Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Organizations of Interest: Policing the Planet – Policing and the Criminal Justice System

Last month I posted my thoughts on Policing the Planet edited by Jordan T Camp and Christina Heatherton. I also posted a list of books on similar topics. At the time of the review, I had also promised a list of organizations working on the topic, but it’s been taking me longer to pull it together. I, unfortunately, didn’t think of this while I was reading but combed through the book for a partial and incomplete list of all of the organizations listed.

Check these organizations, find some in your area, and get involved! All information has been pulled from the organizations’ websites.

  • #thisStopsToday –  #ThisStopsToday convened to respond to the Staten Island grand jury’s expected failure to indict officers in the killing of Eric Garner, and to call for the end of discriminatory “broken windows” policing, characterized by aggressive enforcement of minor quality of life offenses, that led to the killing of Eric and brutality against too many other New Yorkers.
  • #BlackLivesMatter – Black Lives Matter is a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. We are working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.
  • Dignity and Power Now! – Dignity and Power Now (DPN) is a grassroots organization based in Los Angeles that fights for the dignity and power of incarcerated people, their families, and communities.
  • Ella Baker Center for Human Rights – The Ella Baker Center works locally, statewide, and nationally to end mass incarceration and criminalization. We mobilize everyday people to build power and prosperity in our communities.
  • Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) – The mission of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) is to help people dealing with poverty create & discover opportunities, while serving as a vehicle to ensure we have voice, power & opinion in the decisions that are directly affecting us.
  • Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) – An unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD. This groundbreaking campaign is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.
  • Audre Lorde Project – The Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color center for community organizing, focusing on the New York City area. Through mobilization, education and capacity-building, we work for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice. Committed to struggling across differences, we seek to responsibly reflect, represent and serve our various communities.
  • Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice – The only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI human rights around the globe. We support brilliant and brave grantee partners in the U.S. and internationally who challenge oppression and seed change. We work for racial, economic, social, and gender justice, because we all deserve to live our lives freely, without fear, and with dignity.
  • The Red Nation – The Red Nation is dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism. We center Native political agendas and struggles through direct action, advocacy, mobilization, and education.
  • We Charge Genocide – We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago.
  • Lesbian Herstory Archives – The Lesbian Herstory Archives exists to gather and preserve records of Lesbian lives and activities so that future generations will have ready access to materials relevant to their lives. The process of gathering this material will uncover and collect our herstory denied to us previously by patriarchal historians in the interests of the culture which they serve. We will be able to analyze and reevaluate the Lesbian experience; we also hope the existence of the Archives will encourage Lesbians to record their experiences in order to formulate our living herstory.
  • Stop LAPD Spying Coalition – The STOP LAPD SPYING COALITION – Campaign to Rescind Special Order 1(1) is an alliance of different organizations (and, in our case, individuals), each with their own interests, mission and vision, that come together to collaborate and take collective action together toward a common goal(s). We reject all forms of police oppression and any policy that make us all suspects in the eyes of the State. Our vision is the dismantling of government-sanctioned spying and intelligence gathering, in all its multiple forms.
  • National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights – The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) works to defend and expand the rights of all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status.
  • Political Research Associates – Political Research Associates is a social justice think tank devoted to supporting movements that are building a more just and inclusive democratic society. We expose movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights.
  • Youth Justice Coalition – The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is working to build a youth, family, and formerly and currently incarcerated people’s movement to challenge America’s addiction to incarceration and race, gender and class discrimination in Los Angeles County’s, California’s and the nation’s juvenile and criminal injustice systems. The YJC’s goal is to dismantle policies and institutions that have ensured the massive lock-up of people of color, widespread law enforcement violence and corruption, consistent violation of youth and communities’ Constitutional and human rights, the construction of a vicious school-to-jail track, and the build-up of the world’s largest network of jails and prisons.
  • California Prison Moratorium Project – The California Prison Moratorium Project seeks to stop all public and private prison construction in California.
  • Homies Unidos – Homies Unidos works to end violence and promote peace in our communities by empowering youth and their families to become advocates for social justice rather than agents of self-destruction. It is based in LA.
  • Immigrant Defense Project – The Immigrant Defense Project works to secure fairness and justice for immigrants in the United States.
  • Critical Resistance – Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the prison industrial complex (PIC) by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure. As such, our work is part of global struggles against inequality and powerlessness. The success of the movement requires that it reflect communities most affected by the PIC.
  • StoryTelling & Organizing Project – The StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP) is a community project collecting and sharing stories about everyday people taking action to end interpersonal violence.

Check out this link for a list of Canadian organizations. As well, check out:

  • End Immigration Detention Network – The End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) is a coalition of No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Fuerza Puwersa, End Immigration Detention Network Peterborough and Vancouver and No One Is Illegal – Ottawa. We believe that the only fair immigration system is one without deportations and detentions, and call for full immigration status for all migrants. The Campaign to End Indefinite Detentions is our interim campaign.
  • No One Is Illegal – Toronto – No One Is Illegal (Toronto) is a group of immigrants, refugees and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect. We believe that granting citizenship to a privileged few is a part of racist immigration and border policies designed to exploit and marginalize migrants. We work to oppose these policies, as well as the international economic policies that create the conditions of poverty and war that force migration. At the same time, it is part of our ongoing work to support and build alliances with Indigenous peoples in their fight against colonialism, displacement and the ongoing occupation of their land.
  • Black Lives Matter Toronto – To forge critical connections and to work in solidarity with black communities, black-centric networks, solidarity movements, and allies in order to to dismantle all forms of state-sanctioned oppression, violence, and brutality committed against African, Caribbean, and Black cis, queer, trans, and disabled populations in Toronto.
  • End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) – A prison abolition group based in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies – CAEFS is an association of self-governing, community-based Elizabeth Fry Societies that work with and for women and girls in the justice system, particularly those who are, or may be, criminalized.

