Racial Foundations of Public Policy is a fall 2021 virtual speaker series that focuses on the historical roots and impact of race in shaping public policy as both a disciplinary field and as a course of action. The series will bring in renowned scholar-experts from across the country to be in conversation with Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes, director of the Center for Racial Justice at the Ford School of Public Policy. The series is open to all members of the University of Michigan community and the wider public.
Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Welcome to the Racial Foundations and Public Policy series hosted by the Center for racial justice at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes director of the center, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Ford School, and a professor of Public Policy and Sociology. At the Ford School, we seek a world in which people are able to achieve their full human potential, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other categories that have been used to divide and systematically marginalize people. We train leaders here who understand the critical role of public policy in improving our world, we recognize the power of public policy to bolster or undercut our life opportunities and experiences, and we see policy analysis as a critically important tool for us to measure, reflect, historically examine and help us define the way forward.
CW: At the Center for racial justice, we seek to illuminate evidence-based solutions to address deep challenges around racial inequity, and to support the change makers who advocate for sound, just and fair public policies. We take an intersectional approach, seeking to expand knowledge and highlight strategies and tools that address the complex intersection between public policy and inequity. As we examine the fraught histories and consequences of some of our policies and the transformative power of others, we learn a valuable lesson, effective and just public policy can only be achieved if we bring diverse perspectives to the table. This fall, the center will feature a cadre of scholars to deliver virtual presentations on the historical roots and contemporary currents of race and economic criminal justice, education and immigration policy.
CW: We encourage you to review our website for the dates of those events, join us also for our virtual master class in activism on Wednesday, October 6th at 4:00 PM, featuring educator, humanitarian and social justice freedom fighter, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. So now I'm delighted to introduce to you the second speaker for our inaugural Center for racial justice, racial foundations and Public Policy Series, Dr. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve. Dr. Van Cleve is a writer, sociologist and legal scholar, whose research examines how the criminal justice system reproduces racism despite due process protections. She is author of the acclaimed book, Crook County racism and injustice in America's largest criminal court, which is the winner of 11 awards or finalist distinctions for its contribution to the areas of sociology, law, criminal justice and media. She is the winner of our disciplines, highest honor the American Sociological association's Distinguished Book Prize, as well as an NAACP Image Award-winning finalist in the category of outstanding literary work by a debut author.
CW: Her new book, The Waiting Room, is part of the series, the Southside from Amazon original stories and is a collaboration with the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at The Marshall Project. Dr. Gonzalez Van Cleve's written commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Atlantic, NBC News, Crain's Chicago Business and CNN. Her legal commentary has been featured on NPR, NBC news, CNN, and The Rachel Maddow Show. Currently, Dr. Gonzalez Van Cleve is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Brown University and an affiliated scholar with the American Bar Foundation in Chicago. She's a native Chicagoan and a first-generation college graduate and a proud alum of Northwestern University. Dr. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, welcome. Welcome.
Dr. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve: Thank you so much. Hi everyone. It's great to be here at Michigan, Virtually.
CW: Virtually... Virtually, yes. So as a sociologist, you focus on understanding the historical and contemporary disparities within our criminal justice system with a sociological perspective, why is a sociological approach important for discussions of criminal justice policy?
DC: Well, I think one of the quickest answers is to think about how we saw the George Floyd murder, and in some cases, policymakers talked about this is, this kind of one-off a phenomenon, it's just a bad cop. A bad apple trope. And I think that's one of the things that I seek to dispel in my research, is that institutions and cultures are bigger than one individual, and if we think of them as one individual, we see something that happened, a tragedy that happened, as kind of an outlier, rather than part of a pattern that in some ways indicates how policing occurs not just in one jurisdiction, but across multiple jurisdictions. And so I think Sociology has a lot to say about how we understand and look at systemic approaches, it's a policy and how we think about institutions and institutions being policing as an institution, courts as an institution, and our American justice system is very different.
DC: Some people call it a non-system 'cause it's so unique in every jurisdiction, but there are patterns that transcend all jurisdiction, and I think one of the challenges I've tried to both do empirically, but in terms of communicating in the media is, I study Chicago, which is one of the largest unified court systems in America. It is the wrongful conviction capital of the world, wrongfully convicts more innocent people than any other place, it has the largest jail that's the size of 72 American football fields. And so when we look at it, to me, it always seemed like the perfect American city. Not unlike Detroit, not unlike New York, not unlike Miami-Dade county, other big urban jurisdictions to say, let's study these social problems and see what is generalizable to other places. And so as a researcher, we have to think about, are these inherent problems that happen in, say, Chicago or Minnesota, Minneapolis or in Los Angeles, for instance, are they really truly any different.
DC: And partnering with other empirical researchers that can actually show in other areas that some of the phenomenons that you find in your research are generalizable, those are really important as well. So one of the findings in Crook County for instance, was that judges use... Judges and lawyers use racial tropes to sort people into categories based on racial identity, racial stigma, that corresponded with criminal charges, that's not something that I think many policy makers would predict. They might assume that due process protections are in place, the judges are impartial, that a court record when somebody, some ways be an indication of truth or fact finding and be non-negotiable, but the social scientist, the sociologist goes in and see how that is practiced on the ground.
DC: And then working with a collaborator in Los Angeles, we saw some of the same racial tropes used in Chicago, in the court system, used in Los Angeles in the jail. And so that becomes really important because we can't say that something like racism is just part of Chicago, it transcends places and spaces in America, and I think that's the big lens that we need to kind of approach both studying the systems and then imagining the policies that might intervene and make it more equitable.
CW: And it's so interesting, just as you talk about using the case of Chicago and then being able to see those trends in other contexts, and when we talk about policy reform, both local but national understanding, all of those dynamics and what they look like and how they're playing out and how they're being replicated, I think it's critically important. And the criminal justice system is formative as a policy institution in a variety of ways, talk about the impact in the overlays between the criminal justice system, and a lot of our other societal structures and systems, whether we're thinking about employment or housing or healthcare or education.
DC: Right, when we think of the criminal justice system, some scholars have called it, it's like a social service provider of last resort, or first resort, actually. So it should be the last resort. Meaning if you have mental illness and people have tried to get you medical care, and then the final thing is that you did something violent or so disruptive and we cannot treat you, incarceration if that's our last route. I mean, maybe, maybe that's okay, but I would even say it's probably not, but we're using it as a first response, as a first response to so many different types of behaviors that often have to do with addiction and mental health issues. We've also created the conditions upon which we can create crime, which would be poverty, segregation, and when you deprive resources within communities, you create that crime, and so it seems as though the solution would be policing.
DC: I think a friend of mine, an alumni named Robert Vargas, we studied at the same time at Northwestern together, he had this amazing study where he looked in Chicago neighborhood by neighborhood, and he went to a "High crime neighborhood" and looked where it was gerrymandered, and he looked at the same neighborhood. They were Mexican-American citizens, mostly living there, new immigrants, and most people were very poor, but where it was gerrymandered, made all the difference. So the people on the Well-resource side where Alderman were fighting for violence prevention resources, there was less crime than the other side of the street. And so, again it really dispel this idea that it's a culture or people or some kind of moral deficiency that creates crime that only police supposedly can solve, when really we can see how resources matter, how an Alderman or a local policy maker can actually create policies that have to do with after school programs, better education, job training, child care to support families, communities to make them more safe and more secure.
