Policing Black Bodies: A tool for extracting and exploiting free labor

The system of chattel slavery that enslaved millions and millions of people of African descent for the first 250 years of United States history is the story of policing Black bodies.

The very definition of people of African descent as “chattel” sets the system of slavery in the United States apart from all other forms of slavery past or present and it sets the table for race relations today and particularly the story of policing Black bodies.  By defining enslaved Africans brought to the United States as chattel, in the same category as life stock, meant that human beings could be (and were) bought and sold often on an auction block, routinely ripping apart families. The status of a chattel slave, unlike any other category of slave past or present, meant that the status was biological and thus the status could not be shed—one could not buy or work one’s way out of slavery—and the status was inherited.  In 1787, the Constitutional Congress of the newly forming United States enacted the 3/5th compromise which dictated that enslaved people would be counted as 3/5th of a human.  The 3/5ths Compromise along with the definition of enslaved people of African descent as chattel provided the ideological justification for the ultimate in policing of Black bodies, both literally and symbolically.

Slave owners employed policing tactics in order to restrict the movement of their property, enslaved men and women, including when they attempted to run away. But they also controlled literally every aspect of the enslaved body, deciding what work the enslaved person would do, what the enslaved person would eat, and how much, even if and when the enslaved girl or woman would have a child, which was accomplished both by raping enslaved women and by forcing enslaved men and women to engage in sexual intercourse for the singular purpose of increasing property for the slave owners at the exclusion of the enslaved people’s “right” to enjoy raising a family.

David Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name, traces the development of a set of policies and practices that allowed the southern plantation economy to continue on the backs of exploited, often “free” Black labor.  In an interview with Bill Moyers he notes: “…that the southern economy, and in a way, the American economy, was addicted to slavery, was addicted to forced labor. And the South could not resurrect itself…” Thus, after the formal end of slavery in 1865, Black Codes were quickly put into place to restrict the movement of the newly freed, formerly enslaved people.  Blacks were subjected, for example, to curfews and could be arrested for merely hanging out and enjoying their freedom or “loitering.”  And, whereas Black Codes became a tool for the literal policing of Black bodies, Jim Crow segregation, which lasted another hundred years after the formal end of slavery, was a set of tools and strategies coordinated to provide both literal and symbolic policing of Black bodies; controlling where Blacks could live, which schools they could attend, and even the days of the week they were allowed to swim in the community pool, if they were allowed to swim at all.  The maintenance of Nation’s integrity requires constant vigilance.

In his 1997 book Worse than Slavery, David Oshinsky writes about the origins of “plantation prisons” that popped up across the deep south shortly after the Civil War, including Angola in Louisiana and Parchman in Mississippi.  Prisons like Angola and Parchman were constructed explicitly to continue to enslave Blacks and exploit their labor in a deeply rooted agricultural economy.  Oshinsky notes that there were laws that allowed the police to arrest Black men for status offenses, like loitering, and incarcerate them, specifically at plantation prisons, during planting and harvesting seasons when the demand for this “free” Black labor increased dramatically.  These same men were released, conveniently, after the planting or harvesting seasons ended, their labor extracted at no cost, because the state no longer wanted to pay to house and feed them.

Prisons didn’t only make money by extracting the “free labor” of incarcerated men, they also “loaned out” inmates to local businesses for a fee, a system referred to convict leasing.   Inmates might be loaned out for manual labor in local business, or, they might be sent to forced labor camps or sentenced to chain gangs where they were forced to do dangerous, highly intensive physical labor under conditions similar to the work camps we typically associate with Russia and China.  There were forced labor camps in places like rural Georgia, where incarcerated Blacks worked in turpentine camps and lumber camps where they were chained to machines, whipped and provided meager rations, just like they had been on the plantations of the antebellum South. In North Carolina, inmates were forced in chain gangs to build roads. They were “housed” in train cars that were used to transport livestock and circus animals, they had limited toileting and were fed meager rations.

