White and Wealthy = Free Pass Affluenza – Hip-Hop and Politics

Please go to Hip Hop and Politics to read the entire piece . . . this is just an excerpt:

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White and Wealthy = Free Pass (Affluenza)

David Leonard & Jlove Calderon

While the outrage over the justice system’s decision to pat little Ethan on the head, sending him to bed with no dessert is warranted, it would be a mistake to see the judge’s decision as exceptional. Each and every day, institutions and individuals make decisions with special concern for not only affluenza, but whititis the consequences of white entitlement and masculenza the ailment of male privilege as well. The lack of accountability, compared to the harsh and unequal injustice felt by youth of color, is nothing new.

One such example is the case of Andrew Klepper, a 16-year old white male from Bethesda Maryland, who in 2002 plead guilty to three felonies, including charges that he sodomized a woman with a baseball bat, held her at knifepoint and stole $2,000 dollars from her. His sentence: probation and treatment at an out-of-state facility by 2011, after multiple arrests, he was finally sent to prison for 7 years – we guess three strikes of affluenza means you are out. His parents’ ability to pay for the “treatment” and his “potential” surely led to this sentence. We must put this latest sentencing of Ethan Couch in a historical context to really understand the depth of the implications.In a society where middle-class white youth pop Adderall with great frequency, reporting this illegal usage without any fear of punishment, it is clear that affluenza is systemic.

In a society where Bill Maher and others white celebrities take to the airwaves to tout their marijuana use, where college students at historically white institutions break laws with greater frequency than attending class, it’s a mistake to limit the conversation to Mr. Couch, Dr. Miller, or Judge Boyd.

Quoted in USA Today, Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University who specializes in juvenile law broke it down; “The real truth is that our criminal justice system is suffering from ‘affluenza’ because affluent people can afford better attorneys and better get better outcomes,” Filler said. Numbers don’t lie how pervasive race and class privilege operate within the criminal justice system. As noted by Vijay Prashad, in Keeping up with the Dow Joneses, almost sixty percent of juveniles detained in correction facilities are black; an additional 21 percent are Latino. In total, half of the 700,000 youth in juvenile prison are there as a result of a first offense, usually a drug or property crime. Mr. Couch killed four people, stole alcohol from WalMart, drove drunk, and injured two more people, and was neither sent to a juvenile detention facility, much less tried as an adult.

via White and Wealthy = Free Pass Affluenza – Hip-Hop and Politics.

Illegible[1] Black Death: Denied Media, Mourning, and Mobilization – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire

Please go to Feminist Wire to read entire piece (this is the conclusion of piece)

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For these groups, race and racism is peripheral at best, but more likely a superfluous issue. For these groups, Black innocence and therefore Black Death remains out-of-focus, if not unworthy of attention. To all too many, Black innocence is illegible and therefore Black Death and humanity are invisible and impossible, thwarting media coverage, national mourning, and widespread mobilization.

The denied innocence/criminalization of Black bodies is commonplace and helps us understand the silence from gun rights activists groups. “African-Americans are not allowed such protections by the White Gaze. They are viewed as guilty until proven innocent, a criminal Other who is a priori categorized as ‘suspicious’ and ‘dangerous,’ writes Chauncey Vega. “While formal racism and Jim and Jane Crow were shattered and defeated by the Black Freedom Struggle, this ugly cloud continues to hover over the United States, some 400 years after the first Black slaves were brought to the country.” The hundreds dead in Chicago and the killing of Trayvon Martin lead to stories that seemingly turn victims into criminals; even those not criminalized are imagined as complicit and culpable for their own death. Whether citing past arrests, suspensions, drug use, clothing choices, or attitude, whether arguing that they should have known better than to go to strangers’ houses late at night or they should guard against prejudiced whites, the presumption of Black guilt shapes national conversations about gun violence. This group cannot be saved or helped. Such narratives are commonplace within the media, from the Right, from 2nd Amendment “birthers,” from defense legal teams, and countless others. Yet, the failure of liberals and gun-right advocates to spotlight these instances, to focus on race