Do you have other organizations in your own communities that you would recommend?

Thoughts on Undocumented by Aviva Chomsky

Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal by Aviva Chomsky provides a detailed overview of migration and immigration policies specifically within the United States of America as they relate to Mexican and Central American migrants and immigrants. The book traces history from the open borders and heavy recruitment for seasonal work of the 1800’s and early 1900’s through to the first immigration laws targeting Mexican immigrants and the ways in which industry and corporations have benefited from and relied on first seasonal and then undocumented labor. She also talks about the more recent immigration activism and reforms such as DREAMers and DACA and the ways in which they attempt to change the conversations.

In this illuminating work, immigrant rights activist Aviva Chomsky shows how “illegality” and “undocumentedness” are concepts that were created to exclude and exploit. With a focus on US policy, she probes how people, especially Mexican and Central Americans, have been assigned this status—and to what ends. Blending history with human drama, Chomsky explores what it means to be undocumented in a legal, social, economic, and historical context. The result is a powerful testament of the complex, contradictory, and ever-shifting nature of status in America.

The book begins by providing a brief history of where illegality came from. It provides high level ideas and concepts from history of how domination, religion, and race have been used to limit mobility while not delving into the specific laws outside of North America related to this. This general beginning sets the stage for the more detailed examinations in the rest of the book, as it focuses in on immigration history and laws in the US, especially it’s relationship with immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

The author begins from the assumption that we find borders and illegality natural and without question. As my last review showed, I’m not of this mind and I would hope that at least a few others are also of this understanding – that borders and laws and citizenship are constructs created for applied for specific purposes. Chomsky begins by highlighting the similarities between Michelle Alexander’s theory in The New Jim Crow on the criminalization of African Americans and the increasing criminalization of Latinos, with the main difference being that the criminalization of African Americans is to remove them from the labor market while the criminalization of Latinos is to make them especially vulnerable and exploitable in the labor market. This helps set the stage for the ideas and concepts raised through the rest of the book.

Chomsky walks through a history of Immigration laws in the United States, how they were applied, and who they targeted. She also talks about the history of migratory work in Mexico and in Central America and how, in Mexico especially, the US government encouraged it until relatively recently. We see how those coming to work often don’t even realize it is illegal – they are following the same migratory patterns as previously, are working with the same companies, and / or are being recruited by the same recruiters as previously to work within their own country but now the recruiter may be bringing them to a job in the US. She talks about how originally forced migratory work has become a habit for many, especially as local subsistence farming and economic opportunities have disappeared.

In providing a history of immigration law as it relates to those of Mexican and Central American nationalities, some history of anti-immigration sentiment is also provided. In fact, media and politicians are shown as gaining benefits from expressing these sentiments throughout history.

In addition to attracting voters or increasing ratings, the Latino threat narrative serves the more subtle purpose of channeling national anxieties about social inequality; environmental crisis; economic downturn; lack of access to jobs, housing, health care, and education; deteriorating social services; and other real issues facing the US population away from their real cause. Those who benefit from the status quo would rather have people blame immigrants than fight for real social and economic change. (page 102)

Chomsky argues that illegal immigrants are an expected part of the immigration process – that there are less visas available than jobs that need to be filled, that companies prefer to be able to pay employees less and extort bribes up front, and so the system benefits them – why would they change it? The government can deport the employees and then simply assume more will show up to do the work and that any employees injured or who should be able to retire do not need to be assisted in any way. In fact, using undocumented workers makes it much easier for companies to get rid of any who start agitating for better wages or working conditions.

Undocumentedness has everything to do with work and the economy. It is a key component of the late-twentieth-century global system. Every so-called industrialized country – or more accurately, deindustrializing country – relies on the labor of workers who are legally excluded to maintain its high levels of consumption. (page 151)

The use of undocumented labor allows companies to keep prices lower, and allows more individuals within the country to benefit from this exploited labor. Using the structural violence examinations of Violent Borders and applying them to the details provided by Chomsky, we can see clearly how we all benefit from this violence. Lower prices on food, cheap landscaping, and cheap nanny services are just some of the ways in which we might benefit.  In the same way that Jones’ analysis showed the violence caused by keeping poor people within their own borders and subject to low wages and lack of regulation, here Chomsky shows that keeping immigrants undocumented or “illegal” allows companies within the receiving country’s borders to exploit workers in many of the same ways with little to no repercussions.

