A Quick Look at Criminal Justice and Racism in the Context of Capitalism.
Four quickly stated things we hardly ever talk about:
- Shareholders of private prisons earn on average $150 per occupied bed, per day, and spend millions of dollars each year lobbying the state legislature and the federal government to make more things illegal.
- Police unions fund political campaigns for judges and also subsidize the district attorney’s office in many States.
- Probation and parole departments are being privatized across the country. The longer someone is supervised, the more money these companies make — a perverse incentive.
- The Defense Industry, to sell more shiny toys, lobbied Congress to allocate hundreds of millions over the last decade alone to police departments. Not for social workers and training but for weapons and military vehicles.
What does this have to do with racism?
Because if you are black in this country, for one, where you live or where your parents and grandparents lived, it was oftentimes determined or authorized by people with separatist ideologies.
And now say it is your job as a police officer or justice official to improve public safety, and that is quantified by how many arrests you make, how many prosecutions you pursue, what your jail occupancy rate is: you are inevitably going to go hunting for numbers where people are most vulnerable and least likely to have familiar access to anyone with the power to help them rectify an injustice put upon them.
Slavery isn’t illegal — It is privatized inside prison walls.
McDonald’s, Target, Walmart, and hundreds more: they all use prison labor. The average income for a State prisoner that works a 40 hour week is $18. With a few rare exceptions, regular prison jobs are still unpaid in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
The formative centuries in this country: the four hundred years, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolution(s), and even The White House, the beacon of Western democracy: all built with free labor, provided by human beings who were stolen from their communities under the cover of night, then marched, sometimes hundreds of miles in chains to be loaded into the hull of a ship, and tied up to one another for the long journey across the Atlantic.
They arrived months later in port and had their surnames taken from them before being sold into a lifetime of servitude. The only discernible difference between them and the other being the color of their skin.
White people did all of this, for money.
And we act in this country like it never happened or at least that we, Americans’, aren’t responsible for what our ancestors did and let’s say that argument holds up: it doesn’t negate that fact that you are and have been well aware of the historical and current-day raw deal black people are receiving in this country.
Racism is one of America’s founding principles. The majority of people whose signature appears on our founding document were slave owners.
How many black people do you know with the surname Washington? That name didn’t come from Senegal or Nairobi. It came from Britain, from Virginia.
I’ll close out with the words of the person that inspired this post. Dr. Cornel West, whose lectures I used to sneak into at Princeton and who said this to Anderson Cooper on CNN this past Monday:
‘White America ought to give Black People a standing ovation that after 400 years of being terrorized we refuse to create a black version of the Ku Klux Klan.’
The nuance of this quote is that white people should all sleep soundly, if only for tonight, that after generations of rampant violence, blatant profiteering, and prolonged complacency: black people, on the whole, are looking only for equality and not for revenge.
Thank you for reading this. See the interview with Dr. West, here.