in , ,

How The Rich Profit Off Racism, From Charter Schools to Detention Centers ❧ Current Affairs

How The Rich Profit Off Racism, From Charter Schools to Detention Centers ❧ Current Affairs from @curaffairs
Tweet Quote



Jim Freeman is the author of the new book, Rich Thanks to Racism: How the Ultra-Wealthy Profit from Racial Injustice. He’s a civil rights lawyer and the director of the Social Movements Support Lab. He previously worked for the Advancement Project, where he led the Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Project. Jim recently joined Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson on an episode of the Current Affairs podcast. The following transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity. 

Robinson

The reason I was excited about this book is that it does something that I think is very necessary and somewhat unusual. We talk a lot about racial injustice, and we talk a lot about economic inequality. What you do in this book is lay out quite compellingly how these two things are tied together, how we can’t talk about one without talking about the other. And I think, in the US, there is still a way of talking about racism that leans too much on the idea of racial hatred as the source of racism, of hate groups, of active dislike by white people of people of color, when the reality is that most racism seems to come from an indifference to the lives of people of color, that Black lives do not matter to those in power. There’s a willingness to exploit and harm people of color for the benefit of, as you write in the book, the ultra-wealthy. So I wonder if we could start by talking about that word racism. When you say, “rich, thanks to racism,” what do you mean by “racism”?

Freeman  

That’s a great question. You’re absolutely right in how you summarize the issue. We still have this tendency to think about racism in terms of individual behaviors, or individual biases. So when we think about the folks who are on the other side of this fight, we usually think about the alt right, and the kinds of folks that were storming the Capitol on January 6. But those are not the people who passed all the laws that are responsible for deeply rooted racial inequities in this country. And they’re not the ones who are doing the heavy lifting in defending or even expanding those policies today. So what I wanted to do with the book is talk more about systemic racism, and then go further, in talking about what I call strategic racism. Systemic racism is defined as the policies, practices, and systems that produce and sustain racial inequities. Much of my career has been spent trying to educate people on that term. And it seemed like we made some progress last summer, although there’s been some walking back of that progress. But what I’ve come to learn, even with that term systemic racism, is that it’s not always descriptive enough to capture what’s going on. It is somewhat abstract and impersonal. It makes it seem like these are natural or inevitable occurrences, like no one is actually responsible for what’s happening. So what I wanted to do was point out that there are those who use their extraordinary wealth to defend or expand systemic racism in ways that result in greater economic or political power for themselves. These efforts are intentional. And that’s what I call strategic racism.

Robinson  

Right. When we think about systemic racism, it can come across as like, oh, well, it’s a historic holdover, right? We got rid of the individual racial animus. We don’t have that anymore. Of course, there are very serious individual racial biases. But we say, well, explicit racism has gone away, but the result of all of the historic injustice is still with us. But what you point out in this book, which is so interesting and important, is that racism doesn’t even need to come from racial animus, so much as a desire to maintain economic dominance and to enrich oneself. There’s a class of people for whom racism is profitable. And that fact is very rarely noted. So let’s get into the details. The first thing you have to deal with is that this sounds like a conspiracy theory. But when you lay it out, it’s actually just the logical function of the free market. When you have a group of people for whom it is profitable to do a certain thing, they will do that thing.

Freeman

That’s right. It’s important to distinguish whom we’re talking about. I’ve been a civil rights lawyer for 20 years, and I’ve certainly encountered individuals who display racial animus in a variety of forms. But those folks weren’t the ones who were responsible for what was happening to the communities in which I was working, for my clients’ lack of adequate educational opportunities, or their being subjected to a mass incarceration system that devastated their families, or for their being subjected to immigration enforcement policies that were scaring them so much that they were afraid even to leave their homes. That had nothing to do with the overtly racist people that I’ve encountered in my career. So what I wanted to do in the book is to look at the policies that are actually responsible for these larger injustices. Let’s find out where they came from and try to understand the rationale behind them. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that systemic racism persists because of large corporations and Wall Street banks. For them, systemic racism is enormously profitable. And it has nothing to do with those individuals’ personal views on racial equality. I have no reason to believe that any of them are any more racist than anyone else. But I do know that they have profited from real harm that they’ve caused in Black and Brown communities in particular. And I’ve seen what that looks like. I’ve seen how devastating that is for millions of families, and I think they need to be held accountable.

