Episode 68: A New Gun Control Debate - Dismantling Our Racist ‘Lock ’Em Up’ Approach

Citations Needed | March 6, 2019 | Transcript

Citations Needed
46 min readMar 6, 2019


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

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Adam: Yeah, and as always a reminder if you sign up for Patreon we have Patreon specific content. It’s about 36 News Briefs, about 15 hours of content that you can’t find on the normal public podcasting apps. So that’s one of the other perks you get for signing on Patreon. That Patreon content helps subsidize the episodes themselves which will always be free, for now and for the end of time.

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Nima: Newtown, Connecticut. Aurora, Colorado. Parkland, Florida. Silver Springs, Texas. We recognize these cities by their most infamous and senseless incidents: mass shootings. An uptick in mass shootings over the past decade — one that is well documented and indisputable — has provided the cultural and media context for a corollary effort by big city mayors and certain states to push for harsher, more severe gun laws.

Adam: Our response to these national tragedies is understandable: curb gun possession at all costs. But what if, in this rush to respond to the carnage, states and cities, backed by billionaire funding from the likes of Mike Bloomberg, are simply helping feed mass incarceration by turning to the all familiar carceral approach to public safety issues?

Nima: This week, we’re going to explore the centering of white, establishment moneyed interests in the gun control debate, a debate that more often than not focuses disproportionately on enacting longer, more severe prison sentences that uniformly criminalize Black and Latino youth, rather than direct resources to programs that reduce the primary driver of gun violence, that is poverty.

Adam: We’ll also discuss the heavily racialized history of gun control, how a tough on crime approach is making a come back using contemporary woke-ese and why pro-police elites like Bloomberg would rather attack the demand than the supply: going after low level possession rather than gun manufacturers because the same manufactures who arm mass shooters are the same that arm the Pentagon and Bloomberg’s beloved New York City Police Department.

Nima: We are joined today by two guests. The first is Dan Denvir, host of Jacobin’s The Dig podcast.

[Begin Clip]

Dan Denvir: The same systems of mass punishment that target poor Black Americans in the name of preventing gun violence or protecting them from gun violence, those systems are part in parcel of a violent system that amongst many other horrible things makes those poor Black Americans vulnerable to gun violence.

[End Clip]

Nima: We’ll also speak with Sharone Mitchell Jr., a former Cook County assistant public defender who is now Deputy Director of the Illinois Justice Project.

[Begin Clip]

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: The problem is that we really equate policing with peace. So instead of really thinking about how do we make folks’ experience different so that they don’t commit violent acts, we say, well, the only way we can stop that is through doubling down on policing and policing is the way that we’re going to get peace. It’s a shallow approach and really it hurts communities.

[End Clip]

Adam: So one thing before we dig into this topic, I think it is important to establish, is the extent to which — two things. Number one, I want to make it clear that we’re not really bashing people who fight for gun control. We’re not looking at this on an interpersonal level. I know Nima we talked about this, but we want to be super careful to not look like we’re sort of bashing, you know —

Nima: People who want fewer guns everywhere. That’s really important.

Adam: Yeah. We’re making a systemic critique about why certain solutions invariably rise to the top and why other solutions invariably go nowhere. This is a dialectical criticism, it is not a commentary on the moral failing of individuals within the gun control movement.

Nima: Right. Because this is a really, really hard thing to actually advocate for.

Adam: It’s super hard and it’s hard to get right and we want to make sure that we are not punching down or even sideways. And the second thing we want to establish is that the ways in which the media talk about gun control and the ways in which they even frame polling of gun control is we think extremely problematic because so much is laundered into wildly varying responses to how one views the generic phrase stricter gun laws. So there was a recent poll on NPR that had a half a dozen write ups in Vox and The Washington Post on the one year anniversary of the Parkland shootings in Parkland, Florida in February of 2018 and they found out that support for gun control had actually been going down for the last 30 years after having a slight tick up in the last few years because of these, these sort of mass shootings. The actual polling question is very typical, it says quote, “Do you think the laws covering the sale of guns should be more strict, less strict or kept as they are now?”

Nima: Right. So the key word to kind of examine here and, you know, on this show we talk about language and how language is used so often in our politics and our media, so the kind of key word there is “strict,” right? So should the laws be more strict, less strict or kept as they are? And so strict is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Strict in what way? What does strictness mean? Uh, removing legal protection for gun manufacturers? Or longer more severe prison sentences for possession? So, you know, part of what we really want to argue today is that the media is asking all the wrong questions about this issue and by lumping non-carceral solutions, non kind of punitive punishment based efforts alongside carceral ones, alongside the ones that just enhance mass incarceration by design, by doing that, the media really lays the groundwork for an increase of the ladder to really provide a foundation for consistently promoting more police presence and more kind of rising prison population rates.

Adam: So this bears out in the actual racial breakdown of the data if you actually look closely. You have to look somewhat strenuously and it’s difficult to find, but you can actually find racial breakups of how people want to approach the word strict, right? So it’s true that African Americans in general support stricter gun laws at a higher rate than whites. But then these numbers are inverted when one asks about a specific solution involving prison sentences and taking away the rights of so-called felons. So there was a GenForward poll in 2016 that focused on young African Americans between the ages of 18 and 30. So they asked the question of do you “support stiffer penalties for people convicted of violating existing gun laws?” Which is to say do you support people going to prison longer. And they found African American support was only 80 percent whereas white support was 92 percent and Latinos more or less kind of split the difference at 88 percent.

Nima: Yeah. So you’ll see that once you actually break down what strict means the support for it really varies. So there’ve also been Quinnipiac polls in October and November of 2017 that again shows higher support from African Americans for the questions of, you know, gun control policies. But there’s a question that touches on penalizing people for going through the criminal justice system. So there’s a question from the October 2017 poll which says, “Do you support or oppose a nationwide ban on the sale of guns to people who have been convicted of violent crimes?” And so you’ll see there again, Black respondents favor that at a rate of 79 percent, Hispanic respondents at 85 percent and white support is obviously on the higher end at 88 percent.

