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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Chris Hayes turns his lively mind to the subject of criminal justice

by digby

Chris Hayes is writing a book on the justice system and it sounds really interesting. Be sure to read the whole interview but this excerpt caught my eye:

What made you embark on a book about criminal justice?

We covered it a lot before Ferguson and after Ferguson. The two main things it grew out of were all of that reporting and also my first-person experience of growing up in New York in the years when we had 2,500 murders as opposed to 350. What I’m trying to write about is, why did we — meaning us as citizens and particularly us as white people — build this system that we have?

So it’s not just about cops shooting innocent people.

No, it’s the entirety of the American carceral state, from the highest per capita prison rate in the world to the thousands of summonses that are issued for selling M&Ms. The argument is that we’ve made two republics that have functionally different expectations of them, different levels of rights. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it was a democratic choice, but I kind of think it was.

Speaking again of democratic choices, you were writing this book about white fear during Trump’s improbable rise. Do you work him in?

I’m still figuring it out. White fear is always seeking its object. For a very long time, crime was the dominant political issue of the day. Then it was terrorism, now it’s a combination of immigration and terrorism, and politicians will come along and exploit it, cultivate it.

Why do you call the over-policed parts of the nation a colony?

In a colony, the force of law is in some fundamental sense not representative. There’s a chapter arguing that the complaints of the citizens were extremely close to the complaints of the founders. The precipitating spark of the revolution had a lot to do with policing powers, particularly the policing powers of the tax collectors. Taxes at that point were collected by what are essentially cops, because there was no one filing their 1090s. There is essentially the British version of stop-and-frisk, the arbitrary, capricious exercise of that power on colonial smugglers.

Are you trying to reclaim Founding Father rhetoric from the tea party?

Yes. There’s obviously the deeply complicating factor of race, but if you go back and read the DOJ report on Ferguson, the picture of state power that it conjures would be in some ways recognizable to the founders and odious to them.
That's typically insightful of him. Yes, we've "colonized" parts of our own country. What an interesting way of looking at the issue.

I confess I've been watching the series "Turn" about spying during the Revolutionary War. And they do a nice job of illustrating what must have been tremendous frustration at the "capricious exercise of power" by the Tories on the colonials. Watching it hits at a very primitive American reflex against state power. Turning that reflex to these communities of color makes you see it in a completely different way. But then state power, exercised as slavery and Jim Crow, always looked different to African Americans, Native Americans and Latino migrants didn't it? They've been colonized from the beginning and in may ways remain so today.

Anyway, I can't wait to read it.