In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we talked about teaming up with the Academy of American Poets and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University to create a tool called Emerge. Emerge allows a user to pick a source text and erase words or phrases to create a poem, called an erasure.
Our ten source texts are representative examples of legislation and policies that have directly affected incarceration rates in the United States. Many disproportionately affect people of color. In Part 1, we discussed two Arizona laws that we included and why. Part 2 discussed laws in the southwest and Executive Order 9066, which authorized Japanese internment in the United States. Today, we'll be discussing four more.
The U.S. Supreme Court makes final judgments on laws that impact those of us living in the United States. Justice Antonin Scalia, on behalf of the entire Supreme Court (which voted unanimously, 9-0), wrote the opinion in the case of Whren, et al. v. United States. The decision permitted police to stop motorists for probable cause of a traffic offense and then to detain them for other matters. Because people of color are stopped by police more often, both for traffic violations and probable cause of a violation, they are more at risk of further detention. The Supreme Court's decision contributed to the expansion of the police's power to incarcerate.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 has a name that implies helping those who use and/or are addicted to drugs, however, it radically shifted the justice system's response to those individuals. New mandatory sentence requirements incarcerated people caught with narcotics and other drugs for longer, including those with marijuana. The sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine created disparities in incarceration rates for people of color. Similarly, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 seems to seek safer cities and towns, but it dramatically raised rates of incarceration by adding new death penalty offenses. It's the largest crime bill ever passed at 356 pages. It also impacted quality of life for inmates by removing their ability to receive Pell grants for educational opportunities.
Finally, we have included the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The 13th Amendment famously abolished slavery in the United States ,"except as a punishment for crime." Director Ava Duvernay produced the documentary "13th," which currently streams on Netflix, to explore the impacts of the 13th Amendment on our justice system and the ways we have reinforced slavery through the miscarriage of justice. Other resources can be found here.
As part of the Art for Justice project, we invite you to create your own erasure of these texts using Emerge and view the community poems others have created in response.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion, Whren et al. v. United States (1996)
A unanimous Supreme Court decision that explicitly allowed pretextual stops by police. It enables authorities to detain suspects on minor violations in order to investigate “other matters.” Evidence shows that people of color are stopped by police more frequently for minor offenses due to racial profiling.
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (1994)
This Clinton-era law was the largest crime bill in history and made sweeping changes to law enforcement. It added sixty new death penalty offenses, eliminated the possibility of Pell grants for inmates’ higher education, and led to an increase in incarceration.
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (1986)
Changed the federal approach to drugs from a rehabilitative system to a punitive one. New mandatory minimum sentences were implemented, including for marijuana. Sentencing disparities between crack vs. powder cocaine still exist in many states, including Arizona.
13th Amendment to the United States Constitution (1865)
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…” People of color in the U.S. are incarcerated at higher rates and for longer sentences than their white peers.