ORIGINS | WINTER 2019

(From left to right) Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a traffic stop, Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014 after a New York City Police Department officer put him in a chokehold while arresting him, and Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old, who was fatally shot on August 9, 2014, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri

(From left to right) Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a traffic stop, Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014 after a New York City Police Department officer put him in a chokehold while arresting him, and Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old, who was fatally shot on August 9, 2014, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Dear Reader,

It is my absolute privilege to present the Winter 2019 issue of the Social Justice Review. The pieces in this issue are timely, eloquent, and moving in their sincerity. Works like “The Bone Clocks” and “Revitalize” highlight the pain and confusion that are so deeply interwoven into the daily experience of the oppressed. They offer small glimpses into the lives of people who live with—but who continue to resist and persist against—injustice. 

The last year has seen a number of events that have challenged our assumptions about power and the limits of what some will do to maintain a system grounded in inequality and privilege. From the detention of children in facilities at the southern US border to the gaslighting of women brave enough to recount their trauma of sexual assault in the Kavanaugh hearings to the shooting of young black folks such as Markeis McGlockton, we have witnessed injustice in many of its most harrowing forms. 

In the face of such events, however, the courage and hope—of Christine Blasey Ford, of the Parkland students, of the climate activists who participated in the Zero Hour March, of the #MeToo movement, and many others—teach us that there is something powerful and inspiring about the spirit of change, and that change is indeed possible. 

The pieces in this journal contend with the nature of history and identity, and with how race has been constructed by the privileged for the purpose of sustaining oppression. Poems such as “Sankofa” and “Dear America,” however, give us strength in difficult times, reminding us of the power of resistance and the attainability of justice, particularly by and for people of color. Beyond examining racial inequality in its economic and social forms, this journal allows us to explore it in the context of its most vulnerable and human struggles. 

I have always believed that there is something deeply healing about the process of writing and reading about issues of social justice. My greatest hope is that you, the reader, find yourself among these pages, that you discover stories which both anger and inspire you, that you learn to question your own understanding of the nature of history and of justice, and that you think more often and more deeply about the world and your own place in it. 

Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let there be justice, though the heavens fall. 

In solidarity, Naveen Dasari 

Editor-in-Chief, The Social Justice Review

ORANGE JUICE WITH A SIDE OF POLICE BRUTALITY

BY MAI MIZUNO

In 1984, a black man by the name of Dethorne Graham felt a diabetic insulin reaction coming on. Graham had his friend, Berry, drive him to the nearest convenience store to purchase orange juice to counteract the reaction. Graham ran into the convenience store and saw that there were a number of people waiting in line for the cash register. Rather than risk waiting in line for his orange juice, Graham decided to go elsewhere to get the sugar he needed instead. Graham hurried out of the convenience store and got into Berry’s car, instructing him to quickly take him to a friend’s house.

A city policeman, Officer M. S. Connor, happened to see Graham rushing in and out of the convenience store from his parked police car. Officer Connor deemed the behavior suspicious and followed Berry’s car while simultaneously radioing the convenience store to see if there had been a robbery. Connor eventually pulled Berry’s car over to make an investigative stop and instructed the two to wait until he found out what occurred at the convenience store. Graham, who began suffering from the insulin reaction, opened the passenger door and exited Berry’s car. Graham stumbled around the car twice before sitting down on the curb. His body started going into shock. Graham lost consciousness right as four backup officers arrived at the scene. The officers handcuffed and arrested Graham, thinking that he was drunk and out of control.

At this point, Graham began going in and out of consciousness and attempted to tell the officers that he was a diabetic. Graham wildly waved his arms to try and communicate that he had a medical card proving his diabetic identification in his wallet. The officers ignored Graham, instead slamming his head on a car as his behavior became more erratic before throwing him in the back of one of the police cars. Graham sustained head and shoulder injuries, along with scratches along his wrists and a broken foot. Once Officer Connor learned that nothing had occurred at the convenience store, he drove Graham—still handcuffed in the back of his police car—back to Graham’s residence and left him lying on his front lawn. Graham decided to challenge Connor’s use of force in court, a decision that would soon be at the crux of shaping the outcome of all subsequent police excessive use of force cases.