The inexpensive nature of these services – in part because of the often undocumented immigrant labor that provided them – helped to sustain an illusion of upward mobility for people in the working and middle classes. (page 145)

As well, Chomsky points out the fact that stronger border enforcement has no effect on immigration – while it may make the crossings riskier, it is, rather, political and economic situations in the countries of origin that dictate the fluctuations in migrant crossings. The US has played a part, and continues to play a part, in those very political and economic situations. As well, one large consequence of stronger border enforcement is the breaking of the seasonal patterns of migration – outflows of migrants slows, while new migrants continue to cross over, causing increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants within the borders.

The book ends on a chapter titled Solutions, that unfortunately did not provide many ideas or solutions. The chapter instead provided a recap of immigration law as it relates to people of Mexican and Central American origin. While providing a recap of the book, Chomsky only hints at the idea that the major solution would be free movement for all. Her hope for the book is that it educates people and opens room for more debates, which I think she has done.

This was an interesting and well-written read, although due to the lack of solutions, I did find the book a bit lacking. I wish that chapter had offered true solutions and ideas rather than simply rehashing what had already been said throughout the book. The use of a theory (criminalization of African Americans) that more may be familiar with might also help others see the similarities and civil rights issues endemic to undocumentedness. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about the history of and effects of undocumentedness  on immigrants, on the economy, on regulations, and on all of us.

* Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on Reece Jones’s Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move. The link will take you to that post. I’m working my way through a number of books on immigration policies, borders, and refugees just for my own interest as a bit of a personal project. 

Thoughts on Violent Borders by Reece Jones

Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move by Reece Jones provided a high level overview of borders and the structural and literal violence they cause in various different ways. It examines the actual death toll at borders (40,000 in the last decade alone), as well as the violence caused by less examined issues such as the unequal access to wages and labor regulations and the unequal impacts of environmental change and loss of resources through over-exploitation. The blurb calls it “A major new exploration of the refugee crisis, focusing on how borders are formed and policed”.

The state is a boundary-making institution that legitimizes the exclusion of others from land, resources, wealth, and opportunity through legal regimes and military power. States make exclusive claims to land and resources, define who has access by creating and monitoring social boundaries of belonging, and enforce these exclusions with legally sanctioned violence, such as the right of the police to use force. The structural violence of borders is at the foundation of the state in its role as a collector, protector, and exploiter of resources and labor. (Page 164)

Violent Borders begins with an examination of current borders and their trends to militarization around the EU, the US, and various other places including India, Bangladesh, and Australia. Through these examples, we see the death toll caused at these borders as people desperate to escape war and poverty attempt to cross them. Here we see the most obvious and reported upon violence caused by borders – individuals shot trying to cross, or dying during their journey, and the ways in which the border enforcement directly envisions and plans for theses deaths. For example, forcing migrants on the US-Mexico border to more remote and dangerous areas where death tolls will be higher and which, officials and planners imagine, will make people decide the risks aren’t worth it.

Using the example of Andrew Carnegie, Jones next shows how free movement during a specific point in the past allowed those experiencing poverty and the loss of jobs, in large part due to industrialization, to move elsewhere for better opportunities. As states have moved to create immigration policies, the industrialization of countries outside of Europe leaves the poor and newly jobless with no escape possible as there are no settler-colonies accepting immigrants. This highlights the ways in which so-called developed nations benefited previously from free movement and benefit now from restrictions on movement. A history of border creation through the ages from the Magna Carta, which allowed for free use of the public commons, through to the current age of private property and fences highlights the ways in which the wealthy have long benefited from these borders.

Borders, which currently affect the movement of people but not goods, impose limits on free markets which results in violence in terms of low wages, lack of regulations, and so on around the world. Workers in the US were historically able to agitate for better working conditions and create unions because the majority of goods came from within the border, meaning that any regulations were applied broadly across all competitors. The increasing globalization of goods allows companies to now get around these regulations and laws, which aim to protect workers, because state borders constrain the regulations and wages, but not the goods.

…while global institutions like the WHO and free trade agreements allow corporations to operate across borders, regulators and workers are contained by them. (page 132)
As long as labor is contained by borders and not protected by basic labor and environmental standards, the systems of exploitation will continue regardless of whether individual companies change their practices. (page 138)

Borders also allow states the ability to focus on resource exploitation and extraction within their own areas in disregard of global impacts. The expansion of exclusive economic zones in the sea is leading to increased resource exploitation – despite the popular theory of the “tragedy of the commons”, history shows that states look out for their own interests at the expense of global needs. Border walls disrupt animal habitats and change water ways and migration patterns. Borders make impossible any true action on climate change as each state looks out primarily for its own interests rather than global interests.

The structural violence of borders concentrates the negative impacts of borders on more vulnerable places and contains the affected people to those areas through movement restrictions at borders. (page 153)

Thus, the book argues: borders have been created, borders cause violence, and the only legitimacy that they have is that which we give them. Jones ends with three ideas and options for moving forward to a world allowing free movement of people and access to resources and opportunities. Jones argues that those in a privileged position are currently privileged in part due to their exploitation of others, and free movement as both a human and civil right is necessary. He also argues for global regulations on working conditions, which would improve job conditions around the world and create more jobs everywhere, including Europe and the US. Lastly, he argues for global environmental protections and responsibilities as well as limits on free property.