Adam: And you see this also with polling about banning gun sales to people who are quote unquote “violent criminals,” uh, whites support it at about 11 points higher than the African Americans 94 to 83 percent. So the data bears this out repeatedly that when you talk about gun control and the abstract African American supported higher than whites. But when you start to drill down about what that means and you start talking about carceral solutions, the numbers are inverted. Now, of course, the majority of African Americans still support stricter gun laws, but white people are extremely excited and happy to have them way more than African Americans are. And I think for too long, these two tracks, the carceral and non-carceral solutions have been kind of lumped together. And I think the sort of general thesis of this particular episode is that really when we, when the media talks about gun control and when people talk about gun control in popular discourse in both intra and inter left-wing, I think we really need to be careful to delineate between carceral and non-carceral solutions, those which would involve long prison sentences and those which involve other means of trying to curb gun usage from antipoverty programs to holding gun manufacturers and gun suppliers legally and criminally liable.

Nima: So something we like to do is also to look at the history of some of these issues, so disarmament laws were very common in colonial America. There were laws disarming groups such as slaves, free Blacks, Native Americans and those of mixed race ancestry. For example, Pennsylvania prohibited “any Negro” to “carry any Guns, Sword, Pistol, Fowling-Piece, Clubs, or other Arms or Weapons whatsoever” without “his Master’s special Licence.” At the same time, as Adam Winkler writes in his well-known book Gunfight, there were laws requiring white men to carry weapons in order to allegedly protect their settlements, their families, the white settlers from the Native population of the lands that they had been taking over. So one 1643 Connecticut law, for example, required men, white men obviously, to carry guns into churches and at public meetings with the express purpose to “prevent or withstand such sudden assaults as may be made” by Native Americans. There were many laws also outlawing the selling of firearms to Native Americans. In colonial Maryland they also barred Catholics from owning guns. Adam Winkler further notes that “After losing the Civil War, Southern states quickly adopted the Black Codes, laws designed to re-establish white supremacy by dictating what the freedmen could and couldn’t do. One common provision barred Blacks from possessing firearms. To enforce the gun ban, white men riding in posses began terrorizing Black communities. In January 1866, Harper’s Weekly reported that in Mississippi, such groups had ‘seized every gun and pistol found in the hands of the (so called) freedmen’ in parts of the state. The most infamous of these disarmament posses, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan.”

On May 2, 1967, 30 armed Black Panthers occupied the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento, CA.

Adam: And of course this extended to modern day. In 1967, then Governor Ronald Reagan, in California passed the Mulford Act, which prohibited open carry laws which was targeted specifically to the Black Panthers for publicly exercising their right to carry firearms, specifically shotguns, outside courtrooms and Capitol buildings. And I suspect that the racialized history of gun laws is something a sizable percentage of our listeners are aware of. It’s something you really have to orient to really talk about the contemporary discussion. Because even today, the terms, you know, they don’t especially say whites and Blacks, whites can have guns and Blacks can’t, but even terms like violent crime or violent felon or ex-felon laws are really just racial proxies.

Nima: Right. Inner cities and urban gun laws. Yeah.

Adam: Yeah. Long guns versus short guns. These are all kind of racial proxies. And so, you know, the NRA, when you talk about the bad guy with a gun dichotomy or the violent criminal, they’re more than happy to line up behind supporting those because that to them, you know, they are a fundamentally white supremacist organization and that to them is a racial proxy. Um, and there’s, you know, there’s not a coincidence that even more so in the last few years, the NRA’s become overtly a deeply partisan, deeply racist, deeply sort of overtly right-wing paranoid ideological institution that is really 100% committed to the possession of white gun ownership. And they’ll throw out a few token Black guys now and then to sort of reinforce that they’re not an overtly white supremacist organization, but these are sort of African Americans who traffic in a very specific type of cultural signaling that says, ‘Well, I’m one of the good ones,’ you know, ‘I’m rural’ or whatever. ‘I have a mesh cowboy hat’ or ‘I have a mesh trucker hat or cowboy hat.’ Uh, they sort of signify a kind of cultural association with whiteness. And this is something that we see carried out time and time again.

Nima: Yeah. The NRA actually puts out videos detailing some of that very racist history of gun control laws and yet they omit their own history in that. So, you know, basically putting forward the idea that they are fighting also for Black gun ownership, just alongside white ownership. Don’t say that the NRA actually at the time supported the Mulford Act and then soon thereafter, by the mid seventies, there was a real coup in the leadership of the NRA to make it explicitly white supremacist.

Adam: So in contemporaneous usage, one thing I think we want to drill down here is the way in which big city mayors like, like Michael Bloomberg and especially Rahm Emanuel, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago has passed several different and has helped lobby to pass at the state level, several different iterations of really, really strict severe gun control measures, which we’ll get into with our guests. And one of the ways he’s done that is he’s taken up mass shootings that have sort of struck the chord of Americans, and understandably so, and he has exploited them and done so in a way that is pretty overt. So The Chicago Tribune noted in the days after the Parkland shooting in February of 2018 they had an article about Rahm Emanuel’s latest attempt to pass really strict gun possession laws, which is to say laws that put people in prison for a very long time for the possession of automatic weapons, which he views as obviously a threat to his sort of war on crime. They made a somewhat tongue in cheek reference that Rahm Emanuel may have been a little bit cynical. They said, “The mayor said the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. earlier this month that left 17 dead had changed the political calculus across the country. Emanuel referred to the mass shootings that have happened in the United States as a series of crises.”

As former President Barack Obama’s onetime chief of staff, Emanuel famously declared during the economic recession that such a crisis should never go to waste, because it is an opportunity to drive change. Asked Monday, whether that well-known slogan applied to this moment, Emanuel repeated it, noting that “the second part of it is more important than the first.”

So he’s sort of saying, ‘Yes, I’m being a scumbag, but it’s really important we pass these laws.’ But of course this drive for carceral solutions, this kind of knee jerk carceral solution is really, what people don’t consider is that putting people in jail is itself a form of violence. It is just not on the ledger of violence when we’re sort of balancing the risk and the rewards, the sort of P&L, right? The kind of moral P&L, we’re not really putting prison sentences 4, 5, 6, 10 year extras for gun possession, we’re not putting that into the moral calculus.

Nima: Well, right. And so you also see this kind of, you know, desperate attempt to do something in the wake of these horrific acts of violence in the form of mass shootings that really, you know, get the public energized or at least certain elements of the public energized about this issue. They are, you know, seemingly so senseless, so horrifying that then in the kind of drive to again do something about it you see, for example, one of the like most inane and brain dead spectacles of maybe the past half decade on this issue. So after the Orlando massacre in June of 2016 that left nearly 50 people dead, Senate Democrats rushed to pass a law banning people on the terror watch list from being able to purchase guns. They even took the unprecedented step of staging a sit in to protest what they called quote “Republican obstructionism” something superficially appealing of course, right? I mean like let’s get the guns out of more and more people’s hands. But it doesn’t investigate what a crock of shit the terror watch list actually is. And it’s just really an arbitrary racist black list.

