Two interviews conducted over the past few weeks have been rattling around in my brain since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Neither one was conducted with school shootings in mind, but both have a strange new resonance now.
Take research psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove, whose work focuses on community cohesion and the psychic stresses of dislocation. When we spoke a few weeks back, our topic was Sandy Relief, not Sandy Hook, but her comments about “we” and “us” keep coming back to me in light of the shootings. The fetishization of Newtown continues apace. I’ve watched CNN anchors examine what seems like every square inch of the town as if looking for some special quality about the place, some distinguishing characteristic that once diagnosed could permit the rest of us to live at a distance from their tragedy. Fullilove said about disasters:
One of the fundamental principles of collective recovery is that there is no “them” and there is no “there” it’s “we” and it’s “here” we’re all involved. The scale of this is hard for the normal human, small mind like mine to grasp. I think we’re all dealing with dislocation and root shock and we can’t think of it as them over there.
Similarly, Dean Spade and I weren’t talking school shootings when we sat down together last month. We were discussing justice for trans people and his book, Normal Life, which includes a powerful critique of the incarceration system. No one’s saying—and I am not saying now—that a crime wasn’t committed in Newtown. But this conversation with Spade reminds me to think less about criminal people, and more about criminalizing systems. Asked about crime and “criminality” (in a very different context) Spade had this to say:
When we move away from thinking about individual criminals and bad people, which is kind of the fiction that justifies the system, and instead looking at these giant nets that are cast over primarily of people of color and poor people in communities, to bring more and more people into these private prison systems, where prison guard unions and prison corporations are seeking to influence politicians to pass more criminalizing laws that will fill the beds and make more money.… it’s a very different way of thinking about what criminality is, what crime is and what we would actually do to try and have a safer country.”
Below, you’ll find links to both interviews. Spade’s is in two parts. In a separate post, I’ll post the full transcript of our entire conversation. Tell me what you think.