The exclusion of others from resources and opportunity is based on the idea that the in-group should be protected no matter what, with little regard for what effect it might have on the other and without questioning why there is a distinction between “us” and “them” in the first place. Rather than hard lines around nations of people and their homelands, political borders are systems for controlling land and resources and limiting the movement of people. The “nations” they enclose are not long-term historical realities, but new political communities that developed with the emergence of states and borders. (page 168)

Overall a well-written examination of the visible and invisible violence caused by borders, and a look at how we can envision and create a more just and free world. My only complaint is the comparisons of serfdom and current global working conditions to slavery. I understand the modern-day slavery movement and the ways in which the working conditions, low wages, and lack of options are termed slavery, but it also seems disrespectful to historical slavery which was a completely different thing – forced work, being sold as chattel, no wages, no changes for escape, families being torn apart. What is termed modern-day slavery, in my opinion, should have a different name.

A recommended read and it seems like this will be a great introduction for my current reading project on borders, immigration policies, and refugees. I’m looking forward to see how these themes interact with the topics of my next reads.

*This was the ONLY one of the seven books I looked into regarding borders, immigration policy, and refugees which my library had in general circulation. Many of the others were there, but only a reference copy. Very disappointing, especially in this current political climate, as reading on this topic seems especially relevant. 

Thoughts on Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto  is a book where “Outspoken critic Jessa Crispin delivers a searing rejection of contemporary feminism… and a bracing manifesto for revolution.” Through the book she talks about the issues with lean in, commercial, and choice feminism and how they dilute and make meaningless the word “feminist”. She takes on the idea that all decisions are feminist decisions, that we don’t have to do the hard work of learning and of questioning our life and our choices. That women are often complicit in both our own oppression and in continuing oppressive systems, just with us as part of that system instead of outside of it.

Are you a feminist? Do you believe women are human beings and that they deserve to be treated as such? That women deserve all the same rights and liberties bestowed upon men? If so, then you are a feminist . . . or so the feminists keep insisting. But somewhere along the way, the movement for female liberation sacrificed meaning for acceptance, and left us with a banal, polite, ineffectual pose that barely challenges the status quo. In this bracing, fiercely intelligent manifesto, Jessa Crispin demands more.

Why I Am Not A Feminist is a radical, fearless call for revolution. It accuses the feminist movement of obliviousness, irrelevance, and cowardice—and demands nothing less than the total dismantling of a system of oppression.

Sounds good right? And there were some really great points. There were so many times I found myself nodding along, or where I was really agreeing – usually that happened each time she brought up a new point and lasted until about the third or fifth or seventh paragraph where it got problematic. How did it get problematic? Let me provide (some of) the my thoughts (in no particular order).

First: Let me make this as clear as it should have been in the marketing material / description / title. This is not a book for all feminists. This is a book aimed to an audience of heterosexual white middle-class feminists. Those who don’t fit this narrow stereotype are likely to feel alienated. The book begins from this premise that feminism is excluding “other” groups, and White feminism has, but that is a subset of what exists. While Crispin does acknowledge in places that she is talking about White feminism specifically, the book still was written in such a way that anyone outside of this group seemed to not exist. (For example, the statement that feminists could be, but often aren’t, building alliances with “people of colour … religious minorities and the poor.”, which assumes that you, as the reader, are not any of those. Or that if you are, you must not be a feminist.) And let’s be honest, women of colour feminists have done an incredible amount of activism and academic work – feminism would be a sorry place if they hadn’t always been a part of the movement.

Second: Crispin implies a level of indifference with micro-aggressions and believes that calling them out takes away from “real life struggles”, is hateful, et cetera. Sure, context is important in some cases, which is one of her points (and her example uses this type of scenario), but that does not excuse micro-aggressions and even outright hate speech and acts. We shouldn’t let those who perpetuate harm off the hook because ‘culture’ and because ‘we should be focusing on systemic issues not individual acts’. Systemic issues are important, but so is holding individuals accountable. And when one often isn’t the target of the comments or jokes or actions, it is easier to say that they are unimportant and should be ignored.

Third: As a real gem, the critique of using female safety as a justification for war or for expanding the criminal justice system was on point. But then, right after this, she talks about how if cases of rape are “he said / she said”, we should applaud judges throwing them out. Because we’re at a time when women’s claims are taken seriously and we should be careful about our desire for revenge. Which is… definitely some fantasy world in which I want to live, where women’s claims of rape and harassment are believed and it is our revenge fantasies causing us to seek prosecution. (While I am pro-prison abolition and am against the PIC, it is not because I am concerned about the revenge inspired victimization of men by women.) Falling back to that excuse for throwing out cases is disingenuous and part of the problem that feminists need to work to resolve – namely ending violence against women and granting equal belief to women’s testimonies.

As Leigh Gilmore says in Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives (which I am reading right now): “How “he said/she said” has come to be seen as something other than the prompt from which due process begins suggests that women lie outside the frame of justice from the beginning.” And also: “”nobody knows what really happened” is the starting point of a trial. Like the presumption of innocence, it names a suspension of judgement rather than the imposition of doubt.”

Fourth: Crispin is a staunch defender of and cheerleader for second wave radical feminists such as Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin, and others. Yes, they did some great work. Yes, we shouldn’t always throw out the baby with the bath water, as the saying goes. But their lack of intersectionality and their, in some cases, trans exclusionary stances are pretty big issues. She says ” Lately, older feminist writers and activists have been vilified by the younger generations for not using the right language, for arguing points that are no longer fashionable, and for just taking a different point of view.” If the language or unfashionable points are trans exclusionary points and language then we do well to criticize. It could be that some of their ideas or works are being ignored because of reasons other than their looks.

