Fussin’, Cussin’, and Discussin’ among South Los Angeles Juvenile Gangs

This week in North Philly Notes, John C. Quicker and Akil S. Batani-Khalfani, coauthors of Before Crips, provide a historical analysis of South Los Angeles juvenile gang life as revealed by those who were there.

Before Crips is the first book on juvenile street gangs with co-authorship by a Black and a White author. One of us never left the streets, the other never let the streets leave him, and we both found refuge in professional careers and academia where we met. Over the almost forty years we have known each other we have developed profound respect and trust, forming a bond that permitted us to go places and do things that neither could have done alone. We have fussed, cussed, and discussed with one another during this time over more issues than we can recall, deepening our understanding, strengthening our analysis, and clarifying our resolve of doing what needed to be done to fill a vast hole in the academic literature on street gangs.

We recognized that unless we knew where we’d been, we were limited in knowing where we are. By using broad-based first-person interviews with key street figures, we gave voice to the unheard and space for their extensive narratives. We spoke to them in their neighborhoods, where they were comfortable, encouraging them to expound on what they knew. We augmented our written imagery with unique period photos of pre-Crip and Blood street group members and an artfully constructed map of 1950s South Los Angeles.

A major critique of gang research has been the spin put on the analysis by the use of data, which when infused with accepted or unrecognized political ideologies can result in the creation of “facts” when, in the wisdom of Otto Lindenmeyer, actual history has been “lost, stolen, or strayed.” Say it often enough and loud enough, leave it unchallenged, and myths become transmogrified into facts.

This is what happened with Crip and Blood gangs: they appeared to drop from the sky into the “hellhole” identified as South-Central Los Angeles, then spread like a virus to other “innocent” cities around the planet. Their formation was often simplistically associated with the Black Power movements of the 1960s. Ignored by these analyses was the powerful role played by racism, social class, power imbalances, and the differences between adult and juvenile gangs. Crip and Blood became symbolic with danger, giving any group that adopted these names their 20 minutes of fame – immediately. All communities, we hypothesize, with so-named juvenile gangs in most cases adopted the name.

Since 1946, Carey McWilliams noted, the population of Los Angeles has contained “important elements of every racial strain that has gone into the making of the American people.” Its wide-open spaces permitted various groups to remain invisible when their numbers were small. This was especially the case for Black people, whose presence was unproblematic until the demographic landscape was reconfigured by World War II. Hangout street groups of Black juveniles soon became targets for official opprobrium, following most notably in the path established by Mexican street groups, whose recognition preceded them. Similar to the Mexican groups, they were transformed into gangs. Gangs became an acronym for Grab Another Non-White Group.

By describing the street groups existent before the infamous Crips and Bloods, we show that they, while no angels, were also not the devils justice agencies and the media wanted voters to believe they were. Male juveniles fought, primarily with their fists, over jealousy and honor because of a comin’-from-the-shoulders ethic that eschewed the use of guns. Female juveniles hung-out with them and were involved in their escapades, but female behavior was more mediated by traditional values. Limited resources and legitimate opportunities contributed to theft among both genders, while Illegal drugs, which were available in limited quantities, but were of weak pecuniary value, were used and sold infrequently.

We concur with Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr, who write, “Americans have always been given to a kind of historical amnesia that masks much of their turbulent path.” This amnesia has also characterized our understanding of juvenile groups, and allowed us to perceive them as a foreign other, permitting the imposition of an unwarranted contempt. We note that the clichéd question, often raised by juvenile justice proponents, of why would juveniles join gangs is more answerable when turned around: why wouldn’t they?

Juveniles have been involved in same-sexed peer groups—with names—since before the dawn of capitalism. It is only over the past hundred or so years that these groups have become termed gangs. In Los Angeles pre-Crip and Blood street groups were not the essence of evil as is so often depicted, and imposed on us from an alien world—they were made in America. If they have gotten worse, it is because our society has gotten worse.

Images from the recent American Political Science Association meeting

This week in North Philly Notes we showcase the authors who stopped by the Temple University Booth at the recent American Political Science Association meeting to pose with their books.

Temple University Press’s booth

Sara Rinfret, editor of Who Really Makes Environmental Policy?: Creating and Implementing Environmental Rules and Regulations. This book provides a clear understanding of regulatory policy and rulemaking processes, and their centrality in U.S. environmental policymaking.