DC: And so I think to me that the criminal justice system has become this kind of catch all for social problems, and so I think that is one of the things that I hope students will start interrogating is that when they hear the word criminal justice, they should start thinking what other institution could have solved this, what other policy somewhere else could have solved this. And we moved into a community that had free day camp from 9:00-4:00 everyday, all throughout the summer, and I thought, Can you imagine the transformation in Detroit if you provided a free camp and this was just a local park, every day, the high school students would lead to things. It was a way in which the high school students had mentorship and oversight of some younger children, and they became more responsible, parents could drop off, they knew they had a safe place to play activities, caring folks to oversee that the children are safe and doing well. Create that for every poor town in America, and I think you would see... We've never tested that. How about that? We've never tested that, but we are interested in testing hotspot policing where we swarm neighborhoods and make people feel traumatized and surveilled 24/7, and that's not always working as well.
CW: Right. I love the way... There's so much to what you said that is so helpful and impactful, and one thing that I wanna just draw out is, is we're teaching our students this idea that... This question that you raised about what other institutions could have been responsive to this particular set of social issues and the way in which we really need to be thinking about the criminal justice system as a perverted safety net, as I like the term safety net, of last resort, but it's a perversion of how people think about safety nets. Why do you think there has been so much enthusiasm support for this perversion to happen? Take us back historically to help us understand how we got here to how this is our tool for social response and social support and safety nets, as opposed to other kinds of policy tools.
DC: Yeah, people have used the word the criminal justice system is just a tool of social control, and I think when students read that, I'm not sure they completely understand well, why? How did that happen? And I think criminology has a problem, and I would say that a lot of disciplines have this problem. David Garland calls it a Presentist view of itself. So we're willing to make new policies, but we're unwilling to look carefully at the history of how we got here at this moment right now. And in the past, historians used to sit in criminal justice departments, and they are all but gone except for one department, which is American University, they have it on the justice side, so they're not even on the criminology side, but if you were to try to get tenure, so to speak, in a crime department, in the Criminal Justice Department, it would be really... You be hard-pressed to find any historian.
DC: And that wasn't how it always was, and so there is something very threatening the discipline about interrogating the history, and I think in studying Du Bois, I think he really... He looked at historical explanations. So the Great Migration occurs and people are moving to Philadelphia and it's getting more and more crowded, and he fields his first study, The Philadelphia Negro and is commissioned by University of Pennsylvania, and he goes there to study why crime was so prevalent. And my sense is that the white criminologist at the time expected him to talk about the cultural deficiencies, the supposed cultural deficiencies of Black people. But instead what he did is he took a very sociological perspective, and he showed how segregation was depleting people of resources to depleting people of opportunity, creating the types of conditions that would cause crime to occur.
DC: And then he goes back even further and he says, Listen, the institutions that we know as the criminal justice system, have these links to shadow slavery, so that if once we free enslaved people, we have a labor shortage, and that is a problem. And so what can we do? Well, we can arrest people and "create" criminals by putting them in chain greens and letting them work alongside the roads, and so the convict lease system, people talk about as slavery, of course, by another name. And we talk about nowadays net widening, which is criminalizing more aspects of social life, but really that started as soon as the convict lease system started. And so the police served this purpose, they were fueling a labor system. So there were black codes and Pig Laws and all these different chain games were manifestations of new criminal justice policies that were intended to limit political and economic and social agency to newly freed enslaved people. Now, free people.
DC: So those links, if we think about that, when we think about the motive of that system at that time, then I think we need to ask ourselves What role is the criminal justice system playing right now? And so there's a lot of different ways to analyze that. I guess the question would be, if you're taking people out of a job market, can they ever get access to education, can they ever get access to appropriate housing, can they support their families? You've made a racial stigma about supposed cultural deficiencies seem true, because you've depleted entire populations of Black and Latinx people from those resources by using the criminal justice system. And a colleague of mine at Ratcliff just did a study looking at a voting disenfranchisement and we're used to seeing, well, once you're labeled by the criminal justice, you cannot vote.
DC: But in addition to that, even if you have voting rights, you have the ability to vote to say you're not labeled as disenfranchised. Many people once they have contact with the criminal justice system do not want to vote, and that... Maybe that there's no surprise, but you have little faith in the legal system, little faith in state actors, little ability to feel like my vote matters because what will it change? Because at your doorstep are police governing your daily aspect of life, and that is what Du Bois saw when he was studying the 7th war right at the turn of the century, and yet we're still here today.
DC: And so for every policy student, if it's not required in class, I would say do some of the historical work. There is really no excuse for us not to do it, I mean there's so many great historians and journalists and folks doing the historical work, and so I think to understand how we got here before you start thinking about where we're going, is it natural... To me seems like a natural step in the process.
CW: Mm-hmm. And also, I think that historical lens is so critical when we're implementing policy and thinking about the messaging and the optics and how people are going to interpret particular kinds of policy and programmatic interventions, so I think for example, of the images that we've recently seen at the border, of agents trying to round up patient migrants on horseback and the image is being very, very disturbing and what that invokes for people with the links to the slave patrols of previous decades and previous centuries, and how that kind of way of criminalizing and way of surveillance and capturing people has a historical balance for people that in the present day creates a whole another level of significance when people see it on their TV screens, if you don't know that history, that balance might go by you and you not fully understand why a huge percentage of the citizenry is very disturbed by it. So can you talk about that?
DC: Well, I guess what's interesting to me about... I think about this like, What does the policy say? Or what does the law require? And then how is it practiced in action, and this is a very old school, I'm a dramaturgical style sociologist, and for those who are not sociology nerds, Erving Goffman used to think of performative aspects of social life, we're performing gender, there's a certain way, I have earrings on, so I'm performing a feminine notion of gender, and I think about how is that in some ways, a performance, if you will? Meaning, it is possible that the immigration law say that We need to round up people that are undocumented, and if they're not citizens, they need to be deported to their home country, there's probably a very more neutral way that it's explicitly stated in the law, it does not say to rope people like they're cattle. Right, but yet, those officers have images and I would say their cultural scripts about how to do this and to what types of people. One can imagine a better understanding where actually ice patrols would walk in with water, like the Red Cross and say, "We understand. We understand your need, but this is not the route."
DC: They'd pass out food and supplies, they'd escort people in an orderly way, they'd give them buses with air condition, transport them to places that are somewhat humane, have places for children to play and to wait with food and maybe some counselors to talk with them, and they could still do the same thing in a more humane way, but yet we do not see that. We saw kids in cages, separation policies that seemed purposely cruel. And for the students that are thinking about this imagery, I think it's important to ask yourself what performance was happening there, and I call those performances of racial degradation, which is they signal to us that these people are other... Are different from us, and it starts to reinforce the idea that that's not my father, or that's not my brother, or that's not my neighbor. Challenge your mind to think of us rounding up White immigrants in the same manner, it's hard to conceive of that. We can think of also what happened in Abu Ghraib, what happened to people that were held at Guantanamo that were literally in cages that one would think of putting a large dog. And when I was working in Crook County, excuse me, when I was researching Crook County and kind of working embedded in the system, there was a Black defendant, a man that asked for a trial and to be punished in public, the sheriffs took an extension cord, wrapped it around his chair and plugged him into the wall.
DC: That is an informal type of punishment that at the time looked like the imagery coming out of Abu Ghraib where they perceived to be torturing Arab men and hooding them, wrapping a cord around them thinking they could be electrocuted, there was resonance to that same type of performance, and so it is kind of like extra legal, there's nobody telling discretionary actors that that is the way the policy needs to be enacted, but yet the choice is there, and the normalization of that choice is to me an important area. So if you're thinking about being a policy maker, once the policy's out, you have to see how it's enacted on the ground, and we often call them stakeholders, but it becomes very... Just very disturbing to think of the man on the horse that's lassoing a person as having a stake. A stake hold means you have a stake in the... The existing structure and institution and how it's run and managed and its culture and practices. And so that is where we start to see the history of racism and how it can seem so far away to our present day minds, but yet we have the cultural memory, if you will, to re-enact it over and over again, and then imprint it in our mass media so that we're just living and breathing those types of imagery and normalizing that type of terrible racial terror that we see inflicted on our behalf.
