Guest post by Michelle Brown
This is the irony or paradox. Political resistance could kill you, well actually the state could in response to your resistance, but the beloved community could save you. Not from physical death. Nothing would do that, not even god. But from meaningless death and despair. One does not negotiate with the state’s use of terror, violent and premature death (actual physical death or disappearance through incarceration). One opposes it and in that opposition finds meaning in black suffering.
Criminal justice in the United States is a project that intersects with race and mortality at every intersection. In laying out this claim, of course, I have the killing of Michael Brown in mind and recent events and actions in Ferguson, Missouri. I also situate this present moment within the growing historical record of patterned, racialized state killing. I mean to point to a kind of disturbance that is foundational, ordinary, routine: Mass incarceration and capital punishment are produced through a host of everyday discretionary decision-making and institutional practices that make up criminal justice, creating the conditions for premature death, like that of Michael Brown. To name only a few of these (and to engage them superficially at best), consider the following:
- the death penalty and its impacts upon the families of victims and the condemned
- the mandate of force that defines policing (officer-involved shootings and killings, militarization, stop and frisk, spatialization and segregation, surveillance, as, in fact, historically foundational to policing)
- life without parole and the slow death of exorbitant sentences under mass incarceration that effectively end lives in prison (see also: http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/111813-lwop-complete-report.pdf)
- the movement of vulnerable children and youth into punitive juvenile and adult systems, damaging their life odds
- racial disparity and plea bargains
- the life disruptions of criminal justice that shorten existence for its subjects, their families and their community members, including the following:
- the carceral separation of families, especially parents and children
- the individual and collective loss of family members who die violent deaths or are disappeared to prisons
- school– and cradle-to-prison pipelines: the foreclosure of children’s lives in custody and suspension when everyday problems are treated as criminal offenses and the resourcing of criminal justice trumps education, health care, employment, safety, etc.
- the chronic stress diseases and premature deaths of loved ones who engage in the exhausting daily work of job, home, and justice, attempting to bring public attention to carceral conditions and maintain contact with their loved ones in confinement
- a continuing disregard for the lifelong needs of victims who may never find the “closure” invoked symbolically by law and media