by Marcus Altheimer
Although the authoritative voice over the building’s intercom had announced the commencement of the movement period, the diverse group of students remained actively engaged in their seats. The Professor, a tiny stature, strong-willed and powerfully passionate sista was fairly new at this alternative university. Unsure of all the many rules and regulations she was forced to abide by, she quizzically looked from the students, to the clock, then back again, searching her mind to remember what time the class ended.
To any ‘status-quo’ teacher on the outside looking in, it would appear that the Professor had lost control of the class. The students were haphazardly spread throughout the linoleum tiled, fluorescent-lit room. Some slouched in their seats; a few of them fretfully paced the room and some vigorously took notes, all while debating the lessons of the class.
There was no raising of the hand, so interruptions were common and often welcomed as the fresh perspectives they were. Voices often rose, as the conversation became more heated then any normal class discussion, a sign of how passionate these students were. This all seemed chaotic, however, under the surface of all this perceived chaos lay a peculiar learning environment that these misunderstood men thrived in, one which every student actively took part.
The Professor had never been shaken by the thought of teaching in this environment. She had grown up in the mean streets of Detroit so her open teaching tactics and no nonsense persona perfectly fit the unique learning style these men seemed to enjoy. However, the fact that they were not rushing to leave the classroom at the conclusion of the period puzzled her.
“ALRIGHT GENTLEMEN!” She began with a raised voice, clapping her hands to halt the conversation. “I believe that concludes our time for the week.”
“Hold up a moment Professor.” You could always count on Mr. Too Fly Lucci to be the first to speak up at an opportune time, especially in the presence of a woman. He was a charismatic young brotha who spent an equal amount of hours lifting enormous amounts of weight in the gym and reading books to expand his knowledge. “This room is free for the rest of the morning, so if you’re not in a rush to leave or get rid of us, then I’m sure we’d all enjoy continuing class … ”
“You mean you actually want to remain in class another hour?” The Professor incredulously asked. “Willfully!” She was genuinely shocked.
“DO WE!” A brotha named Cypher chimed in. “Considering how much we enjoy building with you and I can’t think of nothing better to do, I’m sure nobody is in a rush to leave this intellectual think tank.” Cypher was a sharp brotha who’s all around philosophy stemmed from the teachings of the Five Percenters, a conscious group known as ‘Poor Righteous Teachers,’ dedicated to educating and uplifting the unconscious masses, according to Cypher.
“Well if it’s ok to stay then I don’t have a problem doing so. And I’m definitely not in a rush to get rid of y’all.” The Professor added, flashing a professionally warm smile in Lucci’ s direction. “It’s just surprising to reach the end of a class period and the students aren’t jumping at the opportunity to leave.”
“Well we ain’t your average students.” Noted a young Asian named Phonsavanh or Phon for short. He was a man of many talents who always seemed to make perfect philosophical sense when he spoke. “We understand better than the average student that our opportunities exist within the classroom, not rushing to leave out of it.”
“Spoken like a crazy, rich & educated Asian!” Someone from the group joked.
“What!” Phon faked hurtful surprise. “Such stereotypical comments continue to set this great country back.”
“If that’s the case,” Cypher noted. “This country won’t ever make any progress considering all of Trump’s rhetoric.” The class erupted in agreement.
“Say y’all … ” Lucci yelled to get everyone’s attention. “Someone better let the gatekeeper know we’ll be staying another hour. Y’all already know I ain’t got the patience for ‘em so it ain’t going to happen if I ask.” He noted while slumping into his seat, a comical attempt to try and make his muscular frame smaller.
“I’ll handle it.” A student named Jake said as he stood to head for the door. Jake had primarily grown up in a well-to-do home across the other side of the proverbial tracks. The opportunities he was handed since birth was completely opposite from the other men’s upbringing, so he brought interesting perspectives to group discussions to say the least. “And Trump is an American hero trying to make America great again!” He shot over his back.
“BOOOOO !” The class erupted over the comment.
“Alright gentlemen!” The Professor struggled to be heard over the ruckus. “Since we will be staying I’d like to begin with a game I call ‘Rapid Fire Review.’ Y’all think you can handle it?” She asked.
A resounding ‘YEP!’ and ‘Let’s go.’ filled the room as the men settled back into their seats.
Only a quick moment had passed before Jake reentered the room. “The man said we good to stay as long as y’all reframe from disrespecting Trump.” He loudly noted.
“FORGET TRUMP!” The class yelled in unison, pelting Jake with paper balls as he took his seat.
“So what we gotta do in this rapid-fire review?” Asked Cypher.