At the end of the Civil War and at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, most Blacks in the United States lived in the south, it’s economy, as noted by Blackmon, deeply embedded in agriculture.  As a result, most Blacks who were emancipated continued to farm, often as sharecroppers on the same plantations where they had been enslaved.  Not eager to give over even a fraction of their wealth to freed Blacks nor pay them fairly for their labor, many White plantation owners set up complex systems, including sharecropping loans and company stores that quickly led to freed Blacks being deeply indebted to the plantation owner.  The debt peonage system allowed the police to arrest Blacks who were over a certain debt limit and return them to the plantation owner where they were enslaved and required to work until the point at which their debt was paid off.  As Blackmon argues, less than a generation after Emancipation, Blacks in the south were once again engaged in slave labor.  And, though all of this may seem like ancient history, plantation prisons like Parchman continue to rely on incarcerated labor to produce all of the food consumed by the inmates.  Parchman also continues to participate in the convict lease system.  A walk or drive through the downtown of many Delta towns will reveal inmates from Parchman cutting grass for municipalities or cleaning the windows of local businesses.  All of this begs the question of whether Blacks have been truly emancipated  more than 150 years after the official end of slavery.

Though some readers might take offense to the comparison between slavery and the planation prison system, the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States that “freed the slaves” retained a clause that allowed for the confinement and exploitation of incarcerated people.  It reads, in part

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Today, as we argue strongly in this book, the labor of inmates continues to be exploited vis-a-vis the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), a system in which inmates are engaged in every kind of labor from agricultural to factory work to high end electronics and computer monitoring, for which they receive very little compensation. The profits of their labor are reaped by states and private, multinational corporations.

To Read More, Policing Black Bodies: How Black Lives are Surveilled and How to Work for Change is available at Amazon.

White people have an addiction problem, Black people have a crime problem

Dozens of studies conducted over the last several decades have demonstrated unequivocally that drug use rates are remarkably consistent across racial groups.  In other words, Blacks and whites use drugs at the same rates.


What differs is the kinds of the drugs they use and the public reaction to this drug use.


There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that crack is more dangerous than opioids, as both drugs are addictive, both can lead to overdose deaths, and both can lead to an increase in crimes that addicts commit to support their habits.  And babies are born addicted to crack and opioids, the only difference is their mother’s drug of choice.


And, yet, the community response, in hospitals and police departments around the country, and even in the hall of congress is decidedly different.  White people have an addiction problem and Black people have a crime problem.


Congress’s approach to the crack epidemic was to dump hundreds of millions of dollars into policing, and as a result, the incarcerated population in the United States tripled between 1986 and 2000 and the number of people incarcerated on drug charges increased by a massive 8 times.  This policing approach extended to mothers addicted to crack as well.


In her influential book, killing the black body, Dorothy Roberts argues persuasively that crack became an easy target for the War on Drugs.  And, low-income Black women became the “poster child” providing a powerful and visual rationale for this war. Chief among their major offenses was delivering babies addicted to crack.  “Crack babies” quickly became of primary concern to policy makers, not necessarily because they were addicted to crack per-se, but because of the perceived, but not necessarily substantiated claim  of the  burden they would place on society.  A burden that could have been avoided had their mothers simply behaved responsibly, at least according to the instigators of the “War on Drugs,” including Presidents Nixon and Reagan.   And, thus began the policy of criminalizing pregnancy.  Black women who delivered babies with even a trace of crack in their system were sent to prison, convicted of child endangerment, for long sentences.


In contrast, Congress’s approach to the opioid epidemic, which differs only from the crack epidemic in that the typical user has a lighter complexion and lives in suburban or rural area, has been to declare that the primary problem is not crime but addiction.  And, rather than sending hundreds of millions of dollars to police departments, the monies are diverted to hospitals that can provide treatment for addicts and the babies they deliver. Some money is even given over for research.

The new US Senate -healthcare bill under consideration has a line item for opioids with a dollar figure at $45 billion for opioid addiction treatment. This package of money is headed to states like Ohio (Ohio’s Montgomery County is now the per-capita leader in overdose deaths) and Pennsylvania, especially the rural areas where the population is mainly white.

According to sources reporting to the New York Times, most of the money would go to addiction treatment, but some would be used to fund research into better treatments for pain and addiction.


According the New York Times, doctors are now “rethinking” their approach to treating babies born addicted to opioids.  They have found, not surprisingly, that when babies are separated from their mothers, they require more significant treatment, often low doses of morphine, and much longer stays in neo-natal ICUs.  In contrast, some hospitals in rural Kentucky have experimented with allowing mothers to “room in” with their newborns and not surprisingly, the babies, in the supportive arms of their often still addicted mother, respond more quickly, few require morphine treatment, and they go home, on average, 3 weeks earlier.

And, this is fantastic.

