Your Job is to Arrest People

Millions of New York City’s annual budget is due to the amassing criminal summonses and arrest-related fees that it’s African American and Latino citizens receive five times more often than those who are white. But why is this true when a quota law is in place? Crime + Punishment in which filmmaker Stephen Maing strives to answer this question. What he finds is that the goals of the New York commissioner and the goals of his officers are incompatible in many detrimental ways. The goal of the NYPD is supposedly to get guns off of the street so that young men cannot join gangs, but in actuality, they are enforcing a broken windows policy that simply does not work. On the other hand, the officers are told that their job is to arrest an acceptable amount of people, in order to catch up with their peers. If they do not comply with these demands, these officers have been being punished and retaliated against, by having their shifts changed or even becoming ostracized by fellow officers.

Now, when these officers are desperate for numbers, they target the vulnerable; those without a vote, say, or power to go against law enforcement. This ultimately creates that statistic concerning the disproportionate rate of criminality for minorities, even though these charges are almost always dismissed. Yet even with a lack of probable cause, after the arrest or summons is carried out, every process in the criminal justice system costs money. The quota law has done nothing to reduce New York City’s bad habit of using its officers as a revenue producing agent for the city. This is all concerning a wording issue in how the law was written, since you cannot tell an officer outright that they need a specific number of arrests and summonses, but higher ranking officers can tell their subordinates that they don’t have enough. The system that the officers are forced to work under is made of numbers, and departments like New York City want cops that can keep their mouths shut. Ultimately, this is a public safety issue and public support is the solution, since the quota law was written in such a way that penalized police officers simply cannot and could not sue the department.

This documentary helped confirm and expand on what we discuss in class, but from a differing perspective. In the book Detained and Deported, we spoke about a shift toward arresting all undocumented immigrants, instead of just those who had committed a crime (Reagan, 2016). This point is similar in nature to the tendency for NYPD officers acting under quotas who seek out vulnerable targets who are likely to not be committing serious offenses. Culminating a large number of arrest and summonses due to smaller crimes can help an officer who needs to meet their perceived quota, but it also disproportionately impacts those who are not threats to society (Reagan, 2016). This is exactly what happened to one African American boy followed in the documentary, as he was targeted so heavily by police for a crime he did not commit, that they were known to follow him around the city until he was back at his home. Detained and Deported had also talked about how immigrants were being used as cash cows under the privatization of detention centers, which is parallel to how NYPD is treating its targeted minorities for costly arrests and summonses (Reagan, 2016).

Quota laws, or rather the lack of their enforcement, could also be seen as what Davis called a race-neutral policy (Davis, 2018). This is due to the fact that New York City’s system implicitly relies on numbers, and that inevitably produces the distorted outcomes in justice for vulnerable communities. By failing to project the ways in which things like supposed race-neutral policies and quotas will not be race-neutral once implemented, it has created the exact discrepancies that the quota law was put in place to prevent (Davis, 2018). Not only this, but the documentary revealed New York City’s incapability to follow the quota law could have appeared to be a race effect on crime at first glance, but it was really a socioeconomic measure for the state. Just as the UCR data for 2015 stated, this outgrowth of disadvantages was likely to disproportionately affect African American communities, as they are the most affected by the costly measures of the justice system (Davis, 2018).

Although the focus of disadvantaged police officers was contradictory to the class’s focus on citizens, I believe it only added to my understanding of the issue. It’s very important for others to understand this more holistic perspective, as the documentary has helped enforce the idea that the police officers are not the bad guys; bad policy implementation is. I would recommend this documentary because of this general idea alone, but more specifically because Stephen Maing had spent three years researching the unchecked and unexplored bias surrounding the quota law. Not only are minority citizens being targeted to wrongfully pay for something otherwise not effectively addressing crime, but police officers are being punished if they don’t participate in this biased practice. If an officer sees no reason to give arrests or summons, then it is reasonable to say that crime is already being effectively addressed and there may be a reduction in crime. If this isn’t something to be celebrated rather than punishable for an officer, Crime + Punishment leads you to beg the question; what is the job of a police officer? Is an officer failing at his job if he doesn’t arrest people enough people? If not, then why are these officers being retaliated against?

By Jenna Albitz



Crime Punishment. (2018). Retrieved from

Davis, A. J. (2018). Policing the Black man: arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Regan, M. (2016). Detained and deported: stories of immigrant families under fire. Boston: Beacon Press.


The Opposite of Criminalization is Humanization

African Americans make up 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. 13th is a documentary by filmmaker Ava DuVernay that explores the history of mass incarceration and its influence on African Americans since the slavery era. As its namesake, the 13th Amendment of the Constitution grants freedom to all Americans, with one exception; criminals. This clause was used as a tool for systematic oppression ever since the ideologies that legitimized, perpetuated, and defended slavery had developed into the mythology of black criminality. Freedom doesn’t apply to criminals, just as it hadn’t applied to slaves. And so, this amendments ratification did little to stop the implicitly racial application of supposed “race-neutral” policies and strategies created by to keep the economic system of slavery alive. This documentary is an in-depth analysis of how systems of oppression have a tendency to find expression in new ways. By systematically targeting disadvantaged black men in the criminal justice system, the United States has found a way to subject the African American population in the reinvention of slavery, under the guise of convict labor and public safety. Instead of slaves working in the fields, the United States now has corporations operating in prisons to keep criminals working, under that same ideology of the white political elite keeping black bodies working (DuVernay, 2016).

Mauer (2018) describes mass incarceration as the method in which the criminal justice system has chosen to create law and order by criminalizing the circumstances that black men of low-income communities face. This relates to what we discuss for class in how the documentary described Jim Crow laws as a function to permanently deem African Americans as a second class status. Stevenson (2018) described the policies and strategies derived from Jim Crow as a function to maintain that racial subordination and white supremacy. The “baby boom” generation was referenced to in both sources as an ulterior cause to the rise in crime during the era of the civil rights movement. Rather than a variable of race, an increase in crime rates during this time was due to the simultaneous increase of the fifteen to twenty-four-year-old populations; which we empirically support as the age group that commits crimes at higher rates (Mauer, 2018). Since this misconception, the resulting era of mass incarceration has been deemed the primary civil rights issue of the twenty-first century (Mauer, 2018).

Following the same perspective as the class material, the documentary references Birth of a Nation as an influential film for accurately predicting how race would operate in the United States. Stevenson (2018) refers to the era of this films debut as the time in which color emerged as the defining mark for the United States to shape its culture, politics, and economy. The film referenced the black male as an animalistic threat to white society, sparking a theme in which created an implicit fear for the “white prey” versus the “black predator” (DuVernay, 2016). Randall Kennedy discussed the influence of this theme in our class lecture, when describing the supposed race-neutral policy of disparate penalties for crack cocaine and powder as a sensible response in order to protect the law-abiding white people “against the criminals preying on them” (as cited in Mauer, 2018).

The war on drugs was a historic political initiative that served as the solution to criminalize the problem of a now freed black population (Stevenson, 2018). Interpreted as a crime issue instead of a health issue, society prioritized punishment over rehabilitation simply because it was seen to be affecting only the population of lesser interest; African Americans (Mauer, 2018). Disparate sentencing then came into effect as a byproduct of which population each drug was effecting; crack was more punitive than cocaine because crack was seen to be black crime problem, while the white cocaine users needed treatment instead (DuVernay, 2016). This trend is allowed to continue through mass incarceration of drug offenders, as it serves to blacken America’s prison population because of our neglect to recognize the impact of history on black Americans.

Once you’ve been branded a criminal, some aspect of Jim Crow are now legal for these same reasons. African Americans are inherently subjected to a compound effect of mass incarceration, since the practice has lead to an increased number of criminals convicted for low-level drug offenses and increased sentences for those with a prior record; both of which we know are already common for African American population (Stevenson, 2018). It’s because of this that we have more black males under correctional supervision than we ever had in slavery (DuVernay, 2016). Stevenson (2018) goes as far to suggest that racial terror lynching, the war on drugs, and “race-neutral” policies like the habitual offender rule are all tools used to victimize African American communities. The racial biases within these policies, created to legalize racial subordination, have compromised the ability for just treatment in our criminal justice system (Stevenson, 2018). After centuries of freeing an oppressed population, only to condemn them to new forms of that same subjugation, this documentary begs the question; is the United States really the land of the free?

As this documentary led me develop a deeper understanding of this issue, I believe the answer is no. Our society is the product of the history that our ancestors had chosen, and we are left to develop it with nothing to go off of, except our history. A lack of understanding for that history is exactly what we have, in our historic failure to effectively address the legacy of racial inequality (Stevenson, 2018). And I believe that this documentary is a great tool to fill that hole; to educate society, escape resistance for understanding the victimization of black people, and confront our violent past in order to end the cycle our ancestors had created (Stevenson, 2018).

By Jenna Albitz



DuVernay, A. (Director) (2016). 13th,

Mauer, M. (2018). The endurance of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 31-56). Vintage Books.

Stevenson, B. (2018). A presumption of guilt: The legacy of America’s history of racial injustice. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 3-20). Vintage Books.


Just Another Kind of Hustle

Border Hustle: Private Prisons, Smugglers, and Cartels Cash in on Migrants by the Texas Tribune and TIME takes its viewers on a journey with Carlos and his six-year-old daughter, Heyli as they migrate from Honduras to the U.S. boarder in search of asylum. Smuggling is the economy of their transient town in the “wild East,”and so finding a coyote to transport them across the border was easy, but everything got harder from there. This area was under the Reynosa cartels watch; they are the ones who really decide who gets to pass through their border and who doesn’t. Carlos’s family had to pawn their house for the cartel to allow them passage across the river with a makeshift raft. Three thousand dollars later, a video was sent to the family of their safe crossing into Villahermosa (Border Hustle, 2019).

From there, Carlos and his child had to be shipped like cargo inside of a crowded truck for miles of highway until they reached the United States border. Unaware of the zero-tolerance policy put in affect under the Trump administration, he was led to believe that parents with children were free to go up to border patrol and ask for asylum. After spending thousands of dollars and grueling hours to get there, Carlos was criminally charged for transporting a child and Heyli was taken over 1,200 miles away from the only family she knew, in a country she did not understand (Border Hustle, 2019). The documentary goes on to explain how this small family is only one piece of the global industry built around smuggling, in the efforts to take advantage of America’s punitive policies against migration.

That zero-tolerance policy is one example of the processes being developed in which media narratives, political discourses, and laws are put in place to criminalize undocumented immigrants by catalyzing the expansion of border and interior immigration enforcement (Menjívar, et al., 2018).The United States federal government was known to reject asylum applications, even before the Trump administration (Menjívar, et al., 2018). Still, migration is all too often caused by fear of crime or fear of poverty in their country of origin, but those are only oversimplified symptoms of a vicious cycle. For instance, poverty makes it difficult to migrate because a certain amount of money is needed to pay coyotes, and in this case, cartels that allow you to pass through. Since some immigrants are migrating for the sole purpose of getting out of poverty, the process of migration, legally or illegally, only increases the financial desperation for that population. Therefore, this cycle is part of a larger profiting system of exclusion and inclusion, acting to normalize linkages between human mobility and crime while discriminating against the financially predisposed immigrant populations (Martínez, Martínez-Schuldt & Cantor, 2017).

Not only this, but privatized detention centers are paid for the number of immigrants they catch. It’s a business; their goal isn’t for public safety, service, or housing illegal persons, but to make approximately three hundred dollars per day. The Crimmigration article refers to this ICE standard as a bed mandate, where the number of beds filled for the detention centers quota directly correlates with the number of immigrants detained. Although the documentary says detention centers are working within ICE standards, ICE isn’t directly involved in the operation within these facilities (Martínez, Martínez-Schuldt & Cantor, 2017). This has created growing concerns of ethno-racial profiling and humanitarian mistreatment within these facilities (Menjívar, et al., 2018). An environment with no oversight can only breed mistreatment and discrimination, specifically for the unauthorized use of a workforce comprised of detention center detainees for little or no pay (Border Hustle, 2019).

Border Hustle gives any viewer a clear insight into the personal, rather than political, implications of criminalized immigration policies. Since this is a different perspective than discussed in class, it would be beneficial to viewers to see just how these policies can disproportionality change the lives of others; it’s a true sign of privilege when you don’t treat every piece of policy as life or death. This is the underlying ethnocentric nature of public discourse surrounding immigration policy, under the guise of freedom for all (Menjívar, et al., 2018). Not only this, but immigration is plainly portrayed as a social construct by the ways that immigration enforcement is supposed to be civil, not criminal. Yet is the mistreatment that these people go through is the same as they would have stayed outside of our borders; American enforcers just get to wear uniforms when they do it.

Seeing that six-year-old girl cry inconsolably to her mother during a facetime call from thousands of miles away put a name to the face of those mistreated within our system, and gave me an in-depth understanding of the issue at hand. America has been built upon the basis of freedom for all and equal treatment under the law, but only for those deemed legal citizens within our borders. The new life that these immigrants chase after is taken at a high price; in Heyli’s case, a price of separation, debt, and traumatization. This goes directly against what the American Dream promises, which leads me to believe that it’s an illusion only applicable to the “us” of America, and not “them.” In a way, criminalization of immigrants is the modern Mexican version of African American slavery; both exploited, neither having a choice (Border Hustle, 2019). So, this documentary poses the question, is history repeating itself? These people believe that once they reach America, the extortion would end, but it’s just another kind of hustle.

By Jenna Albitz



Border Hustle: Private Prisons, Smugglers, and Cartels Cash in On Migrants. (2019). Retrieved from

Martínez, D. E., Martínez-Schuldt, R. D., & Cantor, G. (2017). Providing Sanctuary or Fostering Crime? A Review of the Research on “Sanctuary Cities” and Crime​. Sociology Compass12(1). doi: 10.1111/soc4.12547

Menjívar, C., Cervantes, A. G., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration,” mass detention, and deportation. Sociology Compass12(4). doi: 10.1111/soc4.12573

One Out of Five Lower-Class Schizophrenics

In the PBS documentary The Released by Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor, they follow five severely mentally ill men after they had been released from prison. In this case, severe mental illness was defined by requiring daily anti-psychotic medication to begin functioning in a stable way (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). Following the deinstitutionalization of mental illness, those men are joined by over half of prisoners with serious mental illness to become a part of the largest exodus in our nation’s history. Nearly two-thirds of those prisoners were re-arrested in a little over a year, most for crimes that directly related to their mental illness (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). This deinstitutionalization was meant to give them the same rights and freedoms as the rest of us, but failed to consider that one isn’t really free when struggling with mental health; a well-meaning policy, but it went too far.

After being released with only a bus ticket, seventy-five dollars, and two weeks’ worth of medication, these five men began to see how there was a better level of care while incarcerated than what they could receive in the community. Most were isolated from their support systems because of their past histories of violence, but this proved only to perpetuate further violence, as no one was there to guide these individuals in their transition back into their communities or even help them stay on their medications. After being re-incarcerated only 1 month following release, one of the men being documented said “I was going to stay on my meds. And they were working. So I got tired of taking them. I thought I was cured” (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). This refers to the all too familiar “revolving door” concept, in which those with mental illness are too often incarcerated and stabilized, then set free unsupervised to ultimately stop taking their medication in the belief that they no longer need it (Edelman, 2017). This ends in mental relapse, increasing the likelihood of crime and re-incarceration. Proving this point, four of the five men followed in this documentary had been rearrested within the seven month filming period (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009).

This production went on to ask the questions, what happens to the mentally ill after they leave prison and why are they coming back at such shocking rates? Well to start, I said the revolving door concept was all too familiar because it is also a key function in the criminalization of the homeless population (Edelman, 2017). That vicious cycle is only different in its added priority of medication, to the already insurmountable need for stable housing and work that leave little income for necessities such as that medication. Some individuals may qualify for income support towards their treatment, but our society’s broken mental health system and impoverished social networks can take away these eligibilities once the individual has a criminal record (Edelman, 2017).

As we discussed in class, homelessness is one of the many destabilizing life events that can disproportionately affect subgroups like the mentally ill population, acting as a trigger to other problems like psychotic breaks. These breaks are commonly the result of experiencing trauma and violence, which we also know are highly correlated with homelessness (Edelman, 2017). Emergency shelters are set as somewhat effective solutions for the typical homeless population, but many are known to negatively target this subset of the low-income homeless population. The article discussed in class, Housing Not Handcuffs, explicitly describes how these institutions foster an unstable environment not fit for mental rehabilitation and can outright turn away those with documented severe mental illness. This leaves the mentally ill lower-class to join encampments, risking sweeps that could result in the loss of medications and irreplaceable mementos that are essential for mental stability (Middleton, 2014).

The lucky few offenders, one out of every fifty on average, get reentry programs to help them transition back into their community. Few homeless shelters even house the mentally ill, and even fewer help with their treatment (Middleton, 2014). Just one of the five men that this documentary followed had been one of those few, and he was the only left that had not been re-arrested by the time the filming period ended (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). For obvious reason, I don’t believe that to have been a matter of coincidence.

The content presented in this documentary not only enhanced my knowledge about the mentally ill, but also solidified the belief that lower-income individuals are disproportionately affected by the cyclical nature of re-incarceration. I would recommend this media source to others that wish to see what is really waiting for lower-class ex-convicts on the other side. They would see that mental illness acts as a catalyst to both re-incarceration and homelessness, but not for lack of trying. Since this goes against the negative social blame we pin on those who struggle in ways we cannot understand, it is best to hear it from the five men themselves. But to sum up, every one of the five men had said they were “going to be gone and stay gone” from jails, and would be sure to take their medications to ensure that would happen (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). Even so, what met them on the outside did next to nothing to facilitate true treatment; not financially, mentally, or socially within their communities. And so, whether they are lower-class individuals wrought with homelessness, lower-class individuals wrought with mental illness, or any variation and combination of the two, the released are inevitably lead to the damnation of repeated debt, re-incarceration, and relapse.


By Jenna Albitz



Edelman, P. B. (2017). Not a crime to be poor: the criminalization of poverty in America. New York: The New Press.

Middleton, M. K. (2014). Housing, Not Handcuffs: Homeless Misrecognition and “SafeGround Sacramentos” Homeless Activism. doi: 10.1111/cccr.12055

Navasky & O’Connor (2009, April 28). The Released. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from