[Ppnews] Racism: The Growth Engine of the American Prison Gulag

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 21 11:57:36 EST 2007

Racism: The Growth Engine of the American Prison Gulag


Tuesday, 20 February 2007

by BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford

The U.S. prison system is projected to suck up 200,000 additional 
bodies between now and 2011, half of them African American. The 
burden of the Gulag, which has grown eightfold since 1970, is 
unbearable for Black America, whose institutions and dreams have for 
two generations been ravaged by a public policy of mass Black 
incarceration. The very existence of the American Gulag - the largest 
and most pervasive prison system in the history of mankind - presents 
a clear and present threat to U.S. society at-large, as the Bush men 
scheme to assassinate the Constitution in their bogus War on Terror. 
Over the past two decades, an infrastructure of social death has been 
constructed, that may ultimately become the tomb of American 
freedoms. It is past time to place a cap on any further expansion of 
the American Gulag, lest it swallow us all.

Racism: The Growth Engine of the American Prison Gulag

by BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford

  "The Gulag infrastructure is a Weapon of Mass Social Destruction."

By 2011, the U.S. prison and jail population will have added 
200,000 inmates - a 13 percent overall increase and a 16 percent jump 
for women, according to a <>50-state study by 
the Pew Charitable Trusts. About half these new inmates will be 
Blacks, whose mass confinement is the imperative that fuels the 
relentless growth of the largest and most pervasive Gulag in the 
history of mankind. The U.S. prison system is a horrific national 
monument to racism, that dwarfs and mocks the Statue of Liberty, 
revealing the United States as by far the planet's foremost Land of 
the Un-Free, Home of the Locked-Down - a rebuke to the authenticity 
of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The 200,000 new inmates projected for 2011 understates the huge 
presence of the Gulag in American society, especially African 
American life. The anticipated increase is for inmates serving 
sentences, currently about 1.5 million. The actual total currently 
behind prison and jail bars is about 2.2 million - again, half Black. 
This number would rise to just under 2.5 million in five years. 
However, more than seven million men and women are today under 
criminal justice system supervision, either prison, jail, parole or 
probation - a mass of humanity that would swell to nearly eight 
million by 2011, based on the Pew projections. That's roughly the 
population of New York City, or the 
<http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763098.html>combined populations of 
Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The number of new justice 
system-supervised persons, alone, will exceed the population of Detroit.

"Even the enormity of the gross incarceration numbers fails to 
express the grotesque intimacy with the Gulag that has been imposed 
on African American society."

In 2005, seven percent of state and federal inmates were incarcerated 
in private facilities, a proportion of captives-for-profit that is 
certain to rise dramatically unless current political trends are 
reversed. (For a comprehensive breakdown of the various components of 
the American Gulag, see the Bureau of Justice Statistics' 
"<http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/p05.pdf>Prisoners  in 2005.")

Yet even the enormity of the gross incarceration numbers fails to 
express the grotesque intimacy with the Gulag that has been imposed 
on African American society. As Paul Street reports in this issue of 
BAR, "one in three black males will be sent to state or federal 
prison at some point in their lives compared to one in six Latino 
males and one in seventeen white males."

The poisons of the Gulag have leached into the very fabric of Black 
society, obliterating "prospects for progress in every arena of 
African American life," as stated in an 
"<http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/cbcmonitor/>Urgent Petition to 
the Congressional Black Caucus" now circulating on the Internet.

Only a purposeful, conscious, unrelenting, systematically executed 
national public policy of Black mass incarceration in the United 
States - all 50 of them, and the federal government - can explain the 
Gulag's exponential growth over the last three and a half decades. 
The genesis of this public policy - which is arguably genocidal in 
its nature, dimensions, and impact - is equally clear: Mass Black 
incarceration is America's answer to the Black Freedom Movement of 
the Sixties and early Seventies.

Prison populations have ballooned eight-fold since 1970, and more 
since 1980. Tim Wise, the anti-racist activist and author, 
<http://www.zmag.org/RaceWatch/colcons.htm>notes that:

     "In 1964, 65% of all prison admits were white, while only 35% 
were people of color. By 1991, these figures had reversed. Did whites 
decide collectively to stop committing crimes in the intervening 
years, while Black and brown folks went nuts? Or was something else 
at work? According to FBI data, the percentage of crimes committed by 
African Americans has remained steady over the past 18 years, while 
the number of Blacks in prison has tripled and their rates of 
incarceration have skyrocketed."