But it’s quite a contrast to the experience of 28 year-old Cornelia Whitner, as detailed in Dorothy Roberts book, who in February 1992 gave birth to a healthy baby.  Upon conducting a urine test on the baby, traces of crack were discovered.  The baby was healthy and in her court hearing Whitner begged to be sentenced to a residential treatment program in order to address her addiction and become a good parent.  The Judge responded “I think I’ll just let her to go to jail.’ He sentenced her to a startling 8 year sentence.

Finally, when we look at the decades’ comparisons between the approach to Black addicts and the 2015-2016-2017 approach to white addicts we see an alarming pattern: treat whites as in need of treatment and rehabilitation and treat Blacks as criminals.

Perhaps as many as a half a million Black people are incarcerated for low-level drug offenses, they are addicts, while the same addiction among whites has police departments welcoming them into local precincts to turn over their drugs and be transported safely, without handcuffs or criminal records, to local hospitals specializing in the latest rehabilitation techniques.

When, we ask, will Black drug use be treated as an addiction and not a crime?  When will we stop ripping Black babies out of their mothers arms and sending the mothers to prison and the babies to foster care?  When we will we treat addiction equally regardless of the complexion of the user?

The War on Drugs in Black and White.

To read more: see our upcoming book, Policing Black Bodies!




I recently participated in a program, Dear World, in which we were asked to identify a message that we wanted to share with the world and write it on our bodies to be photographed.


I had arrived at the event planning to use black marker to write “Fight for Justice” on my arms.  But, the organizers dissuaded us from using pat phrases from a Hallmark card like “Be the Change” or “Value Diversity!” Rather we should choose words and phrases that connected to the moment one realized the concept or word.


Immediately my mind was flooded with many messages, but the one recurring theme always came back to moments, and there have been many, including the recent illness and death of my mom, that were about feeling overwhelmed, about not being able to carry everything I was asked to.  To capacity.


I often talk to women who are overwhelmed, who are “at capacity,” who like Shel Silversteins’
“Giving Tree” are nothing more than some crumpled roots underground, literally stripped, with nothing left to give.


At the event itself, without disclosing my own word, several women shared their words or phrases: “sucked dry,” “never good enough.”  Earlier in the day, a woman with whom I work broke down in tears in the restroom.  When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was overwhelmed.


Ok, so it’s not just me.  This got me thinking about the gendered nature of work, in the workplace, at home, in our communities, and especially the emotional labor that many women perform as they care for spouses, children and aging parents.


In my field of higher education, women advise the majority of students, we do the majority of committee and other service work, all on top of having to perform twice as well in teaching and research in order to be awarded tenure and to be promoted.


At home, though there have been changes over the years, even when they work for pay outside of the home, women do more housework and significantly more child care than their male partners.



Often not long after women enter the empty nest stage, they begin caring for their aging parents.  According to research done by Family Caregiver Alliance  66% of family members caring for family members are women.


No wonder my colleagues and friends are breaking down in the bathroom or choosing phrases like “sucked dry” to describe their experiences.


We are often simply tapped out.  At or over CAPACITY.


In my household my spouse and I share the work, including many of the time intensive tasks like cooking.  My spouse cooks way more than half of all our meals, including preparing breakfast and lunch for me to take to work every day!


But, even when tasks are shared, women, including me, do much more of the emotion work.  Since my mom has passed, my dad calls me sometimes 6 or 7 times a day just to say hi, or to share a memory of my mom.  And, as much as I love these calls and I’m happy to support my dad through such a difficult time, sometimes these calls leave me feeling beyond my capacity.  Some nights I fall asleep praying the phone won’t ring at least until the next morning. Or sometimes I wish my brother would take a call.  Just one.


When I get up, sometimes refreshed and sometimes not so much, I prepare myself to answer his phone calls again, because I know I have to, who else, including my brother, is going to answer the phone?


This is another common theme that my women friends and I often discuss…no matter how tired we are, how far we are above our capacity, our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends, our colleagues and our communities depend on us.  So, each day we must get up and keep doing the work, both physical and emotional that sustains them and allows them to thrive.


And, for many of us, it is other women who help when we simply can’t carry the load anymore.  We are quick to give a sister a hug, send a supportive text, surprise each other with a cup of tea, or even drop off a meal or drive carpool so that our sister can catch a break.  And, for this I am so grateful to be a woman.  To know I can count on my sisters.


But, my question is, when will men pick up the load?


It is said that women hold up half the sky….I’d argue that in fact we hold up way more than half.