Graham v. Connor (1989) took place under the looming spectre of the long history of police brutality against communities of color in the United States. In the decades prior, the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles and the hundreds of race riots that occurred during a period known as the Long Hot Summer of 1967 were all ignited by instances of police brutality against African Americans. [1] Tensions between the black community and police officers continued to boil over from the Civil Rights Era into the 1980s. Graham v. Connor took place during a time when many people of color were fed up with the lack of accountability within police forces. Police officers benefited from a nearly 100% rate of acquittal when complaints of excessive use of force were brought to trial. [2] Prior to Graham v. Connor, excessive use of force cases were determined by a standard of malicious intent under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs had to prove whether or not the officer in question acted with the specific purpose of causing harm in order for the officer to be indicted. The high rate of acquittals was indicative as to how this was a near impossible standard to meet—even in the case of a police officer beating up a diabetic undergoing an insulin reaction and leaving him unconscious without medical care.

Graham’s case eventually found its way to the Supreme Court. The facts of the case were clear, but determining malicious intent was murky. It was only when Thurgood Marshall, the first and only black Supreme Court Judge at the time, asked, “What reason was there for handcuffing a diabetic in a coma? What was he doing that was so violent that he had to be handcuffed?” with such incredulity that it became clear that a new standard needed to be established. Marshall’s questioning guided the Supreme Court to unanimously side with Graham. In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist outlined that all claims of excessive use of force by police officers during an arrest, investigatory stop, or other form of “seizure” of a person must be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard, rather than the standard of malicious intent.

The Supreme Court’s decision was seen as a breakthrough for those who were fighting police brutality; for civil rights advocates, Graham v. Connor seemed to mark the dawn of a new era of justice in the United States. An objective standard was in place to determine police use of force cases for the the first time in U. S. history. It appeared as though victims of police excessive use of force could now depend on a new, universal standard that merely required an objective analysis of the facts of the case and a comparison to what a reasonable officer would do in that scenario. After Graham’s victory at the Supreme Court level, the case was sent back down to the trial court to determine whether or not Connor was guilty of excessive use of force under the new standards. A new jury was selected and the facts of the case were presented again. This time, in accordance with the Graham v. Connor decision, the jury was asked to assess whether or not Connor acted as a reasonable officer would have in that exact situation. The jury was instructed to follow the definition of “reasonableness” laid out by the Graham v. Connor decision. Chief Justice Rehnquist stipulated that the “reasonableness” of force “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Furthermore, the reasonableness standard must allow “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split­-second judgements—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” [3] In other words, the jurors had to put themselves in Connor’s shoes in the split­-second before his use of force with the understanding that the situation was unpredictable and Connor was under significant pressure. The jury decided in favor of Officer Connor.

The Graham standard had established the opposite effect of what many had hoped for, and perhaps even against what Thurgood Marshall had intended. By focusing on what a reasonable officer would have done, the Supreme Court decision narrowed the scope of analysis to only an officer’s point of view of the situation. In this case, Officer Connor had seen a black man running in and out of a convenience store into a waiting vehicle that subsequently sped away. When Connor stopped the vehicle, he experienced a man acting erratically and incomprehensibly. The jury inferred that a reasonable officer could assume the man to be dangerous and would reach the conclusion that there was a need to subdue him. Furthermore, in that pressure-­filled split­-moment, Connor had no way of knowing that Graham was a diabetic suffering from an insulin attack and had no intent of harming him. Therefore, Connor acted reasonably. He was off the hook.

No case has subsequently overturned the Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor. Today, the reasonableness principle set forth under Graham v. Connor still stands as the universal standard for excessive use of force cases. Ironically, the very standard meant to hold police officers accountable would soon be known as the “first amendment for cops” within police forces, a protection that would reliably hand down acquittal after acquittal for officers. [4]

In fact, Graham v. Connor is widely studied during police trainings, with some police departments even listing the Supreme Court case in their officer handbooks. POLICE Magazine, a popular magazine for law enforcement officials, published an article in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 stating that “every American law enforcement officer should have a sound understanding of the Graham case and what it means.” The magazine goes on to describe how “a generation of officers has been trained in the case's practical meaning and has spent decades applying it to every use­ of force decision.” [5]