Basically – I wanted to love this book. I agree with many of the authors points. I think feminism has to mean constantly learning and being better and pushing for change. I think that working within the system simply props up the system and slightly expands who is “in” while maintaining oppressive systems. I think that men have to do their own work to educate themselves and not rely on women to do that work for them or to excuse them. BUT I just found too many problems. Too many instances of one specific example being thrown out to justify some large assumption or stereotype.

In so many instances Crispin seems to imagine this rosy world, which is ruined by people calling themselves feminists focusing on the wrong issues. She both wants us to be more radical and on the fringes, yet also wants us to ignore micro-aggressions and not seek retribution against individuals who cause harm. She both lambastes feminism for being exclusionary while writing a book targeted to an exclusive group, within which she excuses those she admires for being  exclusionary.

This book falls into this weird space that was in some instances super radical and in others super weak, often within the same sections. I wanted it to be so much more. In too many instances it generalized or glossed over or just threw out ridiculous arguments or examples as if they were the norm. Mostly I think I’m disappointed because I expected it to be so much more than it was.

I’ll go back to more academic and intersectional texts now.

Related Reading: Policing the Planet – Policing and the Criminal Justice System

Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on Policing the Planet edited by Jordan T Camp and Christina Heatherton. Are you looking for more books on similar topics? Check out these other great titles (links lead to old reviews):

Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen by David Hilfiker – An examination of how economics, policies, and racism created and shaped inner city ghettos. (FIVE STARS)

It is also true, however, that we tend to punish the kinds of crimes committed by the poor more severely than similar ones committed by affluent people. Compare, for example, shoplifting and “fudging” on an expense account. Each is a nonviolent crime against business. Since neither source of income is usually reported to the Internal Revenue Service, each is a federal crime. Yet the shoplifter is much more likely to be prosecuted than the executive manipulating his expense account.

Rape New York by Jana Leo – Leo examines development policies and crime especially as it intersects with her own rape. (FIVE STARS)

Introducing crime into an area is part of a crude development strategy. The more sophisticated and perverse approach is to simultaneously clamp down on street crime while forcing it into specific buildings targeted for speculation. Containing crime in specific buildings reduces their value so developers can purchase them inexpensively.

Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement and Resistance by Karlene Faith – A look at women in the justice system (in Canada!) and the ways in which the justice system is but the latest in a long line of efforts which have been used to keep women in their places. (FIVE STARS)

The continuum, then, does not follow deterministically from victimization to criminalization. Rather, social victims en masse serve as the very large pool from which the anomalous woman, who sells sex, steals or hurts people and gets caught, is a candidate for prosecution. These unruly masses are the target of criminal justice as well as the target of other dominant regulatory institutions in bureaucratized societies. The continuum from victimization to criminalization is arbitrarily drawn according to power relations as constructed through racially divided and class-based social structures, in tandem with the authority of law and other dominant discourses such as medicine, social sciences and welfare, which all serve selective law enforcement practices.

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis – One of (if not the) first book I read on the US prison industrial complex. Davis discusses the history of prisons in the US as well as the criminalization of groups and communities which has led to the current state. She ends by providing options and alternatives. (More on Angela Davis coming in a post at some point in the near future.)

Thus, if we are willing to take seriously the consequences of a racist and class-biased justice system, we will reach the conclusion that enormous numbers of people are in prison simply because they are, for example, black, Chicano, Vietnamese, Native American or poor, regardless of their ethnic background. They are sent to prison, not so much because of the crimes they may have indeed committed, but largely because their communities have been criminalized. Thus, programs for decriminalization will not only have to address specific activities that have been criminalized – such as drug use and sex work – but also criminalized populations and communities.

More great reads that I haven’t reviewed but which provide more context and history on policing or the justice system:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander – a history of racial injustices and how they are a continuation of Jim Crow systems of justice. (FIVE STARS)
  • The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko – a history of how we got to the current state of the militarized police force and the results of this on how they interact with those they are supposed to protect and serve.
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – memoir by a lawyer who works with the wrongfully convicted, children, domestic abuse survivors, and others. It discusses the injustices built into the justice system.
  • Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado – Benforado is fully on the reform bandwagon, but in this book he does a great job of examining many issues (biases and injustices) built in to the current justice system.
  • Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted by Ian Millhiser – an examination of the Supreme Court since the Civil War that shows how the rulings go more often against justice, despite a few recent historic rulings.
  • Racial Reckoning: Prosecuting America’s Civil Rights Murders by Renee C. Romano – while this book isn’t as related, it is still interesting and I make the case that it provides a great lens through which to view the police and the justice system. Through examinations of the more recent prosecutions of civil rights atrocities we see the limitations of the justice system.

Have you read any great books on policing or the justice system that my list is missing? Please let me know so that I can search them out!

Thoughts on Policing the Planet Edited By Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter is a collection of 22 incredibly intersectional and deeply researched essays on policing in the US and internationally. The collection is edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton and contains a poem as well as numerous essays by and interviews with activists and scholars.

