Some may blame the likes of me for this country’s imminent nightmare, but I am proud to be a dyed-in-the-wool Bernie Sanders supporter. That said, once Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination I always intended to cast my vote for her.
But though I appreciated her many qualities, I was hugely disappointed by one aspect of her campaign—one that I believe cost her the election.
Issues critically important to black and brown communities jumped squarely in her lap several times, yet she failed to adequately demonstrate a commitment to them beyond lip-service and some proposals that were too little, too late. I’m talking mass incarceration, her previous complicity in it, and how to begin rebuilding the communities devastated by it.
As a Latino, I did vote for her, but I did so grudgingly. She missed a unique opportunity to galvanize support in our communities, in an election against a racist opponent in which low turnout by Democratic voters turned out to be the clincher.
Hillary’s first big chance came when Bill addressed the NACCP last year. He admitted then that the omnibus crime bill he signed in 1994 “made the problem worse.”
That notorious bill exacerbated the punitive policies built up during the Reagan era—lengthening sentences, establishing a federal “three strikes” law for violent offenses and driving up prison populations—with a hugely disproportionate impact on people of color.
Hillary advocated for that crime bill. During that period, she also employed the racially charged “super-predator” concept, saying: “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Yet since Bill’s NACCP apology speech, she has failed to fully recognize her role in exacerbating the marginalization and persecution of people of color. Nor has she presented an original cogent blueprint for social justice.
Even months later, when pressed during her primary debates with Bernie Sanders, she couched her language cautiously, saying: “There were some aspects of it that worked well, the Violence Against Women provisions have worked well, for example, but other aspects of it were a mistake and I agree.”
She needed to instead apologize unreservedly for the travesty of mass incarceration and the damage it did, to commit emphatically to dismantling the brutal system that survives by feeding generations of black and brown children into the prison-industrial complex.
Honest acknowledgements of this issue matter so much. Because the whole period between 1968 and the early 2000s represents a low point in the history of US criminal justice. Decades of oppressive policies swelled the prison population tenfold, turning incarceration into a booming, profitable industry.
An emphasis on criminal justice solutions to social problems—and an under-emphasis on health, education and other human services—resulted in the criminal justice system emerging as the predominant social institution in certain communities.
Look at some of the numbers. The State of California has built 10 penitentiaries and only one university during the last 30 years. New York State, meanwhile, spends a smaller proportion of its budget on education than anywhere else in the US. (The national average is approximately 36 percent of each state’s annual budget; New York spends less than 28 percent).
In real dollars, New York spends $56,000 per incarcerated person vs. $16,000 per student—a 3.5:1 ratio that prioritizes the criminalization of an entire generation over providing support for our children to achieve adulthood, employment and responsible citizenship.
And of course, the US has become by far the most incarcerated nation on earth, with well over 2 million people behind bars at any one time.
Hillary Clinton was not one of the main drivers of this situation—nowhere near, or I would never have voted for her. But she insulted us by playing down both the enormity of the problem and her own level of involvement.
When Black Lives Matter supporters protested against her in the summer, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise; it should have acted as a warning.
What Hillary seems not to have done is wonder what real change would look like.
Initiatives aimed at reducing the number of misdemeanor arrests, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, sentencing reforms and revamping the bail system are all welcome harbingers of progress. But criminal justice reforms are not enough! Just as ending legal slavery did not equate to black freedom, ending mass incarceration is not the same as removing the economic, social and political shackles of black and brown people.
Communities most impacted by mass incarceration are also mired in unemployment and poverty, poor-quality housing and low-performing schools. Mass incarceration disrupts social networks and relationships and limits long-term life chances. In many neighborhoods most impacted, like those managed by NYCHA, we see up to 70 percent of the community living in poverty, with unemployment rates twice the national average. There, over half of children live in single-parent homes. Eighty-five percent of adults do not have a HS diploma. Eighty-three percent of third grade students are already behind in reading, with 67 percent behind in math.
Real reform acknowledges that ending mass incarceration is necessary but not sufficient. Real reform acknowledges that white supremacy is a shape-shifter—it adapts to different times and situations, using different vehicles to exert itself. Real reform will dismantle all of the rigged systems designed to oppress people of color.
Real reform also acknowledges that we all need to heal—some from the harms inflicted upon them, others from the harms inflicted in their name. The time to start rebuilding communities most impacted by mass incarceration is now. And an apology is a good place to start.
Over these past months, my progressive friends have grown increasingly impatient with me, defensive and even hostile when I criticized Hillary despite intending to vote for her. Now, we are reeling from this bitter wake-up call. I am, too. But it didn’t have to be this way.
The city of Chicago recently apologized to the victims of torture and other abuse committed on CPD Commander Jon Burge’s watch. Its statement read: “we wish to acknowledge what happened and formally express regret for any and all shameful treatment…” and it added, “… action speaks louder than words.”
