Thursday, December 22, 2011

Militarizing the Police

Recent confrontations between members of the Occupy Movement and municipal police have highlighted the sophistication of contemporary law enforcement weaponry. This recent Daily Beast article provides a horrifying dose of context. Since 2001, the federal government has poured billions of dollars into local police departments, furnishing them with military-grade arsenals justified by "the least likely terrorist scenarios." Not only does this program leave departments armed to the teeth, but also, apparently, encourages the worst kinds of militaristic fantasizing:

"A grainy YouTube video from one of Clark’s recent competitions shows just how far the police transformation has come, displaying officers in battle fatigues, helmets, and multi-pocketed vests storming a hostile scene. One with a pistol strapped to his hip swings a battering ram into a door. A colleague lobs a flash-bang grenade into a field. Another officer, holding a pistol and wearing a rifle strapped to his back, peeks cautiously inside a bus. The images unfold to the pulsing, ominous soundtrack of a popular videogame, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Though resembling soldiers in a far-flung war zone, the stars of this video are Massachusetts State Police troopers."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

EC Joins Efforts to Block Lethal Injection Drugs

Following Britain's lead, the European Commission has placed heavy restrictions on the sale of lethal injection drugs to American penitentiaries. This comes in the broader context both of a national shortage on key lethal injection drugs in the U.S., as well as an espoused desire by the European Union to see the death penalty abolished worldwide.

In addition to the obvious practical implications for executions in the U.S., I continue to wonder what impact this crisis will have on the rhetorical dynamics of capital punishment. Many abolitionists understandably worry that an emphasis on the method of execution simply leaves states scrambling for a more "humane" way to carry-out death sentences. However, this very scrambling may itself serve as a kind of "the Emperor has no clothes" moment when the state must actively account for the macabre corporeal deed they so often seek to sanitize.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Arrested by Twenty-Three

Today's New York Times reports on a study finding nearly one third of Americans have been arrested by the time they reach twenty-three.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No Execution for Mumia

A major development in what was once the most contested and high-profile capital case in the United States: Philadelphia prosecutors have decided they will no longer pursue the death penalty against Mumia Abu Jamal. Jamal has been on Pennsylvania's death row since 1982 for murdering a white Philadelphia police officer named Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He has always maintained his innocence. His case has been a catalyst not only for an international campaign to save his life, but also for broader movements against the death penalty, the prison-industrial complex, and other sites of economic and racial disparity. Efforts to save his life have always been met by equally, if not more aggressive campaigning by Faulkner's family and the Fraternal Order of Police to hasten his execution.

Jamal is a prolific activist and author in his own right.

More here.

Prisons and Immigrant Labor

This past June, Alabama passed what is, by virtually all measures, the strictest immigration bill in the United States. While it was passed in the name of opening jobs for "native citizens," the law has had a disastrous impact on state agriculture--an industry disproportionately reliant on cheap, undocumented immigrant labor. As a solution, the Alabama Agriculture Department is considering using prisoners as a source of cheap, potential free labor.

Read more here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Enlightenment Values, Violence, and the Status-Quo

Critics of the prison-industrial complex, especially those versed in mass media and popular culture scholarship, must often reckon with the gross disparity between the violent world portrayed on television and movies, and the relative decline in violent crime over the past several decades. This review, appearing in The Hindu, of Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of our Nature makes a valuable, brilliant argument about how we define violence and how that shapes even the most cosmopolitan notions about the world we live in. Here's an excerpt:
As Judith Butler puts it in Precarious Life, “To the extent that we commit violence, we are acting on another, putting the other at risk, causing the other damage, threatening to expunge the other.” Obviously, in societies where capital is what empowers, and states are committed to creating “wealth” by aiding capital, it is often not necessary or even desirable to opt for physical violence. Your boss needs to fire you, not to beat you up. The state needs to move those “tribals” out, so that their ancestral lands can be “developed.” Actually, it is you who — on being fired or “relocated” — might want to beat someone up, and would be rightly restrained by the police from doing so. 
Pinker's book will be popular; it can be used to overlook or justify the violence of the status quo.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Flaws of Eyewitness Testimony

For several years now, experts have been commenting on the serious limitations of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases. The issue rose to national prominence following the recent execution of Troy Davis (see recent posts here and here). Here's an excellent article, rich with links, detailing just how flawed our eyes and memories can be.

Martina Correia, 1967-2011

Readers of this blog will undoubtedly be familiar with the Troy Davis case. The State of Georgia executed Troy two months ago in spite of overwhelming evidence calling his murder conviction into question. 

One of the reasons Troy's case was the the highly visible catalyst for mobilization it was the tireless involvement of his sister, Martina Correia. At the same time she was leading rallies, talking to journalists, and pursuing every other conceivable strategy to save her brother's life, Marina bravely fought her own breast cancer diagnosis. Eleven years ago, doctors told her she had six months to live. Succumbing yesterday, she survived long enough to pour every inch of herself into Troy's cause, as well as that of death penally abolition.

While I won't overstate my work with Martina, we attended a few meetings and conferences together, her presence in the anti-death penalty movement was palpable and inspiring. It still is. She is living proof that those most intimately connected to the structural violence of mass incarceration and state killing can, should, and indeed must lead the struggles for their abolition.