"What Can the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Do For You?"
October 8, 2021 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge. ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio's extraordinary deep dive into the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee, which has "a staggering history of jailing children" under Judge Donna Scott Davenport — and where a group of black girls as young as 8 were arrested (with handcuffs, at their elementary school) simply for being present during a scrap between some other kids.

Co-author Ken Armstrong has a thorough tl;dr Twitter thread but... you should read the story if you can. Don't miss this promotional video the county made to pitch renting cells in its juvenile detention center to other jurisdictions.
posted by retrograde (58 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
This made me ill to read. Wtf is wrong with so many people?
posted by zenzenobia at 6:53 PM on October 8 [19 favorites]


What the hell did I just watch? Like what the hell is wrong with everything? Anyways, that's my measured reflection
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 7:09 PM on October 8 [4 favorites]


Also:link

Appropriately, the concerned county is on the right in that chart.

Sure looks like a (white) power distribution to my eyes
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 7:13 PM on October 8


For fuck's sake. I work in an elementary school and I can't imagine how traumatic this is to both the students and the principal.
posted by LindsayIrene at 7:13 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]


And none of these monsters will ever face any consequences.
posted by sjswitzer at 7:28 PM on October 8 [9 favorites]


The thing that got me about this was that all of the bad actors in the police department and in the court seem very, very stupid. Just very incapable thinkers, and quite ignorant as well. These people shouldn’t be in charge of anything.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:59 PM on October 8 [18 favorites]


That judge. I have no words. There is no punishment severe enough.
posted by Dysk at 9:02 PM on October 8 [16 favorites]


When I read this earlier the only thought I was able to form was "what the actual fuck?"

Sometimes shitty people get elected and their malfeasance goes unnoticed by the general public, but what really gets me is how the people directly involved weren't just being ignored, but actively fucking praised. Every time they got in a spot of trouble, they just stopped reporting statistics so nobody in the wider community could know what was happening.

What really boggles my mind, though, is how the county leaders were just fine with the budget ballooning like that and having to pay expensive settlements. In the white bread places I've lived, that would be a recipe for scrutiny all on its own. That makes it pretty damn clear to me that it isn't at all a case of secrecy allowing people to get away with things they otherwise wouldn't, but active approval from elected officials.
posted by wierdo at 9:16 PM on October 8 [26 favorites]


Did we find out why the judge was narrating the video? Does she own stock in this thing?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:29 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


What a thoroughly awful story. So many evil actors. So many egregious abuses of power by Davenport with zero consequences, as she continues to collect her six figure salary while being a real-life Dolores Umbridge. Ugh.
posted by genuinely curious at 9:37 PM on October 8 [7 favorites]


There has been something brewing…

WPLN 90.3 News: Nashville Public Radio - June 16, 2021 — Rutherford County To Pay Up As Much As $11M For Arrest And Jailing Of Children

"The lawsuit has been five years in the making and represents a class of more than 1,000 children. It alleged that Rutherford County, for more than a decade, was violating the rights of kids by arresting them illegally and placing them in juvenile detention without sufficient grounds."
posted by bz at 9:46 PM on October 8 [18 favorites]


I mean sure, editorial curation and prejudicial image selection in support of the story and bla bla bla, but bugger me if that tiny little video grab of Davenport in the ProPublica article doesn't show exactly the face that Central Casting would send to play the villain in the docudrama about this.
posted by flabdablet at 9:51 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]


"… bugger me if that tiny little video grab of Davenport in the ProPublica article doesn't show exactly the face that Central Casting would send to play the villain in the docudrama about this."