Adam: This was, in my years of media criticism, I gotta say, stupidest moments when like smart people were just checking their brain at the door. I got to say the whole like post-Orlando-Pulse-nightclub-terrorists-can’t-have-guns thing was probably the stupidest. And I say this knowing full well and again I say this with full sympathy that there’s just a sense that we need to get something done, right? But this was the absolute wrong way to do it. And it was so stupid that even like normal knee jerk Liberal Democrats, media outlets from Kevin Drum to Trevor Noah to Vox.com were like, ‘wait a second, this is stupid.’

Nima: Like this is really dumb. Yeah.

Adam: The terror watch list is super arbitrary and super racist and liberals had been opposing it for years. And you had, you know Elizabeth Warren coming in with Dunkin’ Donuts and Bernie Sanders demagoguing and everyone knew this was stupid. Everyone knew this, this, this whole terror watch list thing was dumb. But what it, what it shows and what I think it’s important to point out was that there’s such perverse incentives around the gun control debate that the only way Democrats feel like, Democratic partisans, that the only way they could get a victory, the only way they could move the needle was to attack from the right. And this is something Democrats again, they do a lot. They always think they’re so clever. Like they, they just cracked this uncrackable problem because they said we can beat Republicans by becoming more Republican by demagoguing terrorism.

Nima: Mhmm.

Adam: It’s gross. And people, I think people read it as gross and it doesn’t really, and of course it kind of petered out but you know, of course it was going to peter out. Like what, what are we going to sit here and like, you know what judge is going to be like, ‘oh I’m going to deny you it’s a constitutional right,’ I’ll be it a stupid one, but it’s still a constitutional right, ‘because you’re on some fucking opaque list for which there’s no appeal.’ Like there’s no way you get off the terror watch list cause it’s totally secret.

Nima: So we also see this kind of cynical deployment of just like needing to do something when the Parkland massacre in Florida was also used to demagogue on bail reform.

Adam: So bail reform is something that’s obviously very important to the show. We talk about it a lot. We’ve, we’ve done fundraisers for them. Sheriff Tom Dart, who sort of, you know, he wears like healing beads and wears like rainbow badges, he sort of positions himself as kind of like the woke county sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, which is where Chicago is for those who don’t know. He is a good example of someone who presents as a progressive who routinely exploit’s fears about gun control from sort of more middle class liberal Democrats to prevent people from leaving jail. So after Parkland, Tom Dart, this is a headline from The Chicago Tribune, said quote, “Dart warns of ‘dramatic increase’ in people charged with gun crimes being released on electronic monitors.” So he took the opportunity in the days after Parkland to go to the press and say, too many people are leaving county jail on gun charges. Now, if you know anything about gun reform or bail reform, there was absolutely zero way you can have real prison reform, real repeal of mass incarceration, real bail reform, a real cash bail reform without letting people who have gun charges out of county prison because that’s who a lot of people in county prison are there for. It’s gun charges. And so you see this time and again that those who want to keep more Black people in prison exploit fears, justified fears, exploit fear and trauma of mass shootings to basically keep more Black kids in the South Side of Chicago in jail. Even though of course Black people aren’t the ones shooting up schools but that’s, that’s a different subject for a different day.

Nima: Yeah, exactly. I mean, so it’s needing to do something to address the problem that actually is not the problem that is supposedly being responded to.

Adam: Yeah, this was an article in FAIR written by Sarah Lazare that noted Tom Dart’s exploitation of Parkland. And you know, to put a human face on it, The Chicago Bond Fund, we won’t go into the full details, but the Chicago Bond Fund features all these different stories, I mean, one of their stories was a gentleman by the name of, we’ll call George, he spent eight months in jail because a police officer simply asserted that he had, uh, an automatic weapon. But based on this word alone, it was enough to keep him in Cook County with a $5,000 bond that he could not afford to pay. He was there for eight months, missed the birth of his daughter, missed his senior year of high school, of course, couldn’t apply for colleges, all because of the say so of a cop, said he had a gun. And this is, you know, these laws that Rahm Emanuel wants to pass, like these are real consequences to them. These are real Black and brown men and women who are in county lock up without any kind of process because these really severe penalties of and demagoguery of this issue. And so again, the shit always rolls downhill.

Nima: Right. Because you see in this kind of new tough on crime, like tough on crime 2.0 that we’re seeing, really pushed through a lot of this gun control efforts using these kinds of foe woke framings, right? Of like we want to do something, but then the well intentioned among us are often duped by this because they just further entrenched problems. You see that Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown Fund created a website called The Trace, which is a news organization set up specifically to report on gun violence and push greater gun control, ostensibly a good thing. But they released a much praised report co-written by BuzzFeed news on unsolved murders in inner cities and presented this issue in the appropriate kind of woke-ese language.

Adam: So the BuzzFeed headline from January 24th, 2019 is, “Shoot Someone In A Major US City, And Odds Are You’ll Get Away With It.” The sub headline is, “A shocking number of shootings go unsolved. In some police departments, hundreds of cases aren’t investigated at all. A joint investigation by The Trace and BuzzFeed News.”

Nima: So actually you saw people like Wes Lowery of The Washington Post, Mike Rosenberg of Seattle Times and local New York City activist and uh, someone that we respect a lot, Nick Encalada-Malinowski, all tweeted out this article, this like Trace/BuzzFeed co-investigation and they all said the same thing, which is really reasonable and they said this: that it’s actually racist itself, that police don’t solve crimes against Black and Latinos at the same rate that they solve those similar crimes against white people. That is what is racist. It’s not about enhancing police resources to put more people in jail.

Adam: But there’s an implication to these reports that that really wasn’t inoculated against which is that the response is to try and get higher conviction rates of murderers of African American victims. But of course the overwhelming amount of people who kill African Americans are other African Americans. Just as whites overwhelmingly are killed by other white people. And the solution was to give more resources to the police in those cities. This is from the BuzzFeed Trace report, they said quote, “Beneath the systemic failure to solve gun crime is a lack of police resources…Some police departments are so understaffed that a large share of shooting cases receive only a cursory effort.”