CW: Yeah, that notion of... And I just wanna let people know on November 9th, we'll be talking more about immigration policy with sociologist Jennifer Lee so tune in for that, but that notion of cultural memory is really interesting in the context of public policy and where do cultural memories come from that therefore inform our imagination for what's possible in a policy, but also what you're saying is how we then implement what is written, even if what's written is in a sensibly neutral way. So I wonder... And we'll talk about it more in the contemporary times in a moment. I wonder if you can talk more about that historical piece, because someone who clearly understood that was Du Bois and WEB Du Bois isn't often taught in policy schools, but you see Du Bois as one of the earliest policy scholars. Can you talk more about that?
DC: Yes, yes. And I realized my limitations as a sociologist, I wanna put this out there as a student, because when I was in the field, I heard defense attorneys doing plea bargains and I was studying those plea bargains and the rhetoric of those plea bargains, and I heard many defense attorneys using what I would call lynching language, so they'd say, "My guy is a bum, hang them, string them, I don't care what you do with him. I just wanna get this case over with." And I thought, "How could you be defending someone and using that language? That is... " And in the room it was normalized amongst all these White attorneys, and so I thought, "I need to understand more, how is it possible that that language is being deployed in here on behalf... " And that defense attorney got favor for his client. So the defense attorney was being strategic, he in some ways knew that, "If I deploy this language, it will put me on the side of the other White attorneys here that I am distancing myself from the defendant, the Black defendant I'm advocating for, and then I will gain that defendant favor."
DC: It's a complex issue and it kept to me revisiting itself and I didn't feel like I had the tools, and I think for me, Du Bois gave me those tools because what he was saying is that you couldn't understand the criminal justice system without understanding its role after enslaved people were freed, and so if you start from that very premise, it makes sense that the criminal justice system was an extension of slavery, and so one of the most unknown things is that Du Bois actually was arrested for stealing a handful of grapes alongside other friends that were White, and he was pulled into the system in a juvenile court, and a judge saw him and said that a Black boy like Du Bois was better off learning a trade under lock and key then as a free boy, and it was his White principal that vouched for his intelligence and vouched for him, that allowed him to go free, and so at a very early age, he understood that his identity as a Black child had a relationship that even his own innocence, his own boyhood was shaped by these systems that constantly surveilled. That the behavior that was seen as a kind of local privilege of kids, was seen as a criminal act in the eyes of the White towns people. And so that in some ways was the lens that kind of drove his work.
DC: Again, he started then using that to say once it was an extension of slavery, the system of slavery, he could actually start saying, "Well, if White people can make crime because it's to their advantage to have the labor, then when you have to think about the prison population as almost like an indicator of racism." Right? And so it's not an indicator of the criminality, it's not an indicator of crime, it is an indicator of racism, it's an indicator of a White system that is still socially controlling Black people. The other side of that though, is that the actions of White people was unpunished crime. So at the time to Du Bois, and Ida. B Wells were seeing mob violence in the south and lynchings, and it only took the word of a White person to create that kind of shadow system, that was actually a formal legal system in the South, we think about... It wasn't written in the law, but if you were living in a southern town, that was the law, that was the experience of injustice or justice to Black people at the time. And so that in and of itself was unpunished White violence, and we don't study unpunished White violence, we don't study its prevalence, we don't have policies that in some ways would...
DC: So for instance, if we were to acknowledge that history, might violence prevention scholars and policy makers think of police violence and the death of unarmed Black people as a type of violence prevention that they should work on? They don't see that as part of their jurisdiction so I think that to me is where Du Bois's work is so important in kind of teaching us how do we get from that history, recognize when it's replaying itself in the types of questions we ask nowadays. And think about how we can do better.
CW: Absolutely, and wouldn't it be amazing if in a policy school, we're all reading The Philadelphia Negro.
DC: Would that be great? One thing I didn't, you know, I think one of the ideas though is changing the gaze, it's easy to say, I came to... I came to law school, I came to policy school, I came to whatever school, every graduate school you might be in and say, "To help the poor." Everybody says, "I'm gonna help those who are marginalized." And I always respond to people and I say, "How about this? How about you use your time to study those who create the conditions of marginality, right?" And so it's shifting a gaze. We understand that people have been suffering in X, Y and Z ways, but who is willing to study those border patrols as they implement policy and then report on it honestly? 'Cause that to me is a major issue is that sometimes students and faculty, we can feel very uncomfortable, we're interviewing... Again, we imagine that border patrol agent and I honestly go into research and I think nobody wakes up and says, "Hey, I'm gonna do harm today." I think very few people do, they wanna serve justice, they wanna serve their country, they wanna protect people, and so the large question, the million dollar question would be, how do they become co-opted to do that action and create such harm? When does it become okay to deprive small children from Mexico or somewhere in South America of medical care?
DC: When does it become okay to deprive people in jail from COVID protections, those are the driving questions that I think would be in the spirit of Du Bois by shifting the gaze empirically to what is creating... What type of power relationships are creating the violence that you see or the deprivation you see in front of you.
CW: And let's talk about that in the context of your book Crook County, because one of the things that we have in common as scholars is we both do that kind of work where we wanna talk to the bureaucrats and to the people who are the front line workers trying to interpret the policy, who are trying to think about, "How do I please the people above me, how do I address the needs and requirements of the people "below me" within the organizational hierarchy? And what kinds of institutional conditions create policy formations in particular kinds of ways?" Right? So can you talk about that in the context of your work in Crook County? First of all, tell us how the project came to be, and then talk to us about how you came to study policy implementers.
DC: Yes. Well, I walked into the court system when I was 19 years old, I was part of a field work project for what we had called at the time, The Chicago Field Studies Program, it was a Northwestern program, where students would get a semester off of studying, doing formal class work and go and do ethnography field work in a site. And I chose the prosecutor's office 'cause that's where I wanted... I wanted to be a prosecutor. I really believed in this idea that prosecutors were advocating for victims, and so...
CW: So you wanted to be a prosecutor. I didn't know that.
DC: I did, I did. Yeah, I honestly did, and I thought it because I thought, "Well, this is where you protect victims, and so if that's the location, that's where I wanna be." And once I walked in there, I realized that's why a lot of people do become prosecutors. Again, I always have that assumption that people are trying to do good, but when I went in there, the promise of the normative notion of justice and what it should be and how it looked, was very far from what I saw in action. I actually started off as a political scientist, my undergrad was in Political Science, and my minor was in Sociology, so I started to ask more questions about, How is this such a gap? Why is there the shock? People were using over-racist slurs about defendants about... They were busing people, they were violating people's rights, they knew about police officers planting drugs on people, or suspect coming in for murder, Excuse me, a suspect coming in dead and the police officers stories not making sense. And so the entire course of my study began to try to peel away at the layers, how does this become rationalized, and at the heart of the answer is that you have mostly a segregation between who gets to determine justice and who gets to be held accountable to justice, right.