Three decades later, Graham v. Connor has stood as the silent giant in the backdrop of recent cases of police brutality and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. In July 2014, an unarmed black man named Eric Garner was placed in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo during an arrest. Garner pleaded eleven times to Officer Pantaleo that he could not breathe. Garner was pronounced dead one hour later from the chokehold. A grand jury decided that Officer Pantaleo acted reasonably and he was not indicted in Garner’s death. The following month, an unarmed black man named John Crawford III was shot and killed by Officer Sean Williams inside of a Walmart. Crawford was holding a toy BB gun, which Officer Williams mistook for a real weapon. A grand jury decided that Officer Crawford acted reasonably and he was not indicted in Crawford’s death. Four days later, Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson. Officer Wilson was chasing down Brown for stealing cigarillos from a store when he shot six bullets into Brown. A grand jury decided that Officer Wilson acted reasonably and he was not indicted in Brown’s death. Two months later, Officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice. Officer Loehmann shot the boy because he mistook the airsoft gun in Rice’s hand for an actual gun. A grand jury decided that Officer Loehmann acted reasonably and he was not indicted in Rice’s death. Alton Sterling was selling CDs when he was shot and killed by police officers for resisting arrest. Both the Justice Department and Office of the Attorney General of Louisiana decided that the officers had acted reasonably and they were not indicted in Sterling’s death. The next day, Philando Castile was driving a car with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter when he was pulled over, shot seven times and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Officer Yanez claimed that Castile was reaching for a gun, rather than his ID. A grand jury decided that Officer Yanez acted reasonably and he was not indicted in Castile’s death. Officers were also acquitted in the deaths of Jamar Clark, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Lamont Scott, to name a few more black men who were recently shot and killed by police officers. Graham v. Connor was cited in the officers’ defenses in all of these cases.

The continual acquittal of police officers has infuriated civil rights advocates and Black Lives Matter activists alike who see police brutality as today’s preeminent racial justice issue. Interacting with the police remains a high­-stakes game in which police officers hold a get-­out-­of-­jail-­free card. Encountering even the most well­meaning police officer becomes dangerous due to implicit bias structures in American society. The American Psychology Association states that “one of the most well­demonstrated types of implicit bias is the unconscious association between black individuals and crime.” [6] Joshua Correll, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, developed a paradigm known as “the police officer’s dilemma” that illustrates the impact of implicit bias on the black community. Correll tested this paradigm through a first­-person­ shooter video game in which participants were shown pictures of both black and white men holding either a gun or an object such as a cell phone. The participants were tasked to shoot the pictures of men holding guns. The peer­-reviewed study revealed that participants shot pictures of armed black men with more frequency and more immediately than armed white men and refrained more often from shooting white men. It also found that the most common, consistent mistake was shooting an unarmed black man and failing to shoot an armed white man. Furthermore, the study found that the participants’ race did not impact their level of implicit bias, and that bias reflected perceptions of cultural stereotypes rather than personal racial prejudice. [7]

 It did not matter that someone was racist or not; they still acted on their implicit bias.

A follow­-up series of studies found that special unit officers who routinely interact with minority gang members were more likely to shoot black men—both armed and unarmed—in the first-­person­ shooter simulation. The training and experiences that the officers received exacerbated the likelihood of exhibiting racial bias in their decisions to shoot. [8] These findings reflect real­-world statistics in which an unarmed black person is three and a half times more likely to be shot by police on average than their white counterparts. [9] This statistic fluctuates depending on the locale. For example, unarmed black people in Oklahoma are seven times more likely to be killed by police officers than their counterparts in Georgia. [10]

More disturbingly, though black people bear the brunt of a significant racial disparity in police use of force cases, there is no correlation between police use of force and the crime rates of black individuals. A variety of studies produced by University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Policing Equity reveal how black people are more likely to be targets of police force after adjusting for whether or not they actually engaged in crime. In other words, crime rates are not driving police behavior. This conclusion is supported by other data. A study conducted by psychologists at Stanford University found that black men are four times more likely than white men to be stopped and searched at a traffic stop, even though black people are no more likely to be found with contraband than their white counterparts. [11] These studies re­-emphasize how policing is an issue of civil rights, and providing a fair trial for victims of police brutality is an issue of justice.