Shamira Gelbman, author of The Civil Rights Lobby: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Second Reconstruction. This book investigates how minority group, labor, religious, and other organizations worked together to lobby for civil rights reform during the 1950s and ’60s.

Luis Felipe Mantilla, author of How Political Parties Mobilize Religion: Lessons from Mexico and Turkey, which analyzes the evolution of Catholic and Sunni Muslim parties to study religious political mobilization in comparative perspective.

Rachel Bernhard (left) and Mirya Holman (right), coeditors of Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, which examines how and why women run for office.

Paul Djupe, coeditor of The Evangelical Crackup?: The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition, which explains evangelicalism’s relationship to the party system.

Djupe is also the editor of the Press’ Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics series.

Amanda Friesen and Paul Djupe, are coeditors of the forthcoming An Epidemic among My People: Religion, Politics, and COVID-19 in the United States, which asks, Did religion make the pandemic worse or help keep it contained?

Richardson Dilworth, author of the forthcoming Reforming Philadelphia, 1682-2022, a short but comprehensive political history of the city, from its founding in 1682 to the present day. Dilworth is also the editor of the Press’ Political Lessons from American Cities series.

Identity Politics and Racialized Gang Conflict

This week in North Philly Notes, Robert Weide, author of Divide & Conquer, writes about growing up surrounded by racial division and sectarian conflict.

Since I was a child, racial divisions and gang conflicts have permeated my experience. I grew up in Los Angeles, the reputed “gang capitol” of the United States, during the peak years of the violent crime rate in the late 1980s and 1990s. I was 15 years old in the peak year of violent crime in Los Angeles (and the nation) in 1993. Like many children my age, I joined a neighborhood crew that could be described as a gang at the age of 13. The principle draw for my associations and affiliations was that that I was of mixed-race heritage. Having always been excluded from every category in America’s racial taxonomy, I found a sense of belonging and camaraderie with my homeboys.

Ours was a sort of junior gang known colloquially as “tagbangers”, associated by friendships and family with the two predominantly Latino Sureño affiliated gangs in our community, Culver City 13 and 18 Street, each of whom were embroiled in racialized conflicts with African American Crip and Blood affiliated gangs respectively. While gang violence was endemic to our existence at the time and funerals for boys and young men were a regularly occurring ritual in our world, one particular murder, that occurred less than a month after my 18th birthday, had an indelible impact on me. I recount the narrative of my friend Eddie’s murder at the hand of an African American Blood affiliated gang member in the opening stanza of my book. At the time we took for granted the presumption that predominantly Latino Sureño and predominantly African American Crip and Blood affiliated gangs were natural enemies and the animosity that carried over both gang and racial lines seemed as inevitable to us as the sky is blue.

I wasn’t until I became educated that I began to question how and why we had found ourselves in those racialized gang identities and how those oppositional identities served to orient us in conflict with one another across racialized gang lines. After reading about the history of capitalism, the race concept, and nationalist ideology, I realized that our fratricidal blood feuds only served to insulate the real cause of our frustration and anger, the ruling classes whose wealth and privilege only exist at our expense. That epiphany melted away decades of racial resentment and sectarian hostility I had harbored compelling me to finally realize that there is no them and us, there’s just us. That is the epiphany that I hope this book brings to many other young men like me both in the U.S. context and around the world—that we have been used for generations as the instruments of our own oppression, fighting one another instead of defending one another in the face of skyrocketing wealth stratification, burgeoning neo-fascist movements, and impending ecological collapse.

As a result of my education I also realized that the race concept, nationalist ideology, and the contemporary identity politics so pervasive in academia and the media are the conceptual tools that American oligarchy uses to compel us to oppose one another, just as white supremacy did for generations before us (and in many ways still does today). That is why I wrote this book, not just to examine racialized gang conflict, but, moreover, to expose the conceptual foundations of racialized sectarian conflict in contemporary America and the modern world at large. The foundations of these conflicts are predicated on and continue to be perpetuated by purveyors of identity politics in academia and the media. This book is an attempt to challenge those who perpetuate identity division and sectarian conflict.

Only by understanding the history of how we have been divided can we discard our oppositional identities and instead join in solidarity to resist our collective oppression. While I harbor little hope of dissuading the contemporary purveyors of identity politics in academia and the media who are personally and professionally invested in perpetuating identity divisions in our society, my ambition is that the book I have written will trigger the same epiphany I had in scholars who have not staked their careers on promoting division and conflict, and most importantly, provoke that epiphany in the parties to sectarian conflicts themselves, particularly gang members. Facing unprecedented wealth stratification, burgeoning neo-fascist movements, and ecological calamity the likes of which the human race has never known, we cannot miss the opportunity to put our differences aside and join in solidarity to save our children’s future before it’s too late.