As Eric Mann notes, “[d]eep in the white American psyche” rests the controlling belief and script that sees “the impossibility of Black innocence” (Mann 2013). This has been all too clear in the last 6 months (and beyond). From the “exoneration” of George Zimmerman and the criminalization of Trayvon Martin to the 20-year sentence of Marissa Alexander, Black innocence is both imagined and realized as a contradiction in terms. From the efforts to blame (and ignore) gun violence on single-mothers, welfare, and criminality in Chicago to the erasure of Black Death in Detroit, Baltimore, and New Orleans, Black innocence remains an unfulfilled promise in a post-civil rights, post-racial America. From Jonathan Ferrell to Renisha McBride, from Alex Saunders to Jonylah Watkins, lost lives are seen as not worthy of media, mourning, and mobilization from those purportedly concerned with gun violence. As noted by Ruthie Gilmore, “Racism is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production & exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” The failure of gun-control groups to address racism, its consequences in Black Death, further contributes to “vulnerability to premature death.”

Post-script

The racism deniers are out in full force. So let me say this, it’s America, race matters. It matters given stereotypes of who is dangerous; it matters because studies have shown that the mere sight of black face elicits fear among whites (measurable in brain); it matters because Dearbon Heights is 84% white and has historically been a Sundown Town; it matters because she, like Trayvon, was drug tested following her death (which cannot be read outside the larger context of anti-Black racism. In one study, when asked to imagine a drug user, 95% of whites picture a black person). It matters because as noted by dream hampton, we are witnessing yet again the “‘criminalizing Black Corpses’.” Race matters given days it took for an arrest and the nonexistent media coverage; it matters given the inequality in the legal application of the stand your ground law, it matters because of history of racism as it relates to guns; it matters because of history, from Emmett till to Trayvon, from #every28 hours to Johnathan Ferrell; it matters because of fear and terror; and it matters because white America can deny race matters over and over again even when faced with rightful anger, justifiable protest, and tears of pain, loss, and fear.

To read the entire piece go here: Illegible[1] Black Death: Denied Media, Mourning, and Mobilization – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire.

theSWAGspot | Dear Marissa,

theSWAGspot | Dear Marissa,

Dear Marissa,

While we have never met, you have impacted me in ways you will never know. I think about you daily; a poster calling for your pardon hangs in my office. I think about you and the horror that you have endured. While the system has tried to make you disappear, you have not been forgotten. I often find myself thinking about how we as a society have failed you. While the injustices that have led you into a Florida prison have prompted national outrage, the entire nation should be outraged. Too many have failed to see you as their mother, as their sister, as their daughter, and their friend. We all should be demanding justice until your freedom is secured. We have failed to use our voices to shine a spotlight on the travesty of injustice; we have failed to walk from state house to courthouse, standing and sitting with you.

But our failure did not begin the day Florida decided to prosecute you for standing your ground; we did not fall short in the aftermath of a sham of a trial and the horror of a 20-year sentence. We, and by we here I am specifically talking about men, failed you long before you said enough to abuse. We have failed to create a culture that repels violence against women, which shuns and denounces every instance of domestic violence. We failed you in 2009 when your husband was arrested for abuse. The system has failed you over again. And we have failed in not holding that system accountable, in demanding a system that actual works to create a environment. In 2010, your husband said, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them.” Reading this hurts me because it is further evidence of our failure. We rear men who think this is ok, who are empowered to abuse. Where were we then? Where was the criminal justice system that is so concerned about protection and safety? We have failed you and for that I am sorry.

We have not just failed you, and the millions of women whose pain and voices are suppressed, but your kids as well. I think often about your sons and the impact of their witnessing violence. I think about the pain of seeing their Mom locked up; I think about your daughter and the years lost with her. We have failed them. We must do better for you; we must do better for them. Please know that many are working hard to hold justice accountable. Many are thinking about you and your family; many are working hard to stand with you because you should not have to sit alone in a prison any longer; many are working to secure justice because you should not have to stand your ground alone against violence.