Though Graham v. Connor was meant to impose integrity on police accountability against excessive use of force, in practice it became a protectorate of police misconduct. The Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard was intended to provide an objective analysis based off of facts on the ground, but it instead prioritized the police officers’ perspective of the situation over that of the victims’. As a result, black and brown communities have continued to suffer at the hands of police brutality and an unjust legal system. As a society, we must ask what possible solutions may exist to the legal conundrum that has followed in the wake of Graham v. Connor.

Excessive use of force can be addressed, to some extent, from a policy standpoint. Implicit bias trainings paired with bias assessments in police departments should be one component of addressing the issue. [12] Mandating sufficient de­escalation training for police officers is also important. President Obama’s administration released a report in 2015 stating that de­escalation training should be the top priority of all police departments. [13] Currently, thirty­-four states do not require de­escalation training at all, and a larger number of states do not provide sufficient enough de­escalation training sessions. While support for the implementation of de­escalation training exists amongst a fraction of police chiefs, there is a much larger faction of police chiefs who denounce such programs. Those against the programs argue that de­escalation requires all participants in a situation to participate in said de­escalation, which cannot be controlled by police officers. However, supporters point to the need for change in how police are trained to act in different scenarios with the purpose of giving officers tools to relieve tensions for the overall benefit of everyone’s safety. [14]

Beyond policy, there are legal battles being fought in the lower courts over the current interpretation of Graham v. Connor, which constrains the reasonableness standard to a sliver of time, prioritizes only what the officer is feeling, and rejects the consideration of hindsight in making a decision to convict or acquit an officer. Several plaintiffs are presenting cases that point to a different section of Rehnquist’s majority opinion, which tempers—and even contradicts—the previous interpretation by stating that the question of reasonableness should rest on “whether the totality of the circumstances justif[ies] a particular sort of...seizure.” The lower courts have so far been split in their interpretation: half are interpreting the “totality of circumstances” to mean whether or not the officer would have been fearful based off of what that officer would have known during that split-­second moment before making the decision to use force, and whether or not the use of force was reasonable based off of the officer’s fear. The other half of the courts have decided upon a wider interpretation that includes the totality of what attempts were made to de­escalate the situation or non­violently subdue the individual leading up to the moment when the officer used force. In the latter interpretation, the factors that were previously left out of the picture would be allowed for consideration. In the case of Graham, these factors could include how there was no indication that Graham carried a weapon or how Connor did not attempt de­escalation tactics before arresting Graham. In the case of Graham, these factors could include how there was no indication that Graham carried a weapon or how Connor did not attempt de­escalation tactics before arresting Graham. This new focus on the “totality of circumstances” within the majority opinion delivered by the Supreme Court Court is seen by civil rights lawyers as a path towards requiring objectivity under Graham v. Connor. [15]

Graham v. Connor is a prime example of the timeless, far reaching and often unpredictable consequences of the law. While Graham v. Connor may morph in legal interpretation, certain things remain steadfast: making a trip to the convenience store to get orange juice, playing with a toy gun in a Walmart, or driving around with loved ones in your car should not be scenarios of life or death. We should work towards living in a society where, when asked whether or not an officer was reasonable in shooting twenty rounds of bullets into a young man standing in his grandmother’s backyard with nothing but a cellphone in his hand, the law compels a jury to respond with a resounding “No.”

SUMMER IN THE CITY: INNOCENCE LOST AND FOUND

BY JULIE LEOPO

(From left to right) Suzy, Robert, Arleen, Central City neighborhood  Arleen: "Sometimes I’m scared to come outside, there’s drunk people.”

(From left to right) Suzy, Robert, Arleen, Central City neighborhood

Arleen: "Sometimes I’m scared to come outside, there’s drunk people.”

A young girl, Artesia Pillar neighborhood. She sits on her porch, barefoot and happy. She's only allowed on the front steps of her home while her grandfather watches from afar. She takes her dog everywhere she goes.

A young girl, Artesia Pillar neighborhood. She sits on her porch, barefoot and happy. She's only allowed on the front steps of her home while her grandfather watches from afar. She takes her dog everywhere she goes.

Nata, Central City neighborhood. Nata is a quiet presence in the neighborhood—perched in her bedroom window.