DC: And it's divided along racial lines, so you have mostly upper class White people that are making decisions about the morality, if you will, of people of color, and in some ways that creates a collision, it creates a collision where racism and injustice can kind of collide that racial tropes about people of color become an easy handles to process, too many cases. And I think one of the wonderful things is I actually was the Research Director at a policy non-profit, so I did my own field work, both as an undergrad and then I was a PhD student, but then I took a role being a researcher for a policy non-profit named Chicago Appleseed Center for Justice, they have National Appleseed Foundations, which is... I think Ralph Nader had created all these different organizations are kinda unified under the National Appleseed structure, but Chicago obviously focused on the courts and they were fielding a huge study, and they said they would like me to steer the study, so it was about 100 additional interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and private attorneys. And then that was it. They were just gonna listen to... They were gonna listen to attorneys talk about the justice system, but never actually watch them do anything.
DC: And that was the first time I had to push back and I said, Listen, from my field work, what they say and what they do are two different things. And certainly what they do and what the law says they should do are also two different things, and unless we go in there, we will not know. We will not know how the system actually works, and we're gonna create policy recommendations based on the stakeholders telling us they're glowing kind of rose-colored glasses view. And again, when you're embedded in a system, sometimes you cannot see the forest from the trees, you know it shouldn't work like this, but it always has, you get socialized very quickly. So I had worked in the private sector and I had done... I had worked on Hallmark, and what we used to do is a thing called secret shopper, it was almost every retailer used to do this, you go to the Gap and you have someone in disguise as a consumer, you rate the customer service, did they walk up to you? Did they treat you nicely? Did they fold the clothes? The whole thing. The consumer experience.
DC: And I thought it's unsavory to put a business model, a for-profit model on to a non-profit model, but I kept saying, But yes, but this is the most sacrosanct of all institutions, our justice system, our court system, and yet we don't wanna know how the consumers, meaning mostly people of color that are marginalized, how they are experiencing the system, shouldn't we be watching the system? And so I did a series of pilot studies where we observed what the courts were doing, and it was soon very clear that if you had law students that came in... Suits and ties, they would alter their behavior.
DC: I had seen it myself, they had done a court watching effort and they'd have these old ladies, they were very cute, they had badges that said "Court watcher," like they were hall monitors. And as soon as that happened, my prosecutor supervisor was like, "There's a court watcher here, let's be on your best behavior. And they all started performing like, "Yes, judge," like they were on an episode of Law and Order. And then as soon as she left, they all started laughing. And it was... This was the flagrant way that they felt like they kind of own the court without any oversight, so I had 130 court watchers of different racial backgrounds go to the court over two years, in hoodies, sweatshirts, jeans, everyday clothes, so they would not... They would blend in with the everyday public. And that was really how we saw the level of abuse that was going on across all courtrooms within Crook County, Chicago, as well as we could then isolate how race mattered in the court, because these were all students, not unlike Michigan students. We had students from University of Chicago, Loyola University, Northwestern University, volunteering their time, and if they were a Black student, they were assumed to be a defendant or assumed to be a defendant's girlfriend, or sometimes how...
DC: The judges would say, "A baby mama." They actually used a racist trope and called Women baby mamas. And it was demoralizing, as you can imagine, for the researchers, but they found amazing data on how race mattered. The White researchers were given special privileges. They were brought into the witness boxes, they were given front row seats over the communities of color that were in the courtroom, some of which were victims of crime. And so that became to me, a model for how we should think about when we're doing policy, it's easy to be like, 10,000 feet hovering over a system and say, "Well, I know how it should work." But I say, did you do the work? Did you walk into that court system and sit there for a day? Did you walk in there with a suit to fit in so you get the VIP treatment, or did you walk in like everybody else would and imagine yourself trying to get resources or benefits or help or assistance, what would happen to you?
DC: Did you team up with a friend of a different racial identity to see the difference in treatment? I think that is where the innovation comes. When we talk about racism or we talk about classism or different ways people can have experiences of injustice, it is not all doom and gloom, it should be partially innovation on behalf of solving those issues, and that's... And it can come from anywhere, it can come from a for-profit model that you might be inspired to import into a new setting, but certainly, it's not gonna happen if you're hovering 10,000 feet above the problem and never bother to go see on the ground, how it's working.
CW: And what you're describing to me is policy analysis, right? So we teach the students economics and program evaluation, and all kinds of other kinds of skills, but what... Part of what you're talking about is how to go into a setting to see how policy is being implemented on the ground. And not only has it been experienced implemented on the ground, but from within a particular seat, from within a particular identity, because we know, and you've described all the ways in which that matters, the race, the gender, how the person is dressed, all of that kind of feeding into a kind of cultural memory, or pushing back on a cultural memory to bring those ideas together. So part of what you talk about, also this operating... And it's also operating in policy discussions, is the notion of moral boundaries. And in Crook County, you write, "Similar to moral boundaries maintained in criminal court rooms, morality is currency wielded in the doing of modern racism, and is instrumental in drawing boundaries between Whites and Blacks while feigning color-blind ideology. As the logic goes, disdain for people of color is based not on racial difference or assumptions of inferiority, sets of biological features, but upon the assumed moral inferiority that minorities embody. Often, these immoral labels...
CW: Reference the historical stigmas, stereotypes and controlling images associated with Blackness and Brownness. The supposed tendency to be lazy, hyper-sexual and under-motivated, for example. So you talk about how these kinds of tropes that have long historical roots find their way within a particular institutional setting. And when we talk about the criminal justice system, we can't talk about that without thinking about how those tropes travel and how they become lodged within the institution. Talk more about how you saw that practiced, and how you actually saw it making a difference in outcomes.
DC: Yes. I think... I'm just gonna say, as I started this study, I was not a scholar of race and racism at all. And at the time... I'll just explain. When you were a law scholar, it was not seen as something required that you should be studying race. That's a problem with the legal academy, it's a problem with the fields of Sociology in some departments. Now, my regret is that at the time I was studying at Northwestern where there were so many great race scholars, but yet, there was this idea that "Race" didn't matter because again, with all these legal protections, how could it? And so what was just kind of accepted within the field was that, yeah, there's these racial divides. Sure, all the victims and... Mostly the victims, and most of the defendants are all people of color, and yes, they're almost all poor, and everybody processing cases is all White. But that doesn't matter 'cause the law.
DC: And that was the kind of core assumption going in, and I can't really reassure students that that's not gonna be how it is when they are in the real world. They walk into a policy arena, they walk into legislative affairs, and that the assumption is it's race-neutral until proven otherwise.
DC: But I had to really interrogate what do these racial divides mean in this space? 'Cause if you have a system that's defined by racial segregation, then the next question is, how does it matter? And one of the things that I talk about in terms of moral boundaries is that up until recently, during the Trump era where people were actually using racial slurs out loud and open, when I was doing this work, it was seen as kind of unsavory to do so, and so people talked in coded language, so somebody might be willing to say, "Well, it's not that I don't like Mexican people, I don't like "Lazy people." And they would use some kind of "Moral deficiency" to blame their hatred or blame the otherness. And so the collision that I talk about is when you bring in the mostly White attorneys, and you are giving them the task, their whole organizational objective is to process cases quickly and rule on the morality of a defendant, it is really easy to appropriate those racial tropes in color-blind racism, to make case processing very efficient. And so what happened is, it was almost hard for attorneys to talk about criminal charges without using those tropes, they literally became intertwined in meaning...