The mass Black incarceration public policy that emerged as a reaction 
to the Black Freedom Movement, has long since taken on a life of its 
own - a Gulag that continues to spread like a pestilence across the 
land even in the absence of a Black movement and amid falling crime 
rates. Far from being satiated by the constant digestion of new Black 
bodies, the monster reaches back to the era of its birth, to snatch 
aging men who most exemplified the Gulag's reason-for-being: Black Panthers.
Past is Present

Last month's arrest of the 
Eight in the killing of a San Francisco police officer in 1971 
signals that the FBI is making good on former Bush Attorney General 
John Ashcroft's vow to 
<http://cleveland.indymedia.org/news/2007/02/24430.php>take vengeance 
against all ex-Panthers. At 64, Ashcroft is of the same generation as 
the defendants, but the persecution of the Panther Eight, the flimsy 
evidence against whom is soaked in police 
and political vendetta, is anything but some kind of "blast from the 
past," a settling of scores among old men. Rather, the case is one 
among many indications that the American state is gearing up to 
launch a new level of repression - that the mass Black incarceration 
policy of the previous three and a half decades, although hugely 
successful in both mutilating the social fabric of Black America and 
acclimating white America to a pervasive prison and police 
surveillance apparatus, is nevertheless insufficient to the new tasks 

"The American state is gearing up to launch a new level of repression."

<http://www.truthout.org/docs_03/printer_113003F.shtml>Cointelpro is 
back (as if it ever really left), but with a much more ambitious 
mission: to more firmly establish in law and practice the foundations 
for a centralized police-state regime that can respond quickly and 
massively to the domestic turmoil that must inevitably accompany a 
New International Order that George Bush had expected would be nearly 
achieved by now, if the first stage, the conquest of Iraq, had been 
successful. In this context, the arrest of the Panther Eight is just 
the closing of a 36-year-old loop, a connecting and bringing forward 
of older repressions - and ancient white hysterias - to buttress a 
New Domestic Order justified by the fictitious War on Terror. The 
Panther Eight are the specter of a permanent source of terror for 
white America: angry Black men.

Civil libertarians of all ethnicities understand the broad outlines 
of the planned new regime, legally centered on presidential fiat in 
time of (current and endless) war. As the Washington Post 
on December 18, 2005, when the Bush men were defending wholesale 
surveillance of Americans:

     "On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the 
authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of 
the commander in chief, describing the president's war-making powers 
in legal briefs as 'plenary' - a term defined as 'full,' 'complete,' 
and 'absolute.'"

But white Americans will not acquiesce to a police state that negates 
their civil liberties, or to inclusion in the corporate-refereed 
global "race to the bottom" - unless they are buffaloed by issues of 
race. It's the same old racial pattern, in which aging Panthers 
become useful to the state once again.

Immigrant "hordes" have joined Blacks as hysteria potions for white 
folks, allowing Bush to give Halliburton contracts to build 
"temporary" detention centers "for an unexpected influx of 
immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for 
new programs [emphasis ours] that require additional detention 
the Washington Post on February 4 of last year. However, the Bush men 
know that arbitrary detention of masses of immigrant Mexicans would 
cause profound political crisis south of the border, and among 
American employers. Black people understand who is to be detained: 
the usual suspects in the event of any "new programs" - us. Once the 
practice is accepted as "necessary" to control chaotic Black 
populations, another Rubicon will have been crossed in the march to a 
corporate-state dictatorship that will encage white society, as well 
- just as mass Black incarceration inevitably resulted in numerically 
more whites going to prison than before, although in far lesser 
proportions than Blacks.

In the future, as in the past, the police state will be built on a 
foundation of millions of living Black bodies stacked and sorted in 
the American Gulag. For African Americans, the threat of 
constitutional negation and mass detention did not begin on September 
11, 2001. It arrived in the late Sixties, and inexorably became an 
overarching reality that has largely destroyed our Freedom Movement 
dreams. We are now informed that 200,000 more bodies will be added to 
the penal system pile by 2011 - half of them ours.

African Americans will not accept this projected verdict as if 
written in stone. Point One of the Black Agenda Report/Congressional 
Black Caucus Monitor petition now in circulation demands that the 
CBC, "individually and collectively, take immediate action to:

action to sunset or repeal all mandatory sentencing legislation, 
eliminate the differential in penalties for crack and powdered 
cocaine, and halt privatization of prisons and prison health 
services.  America's prison population has multiplied eightfold since 
1970. African Americans are one-eighth of this nation, but fully half 
of her prisons and jails. Mass Black incarceration is a national 
public policy that destroys the prospects for progress in every arena 
of African American life. With projections that the prison and jail 
population will increase by nearly 200,000 in the next four years, 
the CBC should demand an immediate cap on federal and state prison 
growth, the latter on penalty of loss of federal criminal justice 
funding to those states not in compliance."

For two generations, virtually every Black family has heard the 
tolling of the prison bell. In truth, it is tolling for the 
Constitution, as well. Black America can no longer bear the weight of 
mass incarceration, but the larger society - and those African 
Americans who mistakenly believe they have somehow sidestepped the 
juggernaut - must also recognize that the Gulag infrastructure is a 
Weapon of Mass Social Destruction. Defuse it, or perish.

BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford (at) 

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