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"Justice": A Short Rant

Thursday, March 31, 2016 By Nancy A. Heitzeg, Critical Mass Progress | Op-Ed
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Protesters shut down the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 30, 2016, in opposition to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's announcement that police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze will not be charged for the murder of Jamar Clark. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)Protesters shut down the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 30, 2016, in opposition to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's announcement that police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze will not be charged for the murder of Jamar Clark. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Yesterday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced his decision not to charge Minneapolis Police Officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg in the November 15, 2015, murder of Jamar Clark. The full document dump of evidence he considered can be found here, as well as at his homepage, linked above.

The Clark case has garnered both national and international attention due the ongoing protests, including an 18-day occupation of the 4th Precinct. Local organizations issued a series of demands that included #NoGrandJury, #ReleasetheTapes, #ProsecutethePolice, and most generally, #Justice4JamarClark. The first two demands have now been met, the third denied and always unlikely given the daunting legal bar outlined in Graham v. Connor. And the final demand -- #Justice4JamarClark -- is impossible for the system that killed him to deliver.

Being privy to the history and the players, there are untold stories that media hegemony won't let you see. These include debates over whether it matters if Clark was handcuffed or not at the time of his death -- it doesn't; he should be alive regardless. There were deep tactical disagreements over the nature/purpose/composition of the 4th Precinct occupation,  and the role of nonprofits and faith leaders in seizing the mic and using Black death as fundraiser. But that is a story for another day and a brief cautionary note to those who judge the authenticity of movements by their social media script.

Today the question is this: what is "justice" for Jamar Clark or Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland or Akai Gurley or Reika Boyd or thousands more who are simultaneously remembered but then ultimately reduced to a hashtag or protest rallying cry? Is it "justice" if officers are fired? Indicted? Convicted? Imprisoned?

And then what?

It is understandable the oppressed want the criminal legal system to apply the laws equally. Accountability, even for once. But the relentless movement demands for more prosecutions and punishment serve only to reify the system that must itself be indicted. In the nearly two years since Ferguson, police killings of Black civilians in particular are unabated -- 258 this year alone -- with few indictments, fewer convictions and no satisfaction. And there have been endless hours and days and months of activist energy expended in reaction to and reinforcement of the system.

Why is the vision of "justice" so narrow and carceral -- demanding arrest, trial and punishment for killer after killer after killer without cease?

Justice for Jamar and Mike and Eric and Sandra and Akai and Rekia and thousands would mean they are still alive. With as much love and solidarity and community support for them in the anonymity of everyday life as they have in the glare of death.

I'll say it again: Stop asking for "justice" from the system that is killing us -- demand abolition.

Then demand more.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Nancy A. Heitzeg

Nancy A. Heitzeg, Ph.D is a professor of sociology and director of the critical studies of race/ethnicity program at St. Catherine University. She is the author of The School to Prison Pipeline: Education, Discipline, and Double Standards (Praeger, 2015), and has written/presented widely on issues of race, class, gender and social control with particular attention to color-blind racism, the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline. She is, with Kay Whitlock, co-founder and co-editor of the Criminal Injustice series on the Critical Mass Progress blog.


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"Justice": A Short Rant

Thursday, March 31, 2016 By Nancy A. Heitzeg, Critical Mass Progress | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Protesters shut down the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 30, 2016, in opposition to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's announcement that police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze will not be charged for the murder of Jamar Clark. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)Protesters shut down the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 30, 2016, in opposition to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's announcement that police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze will not be charged for the murder of Jamar Clark. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Yesterday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced his decision not to charge Minneapolis Police Officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg in the November 15, 2015, murder of Jamar Clark. The full document dump of evidence he considered can be found here, as well as at his homepage, linked above.

The Clark case has garnered both national and international attention due the ongoing protests, including an 18-day occupation of the 4th Precinct. Local organizations issued a series of demands that included #NoGrandJury, #ReleasetheTapes, #ProsecutethePolice, and most generally, #Justice4JamarClark. The first two demands have now been met, the third denied and always unlikely given the daunting legal bar outlined in Graham v. Connor. And the final demand -- #Justice4JamarClark -- is impossible for the system that killed him to deliver.

Being privy to the history and the players, there are untold stories that media hegemony won't let you see. These include debates over whether it matters if Clark was handcuffed or not at the time of his death -- it doesn't; he should be alive regardless. There were deep tactical disagreements over the nature/purpose/composition of the 4th Precinct occupation,  and the role of nonprofits and faith leaders in seizing the mic and using Black death as fundraiser. But that is a story for another day and a brief cautionary note to those who judge the authenticity of movements by their social media script.

Today the question is this: what is "justice" for Jamar Clark or Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland or Akai Gurley or Reika Boyd or thousands more who are simultaneously remembered but then ultimately reduced to a hashtag or protest rallying cry? Is it "justice" if officers are fired? Indicted? Convicted? Imprisoned?

And then what?

It is understandable the oppressed want the criminal legal system to apply the laws equally. Accountability, even for once. But the relentless movement demands for more prosecutions and punishment serve only to reify the system that must itself be indicted. In the nearly two years since Ferguson, police killings of Black civilians in particular are unabated -- 258 this year alone -- with few indictments, fewer convictions and no satisfaction. And there have been endless hours and days and months of activist energy expended in reaction to and reinforcement of the system.

Why is the vision of "justice" so narrow and carceral -- demanding arrest, trial and punishment for killer after killer after killer without cease?

Justice for Jamar and Mike and Eric and Sandra and Akai and Rekia and thousands would mean they are still alive. With as much love and solidarity and community support for them in the anonymity of everyday life as they have in the glare of death.

I'll say it again: Stop asking for "justice" from the system that is killing us -- demand abolition.

Then demand more.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Nancy A. Heitzeg

Nancy A. Heitzeg, Ph.D is a professor of sociology and director of the critical studies of race/ethnicity program at St. Catherine University. She is the author of The School to Prison Pipeline: Education, Discipline, and Double Standards (Praeger, 2015), and has written/presented widely on issues of race, class, gender and social control with particular attention to color-blind racism, the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline. She is, with Kay Whitlock, co-founder and co-editor of the Criminal Injustice series on the Critical Mass Progress blog.


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