When DNA Makes You Smile and Rage

For most targeted communities, the unequal justice of the North American legal system is nothing news worthy. Despite repeated cases proving that poor communities and communities of color are unfairly criminalized and more heavily prosecuted than rich white communities, the government continues to pass laws targeting already pathologized groups. Most recently, they reviewed a series of sus laws (laws based on the potential for guilt based on suspicion of criminality without cause used to racially profile the Irish and then Black British under Thatcher under the guise of preventing terrorism) that would once again legally sanction racial profiling of Middle Eastern and Muslims back in the U.S. (I know they already do it.)

Recent documentaries, as well as Angela Davis’ classic writing on prisons, also remind how this criminalization specifically impacts women. Research also provides gendered theories of understanding the “justice system” that criminalize men and women along specifically gendered lines.

Yet we continue to build more prisons. The new cottage industry of ICE holding cells, another word for prison, booms. Communities that once challenged the building sites of prisons now champion them as key sites of economic growth. As the economy downward spiral continues in N. America prisons offer the two-fold tools of deflection: 1. blame – its not the government’s policies its those criminals and immigrants and 2. single industry supported jobs – prison employment and the industries that grow around them. Communities become dependent on the latter and more in need of the former. Criminality becomes an ever more naturalized necessity.

Today’s trial in Dallas Texas reminds us what happens when a nation is invested in deflection and a justice system that often works along the lines of oppression.

APTOPIX DNA Exoneration(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

38 year old Patrick Waller was released from prison today after DNA evidence proved he had no part in the kidnap,rape, and robbery of a white Texas couple for which he was convicted on the basis of “id” at 23. Like so many others, Waller went into prison barely an adult and will leave it nearing his 40s.

The men who actually committed the crime will serve NO jail time despite confessing because the statute of limitations has run out. This means that injustice was not only visited upon Waller b/c of the myth of the black rapist but also the white, female, rape survivor whose assailants will never be convicted. Both she and Waller’s mother represent the female faces of a system that criminalizes black men for being black.

DNA Exoneration (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Waller is also 1 of 19 men who have been set free from the Texas prison system based on DNA evidence proving their innocence since 2001. 4 other men, who wrongly served 100 years between them in prison, attended Waller’s exoneration and were cited as an inspiration to keep going in prison by Waller when interviewed. All 19 men were aided by The Innocence Project of Texas.

Please consider giving to or volunteering with the Innocence Project, which has chapters throughout the U.S., especially if you are a feminist to increase their focus toward more gender equity in the cases they take. Please also consider taking time out to learn more about the prison industrial complex in N. America and how it ultimately impacts all of us. (The rape victim in Waller’s case will never see her rapist behind bars b/c of the racism and injustice of the system we currently have just as much as Waller will never get those 15 years back.)

Here’s a list of places to start:

Reading Material




6 thoughts on “When DNA Makes You Smile and Rage

  1. Every time I see a man walk out of prison after being proven innocent by DNA it reconfirms my belief that the death penalty is wrong. We will never know how many have been wrongfully put to death for a crime they did not commit or how many confessed to crimes that they did not commit in order to avoid the death penalty. The system is broken and has been so for a very long time.

  2. I know I said the same thing in the post, but now I find myself wondering: is it broken or is it working exactly the way that people in power want it to work?

  3. Well as you correctly point out prisons have become yet another big business in the states. To a certain degree they help to maintain the divide between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in that they do not function to benefit all of society equally. There is also the added element of slave labor that comes with prisons. They have reverted to the chain gangs as well as under the guise of giving prisoners “work experience” putting prisoners to work on a contract basis that pays practically nothing. This undermines the workers in the public sphere because of course they cannot afford to compete with that. There are clearly options to incarcerating such a high level of citizenry but the fact that has not been adequately considered certainly gives rise to the question as to who the penal system really is serving. We certainly not claim that it is about rehabilitation.

  4. I love love Angela Davis. I got to see her speak at my university several years ago and got her book “Abolition Democracy”, which she signed :)She has blown me away with her ideas about the prison industrial complex (or corporation, rather :/ ) and everything that comes out of her mouth is so full of the truth.The racial disparity among female inmates is even greater than among male inmates, so the intersections of class, gender, and racial oppression are so obvious and pronounced in the prison system.

  5. Hi Lara. Angela Davis’ work on this issue has been really inspiring hasn’t it?! I’m glad you got a chance to see one of her talks and get the book. Any thoughts on the chapters I mention here?I wish we as a movement were spending more time on the prison industry. Not only is it a key site of intersectional oppression but a place where women’s basic rights are often threatened without any real sanction. I’ve got another post with links to others writings coming up on Monday. It’s not my area but I’m trying to do better.

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