DECIMATING EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION ON BLACK AMERICA
By Uriah J. Fields
The recent observance of Juneteenth in Charlottesville, Virginia, serves as a fitting introduction to this discourse on "Mass/Targeted Incarceration: The Destruction of Black America," the descriptive title of this article. A portion of the three-day highlighting of the mass incarceration of black men featured a panel discussion that was held in the Charlottesville City Council Chambers that focused on Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness."
Prior to the discussion a Proclamation, signed by Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris was presented by Vice Mayor Holly Edwards. It called for more favorable treatment of ex-offenders by the citizens of Charlottesville. Here are excepts from the Proclamation: "WHEREAS ex-offenders returning to Charlottesville after completing the terms of their incarceration encounter barriers as they attempt to establish themselves as productive citizens and restore their family relationships, and WHEREAS for African-Americans who comprise the majority of ex-offenders returning to Charlottesville, the obstacles to successful re-entry are often exacerbated by negative racial attitudes in the commuity, and... . ...BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the City Council declares Charlottesville to be "A City of Second Chances" for ex-offenders, and that all departments of City Government continue to give fair and appropriate review to all ex-offenders' applications for employment and to make hiring decisions in such cases based on the applicants' knowledge, skills, abilities and potential for success, and... , ... BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution is adopted in the cause of social and economic justice for ex-offenders and their families, no less than in the cause of prudent management of public resources and a concern for the quality of life of all our citizens." Portions of this Procalamation are cited here because of the significance and the challenge it offers to other local, state and federal governments to deal more justly and humanely toward ex-offenders.
The name Juneteenth is a combination of the month of June and the latter part of nineteenth, that marks the date Texans, including slaves in Texas, received the news that slavery had ended. The Civil War had ended on April 9, 1865 when General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the Union Army at Appomattox Court House. Immediately after the war ended, with the exception of Texas with a population comprised of 30% slaves, the other ten Confederate States that had seceded from the Union and the five Border Slave states began compliance with the Emancipation Proclamation that mandated freedom for slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Abraham Lincoln almost two and a half years earlier on January 1, 1863, but was not enforceable during the Civil War due to the minimal number of Union soldiers. With the war having ended Union soldiers were available to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
From its Galveston origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were free. On the arrival of General Granger, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and oversee the resistance of Texans to end slavery. One of General Granger's first orders of business was to read to the people Texas General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance
with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States,
all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights,
and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and
the connection therefore existing between them become that
betweem employers and free laborers."
A brief return to the panel discussion. The panel was moderated by Andrea D. Copeland. The distinguished panelists were Deborah McDowell, Rick Turner and Hepzibah Pawl. They agreed that author Michelle Alexander had not only factually stated the nature of mass incarceration of black males but delineated its ramifications and impact on black America. During the question and answer period this writer asked panelists the same question he had asked the late John Hope Franklin, a preeminent historian and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, when he gave a leture at the University of Virginia during the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2006, three years before his death. This is my two-pronged question: "What is your evaluation of the incarceration of black men and what do you propose should be done to address the mass incarceration of black men?" In his response the ninety-one year old scholar who had devoted his life to empowering people and fighting for racial justice as evidenced in his highly acclaimed book, "From Slavery to Freedom," speaking with tears in his voice, said "There is nothing that grieves me more than what is happening to our black boys and young black men. Their lives are being destroyed and it is doing irreparable damage to African Americans." He called upon the Government to institute a comparable Marshall Plan to deal with the incarceration of black men.
Answers to my question given by members of the panel were: cessation of silence about black incarceration, education that is effective for educating black males and the restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders. They emphasized the lack of employment for young black men, the high rate of school drop-outs and poverty as contributing factors that should be addressed by elected officials and people in the community.
The term "mass/targeted incarceration" is appropriately used to indicate that incarceration profiling of young black men may be compared to a shotgun and a rifle being fired in the same direction simultaneously. The shotgun shots are like unto the mass shots that are aimed generally at black men and the rifle shot is like unto the targeted shot that is aimed at black young men specifically.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 7,225.800 people at yearend 2009 were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole. This is about 3.1% of adults in the United States resident population. There are 2,292.133 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. The 2010 U.S. Census shows that Blacks constitute 12.6% of the population. As indicated below the percentage of black people incarcerated is much greater. Of the 2,292.133 persons incarcerated the percentages by race are:
Race Population In Prison
Black 12.6% 46.1%
Hispanics 16.3% 15.9%
White 69.3% 34.7%
There are 841,000 black males and 64,000 black females incarcerated. An estimated 4.8% of black men as compared with 1.9% of Hispanics and 0.7% of white men are incarcerated.
The incarceration of Hispanics includes illegal or undocumented Hispanic immigrants. It is estimated that there are 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States with the majority of them being Mexicans. According to the Department of Homeland Security approximately 300,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants are incarcereated in Federal, State, County and local correctional facilities. Without including incarcerated illegal immigrants the percentage of Black incarcerated would be nearly 50% of the prison population. It is obvious that there is a plan designed by white supremacy controllers to eliminate or render impotent black people in America. They are committed to reversing the accomplishment of the Civil War and the achievements of the Civil Rights years in the nineteen fifties and sixties.
