But the wealthier colonists took note: poor Europeans would work in concert with African slaves if need be. To prevent this from happening, indentured servants and slaves had to be kept separate, their social distance absolute.
The word white was used for the first time in print to describe people of European descent, and these newly white people began to identify with the masters they once opposed. While these sharp lines separated the so-called races, they also separated black people, including black children, from any presumption of innocence.
Miller, Reuben Jonathan (2021). Halfway Home: Race, punishment, and the afterlife of mass incarceration.
Small Group Break Outs:
- Start with group introductions - by sharing your name, how did you join this conversation, and what are you hoping to get from the book club
- After introductions, have each person share either a reflection on the quote above, or a separate part of the text that was most impactful and why
- If time allows, begin to explore additional discussion questions with your small group:
- When hearing Ronald‘s story in chapter 1 it seems that his family situation steadily became more dire. What resources could the state have provided to help Ronald‘s family? Or are there other ways our communities can support one another?
- How much is truth valued in the U.S. criminal justice system?
- How should we balance people’s traumatic upbringing in weighing sentencing?
- What surprised you about how a guilty plea follows around a defendant after they are released?
- What assumptions do you make when you hear that someone has a “pattern of criminality”?
- Do you think that it should be difficult for offenders to get jobs after release?
- Who is to blame for neighborhoods that are impoverished and ridden with crime?
- Miller outlines the historical development of the presumption of guilt placed on Black Americans. Last year, the impact of implicit racial bias on policing garnered much national and international attention following the murder of George Floyd, with calls to reform the sorts of “protocols” that the Grand Rapids police used to justify drawing their guns on a group of Black boys. Could similar reforms also aid those like Martin, who suffered from police inaction?
At 4:40pm please return to the main Zoom room for the large group discussion and wrap up.
Join us next week on Thursday, October 14 at 4pm for Virtual Book Club: Part 2, please register in advance.
Organizations to support:
“That Childhood of Ours”
Lyrics by Oakdale Choir Inside Singers Bill Hildebrand & Ron Porter, music by Mary L Cohen & Ron Porter, performed by the Oakdale Choir December 2015
Never had money, mom & dad drank it all
All in our beds our empty stomachs would growl
Monday to Sunday they were never sober
We were ashamed to bring anyone over
Was beat black & blue by my own father’s hand
Next day, “What happened to you?” he would demand
They’d drink in their bed and fall asleep in the tub
Dear old dad used his fist like a billy club
Mom tried to fight sometimes with all her might
On those few days when her mind was mostly right
But our dad was too big with too strong an arm
Mom never won, never escaped without harm
From the Bloody Bucket to the Coney Island Bar
Plenty to drink without going too far
Returned home with a friend and a sack of food
Didn’t even bother to wake their starving brood
We had plenty of reasons to hate them both
Plenty of reasons for crying, cussing oaths
But all we kids ever had, all we kids ever had, all we kids ever had
Was an undying love for our Mom and our Dad.
Summary provided by UI Law Student Herbert Nduke
SECTION I: DEBT
CHAPTER ONE: CONFESSION
This chapter talked about Ronald Simpson Bey’s childhood. He was raised in Flint, Michigan, which used to be a vibrant town during his childhood. Filled with factory workers of General Motors, many middleclass families and so many good schools. Ronald’s father was abusive and a patriarch of the home. He did not let his wife; Cassandra work and he controlled every aspect of his family’s life. Ronald moved out of his family home after graduating high school, obtained a job in the factory while going to school part-time at his local community college.
Ronald Sr’s abusiveness led Cassandra to shoot him on the head and he died in their matrimonial bedroom from the gunshot. Ronald was immediately thrown into the trilogy of burying his father, keeping his mother out of prison, and saving his failing marriage. These issues led to his breakdown and caused him to do drugs like cocaine. Ronald’s doggedness led him to find a good defense attorney, Jean Bishop who played the battered wife role well and ensured that Cassandra was not sent to rot in prison for defending herself from her abusive husband.
This chapter also looked at how law enforcement agents have used confessional statements against minorities to incarcerate innocent persons. The famous case of Brown v. Mississippi highlighted how the criminal justice system is systematically used against black people and have led to so many wrongful incarcerations. The chapter also highlighted that even after the SCOTUS reversed the conviction in Brown v. Mississippi there were no consequences for those involved in this abuse. John Stennis, the district attorney on the case went on to become a Judge and one of the longest serving U.S. Senators in history.
Finally, this chapter highlighted the predatory nature of plea deals. They are negotiations between a prosecutor with the power of incarceration and death at his or her disposal, whether or not there is evidence, and a defendant who just wants to go home.
CHAPTER TWO: GUILT
Kids are generally seen as innocent and presumed harmless until that presumption is rebutted by strong evidence. This is why under the law if evidence, children below a certain age are deemed incapable of committing crimes. Even when they have gotten older, law of evidence presumes that children of certain age are presumed innocent. Black kids in America are denied of this infantry and presumption of innocence. This chapter buttressed this statement when police officers drew their guns on 10–12-year-old kids who were unarmed and in their neighborhood. These officers attempted to justify their abhorrent conduct by arguing that the kids may have been with guns. Statement like these are only heard and justified in the USA when black kids are involved. Even after the police chief attempted to apologize to the family of these children, police unions, of course backed them up. What a tragedy. Indeed, there is no reforming this thing.
This chapter also highlighted the history of policing in the USA and how European migrants at that time never saw black people as human beings. Black people were seen as barbaric things, capable of being owned and enslaved. Due to how White Americans have treated Black people over time, there has been fear of Black insurrection, leading to white slave patrols, constables, and, eventually, the police stood ready to beat back Black rebellion. This led to the demonization of African Americans as a threat, lascivious beast roaming the countryside of the South, people loosed by the end of slavery and now upon us like locusts.
CHAPTER THREE: SINNERMAN
This chapter talked about Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman,” and mentioned how preachers, journalists, politicians, social scientists, and do-gooders descend on black neighborhoods to blame Black people for things like scars of the long trek north, and the crack of the police baton in New York’s Harlem and Detroit’s Black Bottom. Things like the sting of eviction and hunger from unemployment and unsolved rapes and murders etc.
This chapter also talked about how difficult it is to live in this country as a formerly incarcerated person, which affects Black people disproportionately. Locked out of the political and economic life of the city, formerly incarcerated people must depend on the mercy of others, although they rarely find it. They look for housing, but options are scarce or unaffordable. Social-service agencies refuse to help them or have long waiting lists. Employers rarely even review their applications.
Further, this chapter talked about the famous race riot in the history of Detroit that happened in 1967. Many of the factories closed. Others moved to the suburbs, initiating the great wave of white flight with nearly three hundred thousand white residents moving just outside of city limits. With time, more than one million residents left the city after Detroit elected a charismatic Black Mayor. These white people who have moved out of the city voted for the city to be declared bankrupt after Kwame Kilpatrick, a young Black Mayor was convicted on two dozen counts of federal corruption and bribery. 60 percent of the Detroit residents polled said they opposed declaring bankruptcy. In 2013, the city of Detroit was declared bankrupt.
Finally, this chapter highlighted how black life in Detroit has been so caricatured, and these caricatures have led to bad policy, welfare reform, war on crime etc.
Thank you to the UI College of Law Research Assistant for contributing to the discussion questions for this year's One Community, One Book Virtual Book Club.