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0 The failure of the criminal justice system

  • Blog
  • by Emily Elisa Halpern
  • 06-06-2020
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New painting. "For George", oil paint on linen, 7' x 7', June 2020. How do I even begin to describe how horrifying these past few weeks in the US has been? The casual indifference of the “peace officer” who knelt on the neck of George Floyd and murdered him in the streets... the violence against protesters gathered to protest abuse of power perpetrated upon African Americans… This is the time to reflect on my white privilege and to listen to people of color. Their experience in this country has been unspeakable for centuries- beginning with slavery to institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system and socioeconomic issues which contribute to the systemic oppression of brown and black people.

    My first degree was a BA in Criminology with a minor in Sociology. My degree was from Canada and so the focus was on First Nations Peoples, not African Americans.  However, just like in the States, minorities in Canada are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. I learned to question the constructs of society, to examine why things are the way they are and to not accept statistics but to look at the reasons behind them. Upon graduation, my professors nominated me as the top Criminology graduate of the year.  However, having learned what I did, I decided I didn’t want to work within a system that systematically oppresses minorities- from the “us vs them” mentality of cops, to the failure to rehabilitate offenders, to laws that benefit corporations over people. The criminal justice system- as is it- is broken. Yes- it gets dangerous offenders off the streets and we cannot live without it. Several of my former basketball teammates and my first boyfriend are Mounties and I value the work that they do and appreciate their sacrifices and the danger they put themselves in, putting away people who are dangerous and harmful.  However, speaking as a whole, for some people, the criminal justice system has failed to make society better and habitually persecutes certain communities.

    My life took a different direction after I graduated and after some years of meandering I decided to express myself as an artist. I’ve addressed institutionalized racism in my work before with my painting, “Albert Woodfox”, an assemblage called “Pride”, from my Sins and Sorrows series and now “For George”.  I’m not a figure painter so it’s a bit clunky and I’m feeling insecure about how the cops aren’t specifically white- they’re green, pink and red. However, I’ve tried to identify them as fascists with signifiers like their black boots, armband, cuffs, belts, hat and batons. I’m also reading articles like, https://lithub.com/white-artists-need-to-start-addressing-white-supremacy-in-their-work/?fbclid=IwAR1NbkI2u6Hm_v-tneXN_cc6BgGHng3bPfWZm967LlV-tW-ZmAOe7R6eB20 and trying to analyze my work and be open to when it falls short. My latest painting is large- seven feet square- and it is bound to offend. However, I’ve always tried to reflect what is happening in society and my life and this is my honest, if awkward attempt.

    The movement to end racism and change the ideological hegemony of this country has been met with extreme resistance to say the least. Art should reflect the times we live in and police violence and racial justice is something that needs to be thoughtfully and empathetically addressed.




 
 

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