Currently, many prisoners are in private prisons that are paid for by taxpayers. These are money-making enterprises. If there are to be private prisons they should be paid for by private enterprise, not by taxpayers. Free labor provided by prisoners would go a long way in that regard. Prisoners provide labor that produce many kinds of products and goods that are sold to Walt Mart and the Military, to name only two recipients of the labor of prisoners. Yet, when these prisioners who are not compensated for their labor are released they cannot find a job to do work as they did while in prison. Once a person is classified as an ex-felon he/she may be unable to get a job, receive a grant to attend school, live in public housing or register to vote. And the list of exclusions and denials goes on and on. This is the damnable and shameful response of our immoral society offers ex-offenders. Even if a person goes to prison for a short period of time he is designated as and ex-felon and shackled with the same denials and exclusions as if he had served a lengthy prison sentence. Ex-offenders should be first in line to vote. This would be a practical way for them to learn to be responsible citizens and take care of their own communities and nation. Health issues among prisoners are grave and ex-prisoners very often adversely impact other citizens. The spread of AID within and outside of prisons is one example of inadequate health care for prisoners and ex-prisoners. It must be emphasized that the prison system is a big money-making business. Private prison operators, in particular, and the prison system operators in general have a vested interest in keeping as many people in prison as possible and as long as possible. Unlike some hospital operators that may find it beneficial to keep a patient in every bed, some prison operators want prisoners even when there is no bed available. To be sure prisons are about racism, but they are also about profit. The two are in juxtaposition to acomplish mass incarceration. Think for a moment about how many people owe their jobs to the criminal justice system in general and to prisoners in particular.
A recent study shows that the recidivism rate, ex-prisoners returning to prison, is 67.5% within three years. That should not be surprising in light of the obstacles ex-offenders face that include not being able to get a job, or live in public housing, receive food stamps, and the list goes on. It is no wonder that they resort to stealing, robbing and other criminal activities.
How can America be the "world's number one jailer" when there is not only more wealth but more churches in America than any other country in the world? America also has an abundance of synagogues and mosques. It appears that the high rate of incarceration of black men is an indictment of Christian churches in America. It is not amiss to ask, If Christianity, as practiced, is a factor that contributes to the high rate of incarceration of black men? In Japan where Christianity is nebulous the incarceration rate is only a decimal fraction of what it is in America.
The incarceration of black men deprives black women of husbands, black children of in-home fathers, stifles black life in general and presents an ever-on-display image of the powerlessness and despicableness of African Americans who are in a caste regardless to what class they portend to be membes of. No race can advance further than its men take it. Contrary to all the talk about the superior power of women, observe any society, anywhere in the world, and it is obvious that men have roles and responsibilities, including waging war, that may be necessary in a greed-infested world. Fighting war is more desirable than enslavement. The old black spiritual born in slavery put it this way, "Before I be a slave I'll die and be buried in my grave." That was a man speaking. The fact that more black men are in prison than in college and if the present trend continues exponentially twenty years hence there will be more black men in prison than in college, high school and employed, combined. Many jobs black men should and just maybe would have if they were not in prison are jobs done by illegal immigrants and other ethnic people, many of whom have not been in America two generations. African Americans have been in America 400 years, including 245 years when they were enslaved, providing free labor for white people just as black prisoner are doing today.
This writer is not opposed to undocumented immigrants working in America even though
they were brought or allowed to be in America so profiteers could profit from cheap labor. It may be that immigrants will contribute to black salvation. It was Blacks who gave them a head start, including the right to vote and other benefits for which some blacks, including Martin Luther King, Jr., died to achieve. In the foreseeable future their numbers will enable them to make a significant difference in economics and politics, making a shift in power. Numbers count.
This writer agrees with John Hope Franklin that the Government need to provide a Marshall Plan program to address the incarceration of black men and allied factors that account for it. This, however, cannot be achieved without direct confrontation on the part of black people in particular, and other for-justice-oriented people. Frederick Douglass stated it right when he said "Power never concedes without demand." Organization and mobilization similar to what happened in the nineteen fifties and sixties are necessary to make a Marsall Plan program possible. In a word people have to make the Govenment institute a Marshall Plan, by any other name, to address the mass incarceration of black men. Incarceration of black men is the most serious problem black people have faced since slavery. It has the possibility of being more destructive than segregation and racial discrimination. This writer helped start the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was the original secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association that provided organizational leadership for the bus boycott. At that time I was also pastor of a church that was bombed on the night when three other churches and two parsonages were bombed by die-hard segregationists who made a last ditch attempt to prevent bus desegregation in Montgomery. In a certain way the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks' refusal to give a white man her bus seat when asked to do so by a bus driver, began the new Civil Rights Movement that took wings in the nineteen sixties. Yes, there is a price to pay in making such demand, but for the future of the black race dare black people and justice-loving people to do less. It is necessary and now is the time to take similar direct action in the matter of mass incarceration as was taken during the Civil Rights Movement to eradicate legal segregation. This is our obligation. We have no other choice if we do not want the blood of future generations to be on our hands. The Bible declares,
"... God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." (Ex. 20:5)
O Brothers and Sisters Wake Up Now
1. O Brothers and Sisters wakeup now,
and help save our dying race,
We are losing too many every day
Who have a right to live
Often they are young, too young to die;
Help save our dear Brothers' precious lives,
Help save our dear Sisters' precious lives.
2. The guns, drugs, and prisons are killers
Of our people young and old.
We are victims everyday wherever we go;
And it's because we're black.
We are the last hired and the first fired;
3. O Brothers and Sisters unite now
And become race warriors;
We must fight if we would win,
This is our fight, And that's always been true.
O yes, this may be the final call.
Copyright 2011 by Uriah J. Fields