DC: So they used a trope called mope, or the mope trope, and that was a lazy, degenerate, under-motivated offender, so lazy they weren't even a good competent criminal. And that was for drug cases and small low-grade non-violent felonies, so one would think that these are defendants who get favor, but in some ways, they were punished informally, mocked. Of course, it was unheard of to get a trial if you were of this low-grade felony. And then the other side of it was a monster trope, and that was for harkening to stereotypes about Black men being predatory monsters to White women. And so they would talk about their mission to get the vicious criminals, they're mad dogs waiting to kill people. That was the kind of language they used to attribute to defendants charged with violent crimes. And so those two tropes became easy handles to justify, not just processing cases quickly, but also to denying people rights, to abusing the general public, because again, if it's a Us/Them mentality where you're either of color and you're a defendant or you're White and you're attorney, often, the abuse would spread to family. So the court watchers actually saw a Black child playing with a cellphone sitting next to their mother, the young girl was about 15 years old, and three different court watchers saw her be pulled into the courtroom lock-up, so that if the prosecutor points through a bulletproof glass, they say you shouldn't be using that cellphone.
DC: They don't talk to the mother, they grab the child, throw her into the lock-up. You can hear the mother wailing and the child wailing, separated. Again, we see the same patterns of what they're doing at the border, we might think of the historical imagery of a Black mother wailing as her child is going to be lynched or taken away by a mob or the local sheriffs, and yet, this is being played out in American court system. So how do we get there? I think these tropes become the rationale. If you're lazy, degenerate, if you're undeserving, then it's easy to not just punish the defendants, but then all the Black people that came into that court, even if they could have been there because they were victimized or they witnessed a crime. And so that's the core... One of the core arguments of the book is that when we start to talk about deserving and undeserving, that's the signal that you should start thinking about the racial stigma that's associated with those labels, be it a welfare system, who's deserving or undeserving of healthcare, deserving or undeserving of an ICU bed in a local area, these are all the pressing challenges, and I think that notion of worthy and unworthy is often how they get...
DC: That gets pushed into the media and the policy arena. And I think that that... Again, I think it's hard to have that conversation without also talking about racism, 'cause that is exactly how racism is talked about in this era.
CW: And then talk about the fact that... We talked about the... I know in your case, you were talking to... Or observing mostly or almost all White prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges, but you also talked about the kind of replicability of a lot of what you learned. And what we also know is there are people of color who are in these positions of power. And in fact, one of the major avenues to middle class status ends up being working within a government bureaucracy that is involved in some level of surveillance of a population. So talk to us about that. When the face of power ostensibly, is actually not a White face.
DC: Yeah, so my friend and colleague, Paul Butler talks about the idea that people of color can have a legitimizing factor in the criminal justice system. So when I was writing Crook County, all the main actors, the leaders of Chicago, the chief prosecutor, the Chief Public Defender, and the Chief Judge, were all of color. So the judge was a Black judge. I'm trying to think... Anita Alvarez was Latina, and...
DC: I'm trying to think that... Yeah, they were all of color. So I think that's important to mention because it was kind of under their watch that these abusive practices, the jailing of a child, the extension cord around the chair, they had all seen it. And so I think that the struggle is we think that a quick fix is "Diversify policing, and it'll get better," as though that's some kind of magic wands diversity heals all. And I think the problem is that the culture and the practices within a system can be so... They're so omnipresent, it truly is a culture, it's not a one-off. And so to function in that culture, you have to play along to get along. Those actors have achieved that height because they did exactly what they were going to do to be promoted.
DC: And you can't be that level of a prosecutor without having seen what I saw. That you know police are lying and you're willing to look the other way. If you're willing to do that for 20 years, you too might be promoted. So you can be really good at these things. And I think the pressure on prosecutors of color, or police of color, is that if the prevailing narrative is, "We manage those people," they use that language, "Those people, these people," they don't take... It's always these kind of pronouns that show that they're not talking about themselves, they're talking about these people. If that's the language you're hearing all the time as a person of color, you wanna prove you're not one of them, and so sometimes, in some cases, you saw... People of color could be even more abusive to say, "There's a line in the sand, and I'm here with you, and I'm gonna show you by being more violent or being more abusive." I think it's a hard discussion to have, but I think there is this kind of assumption that the diversifying is going to just be the magic wand, and I think that that is a very lazy, sloppy policy decision that because you're not doing the hard work to disentangle the culture.
DC: So for instance, I would say if you want to improve the prosecutor's office, one thing that you have to do is win cases to get promoted, and that means you win cases at all costs. And that means to do that, you have to get along with police no matter what they do, 'cause they're your star witnesses. So if you challenge them, they will make your life ridiculously hard to the point they will end your career, in fact, if you whistle blow on them, they may end you. They may stalk your home, drive by your family. I was warned by the prosecutors never, ever to get too close to the officers 'cause they could stalk you and there was no one... I couldn't call the police. They actually have that sense of fear about their...
CW: Wow, and you were told that?
DC: I was told that, yeah, by... And especially by the female prosecutors, because at the time, in this boy's culture, they would sometimes harass you for dates and those types of things. And they said, "You have to be so careful 'cause they will come for you." And I thought about that message. So the question would be, how could you fix that on a policy level? And first of all, whistleblower protections for prosecutors that they can anonymously whistle-blow and it would be handled in a way that would be helpful to them and not ruin their career.
DC: The other thing is making sure that prosecutors aren't promoted just by winning trials. How many times did you dismiss charges? How many times did you question an officer when their stories didn't... And then they say, "Hey, you were on felony review and you actually reviewed a felony, you actually engaged in oversight on a bad case." Let's incentivize people on that, changing the entire incentive structure within the office so that prosecutors can get promoted without doing these nefarious things that really undermine what they probably came to the office to do. I think that's where... That's why these discussions are very important, because it pushes... If you know that diversity can't be this catch-all thing that will solve the problems of racial inequity, then you get to better solutions that would actually... You look at incentive structures, you look at other carrots and sticks that would actually change the organization from within and allow the good prosecutors or the good police officers to be able to stay rather than get just chased away by the culture itself.
CW: Right, and there's a conversation happening as we know, around criminal justice reform and policing reform, and I wonder what you think about that. It was disappointing to see the conversation stalled in Washington this past week, and a deal is unable to be struck, and I wonder... First of all, do you think ultimately, federal legislation is not gonna be the way to go, or do you think it's more of a locality fight in terms of best places to put one's energy for reform? And what kinds of reforms would you wanna see? The point on what you measure and what you reward is where people are gonna head, I think is one really important one. What else would you... What would you say both... So where do you think, on level of government, we're more likely to see reform, and what kinds of reforms do you wanna see?
DC: This is such a hard question. If you were to ask me five years ago and say, "Hey, are you an abolitionist?" I would have said, "I don't know what you mean, I don't understand. What?" It didn't even... It was not even in my consciousness at the time, 'cause this idea of shifting funding away from policing or defund police, that didn't make sense to me because there was no public debate about it. So when I'm doing Crook County, I'm thinking about how do we make a more accountable system? So in my policy recommendations, I would say that it has to do with accountability and oversight, that that... And I think much of that can come from a local level to a certain extent, because.
DC: As I said, criminal justice is so different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so even within states you can have just different jurisdictions that have different policies, county by county, right? And say the state of Texas, Lord knows how many counties there are, and how many police departments there are. So how do you manage this kind of unwieldy problem, and then that's embedded in a larger federal system, and I always say a federal system is really important, changes in federal law. But mass incarceration is common from a local level, right? People are experiencing that in their home towns and their backyards. Right? So I do think that the accountability has to be there, and right now there is very little oversight on prosecutors and officers, and every single time local jurisdictions try to engage in oversight, police unions fight it.