Each day as I look at your picture, I think about what am doing in your march toward justice and freedom; what am I doing in the fight against abuse and violence? I think about you and your children, and how we cannot fail any longer. There is too much pain and it’s time to replace it with love. Looking forward to day that you can feel our collective love evident in your release and actual justice.

David

via theSWAGspot | Dear Marissa,.

#Justice4Marrissa #31forMarissa

I was on CNN yesterday, talking Marissa Alexander and domestic violence, with Esther Armah and Don Lemon. Of course, I am replaying the interview in head, processing and thinking about the many more things I want to say.  Here are a few more thoughts:

(1) To understand why Marissa Alexander remains in prison requires talking about racism and sexism, patriarchy and institutional racism. It reflects societal sanctioning and perpetuating of violence against women. The violence she lived through, and her prosecution and incarceration reflects the insidious violence directed at women on so many levels: at home by an abuser, by police, prosecutor, and criminal justice system that punishes the victim, by a prison system that locks women in yet another unsafe and violence place, and a society that remains silent.  At the same time, it reflects the lack of institutional care/empathy/ concern/legal protection afforded to black bodies, particularly those of African American women.  Yes, intersections matter.

(2) Domestic violence is a societal injustice; it cuts across class, race, sexuality, and geography. It’s rooted in patriarchy; it’s rooted in pathological definition of masculinity; it’s rooted in media and popular culture that turns domestic violence into a spectacle, a source of profit and pleasure.  Clearly we can think about race and class operates here.  Domestic violence is rooted in the legal and cultural views about the “home” as a man’s castle, which contributes to systemic views about it being a  “private issue.”  All of this embodies domestic violence culture, where violence, the pain and bloodshed, the despair, and heartache, the injuries and terror are imagined as a personal and familial issue. In all, domestic violence culture ignores the rights, futures, wellbeing, and humanity of women, particularly women of color.

(3) Angela Davis once noted that, “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” The incarceration of Marissa Alexander and the national silence on this injustice (and domestic violence) reflects an effort to make the victims of domestic violence disappear.  The fact that a women is assaulted every 9 seconds in America reveals how the problems, the violence, and the despair are fully present.

(4) As noted in a discussion between Suey Park and Summaya Fire: “Black women are 35 percent more likely than white women and 2.5 times more likely than any non-Black woman of color group to experience domestic violence. However, they are also less likely than other women to use social services. More Black women are likely to go to the hospital for domestic violence than social services.” In this same discussion, Summaya Fire points out how the stereotypes of black women has not only shaped the conversation/media coverage/ response from the criminal justice system but also plays out in terms of the lack of services/intervention from social welfare as it relates to black women.  The history of movements against domestic violence, media coverage, and even political discourse has erased the experiences of African American women. I wish we had more time to discuss these structural barriers to safety and security; to understand Marissa Alexander is to look at racism and sexism.

(5) A few statistics to know: Estimates range between 70-80% (some studies are lower) of women convicted of murder acted in self-defense against their abusers. One study found that cases involving domestic violence victims defending themselves against abusers had a higher conviction rates than in other cases.  That is women defending and protecting themselves from violent men were more like to be convicted.  They were also more likely to be given longer sentences (on average 15 years).  Additionally, African American women convicted of killing an abusive spouse/partner were the most likely to be convicted.  All women, and particularly black women, face harsh punishments from the criminal justice when trying to protect themselves from a violent partner.  Marissa Alexander and the thousands of women locked up for defending themselves against violent is evident of this horrifying reality.