It went on to detail a list of comprehensive reparations owed to the hundreds of victims. One of them was later quoted as saying, tearfully, that the acknowledgement of what happened to him was more important than the millions in compensation the city paid.
People of color and our allies could have carried Hillary across the finish line to a sure victory. In the end, her lack of courage was her undoing.
And because of that, Michelle Alexander—author of The New Jim Crow, that defining work about race and incarceration—may have been right when she wrote earlier this year that Hillary didn’t deserve to win.
This piece originally appeared in the November 11 issue of The Influence
In my air tonight
In the cold street lights
There was something I was tryin’ to say to you
I’m goin’ in and out and in the way you do
I’m goin’ in and out and in the way you do
Drop it like it’s hot!
The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 8 with Saya Woolfalk at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling. Watch as the crew help Saya with the 3,000 sq. ft “The Pollen Catchers Color Mixing Machine,” installed in the museum’s main gallery for the inaugural exhibition and grand opening, Sat. Oct. 3, 2015.
I’ll always remember how proud I felt bounding up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the summer of ’82, where, as a recent Yale art-history graduate, I’d landed a coveted summer internship. In addition to helping in the education department, I sat at the front desk and also gave tours of the collection, discoursing on everything from Dogon sculpture to Jackson Pollock. Though I return to the Met often, to cover interesting shows and trends, or simply to enjoy the art, it was a special moment for me when I entered through a modest doorway on the lower level last Thursday and made my way to the group visits department, where my lecturer’s badge was waiting.
Soon enough our ARTnews interns and Galeristas Adolescentes, helmed by Mista Oh!, made their way there too, and we talked for a bit about what an encyclopedic museum is and how to use the Met (and its website) for inspiration, information, and more. And then we were off for our day of looking and sketching, winding our way through the Egyptian Wing, into the Engelhard Court, along a multicultural array of arms and armor, and past Europe’s decorative arts before emerging in Central Park for frisbee and lunch, which was delivered to the museum’s steps (great idea Mista Oh!–and thanks Retna!).
We spent the afternoon wandering through the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, where we made some more great drawings. Along the way we talked about things like primitivism, Orientalism, the language of color (and, in the case of our early-bird interns, institutional critique, courtesy Andrea Fraser, upstairs). Everyone had a great time and learned a lot–and I learned that I need to be more modest in my ambitions as a tour guide. Next time we’ll tackle the second floor.
Kraftwerk’s futuristic meditations on the sounds of our industrial society are laid claim to by both of their musical descendants–the super-abstract avant-industrial school, and the super-underground disco party-goers who shook what their mama gave them throughout the ’80s to the group’s infectious rhythms. The influence of their conceptual sonic experiments is immeasurable, and includes: Devo, the Cars, the Human League, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Afrika Bambaataa, 2 Live Crew, all Detroit techno, the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, and Radiohead.
…a dramatic fresco, powerful and harrowing – worthy of an abstract painting, electronic dadaism, surrealist poetry — Piero Scaruffi
Autobahn is more minimalist than subsequent works, and many argue after this release, the band abandoned all intellectual pretense, giving in to the fame and glamor of the discopop world. As a fan myself, I remember dancing to “Numbers” (Computer World) at the Paradise Garage with Larry Levan behind the turntables, and having also given up all intellectual pretense, I always liked each album even more than the previous one, so I might not be the most objective critic.
I do know that it was really special to go back to the beginning and see Autobahn performed in MoMA’s main atrium, a context that brought together the group’s various and complex layers of music, sound, videos, sets and performance. That is, notwithstanding getting yelled at by an annoyed Michael Stipe, standing behind me and Nibs, beckoning me to “be in the moment”, and stop taking pictures. Sorry Michael, I couldn’t help myself.
This album, recorded in German, was Kraftwerk’s first international success (subsequent releases were recorded in English and German). It was voted one of Spin Magazine’s 15 Most Influential Albums, Autobahn features hypnotic crescendos wrapped in romantic melodies intertwined with medieval dance rhythms and sounds. It is considered a pioneering work for use of the drum machine, vocoders and computer speech technology, but the real success of this album is due to those distant lingering melodies.
“We Are the Robots”
“Trans Europe Express”
“The Man Machine”
Tour De France + Intro
Tour de France Etape 2
“Planet of Visions”
I fall hard for coming-of-age stories, and my list of favorite books and movies contains many in this genre, from “Pride and Prejudice” to “The Catcher in the Rye.” The movie “Garden State,” which starred Zach Braff and Natalie Portman, also struck a chord with me when it came out in 2004. It dramatizes a few days in the life of Andrew Largeman, a twenty-six-year-old struggling actor in Los Angeles who returns to his native New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. Andrew is nothing if not alienated: he feels disconnected from celebrity-studded Hollywood as well as from his old hometown, which he hasn’t visited since leaving for boarding school nearly a decade earlier.