Category Archives: crime

Does your race and income matter if you face the death penalty?

By Guest Contributor ishita, originally published at Restore Fairness

This post elaborates on the excerpt we ran last week about David Dow.

It is no secret that our country’s criminal justice system has consistently proven to be biased against minority communities of color. Statistics published by the NAACP show that even amongst those found guilty of crimes, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately sentenced to life in prison, face higher drug sentences, and are executed at higher rates when compared to people of other races. Michelle Alexander speaks of a “color-coded caste system” in The New Jim Crow that marginalized communities who encounter the criminal justice system.

Seasoned Texas attorney David R. Dow’s new book The Autobiography of an Execution provides an exploration of the death penalty, written through the eyes of a man who has spent 20 years defending over a hundred death-row inmates, most of whom died, and most of whom were guilty. As the head litigator for the Texas Defender Service, a non profit legal aid organization in the state that boasts the highest number of executions since 1976, Dow presents a powerful argument against the death penalty system. Candidly exploring how he balances such a trying job with being a good father and husband, Dow’s extremely personal book only works to strengthen the argument that the broken criminal justice system operates on a vicious cycle based on racial and economic disparity.

In his book, Dow opposes the unequal basis on which some criminals are sentenced to be executed while others aren’t, and deems the criminal justice system “racist, classist (and) unprincipled.” He opposes the death penalty as a flawed and unjust facet of the criminal justice system. Based on his experience, he notes that while he believes that a majority of the clients he represented were, in fact, guilty, there was very little separating those criminals from others who were guilty of the same crime, other than “the operation of what I consider to be insidious types of prejudice.” Most unsettling is his severe mistrust of members of the justice system – police officers, prosecutors and judges – whom he believes would “violate their oaths of office” and put men and women on death row who they think “deserve to be there”.

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How Do We Talk About Police Brutality When The Cops Aren’t White?

By Guest Contributor Julianne Hing, originally published at Racewire

mineo_022210.jpgYesterday, the verdict in the trial involving three New York police officers accused of abusing a young man of color was announced.

Without even knowing the particulars of the case—say, for instance, that one of the police officers in question allegedly abused a man named Michael Mineo with a baton, which led the other two cops to orchestrate a cover-up—you probably know exactly what the jury decided yesterday.

That’s right, all three cops were acquitted of all charges, on the claim that there was not enough evidence to prove that Mineo had actually had a baton shoved inside of him. The news came just days after it was announced that the cops involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell will not receive federal charges.

People of color, especially young Black and Latino men, get shot at and killed by the police at disproportionately high rates. That much seems to be common enough knowledge these days. And the white cops who’ve shot them? They’re all typically acquitted, but that is less common knowledge and more irrefutable fact.

But much of the way we talk about police brutality as a manifestation of racism rests on a classic narrative of individual white aggressors who brutalize Black and Latino men. So what happens when not all of the officers involved are white? In Michael Mineo’s case, the three accused officers were white (Officer Richard Kern) and Latino (Officers Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz).

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On Amanda Knox, White Womanhood, Black Scapegoats and White Ethnics

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

I first heard the name Amanda Knox nearly a year ago. As someone, who like Knox, traveled to Europe to study abroad, even visiting Italy during my time there, I sympathized with the young Seattle woman charged with killing her roommate while an exchange student in Perugia, Italy. Numerous articles portray the University of Washington student as an innocent wrongly targeted by a corrupt Italian prosecutor and victimized by Italians who were misogynistic and anti-American.

Despite my sympathy for Knox—found guilty of murdering Meredith Kercher by an Italian jury Dec. 4—I take issue with the articles written in her defense. They reveal that America’s ideas about white womanhood have changed little since the 19th century, the whiteness of Italians remains tenuous and black men continue to make convenient crime scapegoats.

I’ve no idea if Amanda Knox is innocent or guilty of the charges leveled at her—a jury’s already deemed her the latter—but some American journalists decided that she was innocent long before  a verdict was reached. What’s disturbing about some of these journalists is that Knox’s race, gender and class background played central roles in why they considered her innocent. Moreover, in defending Knox, their xenophobic and arguably “racist” feelings about Italy came to light. New York Times columnist Timothy Egan is a case in point. He wrote about Knox for the Times both in June and just before the jury issued its verdict in the case.

“All trials are about narrative,” Egan remarked in the summer. “In Seattle, where I live, I see a familiar kind of Northwestern girl in Amanda Knox, and all the stretching, the funny faces, the neo-hippie touches are benign. In Italy, they see a devil, someone without remorse, inappropriate in her reactions.”