And finally, the parallels between Marissa Alexander and Trayvon Martin are ample: neither Trayvon nor Marissa were given the right (legal or moral) to stand their ground.  Race and gender matters; racism and sexism matters.  Both Trayvon and Marissa have been criminalized despite being victims of violence; each have been blamed, question, and otherwise convicted within the criminal justice system, within much of the media, and within the public at large. We already know the outcome in the struggle for #Justice4Trayvon. The fight for Marissa’s release and the dropping of the charges continues.

White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Racism is racism. Extreme or mainstream, racism is racism. If it looks like white supremacy, talks like white supremacy and acts like white supremacy, it is white supremacy. What does it mean when the extreme and mainstream trumpet the same tune. What does it mean if white nationalist on Stormfront and Fox and friends similarly lament white victimhood? What does it mean when Skinheads and talk radio similarly rally the white community through fear of black criminals? This convergence and shared ethos has been crystal clear in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial.

Over the last month, the Right\’s endless trolling about Chris Lane and Delbert Belton is yet another instance where facts are tossed aside for demonization and criminalization of black bodies. According to Jamelle Bouie, “If Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News sell anything, it’s white anger and racial resentment. And for them, Christopher Lane isn’t a person as much as he’s a product.” In fact, their response points to three core principles of the Right: (1) white resentment; (2) a sense of white victimhood; and (3) fear and criminalization of blackness. If a story or a reality doesn’t fulfill those prerequisites, they ain’t got time for it.

Either forgetting or ignoring fact that killing of Trayvon Martin did not make news for weeks, if not months, after his death, erasing the specifics of the case, the narrative about the media not covering “Black-on-White” crime with equal vigor as “White-on-Black Crime” is at its core about an imagined white victimhood.

If the Right and the mainstream media wants to have a conversation about media coverage and the impact of race, that is a conversation to be had, yet it will need to start with the muted media coverage of the killings of Darius Simmons, Bo Morrison, and Jordan Davis; what about the systemic failure to shine a spotlight about #every28hours.

Or how about the almost no coverage of the killing of Kollin Elderts and the trial of Christopher Deedy? It will need to account of the recent shooting of Donald Maisen Jr, who one minute was playing tag and another was lying on the ground in a pool of blood. No coverage from Fox and their Friends across the media; no condemnation from John Boehner, James Woods, or Rush Limbaugh

For such a conversation, it might be useful to look at the spectrum of research regarding not only the overrepresentation of news coverage of cases involving black perpetrators (or those alleged to have committed a crime) or the silence when involving victims of color. It might be helpful to not only look at media silence, but also the crickets from the criminal justice and from the populace as a whole when involving victims of color?

If the Right wants to talk double standards, lets talk about Rekia Boyd and Mark Carson; Anna Brown and Islan Nettles. WDD and the efforts to play up white resentment through a narrative of white victimhood is the true story, not media bias, not political correctness, or not the attack on white America.

Continue Reading at White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

Criminal illness or sick criminals? Race and Gun Violence

Last night, 60 minutes aired a segment that focused on mental health and mass shootings, highlighting the consequences of systemic neglect of mental illness.  Documenting the history of policy that has transformed America from a nation of asylums (those dehumanizing warehouses) into a prison nation that makes those with mental illness disappear all while creating entire populations of untreated mental illness, the segment offered an important intervention.

The criminalization of mental illness has led to mass incarceration and divestment in necessary treatment.  The cost and consequences of these policies has been evident as it relates to mass shootings. It introduced the issue as follows:

The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard two weeks ago that resulted in the deaths of 13 people, including the gunman, was the 23rd such incident in the past seven years. It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that the majority of the people pulling the triggers have turned out to be severely mentally ill — not in control of their faculties — and not receiving treatment.

Although the segment neglected to reflect on how masculinity (and the reproduction of narrow definitions of masculinity) operates within this discussion, it raises important questions in terms of the criminalization of mental illness and the deadly consequences of American policies.


While the result of many decades of neglect, the segment documented the cost and consequences of the Reagan revolution and the “small government” mantra of the GOP.  On the eve of a government shutdown, it should be a striking reminder of the deadly consequences of policy decisions and neglect.