I don’t know where I first heard about this book, but it’s been on my wishlist since around the time that it was published last year. Mid-January my boyfriend gifted it to me, because clearly I picked an amazing partner. Now all I want to do is push it on everyone – seriously, it’s that good.

Cover image for Policing the Planet

How policing became the major political issue of our time

Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.

With contributions from #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Ferguson activist and Law Professor Justin Hansford, Director of New York–based Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang, poet Martín Espada, and journalist Anjali Kamat, as well as articles from leading scholars Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D. G. Kelley, Naomi Murakawa, Vijay Prashad, and more, Policing the Planet describes ongoing struggles from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador, and beyond.

Broken Windows Policing, also sometimes called Community Policing, is the idea that by cracking down hard on small crimes such as littering, graffiti, loitering, public drunkenness, and et cetera with a zero tolerance policy people will be dissuaded committing major crimes. In other words, by showing that the police care about and enforce all rules punitively, it will theoretically scare people away from the idea of larger or more violent crimes. It was developed originally in 1982 in The Atlantic Monthly by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, and has been embraced hugely since then.

The problems with this theory are legion, but a key point raised throughout the book is this – who defines community? Because certain people get identified as being “outside” of the community (the homeless, the racialized poor people, LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people, Native people, immigrants, drug users) it is considered acceptable if they are harmed by the police in order to maintain “order” and “safety” for those considered within the community. This harm can come through increased stops, increased fines and arrests, and increases in prison populations. All of these harms then appear on a person’s record which leads to further cascading harm as they are shut out of what remains of the social net, in many cases. The policy can lead to “cleanup” of neighborhoods, increasing property value and enabling further gentrification in neighborhoods people have lived in for years.

A second main problem, raised again and again, which is tied to the first, is the way that the policy targets and disorders individuals and behavior as opposed to issues and crimes. For example, the homeless are arrested and / or fined and /or removed from the area, but there is no action taken against slum landlords who aren’t maintaining their properties. And no action on actual broken windows on bank owned foreclosed homes. As another example, people of color are routinely stopped and frisked in certain neighborhoods because they are seen as not belonging but there is no action against discriminatory hiring practices and stealing of tips.

Abolition of policing is provided by many as the true solution to the problems. Many essays discuss the history of policing and about its beginning in the days of slave patrols and its continued use throughout history to maintain separation and penalize difference. While some activists point to short term solutions, it is important to look intersectionally at all facets of the situation to ensure that existing structures and issues aren’t maintained. Although broken windows policing originated in the United States, it has been exported around the world as some of the essays discuss. The issue is a global one and many organizations are working together for justice.

An example of the definition of community and of how activism can sometimes provide limited gains while leaving the underlying structures in place is given in Christina B. Hanhardt‘s essay “Broken Windows at Blue’s: Queer History of Gentrification and Policing“. In the essay she talks about the rise of broken windows policing in New York City and the concurrent rise in the acceptability of white gay identity due to investment in gentrifying neighborhoods. The white gay middle class investment in the city was seen as part of the “back-to-the-city” movement and this group started to be seen as increasingly different from poor, immigrant, and non-white gay individuals, as well as from trans or gender non-conforming individuals. They thus because part of the accepted “community” while the underlying structure and problems were left unchanged.

She states:

[…] mainstream gay political claims in the city emerged by expanding the distance – conceptual and spatial – between affirmative gay identity and the broad matrix of so-called deviances often associated with racialized poverty.

They thus because part of the accepted “community” while the underlying structure and problems were left unchanged. As we move forward with advocacy, this is what reform efforts can often lead to and is why we have to think critically about any reforms being proposed.

As Rachel Herzing says in “The Magical Life of Broken Windows“:

We need terms of engagement that don’t root our own survival in the suppression or denial of another’s humanity.

In the coming days I will put up a few related posts on related reading, organizations working on the topic, and other media.

Noir Reads Subscription Box – Did You Subscribe?

Earlier this month I heard about a new monthly subscription box, Noir Reads, which promises to deliver great Black Authors to your front door each month. Their site says, about the books:

Noir Reads is simple and easy way to read Black literature to develop or deepen your understanding of Black culture & the Black experience by introducing readers to writers of the Diaspora and engaging in dynamic discussions with a growing private online community.”

The box will contain 2-3 books as well as a reading guide and access to an online book club. I LOVE this idea. I’m a huge fan of subscription boxes, but because I’m in Canada and the majority of them seem to originate in the USA, shipping can be prohibitive. While this box was way more cost friendly then most I’ve seen (at $35 per month), the shipping was still expensive to Canada ($25 – sad face). For that reason I didn’t sign up, but I’m curious – did you? It was open to only the first 200 subscribers and is now sold out, I’m interested to see if they will open it up to more subscribers, or if a separate access will be available to join in the book club.

One of the main goals mentioned by the co-founders (Zellie Imani and Derick Brewer) is to foster community and a deeper understanding. The February theme and books have been announced, and they are both books which I already own, so I’m glad for that reason that I didn’t subscribe.

I am going to try to make sure to read the books each month that they select, as I love the premise and am going to be making even more of an effort this year to read diversely. February’s theme is From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation and features Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis (which I read earlier this month) and From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor (which I ordered earlier this month and is expected to arrive tomorrow).