What makes these “touches” benign—simply the fact that, to Egan, Knox was “a familiar kind of Northwestern girl?”  While waiting to be interrogated, Knox reportedly did cartwheels. Egan chalks this up to Knox being an athlete. But if Donovan McNabb or LeBron James were being investigated for murder and did cartwheels during an interrogation, would their behavior be taken as that of a benign athlete or make them look unfeeling and flippant? Egan attempts to undermine Italy by making it appear as if sinister Italians were angling to punish this girl who not only reminds him of numerous girls from the Pacific Northwest but also of his own daughter. Yet, non-Italian friends of British murder victim Meredith Kercher considered Knox’s behavior to be strange as well, counteracting Egan’s attempts to discredit Italian sensibilities. Continue reading

Latino In America goes out with a whine

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

For a review of Part 1, click here

marta1No way around it: Latino In America was a failure.

At the very least, Thursday’s conclusion, “Chasing The Dream,” seemed equal parts melodrama and bait-and-switch, with the broadcast component weakened by a lack of questions that undercut even its’ more compelling segments.

For instance, in the report on the murder of Luis Mendoza, we got an overview of events in Shenandoah, Penn., leading up to the crime, and of the area’s history with several immigrant populations, but when one individual reported he felt he was being intimidated because of his speaking to CNN, we got no follow-up with local authorities. When it was mentioned that one of the four defendants – who were acquitted of hate-crime accusations – testified the cops told them to get their stories straight, we got no follow-up.
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Drug Decriminalization and Racial Inequality in Pop Culture

by Guest Contributor Jeremy R. Levine, originally published at Social Science Lite

Mass incarceration, particularly of black and brown folks, is a hot topic in the social sciences. Hell, it’s a hot topic in nearly every poor, marginalized, urban community of color. Harvard sociologist Bruce Western offers some of the best academic analysis of the carceral state in Punishment and Inequality in America. Western brilliantly details the absurd cost of our contemporary prison system as well as the significant toll incarceration has had on poor communities of color. True unemployment rates are hidden in the “non-economic institution” of the prison, as labor statistics ignore the very existence of prisoners. So, while black male unemployment reached an astounding 17.2% in April of this year, the true percent of unemployed black males is much higher, thanks in part to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. It’s common knowledge at this point that blacks are more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive longer sentences than whites.

Leaving prison produces even more hardship. After incarceration, men become “permanent labor market outsiders,” as their job prospects are reduced to unstable (if any) employment. Not surprisingly, these outcomes are racialized. Princeton sociologist Devah Pager conducted a fascinating study (“The Mark of a Criminal Record”) in which she sent black and white job candidates with nearly identical resumes to apply for low-level jobs. The results illustrated profound racial discrimination, as black candidates with criminal records were far less likely to receive callbacks for jobs than whites with criminal records. But that wasn’t all; in fact, black candidates without a criminal record were still less likely to receive a callback than whites with a criminal record. Her results suggest that there may be some sort of racial stigma attached to criminal behavior—a racial stereotype that all blacks are perceived as potential criminal offenders.

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The Maddening Case of Anthony Harris

by G.D., originally published at PostBourgie

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One of the (many) reasons I oppose the death penalty is because of the shitty track record the criminal justice system has not just in the prosecution of capital offense but also for routinely botching non-capital felony cases. Why should we have faith in the system when it comes to deciding whether people should live or die?

This stance was affirmed when quadmoniker put me on to the case of Anthony Harris earlier today.

On the afternoon of June 27, 1998, Lori Duniver discovered that her five-year-old daughter, Devan, was missing from her home in New Philadelphia, Ohio. The following day, Devan’s body was found in a wooded area near her home. She had been stabbed seven times in the neck. Captain Jeffrey Urban (“Urban”) of the New Philadelphia Police Department led the investigation into Devan’s murder. Urban identified several “persons of interest” who might have killed Devan, including Devan’s mother, Lori, who had recently called a suicide hotline to report that she was depressed and considering harming herself and her children; Lori’s boyfriend, Jaimie Redmond, a drug addict and felon of whomDevan was afraid, who had previously kidnapped Devan for three days and beaten her with a belt, who may have been in the neighborhood of Devan’s house at the time of her disappearance, who was later found in possession of an unexplained pack of children’s playing cards, and whose alibi witness was later discovered to have given a false name and Social Security number to the police; Devan’s father, Richard, a violent alcoholic who had recently complained about having to pay child support for Devan and who refused to help Lori search for Devan after Devan’s disappearance, claiming to be too drunk to drive; Devan’s brother, Dylan, who was described by several individuals as violent and who had recently stabbed a cat; and Harris, a twelve-year-old, African-American neighbor of the (Caucasian) Duniver family.