Dolores Umbridge?
posted by bz at 9:59 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


Far too twinkly. Umbridge is British banal evil and therefore doesn't really project the utterly unreflective dead-eyed self-satisfaction you need for the US kind.
posted by flabdablet at 11:36 PM on October 8 [28 favorites]


There has been something brewing…

WPLN 90.3 News: Nashville Public Radio - June 16, 2021 — Rutherford County To Pay Up As Much As $11M For Arrest And Jailing Of Children


That's all well and good, but it isn't getting Davenport any meaningful consequences. She should be personally criminally liable for her actions, and she won't be.
posted by Dysk at 11:55 PM on October 8 [19 favorites]


I grew up in neighborhoods with dead-eyed Davenports of all kinds, in all walks. These Karens are endemic to America.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:33 AM on October 9 [7 favorites]


It used to be I would say that people like these should be rooted out, that something this reprehensible, this vile, would be a thing our supposedly "good" society should be able to agree on, that people doing things like this should be punished as fully as society allows. At the very least, it would be made clear, that if you're all right with this kind of outright evil, you'd at least keep your fucking mouth shut because you knew that to publicly offer support to such abhorrence, you would be rightfully shunned by your community for voicing support for monsters. Really. I used to think that. I'd still like to.

Honestly, though, I'm starting to wonder if I've made a mistake. Just today, Michael Herriot, writing about NYCs decision to end Gifted and Talented programs (an entire other kettle of fish) pointed out how biased the system is, again and again. Teachers saying that Black children are the most disruptive, but then a Yale study that tracked eye movement showed that teachers were literally watching Black children the most (echoes of crime statistics higher in Black neighborhoods because that's where all the cops are). Punishment is meted out to Black children more harshly at every educational, economic and discipline level. Teachers are more likely to be critical of a student's writing level if they assume a student is Black.

I'm starting to see that I was, in all likelihood, utterly delusional about the numbers. There are far, far more people capable of this kind of evil than I wanted to believe. Moreover, going back as far as you would like, but hell, I'll just say our current batch of evil/crazy stems from Obama being president, and all of the outright racism that bubble to the surface, to say nothing of the freedom to dogwhistle all day and night and not get called on it. For eight straight years, a large section of the American populace felt entirely too comfortable with being outright, blatantly racist with nearly no consequences, and on the rare occasions that someone got jammed up, those calling for accountability were demonized. After eight consequence free years, then we got four straight years of empowerment, where the bigots weren't just gladhandled and praised, they were actually put in positions where they could give their basest urges free rein.

And now we've gone from a society where at least bigots knew they had to keep that shit to themselves to one where they feel, because they've seen, time and again, that there will be no consequence, that this is their time. Instead of knowing that their bigotry would be condemned by society, they do heinous things, say evil shit, and sneer, daring anyone to say anything, because that's their ticket to the "I've been cancelled" Go Fund Me sweepstakes.

I can't, for the life of me, figure out how we get to a point where this ends in any sort of justice, equity, or harmony.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:34 AM on October 9 [67 favorites]


I'm just gonna put this in here: UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (In a child-friendly format, in case you need to send it to a child).
In this context, see no. 40:
IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF BREAKING THE LAW, you should be treated fairly and in a way that respects your dignity. Your age should be taken into account. Prison sentences should only be given where children have committed the most serious crimes.
Oh, but there is one tiny thing. The USA is the ONLY country in the world that hasn't signed the UNCRC. Bugger.
posted by mumimor at 1:59 AM on October 9 [25 favorites]


There are far, far more people capable of this kind of evil than I wanted to believe.

I'm grew up in county just down the road from Rutherford, and my maternal family is from there exactly. I haven't lived in Tennessee since college 20 years ago, but I always used to wonder if I would move back. The last few years have illuminated such ugly horror in my homeland, I know the answer is no. I can't digest the fact that this is the community that raised me, all the nice grownups, my teachers and pastors and policemen were this inside the whole time. The very moment social censure relaxed, it all got not just vomited up, but rewarded.

I don't believe that people where I grew up are more racist or more broken than everybody else, but I think the culture there has evolved to give them a disgusting, nightmarish amount of power and freedom. I can't imagine marinating in it every day by choice.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:10 AM on October 9 [17 favorites]


There's already more than enough here to make it quite clear that the video incident wasn't a result of mistake, but part of an intentional pattern of practice, but this part should really seal the deal if anyone in power was interested in imposing consequences:

"In one, Davenport was overturned twice. Davenport, finding that a mother had neglected her daughter, granted custody to another couple. Two higher courts disagreed and ordered Davenport to reunify the mother and child. Instead, Davenport terminated the mother’s parental rights. The other couple then adopted the girl, after being “exhorted” by Davenport to move quickly, according to a state Court of Appeals opinion."

