast, Krasner has pledged to do his part to fight back on the other side.

The Inquirer’s coverage is not just anti-Krasner; it is bad reporting, featuring fundamental oversights that shouldn’t appear in the city’s paper of record. First, the coverage is premised on the belief that Krasner was acting in bad faith — that he jettisoned people like Notaristefano for no good reason — and worse yet, that he has no real interest in securing justice. It didn’t seem to occur to the paper that Krasner might have a serious problem with the way that Notaristefano was prosecuting cases or about his overall track record.

Second, The Inquirer seems dumbstruck that Krasner’s own personal impression of prosecutors played a role in their ouster. But Krasner has spent decades in the court system, giving him a front row seat to how prosecutors play dirty by, say, turning a blind eye to brazenly lying cops or unconstitutionally hiding evidence from the defense. Why shouldn’t this sort of information, combined with what he has learned from others in the legal system, inform his personnel decisions?

Third, the coverage betrays a basic misreading of what district attorneys do. The presumption at work is that the district attorney’s office is a technocratic one rather than a political force that wields incredible discretionary power over people’s lives and liberty. Consider that no one would ever fault a president, governor or mayor for excusing functionaries who were hostile to their mission, and installing a new team. The technocratic conception of the district attorney’s office is a smokescreen obscuring the regular operation of mass incarceration: seeking maximum sentences for huge numbers of people at whatever cost, however ethically repugnant or legally dubious. That the status quo was normal did not make it right.

Read more here.

-Shiv

 

What’s next after #MeToo

Although it is a step forward that survivors are feeling they can come forward to name their perpetrators, there is a reason we were so hesitant in the first place. None of that has necessarily budged after the #MeToo social media campaign, started by Tarana Burke in 2006.

Scores of women have felt rawdisheartened, and fatigued by the #MeToo news cycle over the past months for the obvious reason that these are transmissions of suffering and for many, reminders of exclusion. But the relentless news coverage is further disconcerting because these tales of horror are making some companies a lot of money, often by allowing one writer to dismiss and denigrate accusers in the same pages where another writer first broke the allegations.

So the perception of widespread insatiability that has so many conservatives and even liberals lamenting the fall of “due process” is not entirely off the mark. We harpies do indeed want more, much more. Even the handful of prominent men’s professional casualties isn’t quelling our appetite for revolution, which is misconstrued by some as a senseless, hysterical lust for vengeance. If anything, this growing parade of superficially disgraced figures only deepens our aggrievement: again, not by driving us to indiscriminate bloodletting, but by further whetting the craving for true change. Throw another famous gasbag into the fires of public disapproval—hell, throw them all in a fire—and see if we care. We will not be distracted or placated. A scab has been torn away and underneath is not a nearly-healed wound but a puncture so deep it drives down to the bone.

If this past year taught us anything, it was how profoundly every system one might have hoped to improve with mere reform, every institution one might have trusted to “do the right thing,” every politician who’d been positioned as a beacon of integrity, will never come to our rescue. Parity and justice and restitution are not priorities of our existing structures because those structures were designed to maintain hierarchies that make justice and parity and restitution impossible. This means that “the task ahead for women…is immense,” as Jo Livingstone writes: “It’s nothing less than a utopian project.”

You don’t get utopia by tweaking who stars in what Netflix show, or by kicking a handful of .01%-ers off the metaphorical island. The restless women of 2018 did not come seeking cosmetic corrections. We are ready for razing and remaking. Here, then, is an attempt to clear away some of the clutter so we can move on to the work most urgently at hand.

While it is important we feel ready to name the wrongdoing that occurs in our lives, we are still at incredible risk from structural problems that have yet to change. Discussed more here.

-Shiv

Oil up the guillotine

All this ink spilled hand-wringing over the minimum wage and not a single inch of column space dedicated to executives signing off seven figure bonuses for themselves. I have no patience for those kinds of thinkpieces. But this is more like it.

[Read more…]

Ending cash bail

Or, “ending extortion by law enforcement,” if you want a less whitewashed description. A stunning proportion of America’s incarcerated population has yet to even go to trial because of the practice of cash bail, penalizing poor people doubly for being unable to post their own bounty. Such incarceration disrupts their employment, which feeds back into their original problem of not being able to afford bail. The cruelty inherent in the logic of this system is a feature rather than a bug for those with authoritarian (and white supremacist) inclinations, but there is plenty of work to end the practice.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning 2.24 million out of the world’s total of 10.2 million incarcerated people as of 2013, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. The ICPS also reports that, in 2013, 480,000 people were held in U.S. jails before even being tried for their charges. The system of cash bail targets poor people who can’t afford their bail, and several major insurance companies make billions in profits from the cash bail system.