DC: And that includes data. That includes data on misconduct. Data on use of force. One of their number one techniques is to block the data from being publicly accessible to journalists and researchers, right? And that should tell us a lot about what might work, is that that data is an important indicator of the pervasiveness of abuse and misconduct, and yet we're willing to fund it over and over again, all the time. So I was very pessimistic about the federal approach, and I also have concerns, too, is that we know that sometimes legislation can be co-opted. So legislation, for instance, around police training on use of force techniques can really... It might be code word for, Let's fund more; let's give more funding to police. And let me talk about the complicity of researchers too. Researchers, like, ding, ding, ding...
DC: How about this? Let me try to grab that funding. And yet they're in some ways being funded by police themselves. And so I think there is this huge issue, which is, if we worked with pharmaceutical companies we'd have to declare that. There are so many researchers that are partnering, they actually say the word, "We're partnering with law enforcement." And I'm thinking, "Well then, how are you objective?" 'Cause I know they also partner with prosecutors, and they terrify them into making them do exactly what they need them to do. So if that's the case, how objective is that research? How objective is it when it's published in a peer review journal? How critical are we about the data? So for instance, we talk about death by police, but many people have to go to the ER. So it's like they didn't die, but imagine if George Floyd, bless him, had survived, he would have gone to the ER. It is the police officer's discretion whether they go or not, whether they get shipped to jail and an infirmary, or they get to go to the ER. If they go to the ER, that counts as kind of a use of force complaint, and starts to get more investigation.
DC: So here we even have incentives for police officers to manipulate their data, which would help us make better policy. And so I think to me that transparency has to be part of the solution. And I do think, as I talked about in violence prevention, when we think about violence prevention, we need to start thinking... I know people are like, Well, I don't wanna say defund the police, it sounds like we don't have a police force. But I would say that in my local jurisdiction where there's a free camp, that is somewhat of a defund the police structure. They are saying that teenagers in the community should be deployed at local jobs so they have a productive way of spending their summer, but also helping the community with child care and other types of things; rather than we can imagine kids just hanging out and drinking beer and being disorderly and now you need the cops to come in to say, "Hey, get off this person's lawn, or Let me arrest you for open container," or all these other ways that you'd have to use the police to manage this "Disorder", when the solution was actually quite simple and didn't involve guns and didn't involve arrest and didn't involve searches.
DC: And I always say, we don't need to imagine what policing could look like if we defund police, we already have White wealthy communities that experience such policing, and I think that poor communities deserve the exact same thing, as well as the resources that allow for that type of policing as well.
CW: Mm-hmm. And that's so interesting in terms of thinking about over-police versus under or appropriately policed communities. And one of the things I think is also really important to talk about, bringing it back to Du Bois is fundamentally he was interested in the roots of crime. And can you talk about what Du Bois would tell us about the roots of crime? Because when you talk about the roots as he described them, the remedy is not more policing, it's a different kind of remedy. So can you talk about that?
DC: Well, I think he looked at the roots of crime as being tied to segregation, tied to racial oppression, tied inter-generational trauma, tied to lack of opportunity. And if that is the case and we ask ourselves where did that come from, it has ties to white supremacy. The white supremacy that he experienced and the generations before him experienced, but also the type of white supremacy that I think people are now starting to call out in a way that we didn't... I don't think we had the language to do maybe five years ago. That's an important cultural transformation. When I was writing Crook County, I think when you read Crook County, I never say the word "White supremacy". I sometimes wonder if I should have. Because what I'm describing is racism, what I'm describing when I talk about the defense attorneys that use lynching language, sure sounds like white supremacy to me, but yet at the time there wasn't the kind of the public's view, the Academy's view, the view of whether you could get tenure with that type of book, it was seen as a very dangerous thing.
DC: But now as I think about it, I think that, who is it dangerous to? In some ways, we're reporting with truthfulness our findings, and I think we have a responsibility to report on those findings and not hide them, or... And I think the roots of crime, if you wanted to create... There's a theory in criminology about social disorganization. If an area is disorganized and families are broken apart, and those important pro-social, they would say, pro-social infrastructures are disrupted, that would create crime. Well, think about mass incarceration. What has it done? It's taken parents away from children, it has forced grandmothers, elderly grandmothers and grandparents or aunts and uncles, to take over the burden of all the children and raising them. We have education systems that are failing children, that are often even killing children in Philadelphia when we lived there. My child's school had asbestos that was so bad that it gave the teacher mesothelioma, and she is now an advocate 'cause she's so sick. But think about that, right? So when we think about those social infrastructures, mass incarceration did a job of destroying the social fabric so you'd also create crime.
DC: It's not unlike what Du Bois had witnessed, we're just seeing it on a larger scale, a larger unpredictable pattern. So I think that that's one of the places that we need to go to understand how we can control crime, if you will.
CW: We have some questions from the audience. So question one. Thinking about movements against mass incarceration, can you speak to the historical roots of abolitionism and reformism, and their connection to contemporary abolition and reformist discourses; you talked about the current debate, but it has some historical roots. Can you talk a little bit about that?
DC: How about this? I was gonna... I think about someone like Fred Hampton, who was at the time talking about police violence, and not much has changed. The Chicago Police burst into... For people who don't know Fred Hampton, he was an activist that was calling out injustice and inequality and doing all those things, and he was such a threat to Chicago and maybe even the nation, mostly a threat to White people, he was executed in his home sleeping next to his pregnant wife.
CW: Mm-hmm. And The Chicago Police And The Black Messiah tells that story quite effectively for people who wanna know more. And there's other documentaries that have talked about that story, but the film is probably the most recent depiction of that for people who wanna know more about that.
DC: And I think like, a colleague of mine, he's a friend now, Flint Taylor is the attorney that represented the family of Fred Hampton. And it is a fight over the truth, but what a lot of what's happening is we're still living that, we're still living that history. What happened to Fred Hampton happened to Laquan McDonald. Right? It happened to George Floyd. And I think, again, I try to think about those historical roots as they reproduce and come back in time, and so I wonder if this moment is different than previous moments, which is, we did see a multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalition of people marching in response to George Floyd's death. And it really struck me, 'cause I had been really active in the media talking on many deaths. And so I even broke down quite a bit like, why this, why now?
DC: Why didn't you care before. I felt like this. But I think the important part is that this feels different 'cause it's a multi-racial coalition. I don't know the history well enough to wonder, when people talked about abolishing slavery, it probably seemed as inconceivable, right? This is a whole social system built upon slavery and inconceivable that you could do away with it. And does it take a critical mass momentum, right, so are we there? I think it's a little disheartening that I remind people not one policy change has been implemented since George Floyd's death, not one thing. And yet we had this huge protest. Not one thing has been done that will make it better so that another person doesn't die like George Floyd.
DC: And so it's a mix. I have a mix... I'm optimistic, because I think unlike maybe Fred Hampton's era, there is... You didn't see people marching in that multi-racial coalition the same way you did this time. When Martin Luther King came to Chicago, they threw a brick at his head. We don't really see those images, but they did. So it happened in the North and the South, but my hope is that maybe there is more momentum at this time. And I have an easier time explaining racism in this era, versus when I had to do the same thing, again, five years ago; it was much more laborious and people doubted it and they confronted you, and now people are like, "I didn't understand, and now I do." And that to me is a very hopeful, hopeful thing.
CW: Yeah, and can you talk about the role of corporate interests in this conversation. Because one of the things that I'm so intrigued by is when we don't see movement by government, sometimes you see movement by corporate interest to shape a conversation. And, of course, we can talk about whether it really made a difference or not, and whether it was window dressing or not. But nevertheless an important actor in this whole discussion around policy reform, in particular criminal justice reform. Can you talk about, and I know corporate interest is a very broad term, and there's a lot of diversity, but that sector?