That alone ought to be enough to remove her from her position and bar her from running again, not just because it's sick and twisted, but also because it shows a flagrant disregard for her oath of office, the law, and the rules she is supposed to operate under.

There is no room for argument. The "but is it really a racism" sealioning doesn't matter in the sense that even if it somehow wasn't (it is, but speaking hypothetically) there is no defense here. You don't need to care about racism or believe it exists. You can be a complete racist fuck and still understand why this judge needs to be removed.
posted by wierdo at 2:43 AM on October 9 [34 favorites]


Once again I have to express the astonishment of pretty much all UK-based lawyers I know that the US allows for elected judges.

If you elect judges, then you get judges whose primary concern is likely to be securing re-election by pandering to the baser instincts of the electorate.
posted by Major Clanger at 3:28 AM on October 9 [32 favorites]


However you appoint judges, that's significant responsibility delegated to the Justice. And talking about responsibility over power makes little difference when the judge here believes she has a responsibility to a righteous cause above the law.

Where's the Bar Commission, why's it not disbarring Judge Davenport and what does it mean in the USA to talk of separation of church and state/religious freedoms?
posted by k3ninho at 3:42 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


We can all be appalled at the judge, and call her a Karen, but the real problem is the three counties to the left of Rutherford in the plot of juvenile arrests. And to the left of those.

This is about more than one person, or even the incompetent police associated with the case. It's about a policing and judicial system that need to be uprooted and replaced.
posted by Flight Hardware, do not touch at 5:59 AM on October 9 [16 favorites]


If you elect judges, then you get judges whose primary concern is likely to be securing re-election by pandering to the baser instincts of the electorate.

There are lots of ways states (and localities) select judges and it makes less difference than you'd think. You can pick up a deflection towards local norms among elected judges, but IIRC it's not huge. The usual thing I hear here from judicial scholars is that the desire not to be embarrassed by having your decisions overturned is far stronger.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:23 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


Y’know, I’ve been through a lot of local election ballots in my lifetime as a voter, and if there is any single section of the ballot that is just a list of persons running unopposed, it’s the judicial section.

So nice to see this dead-eyed, dead-souled Karen making a physician-level salary throwing innocent kids in jail. Absolutely, let’s make sure she keeps the job, give her a raise, lock up more kids. Better hope there isn’t really a hell, Karen, because if there is, you’ve got a single occupancy room reserved. Was it worth it?
posted by caution live frogs at 6:29 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


The USA is the ONLY country in the world that hasn't signed the UNCRC.

It has signed it, but has not ratified it. IIUC, the President can sign treaties on their own authority, but ratification has to be with "the advice and consent" of a 2/3 vote in the Senate. But yes, it's the only country which has not ratified it.

The UN's Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard is a good website to follow the status of various countries' accession/ratification to human rights treaties.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:36 AM on October 9 [7 favorites]


Y’know, I’ve been through a lot of local election ballots in my lifetime as a voter, and if there is any single section of the ballot that is just a list of persons running unopposed, it’s the judicial section.

Oh, but it’s even worse. The guy that did run against her once turned out to be a child predator, according to the article. :(
posted by eviemath at 6:36 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


Not just the judge, every member of the justice system in that county needs to never again hold an office of special trust and confidence.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:42 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


This is not an isolated indecent. There was the Kids for Cash Scandal in Pennsylvania in the late 2000s.

The "kids for cash" scandal centered on judicial kickbacks to two judges at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In 2008, judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were convicted of accepting money in return for imposing harsh adjudications on juveniles to increase occupancy at for-profit detention centers.