Nima: So this is something that lawyer and activist David Menschel also noted on Twitter, uh, at the same kind of time that everyone else, you know, certain politicians, certain news media was kind of fawning over this report. And he pointed out that this piece, like one similar to it in The Washington Post, is just bad and he says this, it quote “depicts the failure to solve homicides as a result of a lack of resources as opposed to a wild misspending of resources.” Menschel continued, “If a school district hired 10,000 cafeteria workers and no English teachers we wouldn’t describe that as a lack of resources. That’s how completely captured these police reporters are by the ‘always more money for police’ mindset. It’s bad journalism.” He also said, “The Baltimore Police arrest people for endless 1000s of low level crimes while they fail to solve shootings and somehow reporters transmogrify that in to a lack of resources. This is what bad journalism looks like.”

Adam: And so lo and behold, Bloomberg’s group The Trace, they’re funded by other people as well, but Bloomberg was the initial funder of them and it started them, The Trace issued a press release later that promoted the fruits of this journalistic labor. And anyone who’s ever worked at a nonprofit, you know, this is what you do. You sort of say how your, you have an impact statement, right? How your journalism has had an impact and the headline read “After Trace/BuzzFeed News Investigation, Baltimore Officials Tell Police to Turn Up the Heat on Shooters.” Turn up the heat is Charles Bronson language. I mean this is, this is real tough on crime-

Nima: Cracking down. Yeah.

Adam: Right. And The Trace press release would go on without skepticism to basically regurgitate police union talking points. They would say quote, “Detectives also told us that when crime spiked in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, they were routinely pulled from their cases for days at a time in order to cover riot duty and patrol shifts.” They would go on to say, “The department is facing a severe staffing shortage and has more than 500 vacant positions.” This is straight out of Blue Lives Matter talking points. This is the idea that like uppity Black protests pull resources away from the real crime solving and that, you know, Black Lives Matter needs to go home and shut up. And this is, you know, this really begins to dovetail with what Michael Bloomberg’s MO is, which is more policing, more police funding and a kind of poo pooing of the concerns of Black Lives Matter and above all more carceral solutions, which is to go after shooters.

Nima: While also like shaming protest movements and shaming organizers for that sort of redirecting resources, right? That, you know, we have to then send police to your, to your protest and so we’re not getting the bad guys anymore. And now you are the new bad guys because you’re making us do that.

Adam: Yeah. And of course no matter where we go on this roller coaster ride, it always ends up back in the same place, which is we need more resources for police.

Nima: So to talk more about this, we’re going to be joined by Dan Denvir, host of Jacobin’s The Dig podcast. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Dan Denvir. Great to talk to you today on Citations Needed, Dan.

Dan Denvir: Thank you for having me. Always enjoy a left-wing podcast crossover.

Adam: This is the most ambitious crossover yet. So, uh, I want to start off you. You’ve been writing about this for years and as I’ve watched the gun control debate play out and as Nima has watched it play out really since Parkland, I’ve been fascinated by the degree to which what I would consider kind of bourgeois or kind of white, moneyed interests is centered over other factors. And that is of course not unique to the gun control debate. That’s pretty much every debate right? But I think in gun control, it really plays out in a way in which Black Lives Matter comes up, and I would say less so Black Lives Matter, maybe more sort of Black abolitionism, which I think is sort of more centered and has a more set of concrete set ideology, the way in which that has come up against the normal kind of corporate Democrat way in which we talk about gun control. Can we talk about the institutional forces in the Democratic Party from your point of view and the broader way gun control groups are funded that incentivizes carceral solutions that at the end of the day the major output that really happens is coming up with these longer, more severe prison sentences?

Dan Denvir

Dan Denvir: Well, I think, stepping back, the really general principle at play is that anytime you see a bipartisan consensus or bipartisan cooperation on an issue, you’ve got to be really careful. Look at the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, look at charter schools and the so-called school reform, financial deregulation, neoliberalism in general. And then on this issue, the consensus between gun rights NRA extremists on the one hand and the liberal gun control advocates on the other behind locking up the so-called, as the NRA would phrase it, bad guys with a gun, which is really just the same old racist mass incarceration by another name. But it hides in plain sight because it exists in this land of bipartisan consensus where the most reasonable things ostensibly reside. And so to answer your question more specifically on the liberal Democratic side of this, we see a way that so-called socially liberal and fiscally conservative people like Michael Bloomberg can act like they care about the young Black men who are so often the victims of gun violence, while embracing policies that on the one hand keep so many poor Black people poor and stuck in segregated neighborhoods and schools and in low paying, hyper exploitative jobs, and the other policies that are extensively meant to protect those very same people that actually just lock up those very same people. So I think it’s very, I don’t know that it’s a well thought out conspiracy along these lines, but that to me is its function for a wealthy, so-called socially liberal, fiscally conservative Democrat like Michael Bloomberg.

Nima: Yeah. Somehow, you know, bipartisan consensus always winds up residing very solidly on the right that there’s rarely a bipartisan consensus that actually has leftwing solutions, uh, agreed upon.

Adam: Yeah. It’s kind of like the gun control debate is not unique to this, but it invariably leads to the shit rolls downhill that we go, and this is something we talked about at the beginning of the show, is that we sympathize with gun control advocates because they have so little to work with and there is such tremendous forces pushing against things like anti-poverty programs or non-carceral solutions. Like nobody wants that. And so they kind of pick up slack where they can get it.

Dan Denvir: Yeah, definitely. And this whole, which exposes this whole dynamic label of someone being socially liberal and fiscally conservative to actually be entirely false. Because if you embrace and push policies that enable both the mass killing of Black people and their mass incarceration, there’s nothing socially progressive about that.

Nima: Yeah. And, and it just further entrenches a law and order solution to the same old problems. So it just reinforces everything that supposedly liberal people would be or should be challenging.

Dan Denvir: Definitely. And this is a big problem for the movement, which has gained some steam in recent years, to end mass incarceration. We see things like the election of district attorney Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and of course the rise of Black Lives Matter, but a big third rail is going to be dealing with so-called violent offenders, including people who are merely arrested and prosecuted for illegally possessing a gun, which is a big part of this problem. It’s people are not even shooting someone or killing them, but just merely possessing a gun. And they’re not allowed to because they’re a felon with a gun.

Adam: Yeah. And most people don’t know but just by having a gun in a lot of jurisdictions, you are a violent criminal, but that is considered a violent crime even if you don’t use it.

