When Will We Tear Down U.S. Prisons—'Monuments That Enforce Terror'?
This article was originally published on Black Agenda Report.
New York state prison guards assaulted and seriously injured 69-year-old former Black Panther Herman Bell this week, a totally unprovoked beating timed to sabotage his chances for parole after more than 40 years behind bars. In neighboring New Jersey, former Panther Sundiata Acoli was denied parole last December shortly before his 80th birthday. Acoli has been behind bars since 1973, and eligible for parole since 1992. His next parole hearing won’t come up for another 15 years—when Acoli is 95 years old.
Dozens of elderly black activists remain entombed in a gulag that has expanded seven-fold since the federal government crushed the black liberation movement and established a national Black Mass Incarceration State. Although slightly less than half the 2.3 million gulag inmates are African-Americans, the system’s founding rationale and central mission is race-based: to contain, control, and facilitate the removal of black people from U.S. society. Although the U.S. is home to five times more whites than blacks, African-Americans outnumber whites in U.S. prisons and jails.
Black mass incarceration has been quite popular, historically—a proven vote-getter among whites in all regions of the country. However, what goes around, comes around. In building the world’s largest prison system to house the mostly non-white prey of the planet’s most intrusive police state, the U.S. has condemned to the dungeons millions of non-targeted whites—unintended, collateral damage of the race wars that birthed the nation and built an empire.
As BAR [Black Agenda Report] contributor Danny Haiphong writes in this week’s issue, “Prisons in the U.S. are monuments that enforce terror against oppressed people.” Indeed, these monuments to present-day oppression are far more numerous than the Confederate symbols that are the focus of current conflict. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 1,503 physical symbols of the Confederacy, including 718 monuments and statues and 109 public schools, 80 counties and 10 military bases named for Confederate icons. Yet, Johnny Reb’s footprint on the landscape is tiny compared to the 5,000 state and federal prisons and jails, plus about 1,000 juvenile and tribal detention facilities that crater the nation—a vast infrastructure of race and class rule.
The so-called “alt-right” has been hard-pressed to gather more than a few hundred Nazis, Klansmen and right-wing militia to make a stand around Confederate landmarks. This rag-tag “fascist threat” is dwarfed by the 431,600 prison guards that staff America’s penal monuments to the dictatorship of rich white men.
It is commendable and necessary to go blow-for-blow in the streets against predatory racist gangs. It is also clear that Donald Trump is giving political aid and comfort to today’s sons and daughters of the old Confederacy who, although not yet able to mass in large numbers, could do so in the future. But that threat pales in comparison to the three-quarters of a million sworn police officers that strut the streets of America, killing black and brown people with impunity and dragging hundreds of thousands into the gulag every year. According to Police magazine, 84 percent of cops supported Donald Trump for president. The statistic is no surprise, but points up the real threat to black lives and the rule of law: the state, itself.
The same state that Herman Bell and Sundiata Acoli resisted, two generations ago.