by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
- Because the U.S., with 4.5 % of the world's population, has 25% of the planet's prisoners. We are the world's first prison state.
- Because African Americans, who are one eighth the nation's population, are almost half it's 2.3 million prisoners, and because Latinos, also an eighth of the U.S., are more than a quarter of the locked down.
- Because prisons do not make us safer. Incarceration rates DO NOT match rates of crime or drug use. Whites, blacks and Latinos have nearly identical rates of drug use, but the "war on drugs" is almost exclusively prosecuted in nonwhite and poor neighborhoods. Local police funding is often tied to drug arrests, and nonwhites are universally charged with more serious crimes, convicted more frequently, and sentenced more harshly than whites.
- Because former prisoners are viciously and almost universally discriminated against in housing, employment, health care and the right to vote for the rest of their lives.
- Because if Dr. King were alive today, he too would oppose the prison state the U.S. has become.Time For A Political Response to the Crisis of Mass Incarceration: Join the Campaign To End Mass Incarcerationby BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“...we've waited in vain for black civic, media, religious and political leaders, our black elite, to come up with a political response to the nation's social policy of mass black incarceration. It's not coming.”
We've been writing for years , in Black Agenda Report, and before this, in Black Commentator about how the heinous impact of our nation's policy of mass incarceration is, whether our supposed leaders recognize it or not, the number one problem of Black America. Fully thirty percent of black males between 18 and 30 are locked away. In the depressed inner-city areas of Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, and a dozen other places, more than eighty percent of black males have a prison record by the age of thirty.
Along with many others, we've identified the crisis of mass incarceration as stemming not from poor education, or broken families, not from disproportionate crime and drug use, not from fading morals or a supposed culture of poverty and violence. As legal scholar Michelle Alexander and many others have demonstrated, mass incarceration is a bipartisan political policy, conceived and implemented from the Reagan administration onward, first to build a political coalition on white racism, and afterward to sustain corporate profits, political careers, and socially useful myths.
Like many of you, we've waited in vain for black civic, media, religious and political leaders, our black elite, to come up with a political response to the nation's social policy of mass black incarceration. It's not coming. This kind of fundamental change will not be brought about by the professional political “pragmatists” whose vision is always limited to what they can get through a state legislature, a regulatory board, or the Congress this session.
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander points out that if U.S. incarceration levels were rolled back to those of the early 1980s, well over a million of the locked down would be released, and an additional million contractors, sheriffs, cops, judges, guards, prison administrators and others would be out of work. After more than a dozen years of campaigning against the 100 to 1 differential between sentences for crack vs powder cocaine, the best our pragmatic traditional leaders could do, with a black Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, was to narrow the crack vs powder differential from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, not by lowering penalties for crack, but mainly by increasing those for powder cocaine. Our pragmatic leaders simply have no stomach for this kind of change. They can't lead it, they can't follow it, they cannot even conceive of it.
“Georgia is, we think, a propitious place to begin a campaign against mass incarceration.”
So Black Agenda Report and the Green Party of Georgia are taking the initiative. We are launching the Campaign to End Mass Incarceration. The Green Party of Georgia, the state committee of which this author is a member, is committed to raising the funds for an organizer, and by the summer we expect to be conducting public meetings around the state of Georgia, where almost any town of any size is a prison town.
Georgia is, we think, a propitious place to begin a campaign against mass incarceration. The state is 26% black, a percentage only exceeded by Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana. It not only contains metro Atlanta, the second largest concentration of black population on the continent, but large black populations in medium and smaller cities like Valdosta, Macon, Augusta, Albany, Savannah, and Columbus, along with small towns and a rural black belt. Georgia leads the nation with an astounding one in thirteen adults under lock and key or court or correctional supervision. The shadow of prison falls on nearly every black family in the state.
We invite everybody to visit us at www.endmassincarceration.org , and register for our email lists, participate in the public discussion, and help us build and sustain this Campaign to End Mass Incarceration. Over the next few months, we will be building networks of prisoners and families, and concerned citizens who want to see the nation's policy of mass incarceration rolled back, who want to see the end of the prison state as we know it, and who value restorative justice over the regime of meanness, vengeance and profitability that currently exists.
We think the recent work of Georgia's Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights, the ad hoc coalition that sprung up in immediate response to the strike by Georgia inmates in early December, has important lessons about the potency of civic action to challenge the prison state.
When the coalition, a broad based entity which included the state conference of NAACPs, the Nation of Islam, the Ordinary Peoples Society, the US Human Rights Network, Elaine Brown and others demanded meetings with state authorities and access to some of the prisons, the access was granted. Observer teams from civic groups pierced the walls of secrecy and denial to reveal the heinous and inhuman conditions imposed on prisoners and their families, and are expected to release a report on their findings soon. We hope the coalition will pursue its interrogation of conditions behind the walls, and expect with this campaign to make a significant contribution to their ongoing effort.
But political problems, imposed upon us by politicians for political reasons must have political solutions. So the Green Party of Georgia belongs in the middle of this. So does Black Agenda Report. Maybe you do too. Whether you live in Georgia or not, but especially if you do, visitwww.endmassincarceration.org  and sign up.
The site is still a work in progress, and over the coming weeks and months will include many more resources and discussions than it does at present, but everything has to start somewhere. Please include your zipcode, and indicate whether you are a prisoner, an ex-prisoner, family of a prisoner or other status. Right now, although there are prisoners in nearly every extended family, it's something we bear as a very private mark of shame, something we rarely share with even our closest friends and neighbors. Solutions start when we acknowledge problems, and the fact that our neighbors, thousands upon thousands, have the same problems. Join the Campaign to End Mass Incarceration . Let's stand and be counted. And let's figure out how to make this happen.
Bruce A. Dixon is a member of the state committee of the GA Green Party, and based in Marietta GA. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.