Celebrating National Library Week

This week, in North Philly Notes, in honor of National Library Week, we highlight Temple University Press’ Open Access books, journals, and collaborations

Labor Studies and Work From its start, Temple University Press has been known for publishing significant titles in labor studies. Given this long history, many of these titles have gone out of print. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Press, in collaboration with Temple University Libraries, reissued 32 outstanding labor studies books in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats and made them freely available online. Chosen by an advisory board of scholars, labor studies experts, publishers, and librarians, each book contains a new foreword by a prominent scholar, reflecting on the content and placing it in historical context.

The grant enabled us to reissue the eight-volume The Black Worker series.

Knowledge Unlatched makes scholarly content freely available to everyone and contributes to the further development of the Open Access infrastructure. KU’s online marketplace provides libraries and institutions worldwide with a central place to support OA collections and models from leading publishing houses and new OA initiative.

Read an interview with Press author Jennifer Fredette, whose book, Constructing Muslims in Francwas one of the first KU titles. 

One of the recent Press titles in the Knowledge Unlatched program is Islam, Justice, and Democracy, by Sabri Ciftci.

We publish the open access journal, Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Political Science Association. In 2021 Commonwealth published a special issue on women in Pennsylvania politics.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM22 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends March 31, 2022.

New Titles

Elaine Black Yoneda: Jewish Immigration, Labor Activism, and Japanese American Exclusion and Incarceration, by Rachel Schreiber, recounts the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her incarcerated Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp.

Are You Two Sisters: The Journey of a Lesbian Couple, by Susan Krieger, authored by one of the most respected figures in the field of personal ethnographic narrative, this book serves as both a memoir and a sociological study, telling the story of one lesbian couple’s lifelong journey together.

From our Backlist:

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

Gangs on Trial: From the Corner to the Court

This week in North Philly Notes, John Hagedorn, author of Gangs on Trial, writes about why and how gang members are stereotyped and demonized in the courtroom.

I have spent more time in courtrooms the last few decades than I have on street corners or playgrounds. Over the same period, I have written many more court reports as an expert witness than I have journal articles as an academic. Why? Turning my attention to “gangs in court” was a conscious choice based on some fundamental beliefs I have on the uses of research and on my determination to challenge injustice.

First, the question raised by sociologist Alfred McClung Lee, “Sociology for whom?” has long streamed through my head on a continuous loop. Lee’s 1976 presidential address to the American Sociological Association attacked careerism in sociology. My mentor, Joan Moore, as well as my role model, Kenneth Clark, both argued that research should consciously benefit the community or it would be used by elites for their own interests. Clark’s haunting question, “What is the value of a soulless truth?” became my credo, accompanying my slogan, “Research not stereotypes.” From my first study on gangs in Milwaukee, I was conscious of the implications of my research. In the 1980s I told my People & Folks respondents—the “top dogs” of gangs in Milwaukee—that the purpose of my research was to provide evidence that “jobs not jails” was a better solution to Milwaukee’s gang problem.     

In other words, I believe research needs to be understood outside of “truth for its own sake,” and deliberately designed to benefit those in powerless communities, especially those who are stigmatized and demonized. If social scientists will not defend the powerless, what values do we have? Did we understand sociologist C. Wright Mills when he called on social scientists to challenge the rationalization of society?  

Second, I realized frustration/aggression theories of violence are not only applicable to the streets. Just go to any trial of a gang member and listen to the angry tone of the prosecutor saying the community is “fed up” with gang violence and wants… well, prosecutors often say “justice” when they mean “revenge.”

Social psychologist Craig Haney teaches us that sentencing is not based so much on the criminal acts of flawed human beings, but on the belief the accused has an evil character—“unstoppable evil” was what one of my defendants was called. Evidence of the criminal act is secondary to what prosecutors believe is the less than human nature of the accused. Demonization was taken literally in one of my first cases, when the defendants were labeled “Followers of Our Lord King Satan”, a law enforcement make-believe acronym for Georgia’s FOLKS gang.