Dan Denvir: Precisely.

Nima: So Dan, to what extent, to shift the focus maybe to a more macro level, to what extent do you think the marriage of US empire to guns and violence evidenced, you know, through centuries of foreign policy, make reconciling with things like gun control domestically much more difficult if not actually impossible?

Dan Denvir: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. And I’m near a little over the halfway mark and Greg Grandin in his new book, The End of the Myth. Excellent. It shows that even this division between domestic and foreign, you know, we can’t take at face value because the bulk of early American history and still sort of like our foundational myth and political culture is in the expanding frontier west, which that was a frontier of violent dispossession of indigenous land carried out in tandem by vigilante settlers and the state. And so from the get go we have to-

Nima: By the gun. By the gun.

Dan Denvir: Yeah, exactly. At gunpoint. And so we have to do a much better job on the left connecting private gun violence to official state violence. And I think that is what distinguishes a solid left analysis of gun violence from a tepid liberal one. And so we have the frontier, we have a system of violent state and vigilante, again in tandem, subjugation of Black people and then we have American empire as it’s existed since the closing of the frontier where we ostensibly export democracy at gunpoint. And so American freedom has been consistently defined by violence against the other, for lack of a better term, and this is more of a theoretical than a specific policy point, but we can’t end violence at home until we change that. I think that’s very clear.

Adam: I mean the, yeah, I mean the Colt Walker gun, which was sort of the first revolver gun that’s considered the gun that settled the West was invented by Samuel Hamilton Walker and Samuel Colt and Samuel Walker actually was killed in the Mexican American War, which was sort of a war of aggression, a war of expansion and something we talked to great lengths with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz about. Fun fact, ironically, he was shot and killed before he even fired the gun. He didn’t get it out of his holster in time. So-

Dan Denvir: Another related fun fact connecting this, and this is crazy, I just learned about this from Greg Grandin’s book, so this guy as a teenager in 1931 I believe, Harlon Carter shoots and kills a Mexican American teenager for talking back to him or something, and then goes on to become the head of the entire Border Patrol in the 1950s where he presides over so-called Operation Wetback, the mass deportation of Mexican American workers, and then goes on to lead the coup within the NRA in the 1970s that transforms it from kind of like a sportsman, responsible, riflery organization into this toxic right-wing juggernaut that it is today. So here in one person’s just grotesque life we see the entire trajectory of racist frontier violence to American imperial gun culture as it exists today.

Adam: I mean, that’s what makes this so difficult to unpack because something I write a lot about, I’ve written about it several times and I know we, we touched on it in our episode about liberal militarism, but like you can’t divorce violent foreign policy from domestic policy. At the same time, you can sympathize with people who are just trying to get wins where they can get them, right? We can sit here and have a dorm room conversation about the nature of American violence and especially the sort of Scotch Irish gun humping culture that defines the sort of core of the NRA and the white settler colonialist attitudes. But like, I mean the whole thing is so deeply racialized. We talked earlier about the ways in which The Trace and BuzzFeed’s article really pushed this idea that the solution was more cops. Now an abolitionist approach to this would say never more cops ever. That the solution is not ever, never, no matter what the problem is, the solution is never for the love of Christ more police officers. Is that something you think is probably the right approach or or is that maybe a little pollyannaish?

Dan Denvir: Yeah. No, I think that’s generally definitely the direction we should be going in because on one level the war on guns has been so powerful and so invisible because it, as we’ve discussed, it found this place in the consensus in the middle of one of the country’s most polarizing debates. But it’s also been powerful because gun crimes are so horrific and so widespread, particularly in poor Black communities. And there has been, as James Forman Jr. shows in his book, Locking Up Our Own, a lot of support historically for severely policing and punishing gun crimes in those communities. But increasingly, and obviously with the rise of Black Lives Matter, Black Americans are seeing mass incarceration as a threat to the very communities it’s supposed to help. So the same Black communities did turn to policing and the justice system to deal with violence because nothing else, no fixes to the underlying poverty or second class schools or segregation was on offer. So the left, I think has to insert itself into this debate and say emphatically in solidarity with Black Lives Matter that more policing is not the solution, longer sentences are not the solution. In this two tiered system of gun rights where for white men the right to bear arms is the most sacred constitutional rights but for Black men with a felony conviction and other people with a felony conviction, but disproportionately Black men with a felony conviction, it’s something that sends you to prison. We have to oppose that and instead offer solutions that prevent gun violence rather than just punishing after the fact because it’s also like too late. The person is dead and it’s horrible, but punishing the person after the person has been killed is not bringing anyone back to life. So if we’re actually concerned about protecting vulnerable people’s lives, then we need to prevent gun violence and prioritize that over punishment. And the liberal gun control advocates going after the low hanging fruit that the NRA happens to be fine with is certainly creating another problem rather than solving the problem they’re purportedly interested in solving.

Nima: Well, right, because punishment and even deterrence, you know, saying, ‘oh, harsher, harsher laws will lead to fewer uses of these weapons, fewer crimes.’ I mean, that doesn’t really bear out. And so all you’re doing is entrenching the already broken and appalling racist system by just criminalizing entire communities rather than actually working to alleviate structural issues. And so it gives lie to, I think a lot of the Bloombergian perspective, you know, again, and I want to separate that from like activists and advocates for gun control who are truly pained by gun violence and you know, wanting to remove these killing machines from streets, from homes, from bedside tables, from under pillows, whatever it may be. But there’s a kind of systemic level, right? Like at the funder level, at the Bloomberg level of weaponizing this issue itself to call for, you know, more heavily resourced police departments and never investigating how that actually plays out in the streets and certainly not how it plays out in the streets of countries that aren’t our own.

Dan Denvir: Yeah. Yeah. Precisely. The same systems of mass punishment that target poor Black Americans in the name of preventing gun violence or protecting them from gun violence, those systems are part in parcel of a violent system that amongst many other horrible things makes those poor Black Americans vulnerable to gun violence.