Robinson  

Yes. Let’s go into some of the specific mechanisms by which profit is produced by race. We could do this across a number of areas like environment and labor. You limit the book to three major case studies. You talk about the education system, you talk about policing and mass incarceration, and you talk about immigration enforcement. You start with the education system. And I was particularly interested in the education chapter since we’re based in New Orleans. You discuss New Orleans extensively in the book because here we basically led the experiment in the privatization of public schools. New Orleans has been a model for privatization and the use of vouchers. So let’s talk about the link between public school privatization, profit, and racism. Could you explain this?

Freeman

Sure. First, it’s useful to define terms. In the book, I talked a lot about school privatization. What I mean by that is efforts to move control over education from the traditional public school system to charter schools and voucher programs and voucher-like programs. And maybe the place to start after that is to say that while those efforts have certainly garnered support from a variety of stakeholders over the years, it is unmistakably a hostile takeover of public schools that’s being led by a small group of billionaires. In other words, if not, for this staggering financial investment of a very small group of individuals, there is simply no way that charter schools and school vouchers would have proliferated as much as they have. And there’s no way this takeover would have caused such extensive harm in Black and Brown communities across the country. So as an example of that, what I did in the book is I looked at just 10 billionaires or 10 families who prioritize this issue. That included Bill Gates, the Walton family, the Koch brothers, Mark Zuckerberg, and a handful of others. And I tracked how much they’ve spent on just 50 organizations that have been active in promoting charter schools and school vouchers. So there are many more billionaires who fall in the same camp and many more organizations that have been created to advance this agenda. But just looking at those 10 sources, giving to just 50 organizations, I was able to track $3.2 billion in investments into these organizations. This is a small piece of the overall effort. But it provides a sense of how these individuals use their wealth in ways to create an exponentially greater role for themselves in shaping education policies. Then we have the parents, students, and community members who were most affected by those policies. What the billionaire class has realized is that they can profit more from the education system when it is under their control, or under the control of charter schools and school vouchers. For the very same reason, for profit, this sector of society has prioritized the privatization of Social Security, of healthcare, while resisting public options and Medicare for All. They’ve wanted to privatize the USPS. They’ve wanted to privatize every publicly operated service that we have in this country. It’s because of profit. They can take a $650 billion business, or $650 billion industry, which is the public school industry, and transfer it from public to private hands. So when they do that they can profit directly. They can profit indirectly by controlling the agenda by using curriculum to better support their goals, which we’ve seen extensively in recent years. They have a variety of other means, too. I had no idea how many ways there were to profit from the education industry. But there are dozens.

Robinson  

Throughout your case studies, you lay out that these issues are very complicated. There are a lot of reasons why things happen. Some of it is ideological, as you say in the book. There are some people who might be sincere supporters of charter schools. There are plenty of young Teach for America teachers who go in with very good intentions. But, as you point out, we need to look at what exactly is being pushed for, what the consequences of that are, and how the effects are distributed racially. Where are the benefits going? It’s not always that they are directly pushing for converting the school system to a for- profit system, right? There are for-profit charter schools in some places, and they’re really awful. And there are these cheapo online charter schools that hardly spend any money, where they are not even pretending to educate children, and someone profits off of it. But it’s not always that direct. And there are lots of indirect long-term consequences. For example, you talk about the No Excuses Charter School, which is supposed to be this new model of education where they claim to improve test scores by any means necessary. You’ve talked about how that almost creates, instead of a school-to-prison pipeline, a prison-to-prison pipeline, because the schools become built on the disciplinary model. There are lots of consequences that follow from that, like having a compliant and cheap labor force in the long term and prioritizing job skills and taking tests. So it’s more than just, we are handing the school system over to a private company. You can see this direct line.