Ciavarella disposed thousands of children to extended stays in youth centers for offenses as trivial as mocking an assistant principal on Myspace or trespassing in a vacant building. After a judge rejected an initial plea agreement in 2009, a federal grand jury returned a 48-count indictment. In 2010, Conahan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to 17.5 years in federal prison. Ciavarella opted to go to trial the following year. He was convicted on 12 of 39 counts and sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.

In the wake of the scandal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overturned hundreds of adjudications of delinquency in Luzerne County. The Juvenile Law Center filed a class action lawsuit against the judges and numerous other parties, and the Pennsylvania state legislature created a commission to investigate juvenile justice problems in the county.


Eventually all the juveniles who appeared before both judges had any convictions overturned and their records expunged. There was a class action suit and some remuneration for both the young people involved and the adults who had to pay fines and other legal expenses. Even so many lives were ruined. For example one young man committed suicide in his mid twenties after he was sent to one of the facilities. No amount of money will ever make up for the damage caused.
posted by Metacircular at 6:43 AM on October 9 [22 favorites]


"Kids for Cash" was worse than that, one of the judges set up the for-profit detention center.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:46 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


Where's the Bar Commission, why's it not disbarring Judge Davenport and what does it mean in the USA to talk of separation of church and state/religious freedoms?

The legal profession has routinely shown that it is wholly incapable of not only self-policing, but even actually establishing a standard of ethical conduct - the fact that the "gay/trans panic" defence is only outlawed in five states is testament to this. And the situation is worse when it comes to judges, because the bench is a time honored retirement plan for the legal community.

We've also created a culture of judicial inviolability, in which the idea of judges actually being held accountable for their behavior (and in particular their rulings) is seen as attacking the foundation of jurisprudence. Many judges run their courtrooms as fiefdoms, setting rules at their own whims and punishing anyone who gets on their bad side. To say that this is a perversion of justice is saying water is wet.

Finally, freedom of religion in the US has always been used as a tool for upholding white supremacy under the guise of belief.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:47 AM on October 9 [12 favorites]


Y’know, I’ve been through a lot of local election ballots in my lifetime as a voter, and if there is any single section of the ballot that is just a list of persons running unopposed, it’s the judicial section
The amount of special knowledge required to vote responsibly on judges is absurd. I'm lucky enough to have a friend who is mostly a death penalty criminal defense lawyer in our county and who spends her spare time generating ad hoc voter guides for her associates.

I care a lot more about local judges than most people who aren't working full time in legal or activist jobs. But, a slate of 50 random names of people who preside over courts tens of miles away is an absurd thing to put before the public. I'm game to spend an hour or two looking up endorsements and scandals to get rid of the *really* bad ones. But even that isn't enough. Let us elect a judge-selector, who is different from the mayor, and runs on specific legal system goals. I don't know anywhere near enough to decide who is a good judge, but I can elect someone who does that job based on specific goals and ideals. Or, if nothing better is possible, let us pick the DA and let them pick the judges. (I doubt the outcome will be one I'd agree with on average, but at least it won't be the batshit nonsense we have now.)

If you don't know specific information about a judge, don't vote! The default yes votes make it impossible to make things better when there are shockingly bad judges on the ballot. It's okay to leave those parts of your ballot blank.
posted by eotvos at 7:09 AM on October 9 [10 favorites]


(To be clear, I mean "don't vote on the judge list." Do vote on the stuff you know and care about.)
posted by eotvos at 7:15 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


This story is just so American. The Christian woman thinking she's helping children by not sparing the rod. The use of prisons as a tool of social policy. The unconcern about active harming of children. The consideration of a jail as a profit center. The white judge doling out injustice to Black kids. The complete absence of federal oversight. The only remedy, a class action civil lawsuit with a tiny settlement and no admission of wrongdoing.