Adam: I mean, one of the things we talked about earlier is the, is that when you, even the way the questions polled is, because it doesn’t make a clear division between carceral and non-carceral it’s very misleading. So African Americans disproportionately support gun control more than whites, but as we discussed earlier, but when you ask them do you support harsher penalties for gun laws specifically polled done of African American youth between the ages of 18 and 30, the numbers are inverted. More white people support that because white people obviously view who is and who isn’t a criminal in a racialized context. So, um, you know, even African American support for gun control and even I think to a large degree, policing gets laundered through vagaries. It’s sort of not clear what that actually means. Then of course in the ’90s, as we also discussed, community policing and the tough on crime was presented and that did have some elite Black buy-in right from some Democratic Party partisans. It was framed as something that was going to rescue you and we call this the Death Wish 3 mentality where, you know, Death Wish she goes around this city blowing away the bad guys and then there’s an old Black lady who was like, ‘thank you Charles Bronson for saving us from the criminal element.’ And it’s like, I don’t think that was that accurate, but like this sort of Death Wish 3 mentality that BuzzFeed perpetuates and The Trace perpetuated that like the police are your saviors, seems to be on the uptick. It seems like we’re doing it again by talking about, you know, the inability to sort of solve crimes.

Dan Denvir: Yeah, I mean this is always the response whenever local, well in this case, national, but it’s often local investigative journalists look at police clearance rates or something like that and say, ‘look, not enough crimes are being solved. Look, people are getting off on weak plea deals.’ The immediate response typically from law enforcement is to try to double down on more policing and more punishment. And a big problem with these investigations is that it just sort of like presupposes, I think usually implicitly, that cracking down on these things would actually lead to them stopping. And if that did work as advertised or as suggested, maybe it would, we could have a discussion of whether it was worth the costs that are borne by the communities who are most impacted by mass incarceration. But it doesn’t work.

Nima: Right. I mean we’ve discussed on this show before and and obviously many have before that, the implications and the real consequences of broken windows policing, of stop-and-frisk. And so it’s no surprise that Mike Bloomberg is like a leading voice in the gun control debate, like a massive funder of that. And also one of the leading voices and implementers of stop-and-frisk. I mean like, because to him and to people like him, those things are inextricably linked and it’s all about punishing and heavily policing communities and somehow that is the solution rather than, you know, broader non-poverty programs or education or you know, etcetera, etcetera.

Dan Denvir: Yeah, yeah. And, and that also points to a failure of us on the Left shaping the debate and discussion over stop-and-frisk. Cause I don’t, I think huge numbers of people opposed stop-and-frisk, but I think very few would know that it was justified by Bloomberg and by the NYPD on the basis of it being a strategy to detect illegal guns.

Adam: Yeah, of course. And of course Bloomberg infamously said at the Aspen Forum, I think about three years ago, four years ago, that his goal was primarily to get guns out of the hands of a specific demographic, which is African American men between the ages of 18 and 24 and he’s like sort of very specific that that’s the thing he wants to do. And he even said African American men. He’s one of those guys that occasionally will sort of be honest. And that really I think kind of belies the anti-gun mentality cause of course Bloomberg expanded the NYPD which of course is an extremely violent institution and how we decide it’s not anti-gun, it’s anti-certain-people-having-guns and what that looks like.

Dan Denvir: Yeah. Yeah. And I, and I think the left challenge here is complicated and from my perspective, and some will disagree with me, maybe you two disagree with me, I, you know, I’m not pro-guns. I hate guns. I think they’re horrible and just have caused like horrific damage including to people that, that I know well and/or new well. But the problem is we have maybe a three tiered gun rights regime that is racist, it’s violent and it’s inhumane and it creates both gun violence on the one hand and mass incarceration on the other. The three tiers would be one, we have one of the most heavily policed and incarcerated, arguably the most heavily policed and incarcerated societies on Earth. We have the largest and most violent empire on earth. That’s one tier. And then we allow for guns to be manufactured and distributed relatively freely to the populace, except that we recognize the possession of guns as a bedrock constitutional right, but only for the so-called, as the NRA would phrase it, the good guy with a gun. And what’s the purpose of the good guy with a gun? To stop the bad guy with the gun. And so we then criminalize the poorest people, the very people who are most likely to have a plausible need to use a gun in self-defense for doing just what we celebrate the good guy, implicitly white, good guy with a gun for doing. Look at Philando Castile, he had a permit to carry and he was shot dead.

Nima: That’s right.

Dan Denvir: So, so I’m, I’m not part of the, like, pro-gun Left. I don’t think that uh, an armed revolutionary strategy is a really plausible one. I’m not, I’m not philosophically a, a pacifist or anything, I just don’t see it as like a likely path forward for the American Left. But that said, I don’t think that what’s on the gun control movement’s agenda really even, even begins to like at best, barely begins to nibble around the edges of what we need to do to actually solve the violence problem in this country and at worst they perpetuate it.

Adam: Yeah. To be clear, I don’t, I don’t think we’re, for the purpose of this episode, we are not litigating the question of whether or not the Left, I’m not exactly sure what that means anymore, uh, whether that the Left really wants to, uh, should embrace guns in some sort of fetishistic, you know, sort of Leninist way —

Dan Denvir: Or let’s say Maoist.

Adam: Maoist, yeah. Well, yeah. Uh, well, uh, you know, that’s sort of beyond the scope of the podcast. I think we may have varying opinions about that, but I, I do think it’s in the short term, in terms of how we actually talk about it, it seems like a very no-brainer, left-wing ideological position should be whatever we do for the love of god can we stop putting Black people in cages?

Dan Denvir: Yes.

Adam: Like, just before we do anything, you know, do no harm. Like just stop putting people in fucking jail.

Nima: Yeah, I think that’s probably a good place to leave it. Um, something we can all agree on and I will say, Dan, um, I fall very, very strongly on the like, way less guns for everyone always but that includes, as we’ve been talking about dealing with empire, dealing with gun manufacturers and their near impunity and having that rarely, rarely be part of the conversation in favor of, as we’ve been saying, more law and order type, quote unquote “solutions” and you know, mass incarceration, heavily funding police departments. So yeah, I mean I think it’s about having a holistic understanding and a holistic conversation about the way forward.

Dan Denvir: Definitely.

Nima: So we will leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dan Denvir, host of Jacobin’s The Dig podcast. It’s been great to talk to you today on Citations Needed.

Dan Denvir: Thanks for having me.