We are persistent and resilient and committed and competent.  But we are also tired.  We need our partners, sons, fathers, and male-identified allies to lend a hand with the heavy lifting.  For when they do, not only will women be less tired, but we’ll be even better partners, parents and colleagues! We’ll be better able to achieve our goals and to support our families and communities in reaching theirs.


To read more follow me @AngelaHattery, on FB: SmithandHattery and on our website: smithandhattery.com


The Meaning of the Women’s March

Many people may wrongly assume that the Women’s March, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump is about having our feelings hurt or being vindictive that “our” candidate didn’t win.  And, though many of us, myself included did have our feeling hurt, the Women’s March is about so much more than that.


For some/many women this is an opportunity for catharsis.  Though not all women supported Hillary, many did so even if less than enthusiastically.  Many of us believed that the glass ceiling would crack just a bit more with her election.  And, when that didn’t happen, many of us mourned, not just her loss, not just Trump’s victory, but also yet another discouraging moment in the fight for equal rights.  The march is a chance to come together and remind the country that women are still here, we may be discouraged but we are still deeply embedded in the fight for equal rights…we aren’t going anywhere, we need to be taken seriously, and perhaps next time around we will indeed see a crack in that glass ceiling.  For many women to be surrounded by other women will be cathartic and healing.


It’s nothing newsworthy that many women found Trump to be reprehensible…his “locker room” excuse for sexually harassing behavior just the last straw in a string of offensive remarks and actions.  And, of course the Women’s March is in part a reaction to him.  But, I think even more so, it’s a reaction to what many of us believe are real threats to women’s civil and human rights.


Many of the proposals that Trump ran on and that the republican congress seems poised to act on will significantly set back women’s civil and human rights and will threaten women’s lives.  We fear that Planned Parenthood will be defunded this year, that the clock could be turned back on the fight for equal pay, which, despite the Lilly Ledbetter Act, is still far from guaranteed, and that the overturning of Roe V. Wade may be a reality that is not far off.  Indeed many states are already enacting rigid restrictions on abortion and with the way the Supreme Court appointees are likely to go, these state laws will likely be upheld and the dismantling of Roe may not be far behind.


It’s not just reproductive justice that is at stake, many issues that women care about, from education to health care, safe and affordable housing, criminal justice reform and immigration rest in the balance as well.  And, Trump’s nominees to date leave us little to be optimistic about.


Women are far more likely to live in poverty, they are almost always the one’s left behind caring for the children of their husbands, partners and sons who go to jail.  Women are not only more likely to use preventative health care than are men, but our health care needs are different, especially as they revolve around reproductive issues and child bearing.  Women are the caretakers of our children’s education and housing.  And, because women are far more likely to live in poverty, access to safe and affordable housing, child care, and affordable health care are all issues that impact women and their children perhaps more profoundly than they do men.  We need people running agencies like Health and Human Services and the Department of Education who understand the needs that women and our children have.  We need them to be committed to equal access for all who live in our country, not just for those who can afford private school tuition or to rent, let alone buy, a home in a safe neighborhood, or to purchase private health insurance.  Sadly, we have reason for concern: we have a nominee for Secretary of Education who hopes to dismantle our public school system rather than identify weakness and propose and enact reforms.  We have a nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who knows nothing about the challenges facing not only those who live in public housing, but those who are long waiting lists to move into scarce units.


This march, like so many, provides a moment for community and solidarity, for healing, [hopefully] for bridging race and sexuality differences, and also an opportunity for social action and protest: an opportunity to remind the world and the republican led congress that women are still here, we are still relevant, and we are willing to engage in social action to protest and seek remediation of our civil and human rights.  We take this opportunity to stand up and demand that the Trump administration and the republican led congress invite women of all identities and backgrounds to the table, to listen to experts on issues of housing and health care and education, who can predict which types of programs will allow women and their children to pursue the American Dream and which will keep us further from it.


I don’t necessarily believe that bad things happen for a reason, that the election of Trump can somehow be turned into a positive, but Trump’s election sounded a siren.  Nothing that we have taken for granted for the last forty years is safe.  And, though we’ve seen the erosion of welfare benefits and reproductive rights take place for decades, including under the watch of President Bill Clinton, there is nothing like the election of Donald Trump to remind women that we need to be ever vigilant; just as civil rights have eroded for Black Americans, so they have for women, and both trends will continue in this direction if we do not constantly hold those in power responsible for protecting the civil and human rights we worked so hard to attain.


