Why We’re Not Celebrating Chief Anderson

 Guest post by Andrew Krinks

Nashville’s chief of police has garnered praise from a wide spectrum of people for his response to local protests against racist police violence. But celebrating a police chief for refraining from harming protesters and defending our right to “express” our “thoughts” only decenters the real cause for celebration: the growing coalition building power in the movement against white supremacy and economic injustice in Nashville and beyond—a coalition and a movement whose message Chief Anderson has thus far successfully refrained from acknowledging or engaging in any meaningful way. Thus, we see no reason to spend energy celebrating Chief Anderson until he concretely joins us in the struggle to dismantle white supremacy and economic injustice—which would mean significant changes in what policing looks like in our city.

In response to protests nationwide against the murder of black men, women, and children at the hands of white police officers, and against the subsequent non-indictments of those officers, chiefs of police across the U.S. have dealt with demonstrators swiftly and aggressively, in many cases with billy clubs, rubber bullets, tear gas, and jail cells. In responding in such a way to protests against racist police violence, police departments have only reinforced the point the demonstrations have sought to make: policing in the U.S. is inherently violent and inherently racist.

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Just Say No to CCA

Guest Post by Andrew Krinks

In an editorial-as-advertisement published on May 17 in the Tennessean, Blair Leibach, warden at the CCA-managed Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility, boasted what he understands to be the benefits of correctional facilities operated by the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA). In what follows, I offer a brief response to Leibach’s primary points. My argument, in short, is “No.”

To start, Leibach is writing, as would be expected, from a “crime deserves punishment” logic, which presupposes two things: first, that every person who enters a jail or prison is, in fact, guilty of an act that disrupts or harms the life of another person or a community; and second, that such acts rightly warrant that the alleged “offender” be separated from their community and subjected to various forms of violence. It is simply not true, however, in a country that incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet, that every person who currently sits in jail or prison has, in fact, committed an act that harmed another person or a community. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing and the hyper-criminalization of drug use and trade, thousands and thousands of people, largely from low-income communities and communities of color, sit behind bars for years or even decades for acts that, in many instances, harmed no one. This is not to say that there aren’t people behind bars who have harmed others; the point is that a significant number of people in our correctional facilities are being made to suffer a violence that far outweighs whatever violence they may—or may not!—have committed.

Beyond this, it has been thoroughly demonstrated that that which counts as “crime” under our legal system is applied differently and disproportionately across different communities. As Kahlil Muhammad, for example, shows, non-white and poor persons have historically been associated with an inherent criminality that must be controlled through the vigilant policing and/or removal of such persons from our communities—an attribution that has not historically been applied in the same way to white persons who disrupt or harm the life of communities.

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Soulful Resistance on Tennessee’s Death Row

This week, Vanderbilt Divinity School student Andrew Krinks published an article in The Other Journal based on his interviews with prisoners currently on Tennessee’s death row.  Krinks writes:

To be embodied on death row is to be thoroughly delimited—materially, spatially, and relationally—under another’s control, destined for death strapped to a gurney. As a result, men here have few options but to center their subjectivity beyond the purely material: to be human inside a death machine demands being more than just a body; it demands soulfulness. To understand what it means to be human on Tennessee’s death row, we must look at the material and relational nature of life on death row, the theological frameworks that guide life there, and, finally, the soulful resistance that rehumanizes life in this dehumanizing environment.

Krinks asked the prisoners: “What does this institution want you to know in your body? How does it tell you? How do you hear it?” 

Dan responded first: “They want me to know that they have this body.” After prodding him further to get at how the institution communicates this message, Dan said, “I have to walk through eight locked doors to get from here [open gathering room] to my cell.” Kurt echoed Dan’s response: “They tell you when you can do everything.” And Paul added a similar perspective: “What they tell [my body] is ‘control.’ They tell me how long I can visit with my family and how often.”

And yet, the prisoners also find ways to sustain meaningful relations to others within an institution based on isolation and control:

In terms of their relations with others, it quickly became clear from our interactions that human touch is very important for many of the men on Unit 2. When I entered the room where our first set of interviews would take place, the three men I knew previously and the two who I met for the first time all extended their hands for a handshake that turned into an embrace with the other arm. When I asked them about the extent and nature of physical contact for prisoners on death row, Dan responded, “Not everybody embraces around here, but most of us do. You can’t force it on anyone, but for those who do embrace, it creates communal harmony.” Likewise, Paul said, “Hugs bring about fellowship. It’s more than just coexistence—it’s brotherhood. Our love is unconditional.”

Krinks also asked the prisoners “about the theological concepts that guide their own understandings of the body, the soul, and the relationship between the two.”

On the question of the body, Paul spoke up first, and his answer was met with instantaneous and conclusive agreement: “The body is the temple of God.” On the subject of the soul (or the mind or the spirit),1 my interviewees had significantly more to say. Paul responded, “The spirit is a traveling vehicle—not bound by the laws of man.” Dan said that “The spirit is God breathing the breath of life into you. It’s the living, breathing part of you.”

Krinks’ interviews, and his reflections on these interviews, offer a rare and valuable glimpse into the lives of prisoners on Tennessee’s death row, and a nuanced counter-balance to the mugshots and captions circulated in media reports on the death penalty.

To read Part One of the article, click here.

To read Part Two, click here.