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Weekly Roundup: August 7, 2020


This week at the blog…

We continued our ongoing series responding to the BLM uprisings.

Aya Gruber took carceral feminism to task.

Cynthia Godsoe turned an abolitionist eye to the (so-called) child welfare system.

For more of this series, see:

And our guide to this week elsewhere in the internet…

Ure Obioma:  True or False. Black people have a higher tolerance for pain than their White Counterparts? While for some people, the answer is obviously false, studies have shown that the false belief that Black people have a higher tolerance for pain than White people continues to be prevalent, and in some cases is taught in school.  

To understand how and why this belief is prevalent, it is important to understand the historical context of this belief. In order to justify slavery, scientist, physicians and slave owners collaborated and created the narrative that Blacks were both fundamentally and biologically different than whites. Many physicians believed that these biological “differences” meant that Blacks could tolerate different surgical procedures with little to no anesthetics. A belief that resulted in the exploitation of Blacks and the persist view of Black’s insusceptibility to pain. The belief that Blacks do not suffer from the same levels of pain as whites, has unfortunately continued persist and impacts the treatment hospitals provide Black patients. 

The article further highlights that this belief is held by current medical students and professionals. While this may sound both scary and upsetting, the author highlights three important steps Black individuals can take in order to mitigate this phenomenon. First, get a second opinion. Second, have the courage to ask your physician questions about their knowledge and understanding of the impact that implicit bias has in health care. Third, make sure that the patient is honest regarding their actual pain tolerance, and doesn’t try and “tough it out”. 

Caroline Parker: Many of the parents (and students) in my life are making “choices” about school attendance this fall. Two recent stories from home have me thinking about how poorly the language of choice fits right now. The first is about the wave of families relocating to the vacation homes seeking safety of backyards and small school districts. The second is about “‘pods’ of like-minded families” who are pulling their kids out of public schools and hiring private teachers. 

I am reminded of Bill DeBlasio’s take on pandemic public transportation in May: “For the next few months, people are going to make their own choices. Some people are going to be comfortable on mass transit, some are not.” I feel like there must be a good neoliberalism meme to follow this.

And I finally got around to last week’s NYT Magazine long and very good story about environmental justice in Philadelphia.

Tariq El-Gabalawy: More depressing news for observers of the criminal legal system. The Louisiana state supreme court has refused to hear the appeal of a life sentence for a man who stole hedge clippers. The sole dissenting voice of Chief Justice Bernette Johnson rightly points out the excessive and disproportionate nature of Mr. Bryant’s sentence – which will cost the state almost a million dollars to impose when compared to the economic impact of his crime (he failed to actually steal the clippers so realistically his crime cost society nothing in dollars and cents). Justice Johnson’s dissent does a great job of connecting habitual offender laws to “Pig Laws” in that they serve the same purpose of subjugating black by criminalizing poverty. In discussing his past offenses she wrote, “Each of these crimes was an effort to steal something. Such Petty theft is frequently driven by the ravages of poverty or addiction, and often both, … It is cruel and unusual to impose a sentence of life in prison at hard labor for the criminal behavior which is most often caused by poverty or addiction.” 

This is a little dated, but an interesting decision came out of the Ninth Circuit ruling parking tickets are covered by the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines. This case was brought against the city of LA, which (like every city in America) is heavily reliant on imposing late fees and penalties for unpaid tickets to raise revenue. The court upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgement for the initial $63 fine for overstaying the time at a parking space on the basis that it is not a disproportionate punishment (which I disagree with as a broke college student), but it reversed the grant of summary judgement for the additional $63 the city charges as a late payment penalty. I hope this case is a precursor to additional challenges against exorbitant penalties associated with infractions and court fees, which act as a poor tax imposed on communities of color and impoverished people that are more heavily policed and more likely to get stuck with these fines. This case reminded me of a story a friend once told me about a fix it ticket he received in LA. After getting his car fixed and checking in with the sheriffs, he was sent an $800 ticket for failing to appear in traffic court over a matter he assumed was resolved. It just goes to show you, cities think it’s easier to extract wealth from the poor than it is to tax the rich.

Finally, a must read opinion from U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves highlights the problem of holding police accountable for their misconduct while at the same time acting as a sort of judicial protest in line with the Black Lives Matter movement. Judge Reeves rules in favor of the officer in the case, but his opinion serves mostly as a critique of qualified immunity doctrine. He concludes his opinion by writing “Overturning qualified immunity will undoubtedly impact our society. Yet, the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable. Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ so too should it eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.” The good news is that the prospect of reforming policing in America seems less and less daunting because of the efforts of activists across the country, which have led to Colorado becoming the first state to end qualified immunity.