While a very important topic, it also represented a missed opportunity to push the conversation to reflect on how mental health and the lack of available treatment options has consequences as it relates daily violence. Where is the conversation about mental illness as it relates to gun violence? Where is the discussion of PTSD as it relates to Chicago, Stockton, or New Orleans? Where is the conversation about the consequences and dangers of a criminal justice system that only fails to treats mental health issues, that ignores treatable illness, but actually creates a sick population (seemingly guaranteeing sizable prison populations). The entire segment seemed to imply that certain violence, that which is disproportionately carried out by white boys and men, is treatable; yet those instances of gang violence or “everyday gun violence” are unavoidable. No discussion about mental health as it relates to other types of violence, in communities where violence is imagined as inevitable and natural.  We need to have a conversation about mental illness and violence, mental illness and guns in multiple contexts not just as it fits the dominant (white) definitions of innocence and guilt, safe and dangerous, treatable and criminal.

If solutions, interventions, and transformation were a true goal, we might begin to ask “why?” We might begin to look at issues of mental health in every instance of gun violence; we might begin to talk about PDST and trauma in EVERY CASE.  We might look at a recent study from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), which concluded that 50 and 65 percent of male and female juveniles experienced traumatic brain injuries.

“This shows us that we have a real serious organic medical problem among the adolescents,” Dr. Homer Venters, assistant commissioner of the city’s Correctional Health Services, said at a Board of Corrections meeting in March. “We often end up giving someone a mental health diagnosis, who does not have a mental health problem, but rather TBI.” …. In 2008, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which runs Correctional Health Services, created a surveillance and tracking system for new injuries suffered by inmates at Rikers Island, including head injuries. But Venters recognized that head injuries sustained even before an individual is incarcerated could also impact his patients and affect their mental health and even their length of stay in jail.  Two of the most significant manifestations of traumatic brain injuries are emotional dysregulation and impaired processing speed. “This means you can’t control your emotions and you can’t follow directions,” Venters told the corrections board. “These are two very serious complications for people who find themselves in jail.”

The high rate of TBI, which likely predates incarceration, surely needs to be part of the conversation about “crime.”  It certainly needs to be part of the “why” or is that a question one only asks when violence occurs involving people we don’t expect to kill or for those we don’t see as “legible” (Neal 2013) threats.  If only we asked the same questions, demanded the same answers of why, we might be able to move forward to actually address mass shootings and “street violence.”   But that would require seeing humanity outside of our race-colored glasses.

Reality ‘Written in Lightening': On ‘Fruitvale Station’

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
by David J. Leonard
Originally published| NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Walking out of the theater in West Los Angeles, I felt a lot of emotions.  Even before Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station started, I felt the film at a visceral level: I was sad, anxious, angry, and disheartened as I sat down. Emotionality is central to the film.

As brilliant as the film is at tapping into the emotionality of Oscar Grant’s killing, it is not simply a film of anguish or one that builds upon the outrage and sadness compelled by murders #every28hours.  It is a work of art; a tapestry of images, narratives, and movements.  It is a story of depth about a layered life put together through sight and sound, image and voice.

There is a lot to be said about the film at an intellectual, artistic, and cinematic level.  For example, Coogler’s ability to “make Oakland a character” is crucial to the film; it is done with great precision and depth.  The shots of street signs, the Bay, BART, and several Oakland landmarks are critical to the film’s situating of Grant’s life and death within a physical landscape.  To understand Oscar Grant and to reflect on his death, requires an ability to see and hear, feel and understand, Oakland in post civil rights, post 9/11 America.  His life and death is a story of Oakland; it is also a story of neighborhoods and communities across the nation.