Adam: We talk about this sort of way you engage abolitionist strains, Black Lives Matters strains. It’s interesting to watch the, you know, David Hogg was sorta obviously history sort of thrust him into the forefront. He was a Parkland survivor February 2018, but when he initially sorta came on the scene along with a lot of the other Parkland kids, he, he called for increased policing in schools and then he was criticized by Black Lives Matter. He engaged with them. We talked about it. I imagine there was some communication and then now he sorta calls for the disarming of police.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Uh, which is sort of what we think is a more robust and holistic approach to these things. So it’s like there is a history of people engaging Black Lives Matter and coming away thinking, ‘okay, well maybe mindlessly relying on the police and prisons is not really the right way to approach this.’

Nima: Yeah. Imagine that.

Adam: I think it showed a lot of maturity. It’s someone who’s sort of willing to like listen to new arguments because you know, a lot of people don’t think these things through or have knowledge of this, you know, it’s not, it’s a hard thing for people to really figure it out because again, so much is, is masked by these vague terms about strict gun control and strict gun laws.

Nima: Well, right. And there is in our society, I mean writ large, such a obvious good guy, bad guy, dichotomy that is infused in like almost every narrative we have, every book, every movie, every TV show, every story that’s told, you know, has a hero and has a villain basically. And so the idea that the villains are routinely assumed to be the bad people or the bad apples with guns and that the heroes are so often the, you know, law and order, right? It’s going to be the cops or it’s going to be the, even the, the vigilante, you know, rogue guy who like cleans up the neighborhood. Like that is a common thing. And so I think it’s both sinister but also understandable, unfortunately why so commonly we see law and order solutions not only being promoted but being accepted as a reasonable reaction.

Adam: So much of that comes through a lack of moral vision of just thinking of other ways of approaching anything in society, cause like you said, it’s not just guns, it’s literally anything. Our response is to just pass laws. I mean Andrew Cuomo had a law about criminalizing attacks on journalists by increasing sentences and basically making journalists a protected hate crime. It’s like look, if you think journalism is under siege, like why is the first thing we do is to just add a bunch of bullshit laws which are just going to be abused anyway.

Nima: For more on this, we’re going to be joined by our second guest today, Sharone Mitchell Jr., former Cook County Assistant Public Defender, who’s now Deputy Director of the Illinois Justice Project. Sharone is going to join us in just a minute. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Sharone Mitchell Jr., thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Thank you so much for having me.

Adam: We’ve been talking about the nature of the gun control debate specifically around what we view is kind of bifurcating carceral and non-carceral solutions to a problem and a tendency to focus on the carceral as sort of the lowest hanging fruit, the thing that politicians will run to. Because typically in this country, we like to throw people in prison to solve problems. In your opinion, what are some of the ways in which gun control advocates, they kind of miss the broader picture about gun violence and what causes gun violence in your opinion? With an understanding that I took extremely uphill battle from their perspective, but what do you think that they miss in the gun control debate?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Coming from Chicago, working in Chicago, working in the state, you know, most of my focus is on kind of thinking through the criminal justice system and kind of urban gun violence. So I think there probably is a little bit of split and when we’re talking about kind of the urban gun violence versus the mass shootings, but when we’re talking about urban gun violence, I think one of the two, a couple of things that people really, I think, don’t get right. I think the first thing is why do people carry firearms? Or mainly kids 18 to 24, even up over that, carry? And I think that one of the things that folks, I think it’s tough for folks to kind of get their head around is that I truly think that carrying a gun living in some of the communities that you’re living in is a well measured approach to like surviving. And while I don’t particularly think that it’s something that I would do, you know, I’m not particularly a gun person, I think that guns make suicide more lethal and they make, you know, domestic violence more lethal and they make kind of petty conflicts more lethal. I think one of the things that we really struggle with is like why do people carry? Because we try to demonize that action and that demonization allows us to kind of go to the next step on prison and incarceration. And I think there are people that, you know, truly believe that prison is the proper approach to that. We don’t think about how prison kind of sucks the livelihood out of communities, how it injures people specifically. And we truly think that if a person is kind of evil, what we do to evil people is send them to prison and prison will either make them better or they’ll make our communities better. So those two things, why do people carry and whether prison is a proper response to an evil act are some of the things I think people get wrong.

Nima: Yeah. And also when talking about incarceration and kind of punitive solutions that are always kind of raced to, there’s really no way to avoid talking about the consequences of the war on drugs in this debate. So through your work, can you tell us how you see the intersection of gun control policies but also how they work hand in hand with drug policies?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Yeah. So I think that we need to be really sharp when we’re talking about gun control policies. So for me, I’m not particularly against something that’s going to really focus on how guns get into communities illegally. What I will push back on is how we respond in terms of criminalizing the end user, right? So I think that criminalization of the end user is the closest thing that we have to the war on drugs. Really it’s at the same level now here in Cook County and possibly, even worse, we know that UUW — unlawful use of a weapon — is the single largest charge that you see at 26 and California, our main county courthouse, and everything about that charge is deceiving down to its name. You would think unlawful use of a weapon is shooting at people. That’s not correct. Unlawful use of weapon is possessing a firearm and not having the proper paperwork for it. Now typically that means that somebody is a felon or something of that nature. But we already see this as this big giant charge that’s being used to pull more and more people into the criminal justice system. We see it as a charge that’s really been an exception to the bond reform movement here in Cook County where we have the real real improvements when it comes to reducing the jail population. Real real improvements on releasing people on their own recognizance because it’s the right thing to do. But there is a giant exception for individuals that are charged with possessing a firearm. So I think that they go hand in hand. It is really the new war on drugs. The new war on guns.

Adam: Yeah. You see this a lot with, I mean even supposed progressive DAs like Kim Foxx, they triple down on gun arrests without an appreciation that like, you know, gun arrests are a huge driver of pretrial detention specifically. And I know that the Chicago [Community] Bond Fund deals with this a lot. If you had to sort of reframe this to someone who, cause again, one thing we talked about earlier in the show, the ways in which these carceral responses are laundered through these vague terms like stricter gun laws or stricter gun control, right? People sort of like stricter gun control in the abstract, but what does it exactly mean? If you had to give a kind of non-carceral approach, a remedy not to be too prescriptive here, what would you say is the thing that your average kind of do-goodie white liberal who maybe doesn’t totally know any better, like what are some of the policies they can support that don’t just throw more people in prison?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Well, I think that I would pull apart this idea of gun control. I don’t define throwing an end user in prison for two years or three years or four years as gun control. You’re not controlling any guns, right? There was a bill, the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, right? Which kind of targeted how are guns sold. That’s, you know, smart gun policy, right? That what they call it. Smart gun policy lock. Locking a bunch of folks up for carrying guns in communities where you know there is a relative high murder rate and a relatively low closure rate, that’s something that makes sense to people. So what I would say is, you know, kind of think about what we mean by gun control, but also understand that communities and environments drive actions, right? So the problem is that we really equate policing with peace. So instead of really thinking about how do we make folks’ experience different so that they don’t commit violent acts, we say, well, the only way we can stop that is through doubling down on policing and policing is the way that we’re going to get peace. It’s a shallow approach. It really, it hurts communities. We know that instead of spending money on things that work or thinking using brain energy, right? To things that really change an environment, we just kind of rely on policing. Some of that is misunderstanding. I think some of that also, it’s easy, right? If I’m a legislator, right? It’s very difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I’m investing in twelve neighborhoods’ as opposed to saying, ‘hey, I changed this law and now the evil people will spend more time in prison.’ It is much easier for a legislator to do that. And so really thinking about, is the proposed solution changing the lives of a person that might choose to do something bad?