Violence is hard, sociologist Randall Collins concluded, and in order to justify it and overcome our deeply embedded inhibitions. Philosopher David Livingston Smith argues the victim needs first to be dehumanized. On the streets rival gang members are called “Slobs” or “Crabs” or some other non-human appellation. You are killing an “it” not a “he” or “she.” I found that is precisely how it works in the courtroom, with a predictable racist tinge. Gang members, typically Black or Hispanic, are dehumanized—another of my defendants was called a “mad dog.” What do you do with a mad dog? If you can’t kill it, you lock it up and throw away the key. What better description is there of today’s sentencing policy? 

I began my expert witness work in 1996 opposing a possible death penalty for Keith Harbin, who was then on trial. At that time, there were few academics willing to consult with the defense, and hesitant to risk the ire of law enforcement. There clearly was an unmet need. From the start, I saw my expert witness work as an extension of my social responsibility to confront racism and dehumanizing policies and practices. 

So, it is as simple as that. My “life in court”—and this book—are the results of my particular circumstances, the general punitive nature of today’s mass incarceration society, and my belief in the social responsibility of research.

Watch a video of John Hagedorn talking about his book here.

What is past is prologue: A century of gangs in the United States

This week in North Philly Notes, Scott Decker, David Pyrooz, and James Densley, the coauthors of On Gangs take a look back at gangs in American society.

Like most social phenomena, gangs are dynamic. The structure, membership, activities and relationships among gangs and gang members change over time and space. Against this backdrop of evolving gang life, there are some common findings. Levels of involvement in crime, gender imbalance, short-term membership, and a loosely structured organization remain common features of gangs historically and geographically.

On Gangs examines transcendent and emerging issues in the understanding of gangs. The book is motivated by a simple, but sometimes elusive principle; understanding should bring about fairer, more just and effective policies, practices, and programs. The study of gangs has had an important job to do in this regard. Explaining the increase in gang membership during the crack cocaine epidemic, rising gun violence, mass incarceration and the role of technology (particularly computer-mediated communication) in conflict, crime and the response to crime are all topics that gang research has tackled.  

If asked to identify a single finding from gang research, policy, and practice, we would point to the enhanced involvement in crime that accompanies gang membership. Simply put, gang membership increases involvement in crime, particularly violent crime, and increases the risk of victimization, resulting in loss, debilitating injury, and, tragically, death. Group processes in gangs are what land gang members in jail or prison, dimming their chances for education, employment, housing, and participation in many civic activities. Gang membership impedes adolescents and young adults from participating in the very activities that social scientists expect to either prevent them from further criminal involvement or enable them to reverse their involvement in crime. From this perspective, addressing mass incarceration and the pipeline from schools and the streets to prison is a key issue to address through economic and social policy.

The field has learned a good deal about gangs in the past three decades. The pace and volume of gang research increased dramatically as data improved and a broader range of scholars grappled with understanding involvement in and consequences of gang membership. Critical issues such as the involvement of women in gangs, the role of technology in gang joining and activities, the spread of US-style gangs to other countries, and the changing structure of gang membership are all features of the book.

On Gangs also provides comprehensive assessments of the role of gender and masculinities in gangs, immigration, race, and ethnicity, the changing role of imprisonment in gang life, and a sober assessment not only of gang “programming” but also of how criminologists must go about assessing the impact of a wide range of interventions from prevention through confinement. We take a critical look at policing gangs in the 21st century and the emergence and expansion of controversial anti-gang legislation. We take the “What Works” question head on and offer objective frameworks for assessing the impact of a wide range of policies and practices.

One measure of the importance of gangs in American society can be gauged by their role in popular culture, particularly movies and music. As we note in the book, “Gangster Movies” are just as old as academic gang research. James Cagney and Jean Harlow, two of the biggest names in Hollywood starred in The Public Enemy in 1931, one of the first portrayals of gangs and gang members on screen. West Side Story debuted in 1961, and now sixty years later has been remade by Steven Spielberg. And Al Pacino’s Scarface continues to serve as inspiration for gang members; in some cases, Tony Montana’s rags to riches story is a blueprint for their gang careers. Public fascination with gangs, gang members and gang activity certainly help spin myths about gangs (e.g., once you join a gang, you can never leave; gangs are highly organized; women are “appendages” to male gangs; prison gangs run the streets, etc.), which often have negative consequences. Such myths impair our ability to build consensus about gang interventions, secure funding and public support for such interventions and spread fear and racial animus.