 

Brief Thoughts on November Nonfiction Reads (2)

As I get back into blogging, one thing I’m going to have to keep reminding myself is to keep reading what *I* want to read. During my time away from blogging world, I read fairly widely and diversely. I find as I get back into the blogging world, I’m getting all kinds of great sounding recommendations that I’m searching out – but the end result is that my reading is threatening to become less diverse. Where you get your recommendations matters, as does the echo chamber that blogging often creates.

In the past week I’ve read another 4 non-fiction books. Here are some brief thoughts on each of them.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

This collection of essays was not at all what I imagined it was going to be. I tend to like going into books with little to no advance knowledge of their subject, because I like the surprise. Generally with nonfiction, however, I pick books based on their subject. In this case, I added the book to my hold list at the library based on a couple of tweets on her writing and how fantastic it was. Obviously I gravitated toward the nonfiction offerings, and this collection appeared to be about books and reading and so I requested it.

Imagine my surprise when I begin reading and find a collection of essays on religion, divinity, theology, history, anthropology, science, culture, politics, and more! The writing is beautiful and the ideas are expansive and kind and marvelous. Her take on religion is one which grants every human the highest level of intelligence. She dissects many texts on religion and atheism and science, bringing up different opinions or aspects, looking at anthropology and history, and comparing what we say to how we act. A key point she makes a few times on the subject is that all authors have their own biases and start from certain assumptions, and so even the most objective nonfiction books should be read skeptically. This is a great point that we should all remember, and is a great reminder on why we should read widely.

A truly remarkable collection of essays that, while I didn’t agree with in all parts, I still enjoyed reading.

I am convinced that the broadest possible exercise of imagination is the thing most conducive to human health, individual and global. (page 26)

Since it is intelligence that distinguishes our species and inventiveness that has determined our history, by what standard should an unconventional act or attitude be called unnatural? (page 145)

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller

I’m not sure what is dangerous about reading fifty books, but Miller does make a case that the reading that he did changed his life, reminding him of the pleasures of reading and bringing more happiness into his life. The book chronicles his decision to actually read many of the books he claimed, throughout his life, that he had actually read. From that list of 12, he continued on to read another 38. The titles are varied but ranging mostly from classic to male cult favorites.

At one point the author remarks on the internationalism of his list (which contained only British, American, Irish, Russian, and German authors…) while bemoaning the sparsity of female authors on the list. That tells you something, perhaps, of my thoughts on the books he chose – I found the lack of diversity and gender ratio (5 to 1) disappointing. While there are titles I want to read from among his list, some of the books didn’t interest me at all.

The idea of books having an impact on your life is of course something I would agree with. Miller’s constant assertions on the imminent death of libraries and paper books I agreed with less, as with his comments on giving up on a book, or his frequent disparaging comments on Dan Brown. He seemed to go back and forth on what could or couldn’t be included as a “great book”, often seeming rather dismissive of things he didn’t particular enjoy.

Could someone honestly call themselves well-read without reading Middlemarch, Moby-Dick, and Anna Karenina? Probably not. (page 53)

I frequently yearned to escape from my dull routine and a great book – of any stripe – offers us a cheap getaway from reality. But there are all sorts of holiday destinations and a multitude of ways to travel. (page 101)

Stitches by David Small

Another graphic memoir! (I swear I usually read a lot less memoirs…!) This book takes us through Small’s early life growing up in Detroit, his family troubles, and the results of a harmless operation. Beautiful illustrations and an interesting story.

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig

I have some feelings about this book as well. It was interesting and informative, and I highly recommend it as a great historical look at an important scientific breakthrough that affects so many of us. That being said, I think it, as with any book, contains some biases.

As the author mentioned a few times, the results of some of the trials and tests may have gone differently if more women had had a say in what were acceptable side effects. Along the same line, I wondered if a woman or a person of color might discuss some points in more detail that Eig seems willing to brush aside. For example: Sanger was a remarkable lady who accomplished much, but Eig seems a bit forgiving of her part in the eugenics movement, almost arguing that she said the things she did and allied with groups that she did solely to advance her own cause. As well, the trials in Puerto Rico are still a point of bitterness and contention, and when I’ve read about them in the past they’ve been used as examples of how trials should not be done. Again, Eig almost brushes this off, as if it were necessary to do the trials in the way they did.

While an interesting read, I recommend reading with an open mind and then doing some independent research. I haven’t read it, but one book on my wish list dealing with this subject is Sonia Shah’s The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World’s Poorest Patients.

What have you been reading for nonfiction November?

Brief Thoughts on November Nonfiction Reads

I had plans to actually get some longer thoughts posted on a few books I read and loved recently, but work got busy, and now my mom and aunt are visiting for a few days. My mom flew in from PEI with oysters and mussels so we’ve had a seafood feast, and now we’re entertaining ourselves with food and shows and more tasty food!

Since November 1st I’ve read 5 non-fiction books. That number is so high because three of them were graphic novels (which seems to be a bit of a theme this year in my reading, and in the nonfiction reading of others this month), one was a cookbook, and one was a book of poetry (which perhaps shouldn’t count, but I think do). Here are my thoughts on all five of them.