Nima: Well, right, because it winds up being like what’s the lowest hanging fruit as opposed to addressing real systemic change. So rather than working to alleviate poverty or make housing accessible and affordable, like actual things that may reduce violence, it’s just like, ‘Oh, let’s just get police departments military equipment cause then they can better, you know, occupy certain communities’ and somehow that is getting tough on crime while actually all it does is perpetuate more violence and put even more guns on the street.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: There is value in reducing the amount of guns on the street.

Nima: Sure.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: I think there’s certain communities that are kind of really broken down by systematic, intentional government policy are more susceptible to when there are lots of guns on the streets, having really bad outcomes. So I think it’s tough to get away from that.

Nima: I think, you know, as we’ve been arguing on this show, reducing the number of guns in general, I mean that’s how I approach this. That would be great. It’s just that what we see in reality is that it winds up being focused on, as you were saying Sharone, on the end user, right?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Yes.

Nima: So reducing guns never has to do with reducing guns in the hands of cops and it certainly has nothing to do with reducing the number of guns made by gun manufacturers who are all but immune —

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Absolutely.

Nima: — from, you know, any actual policy change.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: 100 percent agree with you there. When we talk about putting people in prison for guns, close your eyes, that’s the person that you’re talking about. The Black kid. We don’t talk about putting people into prison, any other type of gun users into prison unless they literally killed multiple amounts of people. And it’s a shame.

Adam: You know, one of the things I think that we’re really getting around here is that what you see repeatedly is sheriff’s departments and prosecutors taking the justified outrage about mass shootings to pass laws and to keep people in jail pretrial. But of course you know ,in in the aggregate, you know, that Cletus’ gun in West Virginia is not really being taken away here. That’s not really the issue. And of course the NRA makes sure of that and it seems like to me that this whole thing is just so deeply racialized that there’s sort of no real way of getting around that when you have this conversation. So you, as you sort of have two parallel conversations going on, you have a conversation about sort of quote unquote “inner city violence” and a conversation about assault weapons. And it seems like to me, because you can never really make any progress in one, people rush to criminalize the other.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: I think that you are seeing people have successes on that one side, right? That kind of supply side issue, but that has not stopped them from also criminalizing just kind of urban gun violence. And really the real kind of, I think trick that’s happening here is that people are just like lying about the law. So when people say things like, ‘our laws are weak on gun possession, we need to toughen up because they’re not strong enough’ or ‘bond reform has meant that people are not facing the same consequences.’ Like a lot of those things that are just lies, right? They are used to justify attempting to increase penalties on those end users. So when you shoot somebody, that penalty’s already really high. But I’ve heard major candidates for Mayor of Chicago say that that penalty is a misdemeanor. (Chuckles.) Right? It’s just wild.

Nima: So in your work through the Illinois Justice Project at this point with Rahm Emanuel out, what are you seeing in this race now and what would be the most positive outcome?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: I think there’s a group of candidates who understand that you must attack this issue from something much differently than what we’ve done in the status quo and what we’ve done for years and years and years passed. And that it cannot always be about asking for more police, asking for more police, asking for more police. I think there are a lot of candidates that are still there, but we’re starting to see more candidates that come around to this idea that it’s not going to be just about penalties. You know, there was a repeat gun offender law that was kind of making its way throughout the Illinois General Assembly in 2017 and what that law basically said is that we’re going to increase penalties not on folks that do anything with the gun but possess a gun. And you saw, you know, many Black female members of the Black Caucus kind of stand against that and say, ‘no, we want the focus to be upon kind of really changing kids’ environment.’ Right? So I think that you have candidates that are saying that, but there’s still so many candidates out there because there are so many candidates running for Mayor of Chicago.

Adam: Yeah, I know. I think I’m the only person in Chicago not running for mayor.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Yeah. Me and you. I mean I was thinking about it. I’m not going to lie, but I decided not to. (Chuckles.) Um, but uh, anyway —

Nima: (Laughs.)

Adam: We appreciate that. You would have been great though. You would have been our first mayoral guest.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: (Laughs.)

Adam: Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap it up. Is there anything you want to promote or boost before we let you go, other than your nascent mayoral campaign?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: (Chuckles.) I just want people to really think and I think maybe lots of your listenership probably already get it, but to understand that, you know, just increasing penalties doesn’t make us any safer. It makes us less safe and just don’t be scared into thinking that prison is the answer when it comes to making communities safer. Make our leaders actually do that. Make our leaders actually really work on identifying the neighborhoods that have been hurt the most and doing active things and make those communities better places to live for the folks that remain there.

Nima: Well, that is a great place to leave it. Sharone Mitchell Jr., Deputy Director of the Illinois Justice Project. Thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Thank you so much for having me.


Adam: So yeah, a lot to consider there. I um, I think we had a good balanced debate. It’s a tough topic to talk about because it is so polarized and partisan in a way that uh, you know, typically we’re very pro-partisan, very pro-polarization but I do think on some topics, again, create strange bedfellows in a way that’s maybe problematic, especially in the context of just doing what America loves to do more than anything, which is to solve problems by creating more prison sentences and more laws against things.

Nima: Yes. Thank you everyone for listening to this week’s episode of Citations Needed. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and you can support the show through Patreon at Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. And as always a very special shout out goes to our Critic0level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adam. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Lead engineer is Josh Wilcox. Additional research by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music as always is by Grandaddy. Thanks so much for listening again. We’ll catch you next week.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.