This article is a response to Bruce Dixon's March 27 piece, "Black mass Incarceration -- Is it New? Is it Jim Crow? ""
" Genocide must be understood as a process that goes thru stages."
Mass Incarceration is the 2.3 million people held in prisons across the country, almost 1 million of them Black and about another - million of them Latino. (This doesn't count immigrants held in detention centers.) But it is also much more than that. It encompasses the 5 million formerly incarcerated people who are treated like 2 nd class citizens despite having paid their "debt to society." When you add to this the families and loved ones of all these people -- because when someone goes to jail the lives of their whole family revolves around their incarceration -- you have tens of millions of people forced to live their lives enmeshed in the web of the criminal injustice system.
The unjust incarceration of Black people on a mass scale is certainly not new. In addition to the post-Civil War Black Codes that Dixon cites (which were used to continue the enslavement of Black people under another name), incarceration was used disproportionately against Black people throughout the 20 th century. (See Condemnation of Blackness by Khalil Gibran Muhammad) But as Dixon says, incarcerating this many people is unprecedented, not only in US history, but in world history.
" Incarceration was used disproportionately against Black people throughout the 20 th century."
This mass incarceration amounts to a slow genocide targeting Black and Latino people. This is not exaggeration -- it's a scientific assessment. People being put in camps or marched to death chambers are final acts of genocide, but genocide must be understood as a process that goes thru stages. The international definition of genocide is putting a people in whole or in part in conditions that make it impossible to survive and thrive as a people. In his book, Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State , Richard Lawrence Miller identifies 5 stages of the process of genocide. 1) Identification. 2) Stigmatization. 3) Segregation. 4) Theft of property. 5) Extermination. He drew this off of a study of Nazi Germany's handling of Jews during World War Two. There are likely to be variations in the process of genocide in other situations, but Black people have already been put through a number of these steps. And when you look at the way mass incarceration has already affected Black people (and Latinos as well) in the inner cities across the US, you see that a slow genocide is in progress, one that could easily be speeded up. (Developing this is outside the scope of this article, but consider the fact that for a sizeable section of the base of the Republican Party slavery is seen as a gift to African-Americans, and people without health insurance should be left to die.)
" The international definition of genocide is putting a people in whole or in part in conditions that make it impossible to survive and thrive as a people."
Why is this happening? Let's pull back the lens and look at the larger picture. The skyrocketing incarceration rates in the US began in the 1970's, in the aftermath of the urban rebellions of the 1960's which spearheaded the development of a revolutionary movement that rocked the US government back on its heels, and as the process of searching for greater profit margins was driving the shift of manufacturing out of the US to countries around the world. From one end, the US rulers felt a need to exert greater control over Black youth to ensure they would not be in position to spark another round of uprisings and all that could mean. At the same time, the shift of manufacturing was leaving growing numbers of young Black people without legitimate means to survive and raise families.
A Prison Industrial Complex?
It was at this point that the Nixon administration launched a war on drugs and a war on crime. Both these wars were to be waged primarily in Black communities. Later in the 1980's, the US Congress passed laws that disproportionately targeted people in the inner cities, like the 100 to 1 disparity in penalties for possession of crack and powder cocaine. What we had here was a combination of conscious government policies and the very operation of the US capitalist system that led to the mass incarceration we see today.
How conscious were these policies? Nixon is reported to have said at a cabinet meeting in the early 70's, "The problem is the Blacks, and we have to devise a solution that doesn't acknowledge that this is what we're dealing with." And as the de-industrialization of the US proceeded, the ruling class was increasingly confronted with large numbers of Black (and increasingly Latino) youth who the system offered no future. The solution to this problem was heightened racial profiling -- stop & frisk, gang injunctions, etc. -- that served as a pipeline to prison for so many of our youth.
The reason it is incorrect to conceive of this as a prison industrial complex is that all this was launched well before there were any forces pushing this agenda in order to profit from it. The for-profit prison industry developed much later. It wasn't prison guard unions or construction companies or rural areas looking to revive their economies by building prisons driving this. It was a ruling class developing policies to deal with a section of people they hated and feared.
" As the de-industrialization of the US proceeded, the ruling class was increasingly confronted with large numbers of Black (and increasingly Latino) youth who the system offered no future."
We are dealing with a problem that is built into the very fabric of US capitalism. You can't uproot it by countering the political influence of these forces that Angela Davis identified when she developed the PIC concept.
(As an aside, you have to wonder about using Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex as a model to understand mass incarceration. The MIC was wrong and unscientific too. Here you had the outgoing main political representative of US imperialism, who had presided over the invasion of Lebanon, CIA engineered coups in Iran and Guatemala and more, telling us the problem was something other than US imperialism!)