Freeman

That’s exactly right. When we analyze charter schools, and, to a lesser extent, voucher programs, usually it’s all about relative test scores. The research is pretty clear that, on average, charter schools are no better than traditional public schools. Some of them are excellent; some of them are terrible. Most of them are in between, like typical public schools. But that’s the depth of our analysis for the last 20 years. We haven’t analyzed or given nearly enough attention to all of the other effects from these proposed school reforms. So we don’t consider the traumatic effects on young people who are displaced from their schools by charter schools opening up in their neighborhoods. We don’t consider the effects of closing down public schools. Essentially what happens is a lot of unionized employees are fired or laid off, many of whom are Black and Brown teachers from the neighborhoods, maybe a 22-year-old or 23-year-old Teach for America teacher. We don’t consider the effects on a community where all of the public schools have been closed. And there are communities like this all over the country where there are no schools left. This affects real estate, community health, and community safety. We don’t talk about any of that stuff. It’s all about the test scores. As someone who has worked very closely with folks who have been very negatively harmed by these dynamics, in many cities across the US, I find the public discourse to be deeply unsettling and jarring. It’s concerning. If the school privatization effort was initially advertised as an effort to promote racial equity, well, the folks who were supposed to be benefiting are the ones who are instead being harmed. I really wanted to shine a light on that. 

Robinson  

Yes. As you say, there’s this frustrating conversation around charter schools. The debate around charter schools centers on, do they improve test scores more than public schools? And the findings are inconclusive? There’s a bunch of spurious literature out there. I once dove into a fake study from, I think, the University of Arkansas, which has a Walton family-funded education Research Institute that pumps out fake pro-charter literature. When I read the thing and I saw it was from the University of Arkansas, I thought, the Waltons are behind it. So, there’s the debate about the test scores, but then you have so many other things like, well, kids have friends, right? Kids have friendship networks. So we have this market system where a school is supposed to thrive in the market, and if it doesn’t, then it gets shut down. Okay, but what does that do to the child? Do they have to go to a different school where they have no friends? What are the psychological effects of this? Of course, we’re talking about an experiment being conducted in the poorest communities, the ones that are least able to resist this influx of money. Ultimately, we have a racially unequal school system, and it’s getting worse.

Freeman  

That’s exactly right. You mentioned earlier the issue of school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. That’s such a great example. What we’ve done with school privatization is, rather than putting our energy and our resources into figuring out what it’s going to take to create a truly racially equitable system, what it’s actually going to take to design and resource and operate our schools in a way that’s centered around the developmental needs of all kids, what we’re gonna do is siphon off money from the public system, give it to a less regulated collection of charter schools, and voucher programs, in the hopes that magically, somehow this is going to produce improvement and address generations or centuries of inequity. I mean, the idea is ludicrous on its face. And anybody who knows anything about policy, or social justice, or racial equity, could tell you that there would be negative consequences. In the book, for example, I talked about the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. It’s the darling of the school privatization sector in Chicago. It’s getting huge amounts of money from prominent Democrats and prominent Republicans. When Rahm Emanuel was mayor, he spoke frequently about the Noble Schools, saying they had the secret sauce of education. Well, that was until state legislation had to be passed to stop them. What they were doing–part of their so-called secret sauce–was that they weren’t just suspending and expelling young people, they were charging them with disciplinary fines. This is in the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. And when a student, you know, committed some disciplinary infraction, they would charge them money. So when we first heard about this, we thought, well, that’s horrible, but it can’t be that widespread. But, as it turns out, we got the records, and we found out that they had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in disciplinary fines from the families attending their school. And then, at the time, a few years ago, Noble had somewhere between, I think, 12 and 18 schools, in a city that had over 500 schools. And yet, if you looked at the expulsion rates, in the city of Chicago, of those 500-plus schools, the eight highest rates of expulsion in the city were all in Noble schools. So that’s the network of charter schools that has received millions and millions of dollars in donations, so that they could expand the number of schools and really take over education in parts of the south and west sides of the city. What is this model of education we’re producing? What are the effects on other schools? Because when they expel students, they’re going back to the public schools, right? You have to take these kids in the middle of the year, who are already having difficulties. And so now, not only is the quality of education in those charter schools highly suspect, but now you’re harming the public schools even further, even more than having already taken some of the resources and put them into Noble in the first place.