Nata, Central City neighborhood. Nata is a quiet presence in the neighborhood—perched in her bedroom window.

Christopher, Central City neighborhood. “My name is Christopher, this is my gun.” He is shy but has no problem sharing his toys. He runs around the neighborhood shooting at imaginary targets.

Christopher, Central City neighborhood. “My name is Christopher, this is my gun.” He is shy but has no problem sharing his toys. He runs around the neighborhood shooting at imaginary targets.

Emily, Artesia Pillar neighborhood  A soul filled with undeniable charisma, Emily only demands a couple of things: attention and her daily allowance of $1 to purchase ice cream from her neighbor.

Emily, Artesia Pillar neighborhood

A soul filled with undeniable charisma, Emily only demands a couple of things: attention and her daily allowance of $1 to purchase ice cream from her neighbor.

Botton Image: Men mourn the death of Freddie Gray in West Baltimore, April 28, 2015 by Yunghi Kim.  Credit: https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/06/police-deaths-baltimore-ferguson-james-wolcott

Botton Image: Men mourn the death of Freddie Gray in West Baltimore, April 28, 2015 by Yunghi Kim.

Credit: https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/06/police-deaths-baltimore-ferguson-james-wolcott

THE 5TH STEP (OCTAVIUS ON INFINITY)

BY JAHMAN HILL

The 5th Step (Octavius on Infinity)

All it takes is four steps for you to fire 8 bullets.

But before you point your weapon at me you will remember these

words.

When my body is void of life and my casket is heavy with the

weight of the world that I carried on my shoulders my black skin a

symbol of death reincarnated the manifestation of some sick curse

the white man’s target practice you will hunt the fire of my soul and

be met with the ice cold bane of my existence what you fear is my

ability to stand up to your oppression.

You will remember these words

Because my name was destined to be preceded with a hashtag,

just another step towards a revolution where our black men play

the martyrs that my name is just meant for a tombstone too soon

that the children that I wished for never got the chance to breathe

because it's 2015 and I can’t breathe you put that on your t-shirt, I

wear that on my skin tone if Cupid had a gun he would point it at

my back and disperse the love America has for our black man

You will remember this moment when I have graced the headlines

of your news station, when they have cr-cr-cracked my spine and

br-br-broken my spirit when all I have left is this moment when I

look up to the heavens and ask Jesus why he has forsaken me I

am not ready to go

You will remember the silence

You will remember the silence

You will remember the silence

You will remember that I did not know how to love. That my heart

was hardened by a world that taught me constant betrayal. That I

learned from an early age to push others away so that when my

time came it would be easier for everybody to stomach you will

remember that I always ate my veggies. That I sang in the choir.

That I watched my baby siblings hoping one day to have my own

beautiful black babies

You will remember that I was scared.... that by the time I turned 18

I ran out of tears so the only thing left for me to do was to write.

That I feared that if I were to ever bring kids onto this earth that I

feared that they would hate me, because how could a father with

so much love force a kid to live in this much hate.

You will remember that I tried. And that I always knew that I

wouldn’t be good enough. I prayed for an ocean of acceptance

and I was met with an array of bullets that my senior year of high

school I hid from cops in a ditch for three hours and the only thing

I felt was that I belonged.

You will remember how the sun etched its existence into the left

side of my face as I lay sprawled out on the concrete with 8 shots

lodged firmly into my back forming a constellation made out of

stars like Trayvon Martin stars like Michael Brown stars like Eric

Gardner stars like Walter Scott just another hashtag hero for the

new millennium.

You will remember my smile as the police searches my history for

a reason to paint me as a deserving villain the same way

ignorance has painted my posterior something scarlet.

You will remember that I told my little brothers not to come to my

funeral. Because I did not want them to see their future. I did not

want that to be their future. As my brother sits there detained and

realizes he fits a description destined for him to match my brother

of 11 years wrote a poem this winter about how racism and

prejudice is destroying our nation. I am hurting.

And you will remember this pain. If I have to force it down your

throat you will swallow the fear of my black body and birth

magnificence. I am a king. I am king. I deserve to exist. You

deserve to exist. You deserve to exist you deserve to be you. You

get to be you. You get to be you and I get to be black.

And that means that all it takes is four steps for you to fire 8

bullets.