It's easy to think this is just one backward group of hillbillies in Tennessee. But it's not. It's just an example of all the worst of America's nature.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on October 9 [43 favorites]


The good cop that was usually at the school did what good cops do.

nothing.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 8:51 AM on October 9 [21 favorites]


As a country we are so fucked.
posted by bleep at 9:58 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


The legal profession has routinely shown that it is wholly incapable of not only self-policing, but even actually establishing a standard of ethical conduct

Which means it isn’t a profession - the word means a group of people who have an ethical code in common, swear to it, and enforce it. Anyway, that’s the justification of professions to the rest of society. I have not been enjoying the elision of "professional", "upper middle class", "above regulation". Those aren’t professions, that’s a gentry.
posted by clew at 10:56 AM on October 9 [9 favorites]


This whole story is appalling, but the part where she uses the fact that she's abusing kids as a way to get publicity/notoriety on her radio show is just so sick. It implicates everyone who listens regularly and everyone who advertises on the show in the abuse. Do they all think it's fine?
posted by lab.beetle at 10:58 AM on October 9 [8 favorites]


Where's the Bar Commission, why's it not disbarring Judge Davenport

Just FYI, most states do not define being a judge as "the practice of law" and you're not actually required to be registered with the bar. Otherwise you tend to run into separation-of-powers or supremacy clause issues.
posted by praemunire at 11:58 AM on October 9 [3 favorites]


Don't most states have a judicial ethics commission or something similar that performs the same function as the bar's ethics committee, though?
posted by wierdo at 1:26 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


/There are far, far more people capable of this kind of evil than I wanted to believe.

So, you know, now I think you can imagine how the USA cultivates new iterations of the klu klux, every time there are gains in freedom or civil rights. Cultivating extrajudicial right wing cadres is tradition in the USA, a "go-to" tactic, and one the US military has even spread into Latin America.

Interesting how explicit it is getting, with Texas writing that law to financially reward vigilantes
posted by eustatic at 2:51 PM on October 9 [7 favorites]


eustatic, I'm not, nor was I ever, unaware of this. What I tried, and I guess failed to express, is that, even as much as I did know, even as much as I was aware of the rot, I was, even in my pessimism and despair, entirely too optimistic. It's not just the zealots and the ones leading the charges, it's that, holy shit, maybe Reagan was right, and there really is a fucking Silent Majority, except they've been shown that they don't need to be silent anymore.

It's like knowing you have a cavity, that there is decay and rot in you, and steeling yourself for the whole process, but instead, the dentist finds out that half your tooth was rotten, even down past the gum line, and the only real option is to rip the whole damn thing out.

I knew the rot was there. I knew these people existed, and the history of the things they've done. What I had hoped to express, and clearly have failed, is that, in any sort of majority rules democracy, at what point do we simply come to understand that we've utterly miscounted, and that there are, in fact, more of them, more die hard Trump supporters, flanked by even more white moderates who have fulfilled their true destiny and have started voting republican because they resent the idea of a country where they aren't the arbiter of justice, than there are of, well, us, for lack of a better word. And, when the majority is for a thing, doesn't that end up making it the law of the land? That's the fear, that's the numbers of people more capable of evil, of excusing evil, of, in their hearts cheering the evil on, and at this point, I stuck wondering, like Lot, just how many righteous people are left in the city.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:10 PM on October 9 [6 favorites]


Don't most states have a judicial ethics commission or something similar that performs the same function as the bar's ethics committee, though?

Yes. Depending on structure and personalities, though, they can be quite toothless.

This story is so awful. When I started reading it, I was like, "Criminal responsibility, never heard of it, seems bizarre, some states have just ridiculous criminal laws," and then I found out that there really was no such thing and I just...
posted by praemunire at 5:22 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]


Ghidorah One thing that's worth remembering is that you can split racism into two broad categories: individual malice type racism and institutional/subconscious type racism.

The first is the one we think of most, the Klansman, the Stormfronter, those sorts of people. And they're certainly dangerous and bad, but only at an individual scale.

Its the second type that really causes the problems, and that's where things get sticky. Because almost everyone has that built into them at some level. Our society floods us with it from birth and even Black people have it in their heads too. It's the sort of racism that coming from deliberate malice and individual evil, but rather from our own subconscious minds and systems which produce racist outcomes regardless of the virtue of the people administering those systems.

I suspect that malice is involved with at least some of, if not all of, the people involved in this story.