Robinson  

Yes. You talk about KIPP, the model charter system. Since KIPP was formed, fortunately, the education reform movement seems to have become a little less trendy and questioned a little more in recent years. But I remember back when it was the hardest thing in Democratic party policy circles to say otherwise, the idea was, KIPP is the real model, they have this sort of military style discipline. In the worst of the charter schools, kids sit in front of a laptop, and it’s not even a school, but you point out that even the best charter schools are not really following KIPP. I mean, the lives of teachers are stressful. There’s constant competition and this ethic where it’s supposed to be a feature that all these schools are so highly competitive, and push people so hard. But the reality is that that’s not what a humanistic education really looks like.

Freeman

That’s right. You mentioned KIPP. I haven’t looked at the updated roster schools, but they’ve expanded to the point where they now have over 100,000 students in their schools. There’s over 300 schools I believe, which is painfully ironic because, again, the original arguments for the charter school movement, so to speak, was that they would provide small little laboratories for educating a small number of students who weren’t doing well in the public system. Instead now they’re larger than almost all the school systems in the country because of the money that’s going into them. But my introduction to KIPP was a number of years ago. I was in a KIPP school in Baltimore for a meeting. And as we were walking out of this meeting room inside the school, the bell rang, and all of a sudden, I saw these lines of elementary school students who were going to lunch, or PE, or whatever it was, and they all had their heads down. They were all Black, they all had their heads down, they had their hands behind their back. And they were walking, step by step, along this painted line in the hallway. There were two lines, one on each side, and there was one group going one way, one group going the other way. And the teachers were there monitoring, and if anybody stepped off the line, or anybody raised their head, or whatever, they would get chastised. It was physically jarring to me, because I’ve only seen that one time in my life. And that was when I’d been meeting with clients at a maximum-security prison. And that was my entry point into trying to understand the impact of these dynamics on the communities where they were being implemented.

Robinson  

[Again, I do think it’s really important] to explain why this is not a “conspiracy theory” that says there are a small group of rich people sitting there thinking “I want to exploit Black people.” They may, in terms of their own consciousness, be perfectly sincere in thinking that their motives are good. Noam Chomsky points out that every colonizer thinks that they’re acting in the interests of the colonized. They don’t think of themselves as exploiters. They don’t think of themselves as profiteers. They think of themselves as doing a favor for those that they are uplifting. The rhetoric of the British Empire in India was “we’re not here for us, we’re here for them.” As I read your book, I felt the same way, because there are all these ideological justifications for these things, and they may be perfectly sincere on the part of the people who are who are saying them, but then when you actually get down to it and examine the effects—what does this do to a community?—the effects turn out to be: maintaining the existing racial hierarchy, maintaining the existing distribution of wealth, and, in fact, worsening them over time. 

Freeman

That’s exactly right, Nathan. So you mentioned how folks can be very sincere in their beliefs. One thing I talked about in the book is how this particular issue of school privatization has brought together some pretty strange bedfellows, right? So you have Bill Gates and Charles Koch, right, who have dramatically different public reputations. But when it comes to school privatization, they’re actually quite aligned. Right? They fund several of the same organizations beyond that direct overlap. You know, the additional organizations that they fund work with each other as allies to promote this agenda. But that doesn’t mean that Charles Koch and Bill Gates have the same goals and the same philosophies. And, for example, unlike Charles Koch, Bill Gates doesn’t publicly express support for vouchers, and most of his investments have been connected to charter schools. But he has nevertheless provided 10s of millions of dollars to organizations that are aligned with the Koch voucher agenda. And his support for charter schools has been critical in paving the way for the more radical school privatization goals of folks like Charles Koch and the Waltons and Betsy DeVos. People like that. So he’s basically been doing his work for him. The other point you raise is so important. So much of our public discourse, as it relates to billionaires, or the ultra-wealthy, or the various ideologies that prop up systemic racism or strategic racism doesn’t, you know, interrogate their motives or their rationale or their arguments very often. We don’t focus on the harm. Like you say, the book is really focused on the effects of these policies. What are the harms that are being caused? As you know, if I burned down my neighbor’s house, yes, it matters, whether it was done out of negligence or done out of malice, but at the end of the day, they still don’t have a house, so either way, it’s my responsibility to fix the damage I’ve done and ensure it doesn’t happen again. The same is true with racial justice, right? We all have a responsibility to stop aiding and abetting systemic racism, address whatever racial blind spots we have, and repair whatever harm we’ve caused, regardless of whether our actions were well intentioned or not. That’s the only way we will ever create a just and equitable country. But unfortunately, when it comes to these issues, many of the individuals who’ve caused the most harm have been very effective in deflecting blame, and avoiding responsibility. And the rest of us collectively have allowed our attention to be diverted from the two most important questions that I think should be asked about any social policy: number one, who’s harmed? And number two, who benefits? The fact is that the actions of the ultra-wealthy, of the profiteers of racism, have undoubtedly harmed millions of people of color, in ways that have been profoundly beneficial for themselves. And like I said, they need to be held accountable for that, regardless of what their stated intent may have been.

