The Murder of Walter Scott, Abolition, And Alternatives to “Carceral” Reform

Another blatant murder of a Black man, Walter Scott, by the police state. The narrative hasn’t changed, the police murder a Black man, Mr. Scott, and then cover it up with all the power of the state, the murderous cop plants a taser next to the victim, to bolster the cop’s story that the cop was “fearing for his life.” and the state’s  initial response was that this shooting was justified.This would have remained the dominant narrative except for a video. A video that clearly showed the victim, fleeing, weaponless, and being shot in the back. There has already been a lot of thoughtful, rageful, and mournful pieces written about the lies told by and about our police state and our criminal “justice system.” I have been unsure what, if anything, I have to add to the discussion. However, I have been thinking about an additional angle – feminism, social justice movements, and the prision industrial complex. The Marshall Report, just released a piece about child support and the number of men who fear the police because of warrants for failure to pay. It is here: The fathers’ failure to pay child support is a major problem for single moms and has been claimed as an issue by conservatives and feminists alike. This is a real problem – divorce being a major catalyst for driving mothers into poverty. However, arresting fathers and putting them into jail for failure or inability to pay child-support is nonsensical, no one can pay anything while in jail. So why would advocates fight for legal mechanisms like arrests for failure to pay child-support? I think that questions affords us a place for self-reflection on the legal reforms that social movements fight for. Movements led by an upper/middle class white(mostly) professionalized class usually equals “reforms” that contribute to the strength of the police state and expansion of the prison industrial complex. When white feminists advocate for these solutions, radical, women of color, groups like INCITE! refer to it as “carceral” feminism. Victoria Law in the left magazine, The Jacobin, defines it as,”… an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.”  Kimberle Crenshaw, in her groundbreaking piece, Mapping the Margins, Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color, first pointed out the obvious in her critique of Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) – that solutions that rely on the state to stop violence will INCREASE violence against working class women of color and non-citizens. And outcomes for interaction with police will be different for a white middle-class woman versus a poor Black-woman. Obvious – if anyone had actually paid attention the experiences of Black women and the US state. The same state that previously legalized the bondage, commodification, and rape of Black enslaved women could hardly be trusted to stop violence against Black women. To understand our history, is to understand that the law, as an outgrowth of the capitalist state, has always regulated Black bodies and Black labor in order to maximize white, capital, profit. So when we call for the state to ensure that men pay child support through disciplinary tactics like probation and incarceration, we are just enabling the capitalist, racist state to continue to regulate/enslave Black and Brown bodies. When we call for mandatory arrests of accused wife abusers, we are doing the same. When we when demand hate crime legislation we are doing the same. When we call for the end to human trafficking through the demand of more prosecutions, we are again empowering the state to continue to arrest more Black and Brown people. That is just how it works. Money that pours into the our criminal incarceration system only goes to building a more sophisticated police state and creation of more state sponsored violence. It will never end violence. This is why I am an abolitionist. This is why you should be one too. There are alternatives to calls for reform that don’t strengthen the police state. Instead of calling for the arrest of fathers who can’t or won’t pay child-support, we can join in coalitions calling for full-employment, fair jobs, $15 and a union. Instead of calling for the independent review boards of the police, diversity in the police, or more community policing, we can call for reparations and the dismantling of the police force. Instead of calling for Hate crime legislation, we need to reduce the thousands of acts that are now called felonies in our criminal incarceration system. Instead of calling for the end to deportations for some of us but an increase in deportation for the “criminal”, we could say that they/we are all our family and demand full legalization and the end of deportation and detention for all of us. As I am writing this, I see more articles calling for the same. Like this article by Mychal Smith of the Nation, Abolition. Reparations. Full Social and Economic Equality. If you want to read more: read Michelle Alexander’s book, the New Jim Crow, Angela Davis’ book, Are Prisons Obsolete, and INCITE’s website, and many more sources, that I don’t know yet!

On Lawyer “Imposters” and class and race

On Lawyer imposters and class and race

 The other day I had a lovely lunch with two former classmates from law school. We were talking about future and current work. We talked about striking out on our own – putting up our own shingle as they say. I said – well I just need to get brave.

 That opened up an amazing conversation about growing up working class & boundaries of class, gender & race. Background of who was in the conversation:

M: White, working class, grew up in a trailer park in the South.

J: Black, working class grew up in housing projects in NYC. Turned 60 while finishing law school at CUNY!

Me: Filipino/white grew up in white working class neighborhood in Chesterfield Va. Neighbors were school bus drivers, big rig drivers. My best friend lived in a trailer park of which fact I was jealous since they had a swimming pool at the trailer park. My mom’s best friend worked cleaning offices and at a 7-11 convenience store. My mom was the cafeteria lady at my school, cleaned houses, worked at a daycare, and a food sample lady at Costco despite having a 4-year degree from a regional college in the Philippines. My father has a 2-year degree in computers and was first of his family who went to college. (Sorry, more about me since I know more about me). All three of us cis-women over 40, don’t you love CUNY Law?

 All three of us talked about our crossing of class lines to become attorneys. We discussed our ambivalence about being attorneys. Attorneys have a certain swagger that we now know is unjustified. We have been through the same training, education, passed the NY Bar, and so we know that lawyers aren’t “all that.” We know that you graduate from law school knowing how to do next to nothing as a practicing attorney. If only the practice of law was about passing the Bar! We can do that. Yet, we see these mainly white cis-men of privilege in their suits strutting about “fronting” as J put it, and we feel aghast.

I realized that before I went to law school I never had an attorney friend. (Is this an oxymoron anyway?) It was going to law school that suddenly opened the gates to “the bar”. Suddenly, I have people to call when a friend is arrested or threatened with deportation. Suddenly, I am the person other people call for help, although I usually answer I don’t know. One of the secrets of being a “member of the bar” is that attorney don’t actually know much, we just know where to go get the answers.

 Is this class rage? And how does it work when we are the objects of that rage? I just realized that I tend to insult lawyers – WHILE in an interview for a lawyer position. Must be part of the reason I haven’t got a law job, ha! Some winners: “Well law isn’t rocket science,” and “Most lawyers think they know everything and I don’t” was what I answered when asked about one of my special skills. My advice to future law graduates, “don’t be an asshole.” Still good advice I think.

M brought up the very idea of work – for much of her life work is what you do with your body, like landscaping or working in a factory. We all have a sneaking suspicion that “Lawyering,” then, isn’t really work. I know I feel like that – like somehow I am stealing money or I feel guilty that I get paid to do what I do when I know many women, like domestic workers, work way harder than I do for much less wages.

Another former classmate of mine, posted on his FB page that when asked if he is an attorney, he says, “oh no, no I am not,” then remembers, yes, yes he is an attorney.

The problem is, for most of history, being a “member of the bar,” carried the special privileges of the moneyed, white, cis-gendered male. Suddenly, we are in the club but we have a sneaking suspicion that we were let in by mistake. Of course, now our role is to let everyone know that the truth – that the criminal injustice system is a racist system of incarceration and profit of Black and Brown bodies. It is our job to caution our friends against cries of “justice” and extra policing when one of us is attacked, to remind people that the police are not our friends. It is our job to rage against the racism of the immigration legal system and being lawyers, maybe people will listen to us. It is our job to mentor and help other people who were never slotted for the “club” to also gain entry (if they want).

 It is a hard and nearly impossible balancing act. Like the time a judge said some racist bullshit to one of my classmates while we were observing his courtroom. The legal profession is a small, petty, conservative, judgmental place & people of color attorneys can’t afford to get kicked out of the courtroom at every racist micro-aggression, and neither can our clients.

 Not sure where these musings are supposed to go. But maybe a dialogue? What is your experience out there?