DC: Yeah, well, I have a lot to say, because in working with two different corporation... Or a couple of different corporations in the 2000s, I... Corporations were not willing to talk about racism at all. Places like Disney, they wouldn't take out some of their Song of the South imagery from their rides. They had numerous racial incidents where White families would move away their children from Black families while in the pool. This is right out... This is like, again, historical racism, but reenacted in the present day moment. And then corporations all of a sudden became, "We're donating X amount of millions of dollars to reform." And, again, I think most of it was shown to have very little effect, that a lot of it was a marketing ploy that really didn't have... Again, we used to call that cause marketing in my old marketing days, which is, Can you align yourself with a brand? So, Hallmark used to love partnering with Susan G Komen Foundation for... 'Cause, again, it's a very gendered corporation, so to support women, right? And it's a very easy thing that everyone agrees on.
DC: So I think people wanted to take a stance, and I think they wanted to see corporations do that, but I don't think it was a meaningful reform. And I think in this day and age, what seemed to be the most, I call it naming and shaming... So are you in the media calling out corporations and forcing their hand? And we saw it with Colin Kaepernick; Colin Kaepernick risked his entire career talking about things that America was not ready to hear about, and mostly White America was not ready to hear about. And yet now we don't have to talk about the Washington Redskins, it was changed to the Washington Football Team because an enormous mass of people were like, "I get why that is racist, I get why it's inappropriate and we should stop it." And that happened. People had been begging for that change for a long time.
DC: And so I think the naming and shaming tactic, I hate to say it, like we talk about carrots and sticks, incentives and punishments, what seems to be the most effective thing is that corporations, and then I think also sometimes political actors, get ashamed of being exposed. And that's maybe a debate for another time, but I think it did create an enormous amount of cultural change in a short amount of time. And so you saw the NFL making strides, for instance. But what I've seen in reporting from the Washington Post is that much of that goodwill effort that happened in that summer after George Floyd's death really didn't make a lot of meaningful change. And many of the corporations themselves are not diverse and they don't hire people of color, and they have much of the same problems that academia does as well, so there's also their own problems within their own systems that they should contend with first, probably. [chuckle] Yeah.
CW: So let me ask you this, and this is a question from a student. In shifting the gaze of morality and marginalization to the people perpetuating and building these systems, are there any places you think are doing a good job of this at a policy or programmatic level, places that are both talking the talk and walking the walk?
DC: Wow, I wish I had better examples of that. Again, I believe in accountability, so I think, I'll use Chicago as an example, people vote for judges and they often don't know who these judges are at all. And the interesting thing is many of them are former prosecutors, and sometimes former prosecutors that have done terrible things; wrongfully convicting people and doing nefarious things. So there have been Bar associations that are now engaging in the policy arena and they're evaluating the judges and creating a report card so that voters actually know what happened. So to me, that's a great model. And they allow lawyers that go in their courtrooms to anonymously say what these judges are doing, so that's important. I've worked with some jurisdictions to think about court watching, so how do you take the court watching that I did for a study and then roll it out on... So NYC court watch is doing that right now, and they're doing an excellent job at reporting what they find. So they actually post on Twitter: This happened in front of Judge so and so, this happened in front of Judge so and so. So you can read what's going on, and again, in the naming and shaming category, judges are worried about being ousted from the bench, they don't wanna be associated that, they don't want you to Google their name and see that.
DC: So does that become the throwing down the iron fist on... Telling them they gotta change, perhaps. So I think... I wish that people would just change and invite people in, but we haven't really seen that, but what we have seen is like reform-minded prosecutor, which is Kim Fox in Chicago, she was elected after Anita Alvarez was ousted by voters. And she has implemented some changes, reviewing cases that her previous, her predecessors were unwilling to review. So I think that's important. Are you willing to confront past, create reparations in whatever form it is? And I think that that's kind of a reparations-minded approach. "I believe this institution harmed people. It wasn't me, but on behalf of this institution, I will revisit the past and try to make right the wrong." And I think that that's a wonderful way to start. So yeah, but I think maybe the students have probably some great ideas on that as well. Yeah.
CW: Right, and actually, students are even thinking about the training that happens, so this question is thinking about higher education, how is the academy or academic institutions that train judges, prosecutors, etcetera, complicit, and creating the performative, hierarchical, racist norms that exist in court houses, can academic situations interrupt the language and norms in the US legal system, through the methods they use to train lawyers?
DC: Okay so, I've written some articles on Legal Ethics. I'm actually shocked that there's only one class on Legal Ethics, one class that you have to take, there's not a required class on what we've been talking about here, which would be very value, even if they just watch say this event to be like, Wow, I should really think about this, the... There's no additional training, so it's that one class, and that really shocks me 'cause it really on the screen of the law school, whether they want to include anything about racial inequity.
DC: In their curriculum, and largely they don't, and so I would say they absolutely are complicit, but I'm gonna go even farther to say, often the bar associations are complicit because when prosecutors do wrong... Okay, so there's a very famous case of Harry Connick Sr who's in New Orleans related to the Singer, Harry Connick Jr the father, he is a notorious prosecutor that framed many Black men and convicted them on bogus charges and sending them to death row... Okay, this is serious. And these men have been exonerated, and it shows that the prosecutors violated the law, the Bar Foundation can go and dis-bar them, but we don't see that...
DC: We don't see that at what point will the... Not just the law, maybe the Legal Academy could stand up and say, Hey, Bar associations need to do better, but when people have been violated and the rights have been violated in grotesque ways, where are the bar associations... The organizations that say that you are a lawyer... Right. And if you're harming people, why do you still get to be a lawyer? That's what I wanna know. Why do you still get to be a lawyer? And here's the other side of it too. If you're a jail house lawyer, I don't like the name, but the colloquialism is jail house lawyer, a person who's incarcerated but is a lawyer and acting lawyer, you can do that when you're free, even if you exonerated yourself and many of your friends. You cannot claim to be a lawyer, and if you were incarcerated on a previous charge and have a criminal record, you can't go to law school and become a lawyer, and the bar associations have done nothing to create a pathway for former defendants, people that have literally exonerated themselves, 'cause lawyers wouldn't help them to go and then be a lawyer for other people and do good.
DC: I think to me, that is a complicity, so maybe it starts in law school, but I just don't want... I don't want to... Just like the legal profession. To kinda get away with it, there was a prosecutor, prosecutor, his name, the last name is [1:18:40.9] ____, he was in The Duke lacrosse case, if you don't know this, was... There was a claim that the Duke lacrosse team had raped... Sexually assaulted a woman, and it was shown to not be true, and they were White, all the defendants were White and wealthy and Duke students, and so I remember one of the former defendant says, "If we were Black and poor, you all would think we were guilty and we're not, but instead we had the means to fight this case," and that was the only prosecutor that I saw that was disbarred. It showed that when they did these tacts against White wealthy students, the prosecutors were disbarred, but what about all the other cases where Black people are wronged, Where is the justice and why do you get to keep calling yourself a lawyer if you have harmed people?
CW: Mmm, and I didn't know about the Connick senior in situations.
DC: And it went all the way to the Supreme Court. In that case, this gentleman named, his name is Thomson, he got a settlement for being wronged for getting framed, and the supreme court sided sided with the prosecutors, they sided with the prosecutor saying you can't sue a prosecutor, they're exempt, they're protected, they have immunity. And they said that lawyers learn legal ethics in law school, they learned Brady rights in law school and so it wasn't Harry Connick's fault, and he still maintains that he did no wrong.