But take the study you cited about teachers watching Black students more. I'll give you long odds that almost every one of them would be shocked, offended, if you said they were racist. Because they aren't, at least not from an individual malice standpoint. But they've got racism built into their thinking, on a level so deep most people don't even recognize it as thinking.

In all likelihood none of the teachers set out to watch Black students more, or even notices that they do. It's all below the conscious level.

There's two good examples of this in action. There was a study done where they'd briefly show the test subjects pictures of people of all races and sexes some holding guns some holding non-guns and some holding nothing. The picture was on screen long enough to see, but not really long enough to examine closely. The test subject pressed a button if they thought the picture showed a person with a gun.

The unsurprising, if depressing, result was that the false positive rate for pictures showing Black men was disproportionately high.

But the surprising part was on the racial demographics of the test subjects. Test subjects of all races, including Black test subjects, **ALL** produced disproportionately high false positives when seeing pictures of Black men. Black test subjects were about as likely to produce a false positive on a Black picture as white test subjects were.

Subconscious racism against Black people is present in Black people. Like the doll test, it shows that there's internalized, often not at the conscious level, racism put into Black Americans in much the same way that it is put into white Americans.

The good news is this means that the teachers in your example aren't, necessarily anyway, evil. Just infested with the same racist ideas that infest most people.

The bad news is that changing the parts of our society that produce that subconscious racism is really hard.

And then there's systemic racism. Black police officers pull over Black civilians at disproportinately high rates. That's almost certianly not because Black police officers are maliciously, deliberately, racist. But it is because the way we do policing was constructed, sometimes deliberately and maliciously, to police Black people more, arrest them more, and put them in prison more.

Drug crime is almost perfectly uniformly distributed across all ethnic groups. Black people are about 13% of the American population and Black people commit about 13% of drug crimes (dealing and using/possession both). Asian people are about 5% of the US population, and Asian people commit about 5% of the drug crimes. White people are about 73% of the US population and commit about 76% of drug crimes. Etc.

Based on that you'd expect Black people to account for about 13% of arrests for drug crimes, about 13% of convictions, and about 13% of people in prison for drug crimes.

In reality about 80% of people arrested for drug crimes are Black, and about 90% of people in prison for drug crimes are Black.

That's systemic racism and like subconscious racism the good news is that it doesn't, actually, mean that all cops are white supremacists though far too many are. But even in cities with Black people in the PD at all levels including the very top, the statistics don't change.

The system has so much racism built into it that it will produce racism regardless of who is running it.

Again, in the linked story I'd bet on some individual malicious racism on the part of the pigs and that vile judge. But the broader problem doesn't require malice.

Like NK Jemisin said: there is no neutrality when oppression is the status quo. The two positions aren't racist and non-racist, but racist and anti-racist. Unless a person is actively working to oppose racism then they are, however unintentionally, supporting it.

The only way forward is to dismantle the racist systems, thus "defund the police". You can't reform them, we've tried for 50 years and it's worse than ever. Because reform is about trying to prevent individual malice, and that's not (mostly) the problem.
posted by sotonohito at 6:31 PM on October 9 [14 favorites]


When I started reading it, I was like, "Criminal responsibility, never heard of it, seems bizarre, some states have just ridiculous criminal laws," and then I found out that there really was no such thing and I just.

It does exist, it's just not a criminal charge in and of itself. You can't arrest someone for "criminal responsibility." If someone encourages an assault and that assault actually happens, you arrest them for assault, not criminal responsibility.

What really baffles me is that I'm not an attorney and have had no legal training and even I could figure that out. How is it that none of the cops or magistrates involved could do the same? Simply being around attorneys talking to each other while I fixed their fucking computers was enough for me to absorb a basic understanding of how this shit works.