Dinner: The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach

I picked this book up because I LOVE Dinner: A Love Story by Rosenstrach. It is basically my food bible. I’ve gifted it a number of times and each time I have, I get back rave reviews. It is a good story, but also packed with simple yet truly delicious (and complicated tasting!) meals. Unfortunately I didn’t love The Playbook nearly as much. It is written as a challenge – to cook 30 new meals for your family in 30 days, as a way to get out of the rut of eating the same thing and of kids being unwilling to try new things. The recipes look good, but if you’re already happy enough with your cooking and variety, I recommend her first instead of this one. If you need a challenge to help you out, then try this one.

Fun Home: A Tragicomedy & Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Odd fact about me: I am generally very uncomfortable with memoirs. People are writing about their own lives, without the distance that an outside third-party might bring to their story, and they are writing while other inhabitants of their stories and worlds are still alive. This always leads me to wondering what those being written about actually think, and how much their lives may be disrupted by the publication.

Bechdel, in her defense, does talk about this. Are You My Mother? includes various discussions between her and her mother about the writing of Fun Home, about her mother’s thoughts on it, and about her mother’s thoughts on writing a book about her. It also included conversations with girlfriends and with therapists, and was really as much a look at the psychoanalytical theories on growing up and the bond between mothers and daughters, the effects of growing up in abusive homes, and so on as it was a true story about her and her mother.

Fun Home, rather than tackling the subject of the effects of family on later life, is all about her father, their life growing up with him, some of his history, and his death. It discusses his violence, his time in therapy, his brush with the law, and his sexuality. Bechdel compares her coming out as gay to his closeted gayness. I’m just going to say that the parts about her dad and his, basically, grooming of younger men did put me off slightly, as the power imbalance (he was a teacher) could have affected consent. Did anyone else wonder on this, or was that just me?

Both books are graphic memoirs, broken into different chapters which don’t necessarily flow in a chronological order. I found them both to be slightly disjointed, although interesting. Decent reads, though not favourites.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Another graphic memoir, although this one, being more about the author herself and not disparaging of others in her life, didn’t make me quite as uncomfortable as memoirs generally do. In Relish Knisley discusses memories and food, and how the two are often linked for her. Her family is heavily involved in food and the food industry, and so food made up a large part of her life. Through the memoir she shares different memories through her life of food, cooking, and travels. Each chapter ends with a short recipe, which all looked interesting and delicious. I again found it decent but not a favourite.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppernann

I saved the best for last – this collection of poems was incredible. The collection starts with an opening poem titled The Woods:

The action’s always there.
Where are the fairy tales about gym class
or the doctor’s office of the back of the bus
where bad things also happen?
Pigs can buy cheap building materials
just as easily in the suburbs.
Wolves stage invasions. Girls spit out
cereal, break chairs, and curl beneath
covers like pill bugs or selfish grannies
avoiding the mess.
No need for a bunch of trees.
You can lost your way anywhere.

So many lines and stanzas and whole poems in this collection really resonated and could become quotable favourites. Heppernann does a great job bringing the fairy tale to every day life, showing the ways the stories we are told as children continue to both resonate through our lives and haunt our lives. She expertly skewers the beauty myths and expectations placed on young women throughout, in unsettling, dark, and beautiful poems.

You can feel free to skip the rest, but I highly recommend you pick up this one!

What have you been reading through the start of nonfiction November?

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

I am a huge fan of nonfiction, so am ridiculously excited about Nonfiction November! The event is being hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Leslie (Regular Rumination), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books). The opening meme is being hosted by Kim – go on over and participate!

While I read a variety of types of books, nonfiction usually makes up between 30-40% by year-end. Right now it’s sitting at around 36% of my reading for the year so far. I’ve read 56 nonfiction books so far this year. Of those: 16 male authors, 44 female authors, 2 with trans or genderqueer authors (some were anthologies which contained multiple authors). 15 were by authors of color, another 9 were international (outside of US or Canada), and 14 included LGBTQ authors and topics.  Without really trying, mainly due to my interest in sociology and social justice, my reading tends to fall to at least 25% non-white authors and GLBTQ authors and topics.

New this year, 8 of the nonfiction titles I read were cookbooks or craftbooks. In the past I’ve not read many of these types of books. (Unsurprisingly, they skewed toward female authors, but white and het- cis- authors.) This has been due to my increased time for cooking and crafting. Another 7 could be classified as memoir – most of which I wasn’t a huge fan of (more on this later this month, I’m sure). Three were graphic novels.

Overall, quite a variety. You can see the full list of what I’ve read here.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

I am having a hard time trying to pick just one or even just a couple. I want to list over a dozen here… But let me try to at least keep it only to a dozen! Here they are in order read:

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

As has Kim, I’ve recommended The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison many times! I’ve also recommended A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory From a Prairie Landscape by Candace Savage and Israel / Palestine and the Queer International by Sarah Schulman to various friends.

(I cheated by taking these off of my favourites list and moving them here – they are all also very high on my favourite reads of the year list!)

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Hmmm… to be honest, I think I’ve read fairly widely so far this year. I hope I can just continue that trend!

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I’m mainly excited to see more bloggers talking about nonfiction – it just doesn’t get nearly enough love! I’m also hoping to help ease myself back into blogging with it.