the philosophactivist

Thursday, September 22, 2011

(in)justice and the death penalty or Kaput with Capital Punishment

So, two people were executed yesterday in the south- Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer. The latter was a white supremacist who brutally drug James Byrd. Jr. to his death in Jasper, TX. Davis was a man who was convicted of shooting both a man in a car and a police officer outside of Burger King. While Brewer obviously killed James Byrd, Jr., there were multiple discrepancies in the case against Troy Davis. Appeal upon appeal had been filed to introduce new evidence, including affidavits of witnesses recanting their testimony of what they had actually seen. The police seem to have coerced many witnesses and the justice system appears to have failed Troy Davis, as he was still executed  yesterday, 9/21/2011. Now, I've been thinking about the way I feel about the white supremacist's execution versus an innocent black man's execution and I've decided that there should just be no death penalty. I really don't think that this  draconian eye-for-an-eye tactic has ever assisted in bringing about any sense of real "justice". 

So I was wondering what the actual definition of justice is?I'm sure there are many but here's one from a quick google search:  a concept of moral rightness based on ethicsrationalitylawnatural lawreligionfairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.

Apparently there are a number of variations of justice but two in particular caught my eye:

Retributive justice regulates proportionate response to crime proven by lawful evidence, so that punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally correct and fully deserved. The law of retaliation(lex talionis) is a military theory of retributive justice, which says that reciprocity should be equal to the wrong suffered; "life for life, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."[7]
Restorative justice is concerned not so much with retribution and punishment as with (a) making the victim whole and (b) reintegrating the offender into society. This approach frequently brings an offender and a victim together, so that the offender can better understand the effect his/her offense had on the victim.

But what happens when the justice system is corrupt. What happens when officials coerce witnesses and tamper with evidence? I'm left thinking that "morality" and "ethics" are not something that officers must adhere to. And what about judges? The woman holding the scales, Lady Justice, is blindfolded - meaning that she is unbiased and takes all into account? I conjecture.

But check this out- (from

The origin of the Goddess of Justice goes back to antiquity. She was referred to as Ma'at by the ancient Egyptians and was often depicted carrying a sword with an ostrich feather in her hair (but no scales) to symbolize truth and justice. The term magistrate is derived from Ma'at because she assisted Osiris in the judgment of the dead by weighing their hearts.

To the ancient Greeks she was known as Themis, originally the organizer of the "communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies." Her ability to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the oracles at Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the goddess of divine justice. Classical representations of Themis did not show her blindfolded (because of her talent for prophecy, she had no need to be blinded) nor was she holding a sword (because she represented common consent, not coercion). BUT...

The Roman goddess of justice was called Justitia and was often portrayed as evenly balancing both scales and a sword and wearing a blindfold. She was sometimes portrayed holding the fasces (a bundle of rods around an ax symbolizing judicial authority) in one hand and a flame in the other (symbolizing truth).

Guess which one we inherited.

Unfortunately here in America lady Justice is not blind. She is not impartial. She is racist, classist, ableist, and sexist. And those scales are tipped in favor of the wealthy or those with great attorneys while people of color many times start out on the lower scale. Guilty until proven innocent because it is in our nature, right? Sometimes we even see ourselves in the way that these systems see us. The way we are portrayed in the media. I knew that Troy Davis did not stand a chance and it alarmed me that I was not surprised that he was not granted clemency while I was more shocked that the white supremacist was actually executed.

The death penalty is an antiquated and barbaric practice that tries to pass for a form of retributive justice. To me, it seems like just a revamped version of people sitting around in a coliseum waiting for a lion to devour some criminal or innocent bystander. Or maybe it's like the picnics that white southerners had as they sat around the black folks they had lynched. Now, I could sit here and talk about why we should abolish the death penalty in terms of risks and cost and that probably will be what wins state governments over. But, I can only think about the reasons in terms of compassion and morality. Killing someone who has killed someone solves nothing. We need to be addressing the roots of the cause which stem from the family unity, the community, the education system, and a deteriorating justice system and focus on more kinds of restorative justice. There are plenty of organizations out there working toward this goal and it's important that those of us who are passionate about civil rights and non-violence include advancement of restorative justice in our movement. We are living in a society where it is far too easy to see lives as expendable. This is obvious by the wars we wage and the lives taken during our occupation in other countries. It's also apparent in the way that innocent people of color and LGBT are attacked and gunned down by police officers and extremists in our own country.

Capital punishment is our problem. The prison system is our problem. The justice system is our problem. No matter how far we want to turn our heads in the other direction, this affects us all. The way allow these systems to disregard members of our society is a threat to us all. In Texas, more money is spent on new prisons and jails than education. You've got to see the irony.