With its use of the camera, from the close-ups of Tatiana scrubbing crabs to the various moments that brought Grant’s humanity to life, Fruitvale Station forces viewers to not only confront Grant’s death and his killing in 2009, but his life: his relationship with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz); his adoration for his mother Wanda Johnson (Octavia Spencer) and sister; his beautiful interactions with his daughter; and the many obstacles he faced in an unforgiving America.  Wesley Morris offers an important assessment of the film when he writes:

Fruitvale Station speaks to that yawning discrepancy. What feels slight, shaggy, and ordinary about it is also rather remarkable. To present Grant this way — as a son who loves his mother, as a father who loves his daughter, as the sort of person who comforts a dying dog and pleads with a shop owner to permit a pregnant woman to use his restroom — is to remove the stigma. He’s a lower-middle-class kid who got mixed up with crime. But most of the narrative belongs to a charming, charismatic, devoted young man, someone striving to better himself. It’s not only that this Grant is a person. It’s that, to a fault, he’s made to be more than black male pathology.

Rahiel Tesfamariam similarly emphasizes the film’s cinematic and narrative success in humanizing Grant – in challenging the systemic flattening of black bodies.  Fruitvale Station gives voice to Grant and the injustice evident in his death and in doing so challenges America’s racial landscape.

We also see this vulnerability play out in his dealings with the matriarchs in his family… These women are his anchors in life. Sophina keeps him honest, holds him accountable and brings out his sensual side. Through their relationship, we see his desire to be a protector and provider. His mother Wanda grounds him in prayer and nurtures him through wise words and good food. Her “tough love” approach often haunts him in his actions and decision-making. Then, there’s Grandma Bonnie who keeps him connected to tradition and the family history that proceeds him.

This backdrop is so important to the film, and to a larger landscape of anti-black racism; yet as I watched and cried, I found myself asking myself: does the persistence of segregation in Hollywood constrain the impact of such an important film?  Does the nature of distribution limit the reach of films centering African American voices and experiences into “red state America”?

Given the ubiquity of the criminalized black body, and given the widespread practice of blaming Grant or Trayvon Martin for their own deaths, it is disheartening to know that those who continue to peddle and profit in/from anti-black racism will unlikely watch Fruitvale Station.

It is infuriating that those who blame inequality on “single mothers” and “children born out-of-wedlock” will never be forced to digest the beautiful relationship that Tatiana had with her father Oscar, who would be part of that 72% statistic cited without any thought over and over again.

The anger I felt is about the killing of Oscar Grant – and Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ayana Jones-Stanley, Rekia Boyd, Amadou Diallo; yet it was about a theater with only a handful of people; it is about knowledge of multiplexes across the country screening zombie movies and another about a snail rather than films that have the potential to transform a generation.  It is about knowledge that Madea, the Help, or the Butler will more likely be screened than the stories of Oscar Grant or Ruby.

Frustration, sadness, and anger.

Almost 100 years after the release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film steeped in white supremacy and anti-black violence, Fruitvale Station brings a level of black humanity that has remain on the periphery of the Hollywood imagination for a century.  Almost 100 years after the release of a film that celebrated the rise of the Klan as the necessary force to thwart black savagery, Fruitvale Station stepped into a cinematic and larger racial landscape to offer a powerful counter narrative to the anchors of contemporary racism.  Yet, 100 years after Birth of a Nation was celebrated as “history written in lightening,” the prospect of Fruitvale Station receiving similar treatment feels to the right of impossible.

As with the struggle for justice itself, the actual hearing and seeing of Grant, Martin, Diallo, and so many others remains a distant possibility.  As with the activists who have used their cell phones to document the specter of police violence and anti-black/brown racism, Coogler uses his camera to further force a nation to confront these realities.  Fruitvale Station shines a spotlight on this empathy deficit and the denied humanity.  And like the killing of Grant, this is the source of my frustration, sadness, and anger.

But be clear, Fruitvale Station is reality written in lightening; a piercing ray of truth telling that is painful.  It is a disheartening, infuriating, and devastating reality; one that everyone should confront before another train arrives at Fruitvale Station.

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