Critics of the cash bail system point to research demonstrating that cash bail discriminates against the poor, and especially poor people of color. According to a 2015 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, two in five people held in America’s jails are behind bars because they cannot afford their bail. The report also notes that 75 percent of people in jail are accused of non-violent crimes, such as shoplifting or minor traffic offenses. There’s also evidence of profound racial bias within the cash bail system. The Vera Institute reports that black Americans are jailed at almost four times the rate of their white counterparts.

While the statistics for cash bail are staggering, the cruelest injustices of this system become clear in the context of real people’s lives.

The article is relevant for any jurisdiction that still engages in the practice, even if the United States is its specific context. Read more here.

-Shiv

Sabotage the institution, then blame it for poor performance

A cornerstone of Conservative policymaking is to create the conditions for failure, then use the ensuing failure as justification for further cuts. Nowhere is this more apparent than the shameless gutting of British healthcare infrastructure, ordered by billionaires who pitch their thievery under the rhetoric of “tightening our belts,” while themselves flying out to private healthcare providers knowing full well how abysmal the public system is.

Throw their sales pitch back in their face.

In 2013, the NHS said it had a £30 billion funding gap, and the Tory response to this was to provide £8 billion in extra funding and require the NHS to find the other £22 billion in cuts. To this day, the government claims it has fully funded the NHS, by requiring it to find its own cuts. It gave the NHS a hacksaw, told it to choose a limb to amputate, and tells everyone else it saved its life by not shooting it in the head. But everyone else is not fooled. Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said in 2016 that “the NHS has never experienced this level of austerity for this long a period.”

The Conservative government response to this latest crisis has been predictably shite. The NHS minister Philip Dunne caused outrage when he said “There are seats available in most hospitals where beds are not available,” in response to a question from a Labour MP about patients sleeping on the floor. May planned to demote Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a cabinet reshuffle this week. Instead, after he “argued strongly with the prime minister that he should be allowed to stay in his role,” she not only relented but expanded his brief to include social care, too.

Presumably, the logic behind this is that the NHS crisis is really a social care crisis, too. “Bed-blocking,” where elderly patients who have been treated can’t leave hospitals because they have no arrangements for care when they leave, is a rising problem. In January 2017, the Telegraph reported that bed-blocking had risen 42 percent in one year, with 193,680 “bed days” lost in November 2016.

-Shiv

Who gets to be a brave survivor?

Rape culture has many strongholds, and one that stands out is incarceration. Because of the naive perception that incarcerated people have done something wrong (most plea bargain and are never proven guilty in court), many people will excuse prison conditions as being “part of the punishment.” [Content Notice for extreme sexual violence at this link] We see this in how sexual assault is weaponized as a consequence for high-profile offenders like Brock Turner–despite the fact that survivors ourselves often object to this.

I’ve quoted the less gorey details here:

When Tarana Burke started the Me Too movement, she hoped it would elevate the voices of survivors of sexual abuse—especially the voices of women of color. Although Burke’s Me Too has molded into a viral movement and hashtag, made famous mostly by celebrities and those who have access to platforms like Twitter, the survivors whose abusers are actually facing consequences are still mostly white women with resources and power. Some women with privilege are attempting to be better allies to those often erased from these conversations, by putting money behind their words, but some members of marginalized groups, like people in prison who’ve experienced abuse while incarcerated, have no voice.

The public seems to care less about the stories of incarcerated survivors than others, as Victoria Law has reported, and does not work as hard to end their abuse or the normalization of abuse in prisons. The result is a culture of sexual violence so extreme that speaking out could put prison abuse survivors in serious danger. The mainstream Me Too movement as cultural effort falls short for them.

Reporting sexual abuse can always put a survivor in danger, but in prison that threat is elevated because survivors are either detained alongside their abusers or their abuser is the one who holds the key to their cell.