CW: Wow! You talked about law school and legal training, what about policy schools here at the Ford School were engaged in conversations as a faculty about what anti-racist teaching looks like and how we diversify what... And how we teach our students, what advice would you give us as we have these conversations and as we examine ourselves in our own work?
DC: Yeah, I mean, it's funny because as I said, I didn't start out as a scholar that studied race, but what I realized is that I wasn't doing great scholarship until I considered race and thought about the analysis of how race and racism matter, how inequality mattered. And sometimes I think I've talked about how academics we can put blinders on and say, "Well no, I study education policy, I don't study race," and I'm thinking, well, what if that is the variable that is driving the findings, the observations... And yet you're saying you're just declaring that to not be a concern, and so I think part of really great pedagogy, but also a great research, is that we are open to those possibilities, and by being open I mean studying and assigning the history setting and assigning critical perspectives ones that even undermine the kind of cannon in the fields for sociologists, we say it was a long time, Mark [1:21:50.8] ____. Those were the core theorist, aren't you assigning to boys?
DC: Now, sometimes I will say this, and I have great sympathy from one professor to another, if we were not trained in those things, it's hard to then say, Hey, I'm gonna go assign this 'cause you didn't read it yourself, and that was the problem that I had as I admitted at the beginning of this lecture, I didn't study, I didn't read Du Bois until later, I didn't read the kind of basics on racism and for color by race, I didn't do the...
DC: I didn't do the work because the school never forced me to do it, and so what I try to say is assign the work that you didn't get and then read it alongside your students and admit you didn't get it either. And that we're gonna learn this together. I like this idea, if it's a collaborative community of learning.
DC: And works that challenge the preconceived notions with the field in the field, I think can be really amazing, but then I also think that students are getting much better at looking at syllabi and saying, are these a diverse amount of perspectives, it'd be hard to teach a gender in society class but not consider queer relationships, and students are starting to demand that because that is what they're expecting out of their education, and I think that's how we kinda get there, and I like the idea of faculty work, shopping, syllabus sharing. Did I miss anything? And I think it's important, and I think one of the biggest barriers, if you haven't read Du Bois on your own and you didn't experience it in the classroom, there is this sense of intimidation, I'm supposed to be the authority on these things, but I would say there's something really wonderful of saying, I'm the authority on these things, but here I wanna learn alongside you because it's important, and as scholars we're always supposed to keep learning and growing, I didn't think we were supposed to stop.
CW: Right, right. That is wonderful advice, and we will be taking that to heart, thank you so much because you've been having some of these varied conversations, I'm gonna let our audience have the last words. Here's another question I would be interested in Dr. Gonzalez Van Cleve input on how do we change the public's view to see the criminal justice system as something that should be used as a last resort? We talked about reform within the institution, how do we reform how the public sees the role of the criminal justice system?
DC: Oh man. That is really the million dollar question. I mean, I do think that being a criminal justice scholar requires you to know all the other adjacent fields, everything from the welfare state, and I don't mean the stigmatized notion of the welfare state, I mean a social safety net that allows for people not to be homeless and evicted or suffering in such ways, we don't have a social safety net, and I do think that it's important if you're criminal justice scholar to have to be in all those arenas that maybe sometimes it's not important to be and just working for the NIJ or something like that that we should be in other places because that to me is crime prevention and I think that's important.
DC: I think that's important to have now, how do we convince people? I think that's really, really difficult... Again, the legacy of this is... The legacy is dark and the history is long, and I think that when we think about... Say mental health care for poor people. Basically, people are Dossal, they're giving medication to make your dorsal so that you are a good prisoner, so you don't fight so you don't yell, so you're not belligerent, you're not getting counseling, you're not getting treatment for PTSD, you're not getting what some students may imagine as mental health care, and I would like to see...
DC: It would be wonderful. Again, if we're talking about professional associations, I would like to see more of the medical community, public health to start to say that this should not be in a prison, that it is not public health, to put health care behind bars, that should not be... So I think that that's what it would take, is to start shifting and having these authority figures, whether they're in policy, the policy area or the medical community, start to take interest in criminal justice institutions, they had to during COVID because those were where the largest outbreaks and I remember thinking I'm... I'm not a expert on COVID, but I am an expert on jails, and I know exactly what's driving is virus, it doesn't... You don't need much medical knowledge other than to understand how a virus is passed and the conditions in the prison are so bad that you are creating disease that amplifies the danger to entire populations. And so again, I think we need education scholars and we need medical scholars or doctors and physicians to take interest in what the criminal justice system is doing, and I think that authority might help to help the public and policy makers, politicians, etcetera, understand that the criminal justice system cannot be the end all, be all.
DC: The first resort for poor people.
CW: So our students are ready to roll up their sleeves, having listened to you today, and they wanna know how might we as students of Public Policy help to shape the conversation surrounding these issues, and shed light on the necessity and urgency of criminal justice reforms?
DC: Yes. I would say that you were gonna probably... You're gonna accept a job. And they're gonna say, "Well, we've always done it like this." And I assure you there's gonna be a moment in which you say, "This is not what I went to school for, why is it like this?" And the moment you start questioning yourself, I think it takes an element of bravery, anger, smarts and preparation, which you're getting in school to continue to challenge the accepted norms and practices within the offices that make the policy, so before we're talking norms of practices of the practitioners within systems, we're trying to effect... When you're in the room the same way as a research director, they say, "Well, we're gonna do 100 interviews with attorneys," and I say, "Well, wait a second, how are you gonna know the difference between what they say and what they do?" That is where you're starting to bring your education to shift the dialogue within the room, and if you can do so in a professional way that respects the view points in the room, you can, I think start to move the dialogue, change the dialogue. And it's not easy.
DC: And I think one of the thing is to make sure that you don't... I always say, Don't drink the Kool-Aid, just don't accept just what you're told when you walk into these offices and places, be the type of person that wants to make change. And I think that that's really hard to do. But there is also a part of me that thinks that many of you that came to school to go to policy... In the policy arena, wanted to make the world a better place, and I know that sounds very idealistic, but I'm not ready to give up on optimism I'm like, What else do we have as human beings? Other than the optimism and also the... Just feeling enraged when it's wrong and wanting to change it, and I feel the sense of a moral calling, a moral imperative, that when I show you research, I want you to stand up and say, "No, I gotta go to the New York Times and tell them this is happening or I wanna go right to Senator so-and so and tell them that it needs to be changed," and so whatever you choose to do, don't lose that, because that is the moral compass that will force the system to change and with all your education and preparation.
DC: You might be the person to do it. You might be the people, let's say the people to do it. And that's more of what we need. Not safe solutions. Not a popular solution, sometimes we need ones that are inconvenient, that are disruptive, that are not popular, but they're the right thing to do and figuring out how to get it done, it's a challenge, but I mean, this is probably the students to do it. That's right, right. And it takes a whole lot of bravery, I think too... I always say like, I get a lot of hate mail, and largely because I'm speaking out on police brutality, I'm saying, This is not okay. People shouldn't be treated like that. But I know it's the right thing to do.
CW: Yeah. Dr. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve thank you so much.
DC: Thank you. Such an honor. I wish I was there in person.
CW: Yes, yes, we definitely have to have you come visit us at the Ford School in person. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for your brilliance, thank you for your passion, thank you for your moral compass, thank you for the rigor that you bring to your scholarship. And thank you for all of the ideas that you've shared with us today. It has been my pleasure and my honor to be in conversation with today, and I wanna thank the audience for being here and for joining us. Visit our website at the Center for Racial Justice at the University of Michigan, Ford School of Public Policy. For our future events, join us for those and until then, take care and be well, thank you.