Some background real quick. Both Anthony Harris and Devan Duniver lived in the same apartment complex in New Philadelphia, Ohio, which was 97% white as of the 2000 census. Anthony and Devan played together, and had once got into a scuffle when the little girl threw a brick at him.

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Understanding the Backlash to the Dialogue Around Lovelle Mixon

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

On Tuesday Samhita Mukhopadhyay posted the article Understanding the Dialogue Around Lovelle Mixon on Feministing, discussing the case and response to Lovelle Mixon. A 26 year-old black man and parolee in Oakland, last weekend Mixon died after shooting and killing four Oakland police officers.

Some excerpts from Mukhopadhyay’s article:

I do not deny that Mixon was armed, dangerous, a career criminal and potentially linked to the rape of a young woman. Lovelle Mixon’s actions are deplorable. But if we look at them within the context of police brutality, they sadly start make sense.

The power that resides in the laps of armed police officers is terrifying. Imagine living in these conditions, in the kind of world where you can be gunned down just for being young, black, male and walking down the street. This story is almost impossible to understand given dominant narratives around race, class, gender and black masculinity. It is considered OK to kill young black men, often violently. We may be outraged, but not nearly as outraged as when cops are killed.

Mukhopadhyay also drew from David Muhammad’s article at New American Media, which starts by saying (and I share this sentiment):

Four Oakland Police Department (OPD) officers killed, another shot, and a young assailant dead. This is tragic and unfortunate. Period.

While Mukhodpadhyay was as clear as Muhammad that Mixon’s actions are inexcusable and should not be seen as justice for Oscar Grant, within half an hour of her article going up, some Feministing commenters flipped. Choice reactions:

Turning a multiple cop killer and rapist into the poster child for a conversation about police brutality is apologism at its worst…If you were saying the same basic things to explain awat why he might have been led to rape the woman he’s excused of raping than no one on these boards would accept it. But I feel that since this happened in Oakland, after Oscar Grant, and since he’s black and these were white cops and because of the racial history it’s somewhat okay for you to seemingly excuse his actions.

This next very short comment misses the panoply of stats that Mukhopadhyay provided to illustrate that ex-convicts and poor folks in general sometimes cannot secure their basic needs by following the law:

Actually, that’s not true. Not committing further crimes is the surest way not to end up back in jail.

And this:

His actions were never fueled by police brutality, they appear to be fueled by possibility that he did not want to pay for additional crimes he knew he committed.

You’re conflating the brutal murder of Oscar Grant with a career criminal who knew he was caught and reacted like a wild animal cornered, doing anything and everything to escape being brought to justice.

I also take issue with the point that you make about cops killing young black men, statistically a much larger percentage of young black men are killed by other young black men.

And of course a few commenters who called Mukhopadhyay an apologist for Mixon were also quick to say “But you can’t say I’m racist! I was incensed by what happened to Rodney King!”

Listen: the difference between Rodney King (and Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell and Oscar Grant and Jeffrey Reodica and so many other young men of colour slain by the police) and Mixon is that the others were unarmed and innocent. The similarity is that they all lived under a policing system that devalued their lives and assumed them guilty solely because they were darker-skinned.

Now, Mixon actually was guilty. But Mixon’s guilt doesn’t neutralise the rottenness of the system. In other words, just because Mixon was actually a dangerous felon doesn’t mean that we are absolved from the duty to question how justice and innocence is defined and meted out in our culture. Continue reading

Policing Fashion in New York

by Guest Contributor Minh-ha, originally published at Threadbared


In New York magazine’s Spring Fashion issue, there are six feature stories on clothes, designers, and models including a story on a group of tenderfoot but fresh-faced white male models (“Fashion Week’s handsome rookies”), an interview with style icon Kate Moss on her clothing line at the much-anticipated and much delayed opening of TopShop in downtown Manhattan (recent reports have doors opening in April 2009), and a recession-minded article with an increasingly familiar theme, “Everything Here is Under $100”). In addition, there is the usual array of designer label advertisements and celebrity spokesmodels: Posh and Becks for Emporio Armani, Katie Holmes for Miu Miu, Gwyneth Paltrow for Tod’s, as well as an anonymous sea of puerile, well-heeled, ivory-faced Gothamites slinging everything from Marc Jacobs handbags to cocktails to lifestyles.

Jessica Lustig’s article, “The Fashion Thief,” was the only feature story or advertisement in the Fashion Issue that featured a person of color, any color. Lustig follows Kevahn Thorpe, an African American young man from Queensbridge Houses project in Queens, New York, as he is arrested and rearrested for shoplifting from high-end Manhattan shops like Prada, Bergdorf, Barneys, and Saks.

There’s a lot about this article that’s unsettling. Continue reading