As comprehensive as On Gangs is, it is not the final word. There will be new challenges—globalization, climate change, continued demographic churning, the changing nature and structure of employment, virtual life and the metaverse—that will alter the character of social relations and social structure. Certainly, gangs will be affected by and have effects on the social orders to come. It is our contention that the accumulated knowledge on gangs be viewed with a critical lens and be used to shape future perceptions of and responses to gangs and gang members.

What will work eventually look like?

This week in North Philly Notes, we focus on our new and forthcoming Labor Studies titles in honor of Labor Day.

 Workforce Development 

The Many Futures of Work reframes the conversation about contemporary workplace experience by providing both “top down” and “bottom up” analyses.  

America in the 20thcentury

Becoming Entitled examines Americans’ shift in thinking about government social insurance programs during the Great Depression.

Communists and Community shows what role Communists played in the advancement of social democracy. 

Elaine Black Yoneda (forthcoming) presents a critical biography of the Jewish labor activist and feminist pioneer. 

Industrial histories

“A Road to Peace and Freedom recounts the history of the International Workers Order.

From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging analyzes the expansion and restriction of collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Social justice and social welfare 

Motherlands challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers. 

Labor economics 

Daily Labors and its examination of Black and Latino day laborers’ experience on an NYC street corner.

Sociology of work 

A Collective Pursuit argues that teachers’ unions are working in community to reinvigorate the collective pursuit of reforms beneficial to both educators and public education.

Policing in Natural Disasters shows how disaster work impacts law enforcement officers and first responders.

Making Their Days Happen (forthcoming) explores the complexities of the interpersonal dynamics and policy implications affecting personal assistance service consumers and providers.

For all of our Labor Studies

Religion and politics mix – what matters is how they mix

This week in North Philly Notes, L. Felipe Mantilla, author of How Political Parties Mobilize Religion, writes about the rise of religious political parties.

A glance at global headlines suggests that religion is playing an ever-growing role in electoral politics. Islamist parties have become fixtures in Muslim-majority countries from Morocco to Indonesia, conservative Catholics are entrenched in Poland, Evangelicals flex their political muscles in Brazil, and Hindu nationalists are dominant across much of India. In all these settings, secularists often express fear that the political success of religious groups will threaten democratic institutions and endanger minorities.

My new book, How Political Parties Mobilize Religion: Lessons from Mexico and Turkey, aims to bring some nuance to the debates prompted by the rise of religious political parties. One of its main arguments is that religion often enters the electoral arena, but that it can do so in strikingly different ways. Religious mobilization by political parties is not monolithic, and secular laws and religious leaders can have a great deal of influence on how religious parties behave in practice.

In the United States, for example, the idea of a clear separation between church and state is embedded in American political tradition. Yet religion and partisanship are clearly intertwined. Candidates often speak publicly about faith, craft appeal to religious voters, and place their personal beliefs on public display. While churches risk losing their tax-exempt status if they engage in explicitly partisan activities, these restrictions are widely disregarded in practice. Given electoral laws that favor a two-party system, religious activists operate within broader coalitions rather than form their own party organizations. As a result, both Democrats and Republicans engage in religious mobilization.

Still, there is a great deal of diversity in how political parties engage with religion. Consider the contrast between the religious services attended by Donald Trump and Joseph Biden on the eve of the 2020 election. Biden sat at a pew in St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church and was treated like a regular parishioner; his presence was not mentioned in the sermon. Trump, attending an evangelical congregation in Las Vegas, was repeatedly praised and blessed, declared to be “lighting a bright light for God and for all those who believe in a good America, a noble America, a righteous America,” and was invited to speak to the congregation.

In my book, I argue that much of this difference can be explained by the contrasting patterns of religious organization among Evangelicals and Catholics. Individual leaders of Evangelical churches can benefit from the fervor and national visibility that brazen partisanship brings, even if their stances alienate most Americans and potentially antagonize elected officials. In contrast, the contemporary Catholic Church is a hierarchical, transnational organization, and as such is more wary of the potential costs of partisanship. Gaining a thousand devout converts by antagonizing millions is fine, perhaps even smart, if you are running a local church but makes little sense if you are leading a world religion.

These differences are not unique to the United States. In Peru’s recent elections, the absence of effective legal restrictions on religious partisanship created an opening for religious political mobilization. In that Catholic-majority country, it led some lay Catholics to launch campaigns based on appeals to religious values and identities. However, Catholic leaders largely withheld their blessing, preferring to make broad statements about the importance of electoral participation. In contrast, many clerics linked with Peru’s rapidly growing Evangelical minority engaged in openly partisan activities, such as praying with specific candidates and organizing events on their behalf.