The Women’s March will likely mean many things to many people, and it will be many things; but above all else, let it be a reminder that a glass ceiling still exists in every part of life when it comes to gender equality; the struggle goes on so that we can ensure that our daughters have better opportunities, more access, and more control over their own bodies than we did, rather than less.




Every few weeks or so we have this conversation.  There seems no better time to have it again than now, on the heels of college football bowl games that included athletes who have been accused of acts of violence against women.  These are certainly not the first cases, but they shine a light on a perplexing phenomenon: the unconditional love of the Black male body, at least as long as he can throw, run, catch, dunk and score in an athletic contest.


For centuries, as is well documented by Angela Davis, Orlando Patterson, and many others, Black men have been lynched, perhaps as many as 50,000, for allegedly violating the gender-sexuality-race intersection, that is; for the accusation, almost always false, of raping a White woman.


Let us be clear: under no circumstances should a Black man, or any man, be lynched for rape.  Lynching is not an appropriate punishment for any crime.  Furthermore, as much of our research demonstrates, we care deeply about the rights of the wrongfully accused and convicted and have worked tirelessly to bring attention to those serving long sentences for crimes they did not commit, most often the wrongful conviction is of a Black man who was accused of raping a white woman.


We have extensively researched this miscarriage of justice hence, we get it.


This intersection has a long and very complex history that continues to ruin Black men’s lives even today.


That being said, we find it perplexing that within this context of the hyper policing of Black male bodies as they intersect with White women’s sexuality, a special case of unconditional love is reserved for Black male athletes.


And, not just by Black people but especially by White men: coaches, athletic directors, boosters, teammates, sheriffs, judges and fans.


During the last days of 2016 and the first days of 2017, several college football teams faced scrutiny for their protection of Black men accused of heinous crimes, including 12 football players at the University of Minnesota who are accused of gang-raping a woman in October and a player at the University of Oklahoma, Joe Mixon, who is seen on video punching a woman in the face, leaving her unconscious. In both cases, the perpetrators of violence are Black and the victims are White.


It’s not at all surprising to us that athletes who are accused of, caught on tape, and even convicted of abusing women are defended, by both men and women, get to keep their jobs, and continue to be revered…names like Jameis Winston, Ray Rice, OJ Simpson and so many others make that case for us.  But what we find intriguing is the extension of that unconditional love when the crime involves the rape of a white woman by a Black male athlete.


Clearly that love does not extend to the more than 500 cases of Black men exonerated after spending decades in prison for the rape of a white women they did not commit.


Orlando Patterson argued in Rituals of Blood that the lynching of Black men was in large part a reaction of fear that Whites had of Black male bodies and especially of Black men’s sexuality.


Yet, when powerful, physically imposing Black men who play football or basketball engage in the same behavior, White men not only turn a blind eye, but in fact go to great lengths to defend the Black man, by paying for top lawyers, by hiding evidence, and even by extolling their right to a second chance as Brent Mussberger did during the broadcast of the 2017 Sugar Bowl when Joe Mixon led his team to victory.


In general, violence perpetrated against women is rarely taken seriously, regardless of the race of the victim.


But, that being said, how can we explain this unconditional love in the context of hundreds of years of lynchings?


One explanation could be that the love of so many White men (and women) have for famous athletes transcends their sense of justice.  But we argue that it is deeper than that; this unconditional love that White men extend to Black male athletes must be analyzed using Patterson’s lens: Black male bodies are revered when their power is limited to the one place where Black men are allowed to excel: the athletic field, as Earl Smith argues in Race, Sport and the American Dream.  As long as Black men are segregated to this singular place, as athletes, not as owners or coaches or anyone with any real power, then they are extended an unconditional love, even when they transgress the sacred space of White women’s sexuality.  In this sense, their expression of power, even when used to abuse White women, is not threatening to White men, it does not threaten White men’s roles as leaders in business, entertainment, politics, the economy or even in sports.  Therefore these Black men’s bodies not only need not be policed, but they can continue to be worshipped.


To read more see our books:

Prisoner Re-entry and Social Capital: The Long Road to Re-entry

Social Dynamics of Family Violence



A Letter to my Feminist Daughter….


I talked to you the day after the election and you asked me, how was Donald Trump elected President of the United States?  How, you asked me, did tens of millions of Americans vote for an unqualified, unprepared, inexperienced man instead of for a qualified, prepared, experienced woman?

Hillary Clinton may not have been perfect, but there was no doubt that she was smarter, more prepared, she had policy recommendations, you said, and Donald Trump didn’t have any of those things.