Robinson  

I want to get to the criminal punishment system, which is in a second case study. And one of the links that was interesting to me in both the educational context, and what you discuss about criminal punishment is that in both cases, there are direct profit heroes in the prison system. I think people don’t necessarily always think about the many, many ways in which mass incarceration is profitable for different companies from private prisons, prison phone companies, prison healthcare, prison food services, for-profit bail bonds, supervision services, technology, and transportation. There’s this vast network of contractors that you talk about. There’s the labor supply not only of prisoners, but of people who have come out of prison and are now in a precarious situation. And of course, if you have a criminal record, you’re going to be less able to challenge your employer, right, because you’re going to be lucky to be able to find a job. You’ll be more pliant. You talk about all that stuff. But one of the things that interested me the most was that there’s direct profit, and then there’s also the fact that a just system would be costly. And it would be costly to specifically those who have a lot of money. And in both cases, one of the reasons that we have this racially unfair system is that people who are super wealthy don’t want to give anything up in order to do what would be necessary to achieve racial equity, because that would require a sacrifice of a vast amount of wealth. Justice costs money. That’s another important way in which the existing distribution of wealth and racial inequity is tied together nicely in the book.

Freeman  

Yes, thank you for bringing that up. We often see these graphics on social media or other places, showing how much it costs to attend Harvard versus how much it costs to be incarcerated. You know, it seems to make the argument that incarceration is not cost effective, that it’s inefficient, it’s bad social policy and so on. And you know, I think it is, but from a certain morally vacuous perspective, it is actually more efficient, right? One of the key points here is that this reasoning reflects a viewpoint. Rather than investing, let’s say, in a quality education for every child, and quality mental, physical, and behavioral health care for every person, and livable wages for every person, it’s preferable and actually cheaper to have the criminal legal system handle all the young people we fail, handle all the folks experiencing mental health crises that we fail, handle all the folks living in poverty, who we fail. In other words, it’s cheaper to dehumanize people than to make sure their basic needs are met. And there’s a lot that goes into it. But one key part is that, you know, when we under-invest in communities of color, and other low income and working-class communities, that reduces what people pay in taxes, and particularly ultra-wealthy people. And that is very much, you know, aligned with the self-interest that they act on in virtually every area of social policy. So it’s important that we understand that, even though no one’s ever gonna go out and say that. But it does make rational sense from that perspective.

Robinson  

When we on the left talk about defunding the police or reducing police budgets, one of the obvious immediate responses is, well, what about crime? What about public safety? And, you know, we have answers, but one of the important things about the answer, I think, is that policing isn’t the only way to prevent violence from occurring in a community. If you want a safe community and a nonviolent community, without using the blunt instrument, the literal blunt instrument of putting people in cages when they do things wrong, that is going to require a vast redistribution of wealth. Policing is not the only way to keep people safe. But it is an extremely efficient way to look as if you’re addressing violence without doing the incredibly hard and costly work of actually making sure a community has what it needs to be safe.