On the bright side, if anyone felt like using that rule, it could put a serious dent in a lot of the shit that plagues us lately because of the diffusion of responsibility enabled by social media. That said, it's probably not worth the risk of having it on the books since the chances of it being used against white supremacists egging each other on until one of them firebombs a church or runs down people with their car are slim to none.
posted by wierdo at 8:15 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


The most frustrating thing about this to me is how utterly successful the Republican party / local news propaganda about being really scared of crime and criminals has been. These awful judges and police officers and government officials could not get hired and elected if so many people did not completely buy into that framing.

And it matters, of course, how it's racialized, and how it goes on class lines, because nobody would tolerate it who thought that their third-grader had a chance of being hauled out of school in handcuffs.

I feel strongly about moving away from policing and incarceration, and this is what it keeps coming back to, for me - I have no idea how we're going to move forward unless we can figure out how to just be less scared of each other.
posted by Jeanne at 8:19 PM on October 9 [11 favorites]


I have no idea how we're going to move forward unless we can figure out how to just be less scared of each other

It's at about this point that the rest of the world takes you aside for a quiet word and yet again suggests that perhaps literally disarming yourselves might be an excellent first step.

In Australia I arguably don't have as many freedoms to as a demographically comparable American, but I indisputably have many times more freedoms from. In particular, one of the things I appreciate about living in Australia is not needing to feel cautious about sharing the streets with folks tooled up for the deliberate infliction of instant death. It's just not something that crosses my mind except when I'm thinking about the US.
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on October 10 [10 favorites]


I don't disagree with you, but the people who are the most scared are also the least likely to get shot by anything but their own gun that they carry around like some kind of magic talisman.
posted by wierdo at 5:17 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


In Australia I arguably don't have as many freedoms to as a demographically comparable American, but I indisputably have many times more freedoms from.

Not sure this is a useful framing. Freedom from fun violence can just as easily be thought of as freedom to walk around safely. Effectively any freedom is both a freedom from and to, depending on how you phrase the thing. Freedoms are just freedoms, and they are inherently opposed.
posted by Dysk at 8:26 AM on October 10


Point taken, though our increased freedom from COVID-19 due to generally high community acceptance of the necessity to mask up, and freedom from paying for hospital treatment due to a functioning health care system made feasible by generally high community acceptance that government can and should be benign, would both need a certain degree of contrivance to recast as freedoms-to.

Part of it as well, I think, is that Australians seem rather less inclined than Americans to sort the world into Good People and Bad People. The argument that if you make guns illegal then only criminals will have guns is taken much less seriously here than there, and generally delivered somewhat ironically and with a US-directed eye roll to accompany it if it's delivered at all.

Likewise, calling an Australian out as racist doesn't often result in anything like the kind of furiously offended denial it seems to prompt in so many Americans. You'll still get the denial - often at tedious length, especially from Murdoch's army of Sky News flying monkeys and those under their influence - but you won't be written off as beyond-the-pale offensive for putting the point, merely self-outed as a lefty latte sipper with questionable opinions.

Australian racism is driven much less by fear of the Other than by a deeply ingrained contempt, an essential component of our English colonial heritage. When we fabricate fake law as a pretext for locking people up, we do it on a much grander scale.
posted by flabdablet at 10:46 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Point taken, though our increased freedom from COVID-19 due to generally high community acceptance of the necessity to mask up, and freedom from paying for hospital treatment due to a functioning health care system made feasible by generally high community acceptance that government can and should be benign, would both need a certain degree of contrivance to recast as freedoms-to.

Respectfully disagree. Freedom to walk around without fear of Covid is just as much a freedom to as a freedom from. Freedom from gun restrictions/legislation is just as much a freedom from as a freedom to. They are not distinct categories, just different ways of casting anything. It's not like there are two opposed philosophies on freedom. People just disagree about the balance of freedoms, not in terms of having some preference for one kind of freedom over another.

You characterise the things you oppose as libertarian freedom to. The people in favour would probably cast it as freedom from government intervention in those things. There literally is no difference.

Freedom from covid and death trumps freedom from masks. That makes it stark. Freedom to walk around in safety trumps freedom to walk around unmasked.