In a contest of flaws, Donald Trump easily won.


How do I tell you that my generation of feminist failed you, that the glass ceiling is still nearly as intact as it was when I was your age?


You, my daughter, will have to work twice as hard, be twice as good, be twice as prepared and you still might not get the job.


Did we get complacent after we elected a Black man to the office of the Presidency of the United States not once but twice?  Did we assume too much as women like Hillary Clinton were able to rise into positions of power?  Did we feel too secure in our world when the US Supreme Court protected what remains of Roe v. Wade and made marriage equality the law of the land?


How do I explain to you that tens of millions of Americans voted for a man who has been accused of sexual harassment, perhaps even assault, who has engaged in racial discrimination and racial bigotry, who wants to build a wall to keep out Mexicans who he assumes are rapists or murderers, who wants to keep out Muslims refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the middle east because he assumes they are terrorists?


I don’t have to tell you that Americans have been electing White men who are racists and misogynists and homophobes and xenophobes for years…you need look no further than Mount Rushmore to see men who owned slaves and endorsed eugenics.


But it’s not just in politics, we give men, of all races and ethnicities, a “pass” every weekend when we turn on our television sets and watch rapists and child abusers and batterers run down the field or court or glide across the ice.


Remember how many women, of all races and ethnicities, donned their Ray Rice jerseys just a week after they watched him punch his then fiancé Janey Palmer unconscious demanding that he be allowed to play?


And, of course, it’s not just athletes, it also entertainers and powerful business men, like Roger Ailes who continue to succeed even after being found guilty of the worst acts of oppression and bigotry.


We also give a “pass” to the men who live in our neighborhoods, the men who we work with our worship with.  Men we encounter every day are allowed to achieve despite the ways in which they treat women and children, and racial minorities and religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ community.


The election of Donald Trump, as shocking as it is, is a powerful reminder that despite all of the progress we have made, we are a long way from true equality.  That we must fight fiercely not only to bring down more barriers but to protect the gains we have worked so hard to achieve.


Imagine this, you may have less of a right to make decisions about your reproductive life than I had at your age.  Who could have imagined this?


When you and your brother were little, you had placemats featuring all of the US Presidents that you ate your breakfast and lunch on every day.  One day at breakfast your brother, 2 ½ years older than you, turned to you and proclaimed that the only way you would get into the White House was by marrying the President. I never believed he said that because he valued you (or me) less, but because his placemat made it clear, only White men were US Presidents.


Sadly, another election cycle has gone by and the US Presidents placemats, though they now include a Black man, still send the message to girls (and perhaps more importantly boys) that women do not belong in the White House unless they marry the President.

And, in some ways, that’s exactly why this election hurt so much, because Americans didn’t think working twice as hard or being twice as qualified was enough.  Americans were not yet ready to value a woman’s contributions on their own merit, instead they evaluated her in part based on her relationship to her husband and held her responsible for his transgressions.


I don’t want your value, my daughter, or any woman’s value, to be determined by their father, their brother, or their husband.  You don’t need a man to prove you are valuable.  Your value is inside of you.  Don’t ever forget that.

Social Dynamics of Family Violence 2nd Edition

Social Dynamics ed 2 cover

We are thrilled to announce the publication of our newest book, the 2nd Edition of the Social Dynamics of Family Violence!  The ONLY book on the market that examines all forms of family violence–child abuse, elder abuse, intimate partner violence, violence in LGBTQ families–using a feminist, intersectional frame which identifies the causes of family violence as relations of power.  Race, class and gender are explored in each and every chapter, including how police and social workers respond depending on the identity of the perpetrator and the victim.  Using a sociological lens our discussion moves way beyond individuals and examines the social structures that produce family violence, including demography, culture and the economy.  New to this edition we expand our discussion of culture to include transnational marriage migration in the Hmong community as well as an entirely new chapter on institutional gender based violence in the military, the Catholic church, fraternities and SportsWorld. We propose models for social change that would reduce inequalities overall and result in declines in all forms of family violence.  We’d love to see you a copy of the Social Dynamics of Family Violence, 2nd Edition 🙂

Privilege is the Power to Control….


So, this week a large Southeast university made the decision to accept a $30 million dollar gift in exchange for re-naming the law school after recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.


There have been a variety of negative responses to the decision to rename the law school, petitions have been circulated, meetings have been held, even state assembly people have weighed in. This blog is not about the decision to rename the law school, this blog is about my experiences watching two white men try to defend it, which provided a window into the deepest forms of power and privilege.