Freeman  

Right. Not only is it not the only way to promote safety, it’s not a particularly effective way to promote safety. Far more often than not, police are responding to crime that has already happened. They’re not actually preventing crime. And I don’t blame the police for that, for the way we have been engaged in this collective act of insanity. That involves pretending that those professionals whose core competencies rely around the use of force, specifically being armed and being able to incapacitate us through arrest, that those people are the professionals who are best equipped to handle a huge variety of public health and safety issues. That is, there is no rational person who would ever design a society that way. You would look at the problems that arise and figure out, who has the best skill set to address these issues? And the police would only be the answer to that question a very, very small percentage of the time. But instead, we throw everything at the police. That’s especially true in communities of color. I think the murder of George Floyd and Eric Garner, and so many other folks, what that reveals, perhaps more than anything else, is just how much we lie to Black and Brown communities. Because what we policymakers have been saying to them, for at least the past 40 years, is that the best way we can keep you safe is by being tough on crime, by flooding your communities with police officers, by using stop and frisk, by employing broken windows policing and cracking down on low level offenses, by putting police in schools, by locking up people at the highest rates anywhere in the world, by doing the type of really aggressive and brutal, often violent, policing that killed George Floyd and Daunte Wright, and Eric Garner, and so many others. So the consistent message all along has been that these were the most effective strategies for improving public safety. But my question is, where’s the evidence for that? Where are the heavily policed, high-incarceration communities that are flourishing socially, economically, culturally, by any metric? There are none. It’s a null set. And also, if it were true, that these were the best strategies, we’d be policing, prosecuting and incarcerating white communities the same way. If these really were the best strategies. If they really were the best strategies, wouldn’t white communities want the same thing? Wouldn’t they be in the offices of their elected officials clamoring for more tough on crime strategies? There’s more than enough crime within predominantly white schools, universities, workplaces, and neighborhoods, crime that currently goes unpoliced and unpunished. And we could be cracking down on those predominantly white spaces the same way we do in communities of color. And we could fill up our jails and prisons many times over with white teenagers, college students, stockbrokers, Silicon Valley programmers, lawyers, and others, who up until now have been committing crimes largely with impunity. And so we could literally flip our racial disparities and have a predominantly white prison population in no time. But we don’t do those things because we don’t really believe what we say about how effective those strategies are. 

Robinson  

Well, actually, one side note is that there was an interesting link in the book between zero tolerance, no excuses schooling and the broken windows policing. I had never thought about it before. Those are both built on the exact same philosophy. Apply a wildly disproportionate punishment in the hopes that if we’re just severe enough, people will get in shape. I do want to talk about those real alternatives when it comes to safety. As you know, violence in communities is a very real problem. When it happens, it’s extremely traumatizing for a lot of people. People are victimized in robberies and sex crimes, and people lose family members in shootings. When we begin to think about it, you know, when we tell people that tough on crime is not the answer, we have an alternative, where do we begin with an alternative that actually deals with people’s quite real fears? I believe in police defunding. But I think that the message of “defund the police ” only tells half the story, right? Which is, we do want to reduce police funding, but one of the arguments that is made is that you have a binary choice between, do you want cops?, or do you want nothing? And people say, well, I’m scared of nothing, nothing sounds like, no one comes when I call 911, and that’s really, really scary. So this is the option often provided to communities. It’s, well, we can give you more cops, or fewer cops. And so when we’re trying to figure out, where do you start in terms of things that will really keep people safe, where do you begin?