“We’ve seen the power wielded by an abusive person like Harvey Weinstein,” said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, communications director for Just Detention International, a nonprofit whose mission is to end sexual abuse in detention centers worldwide. “But for inmates, the stakes are raised, because even if they could participate in these hashtags, then their personal safety would be very much at risk.” Often that means their stories go untold and do not receive the kind of attention necessary for real change.

You can read the rest here, though again, content notice for graphic violence.

-Shiv

Funny how those whining about safe spaces are advocating for safe spaces

I’ve seen the concept characterized as a “protective bubble against the wrong kind of thinking,” a position tenable only if you have never actually accessed a safe space. In reality I might just want to talk about something without some dipshit shrieking “MAN! UR A MAN!” into my ear through a blow horn. You would never know this judging by the complaints leveled about safe spaces by people who don’t use them, though–such as apologists of white supremacy and colonization calling for the banishment of scholarship on colonial history.

Nigel Biggar’s research project proposes to take a cost-benefit analysis of British imperial history, weighing the bad things against the good. In defending the project he called on “usBritish to moderate our post-imperial guilt” (emphasis added) in an article in The TimesThere have been some excellent critiques of the naive simplicity of the research methods proposed, most notably an excellent open-letter drafted by a range of prominent Oxford academics of different disciplinary backgrounds. This led to a backlash from right-wing newspapers against these academics.

For me, any defence of British imperialism is by implication a defence of white supremacy. To take the example of British India—my own field of study—there were always exceptions and protections for white populations written into the laws. Similarly in the political sphere there were always positions of authority reserved for white rulers only. Elizabeth Kolsky’s amazing book on white violence in colonial India is a great place to learn more about how these privileges operated. To judge British colonial rule by its effects without taking into account its fundamentally racist legal and bureaucratic structures is to suggest that there are circumstances when white supremacy is acceptable. The argument that positive things were done through British imperialism that might excuse its inherent racism (let alone the numerous atrocities committed by British colonial regimes across the world) is, thus, also a subtle defence of white supremacy.

The claim that colonial rule did good because it “developed” colonized societies (with proponents of this position often citing improvements in medicine and infrastructure) rests on the implicit counter-factual that without imperial intervention these societies would not have participated in modernity. The assumption here is that pre-colonial polities were stagnant, static and disconnected from wider historical changes. This is an assumption that work on pre-colonial histories have shown to be demonstrably false. For instance, Victor Lieberman’s colossal comparative global history shows that there were parallels between Europe and other parts of the world prior to 1830. Moreover, colonized people engaged with modern practices without the direct instigation of the colonial regime, and sometimes in the face of imperial opposition. The assumption that the apparently “positive” changes that occurred during colonialism can be attributed to the British presence is unsustainable. It implies that only white rulers could have brought about these changes.

Read more by Jonathan Saha.

-Shiv

More plaintiffs in the brutality lawsuit stemming from J20 arrests

It’s been one year since the mass arrest at Trump’s inauguration. 240 people were rounded up by police for their proximity to half a dozen vandals–some 1,800 charges would be pressed against 230 defendants, 194 of which are going to trial. While the first six defendants were acquitted of all charges in December last year, there remain dozens of trials yet to go, and any of them can secure the precedent that would further empower prosecutors to smash activist movements. The second trial group had their second round of procedural hearings on the 18th.

Coinciding with this criminal litigation is a competing police brutality and false arrest lawsuit by the ACLU. During the first trial Police Commander Keith DeVille admitted the Metropolitan Police Department’s liability “would be limited” in the event of convictions stemming from the J20 protests.

Now a mother, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, and her child have joined the brutality lawsuit. [Content Notice: This link has footage and descriptions of police brutality]

We left early in the morning and bought day-long Metro passes. They were special inauguration passes with a picture of Donald Trump on them. A. thought these would be good for his memory box. But the memory we left D.C. with that January day felt much more sinister.

After we spent a few hours protesting, I learned that a friend was being detained. When we got to the location, people had gathered across from where a large group of protestors had been cornered by police. A. stood on the base of a lamp post so he could wave to the people he knew. He chanted “Let them go!” gleefully with other protesters. We talked with friends. We shared some of the snacks I had packed in my backpack. We were there for more than half an hour without incident.

But then, without warning, everything changed.

Colour me stunned that another 188 people are going to trial over 1,550 charges pressed during an arrest we’re not even sure is legal because they walked past a broken window.

Read more about the events that day and the lawsuit here.

-Shiv