Characterising it (incorrectly) as a preference for one "type" if freedom over another legitimises the position you disagree with as being just based on a different conception of freedom. It's not. It's just preferring freedom [from masks/to not wear a mask] over freedom [from covid/to be in public without risk of covid]. It's prioritising comfort (or the fetishism of 'personal choice') over safety. Isn't that far more damning a description too?
posted by Dysk at 2:38 PM on October 10


“The Link Between Abolition and Black Liberation,” Colin Kaepernick, Lit Hub, 07 October 2021

P.S. Abolition is the only way forward.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:20 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Australian-in-America here:

Likewise, calling an Australian out as racist doesn't often result in anything like the kind of furiously offended denial it seems to prompt in so many Americans

I dunno, man, Australians as a whole seem way more in denial about how racist the country is and how their own words and actions contribute to that. If they're less "furious" in denying it, it's maybe just because the social consequences for being called out seem to still be far lower *gestures broadly at all of of TV hosts/celebrities who've said awful things with minimal if any career impact; Pauline Hanson continuing to be a thing*

There's certainly a chasm between the two countries on guns, but coming back to the subject of this actual post, Australia still locks up a shocking number of black kids, and the people doing it don't sound all that different from the judge in the story when justifying it.
posted by retrograde at 3:30 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]


Australians as a whole seem way more in denial about how racist the country is and how their own words and actions contribute to that.

I think that's an accurate assessment.

Australia still locks up a shocking number of black kids, and the people doing it don't sound all that different from the judge in the story when justifying it.

Quite so.

But as I suggested above, the difference here is that the rot is the law of the land rather than being confined to little backwater fiefdoms, and the reason for it has much less to do with fear of each other than with contempt for those we continue to dispossess. White Australians need that contempt, because without it we'd be unable to justify our self-conception as an essentially heroic civilizing force.

And it's not like our indigenous population is the only group against which we manifest that contempt. Anybody who arrives here by boat in order to claim refugee status is exposed to a particularly naked demonstration of it.

So I guess what I'm saying is that getting rid of the fear of each other isn't necessarily going to be enough. Good first step all the same, though, and I still think pushing for community disarmament could only ever help.

Meanwhile back home I am hoping for good things to follow from the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission process.
posted by flabdablet at 4:12 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


(Derail, but: the distinction between freedom from and freedom to is a grammatical one, based on who (from a given perspective, of course) is the actor and who is being acted upon. If something involves me doing something - carrying a weapon, moving my body from one place to another, saying something - then me being allowed to do the thing is a ‘freedom to’ for me. If something is done to me - noises made at me, someone observing or recording me, someone following/stalking me, someone doing something to my body - then me being able to say no and have the thing stop happening is a ‘freedom from’ for me. Of course every action has an actor, so my ‘freedom from’s are generally someone else’s ‘freedom to’s. But not all of my actions affect other people, so not all of my ‘freedom to’s are going to potentially conflict with someone else’s ‘freedom from’s. And partly that’s culturally determined - in lots of countries these days we determine that how consenting adults express love for each other in their own homes doesn’t affect other adults. I think that is right because eg. I don’t have a belief system that involves both some such acts being sinful and some sort of collective guilt or responsibility for the existence of such a purported sin. That would muddy the issue of who is the actor in such a situation (like I guess you could argue that within our bodies, individual organs and cells do things, so saying that I as a whole act in a given way flattens some detail). But despite the inherent subjectivity, we need to draw some linguistic lines and accept some common definition for terminology in order to be able to communicate with each other. Making a distinction between a given individual’s ‘freedom from’s and ‘freedom to’s is a reasonable distinction to make given the rest of English grammar that makes similar distinctions between actor and subject.)
posted by eviemath at 4:53 AM on October 11




TPM has an update on the fallout from this reporting to date. Looks likely that there’s more to come.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:48 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Translation from all the passive voice corporate speak in the links: we're sorry she got caught, we're going to pretend she was a single bad apple rather than make any systemic changes and we will try to hide the cruelty of the system better in the future so white moderates can pretend everything is fine.
posted by sotonohito at 9:07 AM on October 15 [3 favorites]


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