Freeman  

Yes. You’re exactly right that most of us have become so accustomed to our current practices, that it can be difficult to imagine something better. But the reality actually, is that almost every other place in the world, at almost every point in history, has used criminalization and incarceration, less than the US does right now, particularly within communities of color. So it actually shouldn’t be that hard to envision something better. Because we are literally the worst in the world, and perhaps the worst of all time. So, you know, I would say the first thing we have to do is address the fact that we have allowed the criminal legal system to inflict profound harm on individuals, families and communities. We have allowed them to traumatize and criminalize and incarcerate millions of people needlessly. And we all need to really spend some time reflecting on that, on how we have allowed this system to have the power to inflict that kind of harm, because we don’t allow other professionals to do that. In fact, in the medical profession, we have folks take an oath not to inflict harm, right? And so, you know, you could imagine that if the medical profession functioned the same way as police, doctors would be giving unnecessary medications, cutting off random body parts without cause, performing routine cancer screenings by opening us up and poking around. But they don’t do that, because they adhere to certain ethical principles. And I think that if we require that ethic of people equipped with stethoscopes and thermometers, we should do the same thing with folks in the criminal legal system. So I talk in the book about what a system would look like that adhered to the principle of doing no harm, how that would shift the way things operate in communities. But the second step–and, by the way, this was written well before “defund the police” became a hot button issue–is that we have to right, size, and, and define all aspects of the criminal justice system accordingly, right? Because an appropriately sized and appropriately functioning criminal legal system would be much, much smaller than the one we have now. And so I talked in the book about how large it is and how it’s grown over time. And then the third step would be reinvestment in a multidisciplinary approach to public health and safety. So we can use those dollars to invest in addressing the root causes of crime, including education, living wage jobs, health care, wraparound supports, housing, and so on. And then instead of making police the first responders to almost all public health and safety issues, we can start using all the tools in our toolbox and start taking a problem-solving approach so that our responses would be tailored to the problems that arise. Right? So what I say in the book is, rather than having a local police department, shouldn’t each community have a public health and safety department where police wouldn’t lead it, they would be just sort of one spoke within a comprehensive community problem-solving wheel that creates a system of care for individuals, families and communities? So that type of department would have sort of the full spectrum of professionals who can meet the needs of communities, such as social workers, psychologists, substance use counselors, conflict mediators, nurses, restorative and transformative justice practitioners, violence intervention experts, public health specialists, harm reduction practitioners, gang intervention workers, and trauma-informed healers. So the idea would be rather than just having police on patrol throughout the community, you have a variety of trained professionals with a diverse set of skills that are available to respond to and, more importantly, prevent crime and violence. And so what I ask readers in the book is, you know, if you actually imagine what this would look like in your community, and then really, truly ask yourself, which would make your community safer, healthier, and more equitable? I think it’s pretty clear that this would produce better outcomes for everyone than police.

Robinson  

Yes. I think it’s good to stimulate people’s imaginations and say, okay, well imagine you couldn’t use police or prisons, but you wanted to keep people safe. Say you wanted to reduce rates of violence? Where would you begin? We take throwing people in cages off the table. What would you do? And the answer can’t be, do nothing. In fact, there’s evidence that violence can be disrupted. It’s not easy. I know that certain police departments have opposed those violence disrupter organizations, sometimes because the people who do the disrupting work within the population of quote unquote criminals, and you have to get up close to the people you’re trying to keep from inflicting harm. It’s difficult. It’s complicated. And it may be costly. But as I understand it, there’s reason to believe that there are, in fact, many effective alternatives to policing that we can try. We’re really only at the beginning of understanding, you know, what we can do without police, but there is reason to believe that we can do it.

Freeman  

Yes, that’s right. One place to think about would be Chicago, which is the city that everybody, including former President Trump, seems to like to talk about in terms of violence, right? Well, we can actually break down the budget for the city of Chicago, the current budget, and compare how much is being spent on police, and the criminal legal system on one hand, and eight other systems that I call healthy community essentials. So that includes funding these types of alternatives to criminalization and incarceration, like affordable housing, mental behavioral health care, and even things like, you know, culture, and parks and recreation, and all these other systems that communities have said are essential for creating healthy communities. So just comparing this one criminal legal system to those eight other systems, for every $1 that goes into those eight healthy community essentials, $10 is going into the police and the criminal legal system. For every one person who’s tasked with serving their communities through one of these eight systems, 10 people are employed by the police department. And it’s been this way for a very long time. So we have data for Chicago and lots of other cities, it’s on a website called defunddata.org. It’s been that way for a long time. And yet, you know, everyone points to Chicago as having a huge violence problem. And to be clear, there is a violence problem in Chicago. And I work with community organizations that are affected by it all the time. But what they’ve been saying for years is we have these effective models, we have these effective approaches. They are research based restorative justice and transformative justice programs. There are very effective violence intervention programs. There are very effective, community based mental and behavioral health care programs that can address these needs. There are a variety of other interventions. There are law enforcement agencies in this country that have come out and said, yeah, we need to invest in early education, we need to invest in affordable housing, because these things make our job easier. So there’s an abundance of evidence for things that work. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any real evidence that this mass criminalization approach actually reduces violence. Because what this has done, what police have been asked to do is to wage a war on drugs, a war on crime, and war on gangs. And that is how they operate in those communities. They are bringing violence to those communities, and communities often respond to that in the only ways they can to survive. We absolutely must destabilize and ultimately dismantle these criminalization systems for those communities to ever achieve real safety.

