Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at a United Nations event. / UNAOC
When I first visited Celil Sağır in December 2014, hundreds of protesters and police were arrayed outside his Istanbul office. They had come for his boss, Ekrem Dumanlı, editor of one of the largest daily newspapers in Turkey, Zaman. The government accused Dumanlı of supporting Fethullah Gülen, the exiled seventy-four-year-old cleric and rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who has lived in Pennsylvania since fleeing charges of trying to topple the state in 1999.
Not too long before, Sağır, the paper’s managing editor, had been an ally of the AKP. Like “many other people from different ideological, religious, and ethnic backgrounds,” Sağır said, his “media group supported [the] AKP government against [the] Kemalist establishment in the fight to make Turkey a real democracy, a member of the EU.” He was close to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. “I flew around with Davutoğlu, and we would talk,” he told me.
But in the months leading up to that December, Sağır had grown concerned about the AKP agenda he had once backed. He warned me Erdoğan’s campaign against Gülen’s supposed “parallel state,” then in its early stages, would not be limited to Dumanlı and Zaman but would eventually ensnare all AKP critics.
Sağır’s intuition was well founded. In the past year, hundreds of Turkish journalists have been prosecuted or threatened with criminal charges. Though their reporting has never been disproved, and their destabilizing motives never established, some have been charged with espionage or attempting to overthrow the state. As the nation confronts a wave of bombings—from Ankara last October to Istanbul and Cinar last week—journalists and government officials have been accused of terrorist activity. Others have faced lesser allegations for, in essence, offending Turkey’s leadership. More than a thousands scholars who spoke out against civilian casualties resulting from military operations against Kurdish separatists are now under investigation from state prosecutors and their own universities.
By Marie Gottschalk
Amid deficit-allergic neoliberal politics, everyone can agree on the appeal of budgetary savings. So now it is not just liberals going after mass incarceration. A group of brand-name conservatives, including Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, and, most recently, former governor Rick Perry of Texas, has endorsed various budget-cutting initiatives that would reduce prison populations. Utah Senator Mike Lee, an influential Tea Party Republican, has delivered speeches on “the challenge of over-criminalization; of over-incarceration; and over-sentencing.”
This bipartisanship has fostered a wave of optimism; at last it seems the country is ready to enact major reforms to reduce the incarceration rate. But it is unlikely that elite-level alliances stitched together by mounting fiscal pressures will spur communities, states, and the federal government to make deep and lasting cuts in their prison and jail populations and to dismantle other pieces of the carceral state, such as felon disenfranchisement and the denial of civil liberties, employment, and public benefits to many people with criminal convictions.
If there is to be serious reform, we will have to look beyond the short-term economic needs of the federal and state governments. We can’t rely on cost-benefit analysis to accomplish what only a deep concern for justice and human rights can. Indeed, cost-benefit analysis is one of the principal tools of the neoliberal politics on which the carceral state is founded.
In order to see how neoliberalism lies at the root of the carceral state, we need first to recognize who is affected. Racism plays a significant role, ensuring that blacks are vastly more likely than whites to be imprisoned. However, there is more to the story.
The carceral state also has dramatically expanded its capacity to apprehend, detain, punish, and deport immigrants. The hard-line politics, policies, and rhetoric that fueled the prison boom of the 1980s and 1990s have been retrofitted for a new population. Now they support institutions that dissolve the distinction between law enforcement and immigration enforcement. In a notable shift, today 35 percent of federal prisoners are Latino, making them the largest ethnic or racial group in the federal prison system.
The United States, with just 5 percent of the world’s population, incarcerates almost one-third of the all the women and girls confined to jails and prisons worldwide. And while the white incarceration rate of 400 per 100,000 is low compared to the rates for African Americans (2,300 per 100,000) and Latinos (1,000 per 100,000), it is still about two-and-a-half to seven times the national incarceration rates of other Western countries and Japan.
In addition to racism, neoliberalism sustains the carceral state. The commitment to privatization is at work in the expansion of for-profit prisons, immigrant detention facilities, and privately run parole and probation services. The precariousness bred by a welfare-averse politics maintains a steady flow of inmates. The main drivers of penal policy reform at the elite level are cost-benefit analyses and concerns about recidivism, not concerns of justice or human rights.
One issue sparking off from the fiery debate around the police shootings of black men is the extent to which Americans simply react negatively to seeing black—whether it is a police officer making a life-and-death split-second decision about the threat a black man poses, a store clerk tracking a black customer in a store more intently than she would a white one, or an online shopper preferring to buy a device shown in a white hand rather than a black hand.
Explicit racial discrimination, often subconscious, is rarer than it was once was. And such discrimination does not explain most of the black-white gaps in life circumstances such as lifespan and wealth; those largely grow from historically deeper and convoluted roots, further fed by institutional inequalities. Still, the effects of plain old racial aversion are real—accounting, according to one recent analysis, for perhaps a third of the difference between black and white wages (pdf). And such racism certainly takes an emotional toll.
Two recent publications present yet more systematic evidence that plain old racial aversion persists and matters—despite the belief among many whites, perhaps most, that reverse discrimination is just as big a problem. (An earlier related post is here.)
I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence. —Malcolm X
The grand jury’s decision to forgo indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown compels us yet again to recognize that there is more to violence than its dictionary definition.
In clinical terms, violence is physical force intended to cause injury. But when officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown this past August, he did not engage in violence. He engaged in self-defense. He was justified.
After the jury’s decision was announced, black Americans and their supporters, who see in the non-indictment a form of impunity, took to the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis. Their righteous indignation amounted to a “night of violence,” according to The Guardian and USA Today. KSDK, a St. Louis NBC affiliate, used a common volcanic metaphor: “Violence erupts in Ferguson: Fire, looting, arrests.” Look at any of the major news outlets—shattered store windows and overturned police cruisers. That is violence, and there need be no inquiry into its justification.
Violence is a moral category, not an act. Where aggression is presumptively unjustified, it is violent. Where it is deemed acceptable by the norms of the community in which it occurs, it is not violence.
It is perilous to extrapolate too greatly from a single case, but that peril is not at issue in Ferguson, where Brown’s shooting reflects a widespread and historically endless pattern of white lawmen, and white men acting under cover of law, injuring and killing black men without engaging in what the society calls violence. Here again, the court asked what the victim did to warrant his fate. But the political problem, which courts can’t consider, is who has access to justification.