Power is often defined as the ability to make other people do things. What was on display this week is the fact that power can also be the ability to prevent people’s actions from impacting one’s own life.


Last week I watched and listened as two White, heterosexual, upper-class men defended the decision to name the law school after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. They both defended the decision using similar language which is not surprising given that they both participated in making the decision. But, I think it goes much deeper than that. They both employed a similar defense of the decision because they both occupy particular positions of power.


Let me start by saying that to the best of my knowledge both men are good men and probably have the best of intentions. But, because of their power and privilege, both could defend the decision by invoking the framework of “disagreement.” Both men acknowledged forcefully (and deliberately) that they vehemently disagreed with some of Scalia’s decisions, specifically his position on marriage equality. I use the term deliberate because prominent members of the university community identify as members of the LGBTQ community.


For men like these two, Scalia’s decisions and positions can be interpreted as nothing more than a disagreement.


For those of us with fewer privileges and less power, because of our positionality, our very human and civil rights are violated by Scalia’s decisions and positions. If Scalia had his way, members of the LGBTQ community would not be allowed to legally marry the person they love and have committed their lives to. For Black and Hispanic people, Scalia’s decisions with regards to school segregation prevented them from sending their children to the best resourced schools in their communities. If Scalia had his his way, women would not have the legal right to determine their reproductive trajectories: abortion would be completely illegal and access to other birth control measures would be limited. For thousands of incarcerated people, sitting in prison for decades, convicted of crimes they did not commit, Scalia’s pen removed their legal right to have their DNA tested. Imagine that, Scalia argued that even in cases where there is DNA evidence that would likely exonerate an inmate, he argued that the US Constitution does not guarantee the individual the right to prove their innocence and gain their freedom.


None of these people, myself included, has the power to prevent the impact of these kinds of decisions on our daily lives; our civil and human rights lay at the mercy of Supreme Court Justices like Antonin Scalia. So, it is no wonder, that for us, we cannot view his decisions and positions as merely a disagreement; his decisions and positions determine our access to the opportunity structure and pursuance of the American Dream: who we can marry, when or even if we choose to have children, where our children can attend school, and in the case of innocent people rotting in prisons, their chance for freedom.


Power is more than the ability to make others do things. Power is the ability to prevent the behavior of others from impacting the daily lives of the privileged.


The distance between those with power and those without is the difference between a “difference of opinion” and the protection of one’s civil and human rights.

Darryl Hunt…you will be missed……

Darryl Hunt


As a writer, I tend to process difficult things by writing about them….and so I turn to this outlet as a way to process the death of a dear friend who died much to soon…..

 Earl and I first saw Darryl Hunt shortly after Christmas in 2003, not long after he was released from prison, at the Winston-Salem WalMart. We recognized him from the news accounts. What struck us was his demeanor, he appeared to us to be mesmerized and perhaps overwhelmed by the incredible variety and sheer volume of items stocking the WalMart shelves. We were curious about the experiences of someone who is incarcerated, confined in a cage, for decades, for a crime they did not commit. And, we wanted to know how we could help.

We reached out to Mark Rabil (our daughters participated at the same gym) and soon we were having lunch at the LightHouse Café in downtown Winston-Salem. Mark offered to introduce us to Darryl and our decade long collaboration began soon thereafter

 Anyone who has met Darryl, even once, is captivated by him. He is the most humble person, remarkable for someone who was so severely mistreated by the criminal justice system, and really by much of the Winston-Salem community for so long.   He has a way of pulling you in. You want to be around him. He has an aura about him.

How could we not get involved in the social justice work that Darryl committed his life to?

  • We served on the board of the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice
  • We attended galas and holiday parties and the premiere of the HBO documentary: The Trials of Darryl Hunt
  • Every Thanksgiving we donated a couple of dozen turkeys so that the associates would have something to contribute to their holiday celebrations
  • We brought Darryl to our classes and invited him to give lectures as far away as Colgate University in upstate New York when we were on sabbatical leave
  • Our sociology students were the first to work on the innocence part of Darryl’s project—not much publicized–, opening and reading letters from prisoners who sought Darryl’s help and support as they proclaimed their innocence

But after being involved in many different ways, we soon realized that as professors—teachers and scholars—the best way we could help Darryl was to understand Darryl’s experience in the broader context.