My book also shows that changes in the rules and regulations governing elections can affect the mobilizing strategies used by religious parties. In 1950s Mexico, electoral rules that disadvantaged opposition parties drove away all but the most committed activists, many of whom were devout Catholics. This left opposition parties dependent on religious activists. As legal reforms gradually made it easier for challengers to gain seats, they began to attract more diverse supporters and the relative influence of religious activists waned. In Turkey in the 1970s, electoral laws gave a competitive edge to small parties. Religious activists took note and formed specialized organizations that catered exclusively to devout voters. However, when constitutional reforms made it harder for these organizations to gain seats in parliament, religious politicians reorganized and moderated their policy proposals to appeal to more mainstream voters. In both cases, religious activists responded strategically to incentives created by electoral laws.

In other words, it makes little sense to support or condemn religious political engagement in general. In democratic settings, religion and political parties are bound to interact. What matters is how political parties engage with religion, and that is something that can be shaped by legal reforms and religious leadership.

The Roots of Migrant Suffering

This week in North Philly Notes, Jamie Longazel and Miranda Cady Hallett, editor of Migration and Mortality, consider the lethal threat U.S. imperialism poses for migrants.

During a June visit to Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris had a simple, three-word message for those thinking about migrating to the United States: “Do not come.” Her stern statement received pushback from progressives, but Harris remained unwavering. “Listen,” she said, “I’m really clear we have to deal with the root causes and that is my focus. Period.”

But what exactly are the ‘root causes’ of the so-called migrant crisis? Who in actuality is being harmed and in what ways? Who is benefiting? And what is missing from political rhetoric of this sort?

We take on these questions in our new, edited book, Migration and Mortality. Our central argument is that capitalism, white supremacy, and U.S. imperialism—not poor individual choices or inherently despotic tendencies in the region—are at the root of death and social suffering among migrants in the Americas.

Simply saying “do not come” overlooks how systemic dynamics produce displacement in the Americas. It also changes the narrative. When it becomes an issue of individual choice, we lose sight of all the unnecessary social and biological death migrants experience, not just along the deadly U.S.-Mexico border and in detention centers, but at home, on the streets, and at work—in high-risk extractive industries and on the plantations of large agribusiness.

The Trump administration’s spectacularly harsh policies as well as the exclusion and risks faced by asylum seekers and other migrants during the coronavirus pandemic have brought this violence into sharp focus. Yet Migration and Mortality makes clear that these dynamics, and the harsh and undeniable differential mortality they reproduce, are bipartisan and longstanding.

The current conditions of violence faced by transnational migrants in this hemisphere are the product of long histories of U.S. interventionism. Without apology, ongoing policies from the Monroe Doctrine forward overtly seek regional control and domination, spurring violence and destabilization.

Domestically, brought on by a lethal mix of fearmongering, economic anxieties related to global restructuring, and the continued reactionary response to basic civil and human rights reforms, we’re seeing a rapid rise in xenophobic discourses and policies. Other forms of legal exclusion, too, threaten migrants’ lives: health policies that discriminate on the basis of status and labor law that fails to protect migrant workers, for example.

From our description, you may assume that we, like many others, argue that “the system is broken” and requires comprehensive reform. Our conclusion is a bit different: the system works just as it should for the most powerful and that is why it continues. Immigration policies and enforcement regimes underpin a system designed to give parasitic capitalists and corporations the ability to extract wealth from migrant bodies with impunity.

While this analysis frames the book, the chapters present diverse research reports and essays—drawing on empirical work from public health to cultural anthropology, and bringing critical social theory to bear on the devastating details. While some contributions trace the profiteering of private prison companies, for example, others describe migrants’ experiences of risk and solidarity through qualitative research with impacted communities.

Contributing authors also make a point to stay attuned to migrants’ survival and agency. Because even when non-migrants are sympathetic to the plight of people on the move, we have a tendency to dehumanize, to paint migrants as helpless victims. This is the other thing Harris gets wrong: of course her command won’t cause Guatemalans to relinquish their human urge to survive at all costs. The stories in our book are horrific, to be sure, but each also reveals people fighting back, engaging in collective resistance and personal resilience, and using solidarity and ingenuity to persist—not always surviving as individuals, yet enduring as a collective.

%d bloggers like this: