Sunday, January 24, 2016

Revenge or restoration

Daniel Holtzclaw is a despicable man. He is white and was a police officer in Oklahoma City. He was found guilty of 18 charges of sexually assaulting 13 black women. The jury recommended he spend 263 years in prison. The judge agreed.

This doesn't sit well with Melissa McEwen of Shakesville. She is both an anti-rape advocate and a prison abolitionist.

Yes, it is good that Holtzclaw will be held accountable for his crimes. Yes, it is good the justice system believed the black women over the white man.

But 263 years? That is only punishment and revenge. And that has led to a corrupt, violent, and dehumanizing prison system. More violence is not the solution to violence.

Will such punishment make any difference in our nations rape culture, a culture that consistently defends the perpetrator and subjects the victim to even more abuse? Will this revenge lead to the eradication of rape? No, and no.

But in America we don't have alternatives.

What would justice for these women without revenge look like? I don't know. But we aren't using our imagination to look for it.

It looks like Norway does have that imagination. Their rate of incarceration is one-tenth of what it is in America. Their rate of recidivism is 20% compared to 77% here. Violent crime is mostly confined to drug trafficking and gangs. They're doing something right.

So let's take a look at Halden Prison. A loss of freedom is the punishment. It doesn't include being treated like an animal. The prison maintains as much "normalcy" as possible, including friendships with guards and extensive vocational programs.

This normalcy allows the inmates to work on restorative justice and on making sure when they are released they are ready to be a fully contributing member of the community.

In Norway a judge is restricted to a maximum sentence of 21 years, though if an inmate isn't rehabilitated in that time successive five year terms can be added. This applies also to Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in a mass shooting. Americans were outraged at such a lenient sentence. Norwegians, including the victim's parents, weren't.

Americans want revenge. Norwegians want restoration.

After all that I think it is time to look at a link that's been sitting in my browser tabs for almost 10 months now (alas, that row of browser tabs only seems to grow). The article is by Mychal Denzel Smith, a black man, and is published in The Nation. It explores an important question: What are police for?

Police are there to stand between upstanding citizens and the violence of the deranged. Right? But from the black perspective they can only provide the illusion of safety to a select few. Most of a cop's job has nothing to do with violence prevention. Only about 10% is devoted to any kind of criminal matters. Most of 90% is dealing with infractions of various codes and regulations. The police are essentially bureaucrats with weapons, inserting the potential for violence were there is cause for none. And for the most common acts of violence, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, police are ineffectual.
The police are not performing the function we say they are, and there are real ways to achieve a world with less violence that don’t include the police. We simply haven’t tried. Until we invest in full employment, universal healthcare that includes mental health services, free education at every level, comprehensive sex education that teaches about consent and bodily autonomy, the decriminalization of drugs and erasure of the stigma around drug use, affordable and adequate housing, eliminating homophobia and transphobia—things that actually reduce the amount of violence we witness—I don’t want to hear about how necessary the police are. They are only necessary because we are all too willing to hide behind our cowardice and not actually put forth the effort to create a better world. It’s too extreme.
What do you do with an institution whose core function is the control and elimination of black people specifically, and people of color and the poor more broadly?

You abolish it.
But replace them with what?
What people mean is “who is going to protect us?” Who protects us now? If you’re white and well-off, perhaps the police protect you. The rest of us, not so much. What use do I have for an institution that routinely kills people who look like me, and make it so I’m afraid to walk out of my home?

My honest answer is that I don’t know what a world without police looks like. I only know there will be less dead black people. I know that a world without police is a world with one less institution dedicated to the maintenance of white supremacy and inequality. It’s a world worth imagining.

Are you scoffing at Mychal Denzel Smith? Larken Rose, in Alternet, lists seven ways in which cops routinely break the law.

1. "Do you know why I stopped you?" You might think you are explaining. They will treat that as a confession. It is a trick to get you to testify against yourself, which the Fifth Amendment says you can't be forced to do.

2. "Do you have something to hide?" This flips the burden of proof with the implication that failure to cooperate with this harassment is evidence of guilt.

3. "Cooperating will make things easier on you." Implying you will be punished for exercising your rights.

4. "We'll just get a warrant." Implying that if you inconvenience the police you will receive worse treatment.

5. "We have someone who will testify against you." Probably obtained through bullying and likely false.

6. "We can hold you for 72 hours without charging you." At this point your concern is release, so this bullying tactic will likely produce a confession of a minor offense the police know will be false.

7. "I'm going to search you for my own safety." By asserting you might have a weapon police can disregard the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches.

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