Many other people helped Darryl tell his story.


We set out to tell the story of Darryl.


  • Why did so many exonorees look like Darryl? (46%, or half of all the people exonerated are Black men.)
  • Why did so many exonerations involve the rape and/or murder of a white women by a black man? (A crime that occurs only 10% of the time, but accounts for nearly 70% of the exonerations?)
  •  Why are exonerations disproportionately present in a relatively small number of jurisdictions? (Cook County, Illinois—Chicago, accounts for nearly 10% of all exonerations nationwide along with does Dallas County, Texas and New York City)

And, what we learned, and what we have shared in public lectures, in our classes, and in many publications is that there are indeed patterns to exonerations because there are patterns to wrongful convictions.

As in all other areas of the criminal justice system, black men are mistreated. They are lied to, they are manipulated, they are railroaded into confessing crimes they did not commit. Prosecutors withhold evidence just to get a conviction. And, these are not just random events. They are clustered. They occur in patterns. They are not just a set of unconnected mistakes; they are in fact the deliberate miscarriages of justice.

 And, as a result, hundreds of black men, (and white and Hispanic men), have spent nearly 20,000 combined years in prison for crimes they did not commit.



And equally tragic, when law enforcement and prosecutors collude to lock up any black man instead of the real perpetrator, the real perpetrator often goes on to commit other crimes. We know now that Deborah Sykes was not the only women brutalized by Willard Brown. The Innocence Project in New York City projects for the crimes of rape and murder that every time a perpetrator is free—and the wrong man is incarcerated—the real perpetrator commits, on average 3 more rapes and/or 2 more murders.


When we fail to get it right, everyone loses.


The more we learned about exoneration, the more we learned about the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and the process of re-entry. We worked with Darryl to research the impact of his re-entry program on associates who participated.

 Our research revealed that associates who committed to Darryl’s re-entry strategies and programming were more successful than others in making the transition to life in the free world.


We could not have been more pleased when Darryl agreed to endorse our book which came out of the research we conducted with his associates

 Prisoner re entry book 

So, how do we continue to tell the story of Darryl Hunt?


We will continue to teach about exonerations in our classes and continue to show The Trials of Darryl Hunt. We will continue to do empirical research on exonerations and other aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex.


We will turn our research to the final question of Darryl’s life: How many years of life does wrongful incarceration, locking innocent men (and women) in cages, often for decades, innocent of any crime, rob from them after they are released? What is the impact of decades of incarceration and the stress of knowing you are innocent on the health and well-being of exonorees?


How many men (and women) like Darryl will die decades too early because of the accumulation of their mistreatment?


Darryl used to often say: “If it can happen to me it can happen to anybody.”


We say back: But why did it have to happen to you?


Today we grieve the loss of our friend. As Mark Rabil said: “He finally got the death penalty.

It isn’t fair.


A feminist votes for Hillary Clinton…Never in my lifetime

File Mar 01, 5 19 22 PM
So, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog that interrogated Hillary Clinton and posed some really difficult questions of Hillary Clinton.

I concluded several things in that blog:

1. Hillary Clinton is not my ideal woman candidate;
2. It is reasonable to demand that Hillary Clinton respond to critiques of some of previous positions, including her support of dismantling welfare and mass incarceration, both of which have been detrimental to the Black community
3. If not now, when?

Luke warm on Hillary Clinton I was surprised by the emotion I felt this morning when I opened up my Democratic ballot and saw her name there. I was surprised that it mattered so much to me to cast my vote for a woman. A woman who will undoubtedly be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

I grew up with stories about my grandmother, Goldie Secor Hattery, who was not able to vote until the passage of the 19th amendment.

Despite having Hillary Clinton on the primary ballot in 2008, I never actually believed I would see, in my lifetime, a woman make a serious run for President of the United States.

And, as I shared my elation with my kids, Travis and Emma, both of whom are in their 20s, I realized that they have grown up in a generation of young people who have never not seen women and Black people on the ballot.

I realize that for my children, a diverse slate of candidates, though obviously not diverse enough, is all they have ever known. It is par for the course. Perhaps they believe that the presidential slate will always be diverse, whereas I worry that for me, both Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and the election and subsequent election of Barak Obama, feel like an anomaly, a one time thing.

Despite my critique, I felt proud as a woman and a feminist to cast my ballot for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I felt proud for my grandmother.

My wish is that my children never need to feel this pride; for them a diverse slate of candidates will be the norm rather than an exception to the rule.