For more info on the wrongfully executed and list of the exonerated and posthumous pardons go to:

State, National and International death penalty links:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Random Thoughts on the East Bay

I'm almost ready to emerge from the summer cocoon I've woven here in California. I've got a lot to process after being in Oakland for a few months. I was not compelled to check out the queer scene in San Francisco, I'll admit. My heart was heavy after learning more about gentroqueers and the lack of representation of queer people of color (QPOC) in that particular part of the Bay. Though I know they are there! I saw some inspiring art happening - D'Lo's play, A QPOC art exhibit. I had my moments with the East Bay. Sometimes I loved Oakland, sometimes I just wanted to run from it. There is so much displacement. On the same main street where there were intoxicated and homeless people of color, there were white young people riding by seemingly carefree.  My first month in Oakland I wondered why I got screamed at almost daily on the street. Some friends of mine (brown folks) said that it's probably because I'm black and that kind of pulls me into what's going on. (I was staying in a mostly black part of town). I really think it's because of how I look and how I dress. I will never forget a drunken homeless man who stopped me and a group of friends to ask for some change. He harassed us and suddenly stopped in mid-sentence to say "Oh. you're a girl" to me. He got in my face and stared at me for an uncomfortable amount of time before we asked him to leave. I didn't expect my hats and ties, pants with zippers, and other men's clothing to be such a big deal. ( I guess certain parts of New York spoiled me). I slowly found out it was only in particular parts of town. I contemplated on if I should switch up my style and finally compromised with myself and wore what I wanted but only if I wasn't going to be hanging out where I would draw unwanted attention. I felt like a target.

After about a month, it wasn't as big a deal to me. I knew where I could go.  But it was unsettling to me that I'd actually compromised. Being read as female so much also left me feeling as if I'd gone back in time and had undone all the processing it had taken to get me where I am today.  I became so used to being referred to as "she" that on one fateful day I even used this pronoun for myself in my own thoughts!

I met some great queer activists but I was left wondering where all the genderqueers were. Every once in a while I'd get happy when I saw a transmasculine person or someone who was androgynous. When the Butch Voices conference came around and I got to meet some of the Brown Boi Project, I felt better. But I still felt really lonely once that was over. I just wanted a handful of folks to kick it with that got this particular part of my struggle. I used to feel that there was a lot of tension between transmasculine folks and butches, and I'm sure this still exists but Butch Voices and a lack of a trans/genderqueer community has made me think more. Masculine of Center folks should definitely be allies, no matter how they identify. We have a similar struggle. I recently came across a really hateful blog that seeks to create more tension between FTMs and butches. It also seeks to say that transfolks have no place within  radical feminist and lesbian communities. I've seen a lot of ridiculous ideologies under the guise of "radical" or "liberal" thought lately. When are we going to see that a lot of these homogenous spaces really just perpetuate that which it seeks to eradicate.

Also...Queer Job hunters out there...

I've been looking for employment and it has come to my attention that my resume has a lot of LGBT organizing on it. I remember when one of our faculty told me that I should take those experiences off...well, that's a lot of experience I won't get credit for. So far I've still been sending out my resume with this experience ( I'll admit that I've revised it quite a bit), but I've been thinking about how people might just not be calling me back because of my obvious tie to the queer community. As weird as this sounds, I'd like to think it's just that I'm not experienced enough...but lately I'm growing wary.

I've also been thinking about how it will be at the next job I take. Will I be able to go by they or he? Will I be safe being out? Though these are important questions to ask during an interview...they could also lead to me not getting the position. When I was fresh out of undergrad, these were issues but I opted to be in the closet until I got the opportunity to come out.  Luckily I worked with some great people who had no visible problem with me being out and eventually I was even able to adhere to the  men's dress codes and scrap the women's codes. Now I think about getting a position where I'll have to train or do a lot of public speaking and wonder if how I dress will a) affect the recruiter's decision to hire me and b) affect professional relationships with business partners, or employees of other organizations I might train, be in contact with,etc. Sure, I know that I should just "be me" and not care about all this but at the end of the day- I need to be employed. Do  you know the percentage of trans people who are unemployed or underemployed?

Here are some key findings on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey:
Transfolks face:

Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experience unemployment at twice the rate of 
the population as a whole. 

Near universal harassment on the job: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported 
experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job. 

Significant losses of jobs and careers: Forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, 
such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion. 

High rates of poverty: Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people in our sample lived on $10,000 per 
year or less–double the rate of the general population. 

Significant housing instability: Nineteen percent (19%) of our sample have been or are homeless, 11% 
have faced eviction and 26% were forced to seek temporary space. 

 In a Maryland survey, 42% of trans people were unemployed, 31% make an annual survey less than $10,000 and 19% did not have their own living space.

There are few policies out there to end this kind of employment and housing discrimination.

So that's the deal.

But I feel like I can't go back in the closet. Not at a place where I spend the majority of my time. Maybe some of you are thinking that I should just get a job at an LGBT organization or LGBT-friendly employer. I've tried. Lots of them are underfunded, aren't exactly trans-friendly (??) and are not racially diverse (to put it nicely). We need more Allgos and Audre Lorde Projects and Brown Boi Projects. Sigh. Should I try to find a queer bubble to hide out in. Queer community,queer job, queer, queer, queer so that I can get treated equally. (Maybe). Or should I risk being uncomfortable, unsafe, or possibly even unemployed. I honestly don't know what would happen if I had to not be me 8 hours a day...40 hours a week...52 weeks a year minus vacations.

that is all.