“Ok.” The Professor happily began, eager with anticipation. Witnessing this diverse group of men’s minds at work always warmed her heart. “I will rapidly ask a series of questions which anyone may answer, however, once you do answer you are out unless I call back on you. Everyone must answer one question correctly or else we start all over until we do. So y’all ready?”
There was an overwhelming positive reaction to her challenge, as well as some good-natured ribbing amongst the men. The Professor had a knack for keeping them engaged and considering they were willing participants the job was never actually hard.
“Here we go then!” She jubilantly stated. “Question number one; The Criminal Justice System is composed of who and what?”
“Easy!” Blurted out a sharp student named Emillo, with his heavily laden Spanish accent. “The so-called ‘Agents’ of the Criminal Justice System can be broken down into three subgroups, the first of which includes the police and other law enforcement agencies.”
“Like ICE.” Lucci cracked, referring to Emillo’s immigrant status.
“That’s cold man … Real low-blow.” Replied Emillo. “Anyway, as I was saying before being interrupted by this pendejo.”
“OH!” Lucci feigned hurt feelings. “The level of disrespect is real! And you wonder why Trump wants to build a wall.” Members of the group couldn’t help but laugh.
“Alright guys.” The Professor tried to cut their ribbing short. “Please continue Mr. Emilio.” She was always worried and amazed at the constant racial ribbing these men seemed to jokingly bombard each other with.
“Of course Professor.” Emillo responded, shooting Lucci one last playful glare. “You also have the agents of the Courts or Judicial process, which are Lawyers, Prosecutors, and Judges. And last but not least you have correctional officers who are in control of the Jails and Correctional Prisons, however, I wouldn’t put much emphasis on the ‘Correctional’ part of their titles.”
“Very good Mr. Emillo. However, can you explain your reasoning behind that last comment?”
“Well … ” He began. “First off, the textbook tries to promote the idea that all criminals are mentally defective, which would insinuate that they all need to be cured. So lawmakers have no problem sending all of them to prisons under the guise of ‘correcting’ or ‘reforming’ them. But what can we really say about these institutions when none of the people released are ever actually cured? People usually get out of these so called ‘correctional reformatories’ both physically and mentally worse then when they originally entered. And we wonder why there are such a high percentage of people getting out and committing more crimes. You would think that at some point lawmakers would take a look at administrative policy in these institutions, however that wouldn’t serve their greedy goals. Keeping prisons full and violent is job security for A LOT of people. ”
Mummers of agreement filled the room.
“And who can give me some textbook examples of why Mr. Emillo feels that way?” The Professor asked raising her voice to be heard over the commotion.
“I’ll give you two reasons.” Spoke Tre-Dub, a young brotha with a habit of turning the smallest situation into a racial disparity.
Even though she was still fairly new, the Professor was already aware of Tre-Dub’s antics. “So glad you could join the conversation.” She replied. “I assume your reasons are relevant to the course text?”
“Of course” Tre-Dub innocently replied with a smile. “The first reason is crime myths, or false beliefs about the rise in crime and the remedies needed. in order to keep the community safe.”
“Well what happens is public officials use media outlets to promote harsh rhetoric about crime, which is usually racially distorted, while bombarding us with images of violent crimes. They do this in order to mislead the public into believing that crime is more of a problem then it really is. This in turn allows the same public officials to push their real agenda, which is a ‘Tough on Crime’ approach and the public votes to pass tough on crime laws cause they believe the myths their constantly being fed through the media.”
“Ok … ” The Professor wove her way through the tables in the class as she spoke and listened. “But before we move on, can you please elaborate on what the ‘Tough on Crime’ approach is and how it applies to prisons failing to live up to their namesake as Mr. Emillo insinuated?”
“Which leads me to my second reason.” Continued Tre-Dub. “The ‘Tough on Crime’ approach began in the Reagan Era of the Eighties and continues today. It emphasized the need to arrest & punish anyone who had, or was assumed to have committed a crime, rather than focusing on rehabilitating them. This approach has caused the U.S. prison population to increase six fold over the years and is ingrained within the minds of all agents of the Criminal Justice System, including officials who run the prison industrial complex. Everyone is making a killing, just like back in slavery days. So because of this, ideas such as ‘Correcting,’ ‘Reforming’ or ‘Rehabilitating’ usually takes a back seat to incarceration and punishment. Especially when it comes to the racially marginalized.”
“OH MY GOSH! Here we go again!” Jake threw his hands into the air dramatically. “Everyone and the system is only against the brotha man, huh?”