Robinson  

One thing I think is important to mention is: just as test scores become the metric by which we measure the effectiveness of an education system, crime and violence are one variable in public safety. But even in cases where the application of brute force might achieve its desired end, there are other things to consider. For example, the fact that mass incarceration is the infliction of an immense amount of trauma and even torture on millions of people. And then all the people in those people’s lives, the spouses of people who are incarcerated, the children of people who are incarcerated. That is a factor. It is not just “Does this work, does it achieve its desired end?” But also: is it a just way to achieve this desired end? Or is this a way that dehumanizes and harms people in a way that is unconscionable? And I think that when you ask that question, it’s quite obvious that the system we have, even if it worked—which it obviously doesn’t, and we’ve discussed that—but even if it worked, would be unconscionable. 

I don’t have time to go into your last case study, which is immigration. I think people should read the book, which is Rich Thanks To Racism: How The Ultra-Wealthy Profit From Racial Injustice. The immigration example is very interesting. You go into how unauthorized immigrants become a cheap labor pool for corporate America, and the many direct and indirect routes by which profit is made off of, well, not even second class-citizens, because they’re not even citizens—this disenfranchised underclass. And one of the core points of the book, as I understand it, is that keeping a disenfranchised underclass frightened and subjugated, removing their ability to vote, taking away their public schools, is in the interest of a certain number of people. Hierarchy does benefit people at the top, and we have to understand exactly how it works, who benefits, and how it’s maintained, if we’re ever going to get rid of it. 

Freeman

Yes, absolutely. I think many people were very optimistic that we were going to finally take real action to address these issues last summer. And I’m still optimistic because we do have choices. But it’s important for people to understand that there’s been organizing going on on the other side, too. In other words, you have folks coming together right now in large numbers to dismantle systemic racism in very exciting and encouraging ways. On the other hand, in response to what happened last summer, you also have a very aggressive, organized opposition that is fighting very hard to preserve these systems to preserve systemic racism. And again, I’m not talking about the alt right and the types of folks at the Capitol, I’m talking about most of the Republican Party leadership and the corporations that fund and control that party. In fact, I think it’s pretty clear that the defense and expansion of systemic racism is pretty much a defining characteristic of the modern Republican Party and corporate America. And they are terrified of what is happening right now. And you can see that very clearly with all of the voter suppression laws that they’ve been trying to pass, all the anti-protest laws that they’ve been pushing, such as one in Florida, and their attack on critical race theory. And what they’ve said very clearly is that not only are they not interested in working with the rest of us to solve that problem, they want to make sure that no one else does either. And then when you add to that the continued efforts to support and empower law enforcement. To me this is very much an Empire Strikes Back type situation, and it goes to show just how valuable dynamics like systemic racism are from their perspective because as soon as some efforts progressed to address them, their response is to lean into anti-democratic efforts, to lean into authoritarian approaches, and to lean into white supremacy

Robinson  

Yes. Well, I encourage our listeners to pick up Jim’s book Rich Thanks to Racism because I do think it intervenes in the discourse in a useful way. You really tie class issues and race issues together, and you show how racism can’t be understood without an understanding of the economic forces that work underneath it. I think that’s important. It’s an easy point to miss because it can be below the surface. There’s all this ideology and all these arguments that we seem to be having without really getting into the root of the material interests that maintain the system as it is. Thank you so much for talking to me, Jim Freeman. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

Freeman

Thank you so much for having me, Nathan. I have as well.



Originally posted by Current Affairs on 2021-10-02 13:47:51

Top 10 Greatest Martial Arts Anime 17

Top 10 Greatest Martial Arts Anime

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison