Looking Back: Radical Criminology and Social Movements

By Shank, Gregory | Social Justice, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Looking Back: Radical Criminology and Social Movements


Shank, Gregory, Social Justice


There are people who struggle for a day and they are good.

There are others who struggle for a year and they are better.

There are those who struggle many years, and they are better still.

But there are those who struggle all their lives:

These are the indispensable ones.

- Bertolt Brecht

Born in the U.S.A.

The launching of crime and social justice (now social justice) in 1974 was a logical extension of the creation of alternative - some thought revolutionary - institutions that had their roots in the period spanning the late 1960s to 1975: the free universities, cultural expressions like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Bay Guardian, and research groups like the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) that bridged the academic and off-campus "Movement" worlds (the civil rights, Black and Chicano Power, antiwar, gay liberation, and feminist impulses that gave such research its political poignancy).(l) In that sense, even though Crime and Social Justice was the first radical criminology journal in the United States, it began appropriately without much fanfare. Yet the year itself was anything but unremarkable. In the popular culture, the jazz world lost Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan was "Tangled up in Blue" on his Blood on the Tracks album, Muhammad Ali danced like a butterfly and stung like a bee, and Hank Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth's home run record. Although the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had already self-destructed by splintering into a group promoting symbolic violence and another intent on democratic-centralist oblivion, college campuses were still highly politicized due to the war in Indochina. Nonetheless, academic repression was beginning to take its toll (disrupting the livelihoods of faculty members who were among the founders of the journal). The Black Panther Party had split over whether to achieve their goals via a peaceful electoral strategy promoted by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton or through Eldridge Cleaver's last-gasp revolutionism (before he opted for reactionary politics), and the Black liberation movement had become polarized between Marxist and cultural nationalist positions. The Native American armed occupation of Wounded Knee began in 1973, but FBI repression at Pine Ridge remained intense through 1976. Meanwhile, the anti-rape movement had made significant progress as part of the larger women's movement, and prison reform was still a serious topic.

The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), who like some early radical criminologists romanticized prisoners, stormed onto the scene and kidnapped Patricia Hearst from a home near the journal's Berkeley office. It was not long before SLA members were incinerated on real-time TV. This episode helped to undermine much of the remaining public support the prisoner movement enjoyed and reinvigorated right-wing countersubversive forces that had run perilously short of genuine Communists to persecute. They seized upon the "international terrorism" issue by making spurious links between the SLA, the Weather Underground, Germany's Baader-Meinhof group, the Italian Red Brigades, the Angry Brigade (a British terrorist group founded on the principles of the Enrages of 1968 France), and the PLO, even though from 1965 to 1976 a substantial number of incidents involving political violence were attributable to right-wing and racist sources. The grand jury had become a police state instrument during its heyday between 1970 and 1974. Domestic government spying was intense; Francis Ford Coppola's movie, The Conversation, dramatized the Watergate-era paranoia over wiretapping, invasion of privacy, and the apparent absence of conscience at the highest levels of government. Between 1957 and 1974, the FBI's COINTELPRO operation kept files on nearly 500,000 Americans whom J. Edgar Hoover and other FBI officials considered to be subversives or potential "national security risks" and infiltrated organizations such as the Medical Committee for Human Rights and the National Lawyers Guild, not to mention the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. …

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