Tag Archives: US Constitution

From Plessy v. Ferguson to #Ferguson, Missouri

Dispelling the myth of equality in the legal system

This is a re-post from the Uprooting Criminology blog.

Two weeks ago I attended a rally in Dallas, Texas to protest police brutality during the death of Michael Brown. There were many impassioned speeches and heart felt rallying cries. One of those chants “No Justice, No Peace; No Racist Police,” caused me to pause and reflect on the statement. I simply could not bring myself to repeat the phrase. Perhaps it was because addressing the individual racist police officer does not address the real issue.

Incidents such as Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York are symptomatic of the larger issue of institutional racism that permeates the legal system in the United States. The myth of equal treatment in the legal system has endured for centuries. Whether it is through the Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 until the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson Missouri in 2014, rhetoric continues to proclaim fairness and equality in the legal system, when all of the evidence speaks to the contrary.

In 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the doctrine of “separate but equal.” It effectively ensured legalized segregation. Under this doctrine, the government was allowed to require that services, facilities, public accommodations, housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation be separate provided that the quality of each group’s public facilities was equal. This ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education (1956).

The court ruled in this case that segregation was inherently unfair and that policies that separate race denote inferiority among those races. Problems of inequality persist in the criminal justice system today to an even greater extent than what was outlined by the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” Through various ways minorities are treated separately and unequally. The dilemma arises because many fail to acknowledge this separate treatment and even worse the disproportionate effects on minority communities. So the first step is to finally acknowledge some of the factors that have led to the unequal treatment of minorities in the United States.

Institutional inequality is in part due to the make-up of the law makers. Law makers are disproportionately white (over 85%), male (over 80%), and are usually more than 20 years older than the average American. More important than demographic information however, is the way crime is constructed in the legal system. This construction of crime has had a direct effect on urban cities like Ferguson, MO; which has a populous dominated by people of color.

Crime is not labeled based on the degree of harm it causes but rather the illusion that street crime is the most dangerous form of crime. This emphasis causes a disproportionate focus on crime based on urban areas, particularly ones with minorities as the overwhelming demographic. If police are heavily focused on street crime and disproportionately located in urban areas, it is inevitable that there will be disparities in stop and arrest rates between whites and people of color. It is also certain that force will be more likely to be used against people of color than against whites.

This is verified by statistics that show blacks and Hispanics are far more likely to report run-ins or harassment by officers. They are 3-4 more likely to be arrested and have force (including lethal force) used against them (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007). The shooting death of Mike Brown fits well into these statistics.

So beyond dispelling the myth of inequality in the legal system what else can be done to address the unequal treatment of minorities? Much research has been conducted to find empirical data to quantify to some extent the effects of institutional racism in our legal system. The Baldus Study and research from the Kirwan Institute on implicit bias to name a few. However, further research combined with legislative change offers a more effective solution. In any case, John Powell in a recent interview said it best, “We still have not come to full recognition of blacks and other people as full citizens, as full people. And one way we can demonstrate that is that when we see another human being, our brain is actually wired so that part of the brain lights up, just from recognition of another human being.” When our policy making finally reflects this sentiment we will have a more equitable legal system.

To Proclaim Freedom For The Prisoners: A Letter To Marissa Alexander #FreeMarissaNow

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

– Luke 4:18-19

To Miss Marissa Alexander of Florida,

First of all, I would like to say thank you, Ms. Alexander for sharing your story with the world. No matter how much the white supremacist system we call “The Prison-Industrial-Complex” may try to suppress the truth, I am grateful that you are working to expose it by contending your innocence as well as your basic right as a human being to defend yourself from life-threatening abuse. As a fellow Christian, I affirm the words of the apostle Paul, that all human bodies are of sacred and immeasureable worth. It is my commitment to non-violence that drives me to write this letter in protest of your current detainment, in outrage over the Prison-Industrial Complex and its white supremacy, as well as the deadly misogyny you tried to protect yourself from.

free Marissa Alexander

free Marissa Alexander (Photo credit: cactusbones)

Being well aware that there are a number of other persons reading this letter, the author would like to clarify how the Prison Industrial Complex operates. Much like its predecessor, the chattel enslavement of Africans, the P-I-C seeks to seek, kill, and destroy families of African descent. In contrast to the auction of the enslaved blacks during the first three centuries of our continent’s “discovery,” the P-I-C begins with the School-To-Prison pipeline. It all begins with the ground-level, white supremacist norm forming belief that all People of Color are by nature, criminal and deviant. Informed by this mode of thinking, groups of politicians leap into action, working with all forms of hostility to shut down public school systems wholesale through voucher programs, ableist & racist charter school plans, and racially-biased drug laws. With few resources, public schools are held hostage and have very little choice but to expel students who do not recieve the behavioral improvement and literacy help that they need. This creates a cycle of violence, one that starts with linguistic violence in the classroom to gun violence in the street, and then sexual violence in the prison cells. For more information on the P-I-C, please visit the U.S. Prison Culture blog and its glossary

I must confess that it has been a while since I have written on the topic of the Prison Industry. While it is true that I do visit a homeless shelter every month where former convicts often reside, I have not concerned myself with their specific concerns. As an educator, I see the P-I-C for what it is, a confusing network of corporate interests and desperate educators trying to help the oppressed survive. Afew years ago, I did write several times on the P-I-C and how conservatives and liberals can work together to save lives and tax payer dollars. I did a book review on Mark Lewis Taylor’s The Executed God, as well as confessed my hatred for procedurals and buddy cop movies. There are just way too many cultural reminders about the criminalization of People of Color.

Marissa Alexander Protest

Marissa Alexander Protest (Photo credit: www78)

But enough about the bad news; how about some Good News? There are people of faith that are praying/sending their positive thoughts out
for you, Marissa. Indeed, a powerful case can be made that the belief that there is a higher power can give courage to persons being told that the white supremacist Powers That Be are the only way. As Willie Jennings has rightly argued, Jesus was the Chosen One to liberate the oppressed and set free the prisoners. To partake in Christ’s Body is to undergo an inner transformation that leads to challenges to systemic injustices. Believers can even see God’s work in the social justice struggles of even persons who may not be “religious.” It is God’s Spirit that persuades people to do right and to know the just. This grace is made readily available to everyone. The MOST powerful witnesses in Christianity are those bodies who have been in chains, the apostle Paul’s the Frederick Douglass’, the women suffragists’, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther KingJr.’s, the Dietrich Bonhoffers’ who have written articulate theologies of grace and justice while in bondage.

Seminaries can never be the home to Christian ethics; that location lies in the bodies of the oppressed, the afflicted, those in chains. While excellent texts such as Logan’s Good Punishment and Taylor’s Executed God are highly recommended by myself, these works do not supercede King Jr.’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail, the apostle Paul’s letter to the Phillipians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison, or Marissa Alexander’s letters to her supporters. Alexander has a heart full of grace and forgiveness, in spite being held captive by white supremacist politics, she continues “to believe in our justice system” because of her faith in God.

From the above link, you yourself, as I plan to, can write Marissa Alexander at:

You can personally write to Marissa in prison at this address:

“Marissa Alexander #2012033887
500 East Adam St.
Jacksonville, FL 32202

If you include some First Class stamps, or even an address and stamped return envelope, it will be easier for her to reply.”

For updates on Marissa Alexander, please visit:

#31ForMarissa at Ebony.com

U.S Prison Culture Blog


The Free Marissa Now Tumblr

Excerpt from The Boondocks on the Prison Industrial Complex

Michele Bachmann Set to Retire; Dominionism Still Repulsive

English: Marcus Bachmann with his wife Michele...

English: Marcus Bachmann with his wife Michele Bachmann at the 2011 Time 100 gala. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann decides that this will be her last term in office. Couldn’t be the fact that her campaign is under investigation. It’s well known that Bachmann believes in Dominionism, the idea that Christians should establish a dictatorship over the world. It’s an evil, heretical idea, and its source,  Rushdoony, is highly problematic.

Dominionists rely upon practices of spiritual abuse; its not surprising really, set up a Christian empire by first colonizing bodies in the church.

The problem is that–because dominionism is, at its core, a spiritually abusive movement with political aspirations it isn’t that simple at all…because you have to fight the programmed mindset.

I am posting this info in the hope that people–in particular, experts in the psychological field (I know we have at least one on the board!) will be able to give suggestions.  I also post this in the hope people realise the difficulty us walkaways have had in getting out–and maybe our success stories will give people hints on how to stop the hijacks from occuring.

One thing that is difficult to explain to people who have never been involved in a coercive religious group is just how people get “stuck in” and refuse to leave.

What people don’t tend to realise is that most coercive groups–be they dominionist groups or some other flavour of coercive group (such as Scientology, the Moonies, etc.)–have as part of the coercion in and of itself various “thought stopping” techniques and other forms of coercion that literally prevent the person from questioning the group at all.  (In fact, that’s how we can define dominionism as a coercive religious movement, especially in its “spiritual warfare” and “premillenarian dispensationalist” flavours.)

– DogEmperor at the Daily Kos: Why the subject of dominionism is rather personal to me

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