A must-read article about race, class, caste and the American prison system. A few facts from the piece:
- There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
- A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.
- If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.
The mass incarceration of African Americans over the past 30 years is primarily related to the War on Drugs — a convenient cover for a program essentially targeted at the black community. The talking points all came back to the supposed rates of drug-related violence, but that doesn’t exactly compute with historical fact:
President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
The vast majority of people arrested for drug-related offenses are non-violent, and are arrested for possession rather than selling. Just read the whole thing.
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