“It’s true!” Tre-Dub shot back. “Everyone knows that enslaving or imprisoning people of color has always been part of the structural design of this country. And when slavery was abolished, the Criminal Justice System became the ultimate solution to address the so-called ‘problem’ of having free blacks in America. Therefore mass incarceration has turned into nothing more then a modem day form of slavery with one goal in mind, to enslave people of color! ”
“You’re right.” Jake bluntly agreed. “Considering how apparent the racial disparity within the system is, one would be a fool to ignore your facts. However, Political Scientist Herbert Jacob once observed that the Criminal courts have become ‘fundamental courts against the poor.’ Which means nowadays, another fact of the matter is, that this modem day slavery isn’t just incarcerating minorities, it’s systematically targeting anyone within the lower classes.”
“Ok, I can get behind that.” Responded Tre-Dub.
“You’d be a fool not to.” Continued Jake. “Street crimes are considered ‘lower class’ crimes, while ‘white collar’ crimes are considered upper class crimes. And everyone knows that white collar crimes are punished way less severely then street crimes even though the damage and harm committed by one white collar crime is usually worse than all the street crimes put together.”
“That’s a very good point Jake.” The Professor noted. “Can you give us an example?”
“Well think of these big corporations dumping toxic waste in small towns drinking water for years, causing all kinds of diseases including cancers.” He began explaining. “Or automotive companies failing to adequately test their vehicles and sending unsafe, defective cars into the public, or pharmaceutical companies rushing their products to market without properly notifying the public of all its side effects! These crimes kill and effect thousands of citizens yearly! But you don’t hear about anyone being held criminally responsible in these cases! You don’t see none of these big time executives or CEO’s being sentenced to death for mass murders or sentenced to twenty, thirty, or forty years for essentially assaulting whole communities!”
“True that!” Someone yelled in agreement.
“All very good, relevant points gentlemen, both of which deserve a fair share of attention and I’m glad you brought them up.” The Professor assertively reeled the class back in before it got too far off track. “However, one of you brought up the ‘Goals’ of the system. So who can tell me what the textbook says are the goals that the Criminal Justice System strives to achieve?”
“I guess I’ll take this one.” Jake stated sitting up in his chair. “Somebody has to keep the discussion contextual.”
“Look at you acting all proper with your ol’ kiss-ass self.” Emilio clowned.
“Jus’ like a uppity white man.” Laughed Tre-Dub.
“Hey, you people could learn a lot from some proper etiquette.” Jake shot.
“YOU PEOPLE!” Yelled the rest of the class in unison, raining down a storm of all sorts of objects in Jake’s direction.
“Come on now!” Jake pleaded while protecting his head. “Y’all know y’all is my peeps. It’s all luv guys!”
“Well you better remember that if you want to remain our token white homie.” Lucci replied, playfully throwing one last object at Jake.
To the delight of the Professor Jake continued with the lesson without further distraction. “A’ight now, getting back on track.” He said. “The first goal of the Criminal Justice System is to control and prevent crime. This goal, under the guise of keeping the public safe, apprehends and punishes people who have committed crimes and supposedly prevents crime through deterring tactics such as increased police presence and incarceration.”
“I like how you used words such as ‘Guise’ and ‘Supposedly’ in your definition homie.” Interjected Phon. “Makes me think you don’t totally agree.”
“How can I?” Jake rhetorically asked. “I mean the system professes to be protecting the public however, apprehending and punishing people are reactive responses to crime, not preventive.”
“EXACTLY!” Seconded Cypher. ”Now you’re speaking truth! Hiring and training a military styled police force as well as passing harsher laws do nothing but raise the incarceration rate. To balance this states are forced to cut funding from essential social programs and childhood education, then reallocate those funds to police and prisons. This backward thinking goes against the ‘protecting the public or preventing crime’ rhetoric. If that was the true goal then they would be pouring money into education and youth programs as well as raising wages in order to keep up with the rising cost of living.”
“PREACH!” Hollered Lucci.
Jake nodded his head in agreement as well. “Now.” He said, resuming his answer. “The second ‘supposed’ goal of the criminal justice system is to achieve justice by protecting all citizens from the crime of governmental abuse of power. Even those who are accused of committing a crime have individual rights and freedoms, which are expressed in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. So this second goal usually clashes with the first goal ‘cause it forces the agents of the system (e.g., police, court officials, and prison staff), to abide by certain laws while they control and prevent crime … Advocates of the first goal, mostly the agents of the criminal justice system, often complain that the second goal restricts their ability to properly do their job, however, they enjoy the same rights and freedoms they complain about.”
“Very astute answers Jake.” The Professor had worked her way back to the front of the class. “Are those all of the goals of the Criminal Justice System?” Her hint was obvious.
“Nope.” Replied Jake, to the delight of the class. “The last goal is to express certain moral values upon any issue of the day. This goal is objectionable since the morals and values being expressed usually reflect those of the controlling class and shouldn’t always be forced upon the rest of us.”
A round of applause erupted as Jake finished his statement.
[Stay tuned, more to follow…]