Tag Archives: Prison-Industrial Complex

Post the Ninth 2 or On the State and Activism

It has been a hard week.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court gutted the Voters Right Act. They basically said that the high voter registration of people of color and the fact that we elected a Black president means that we no longer need to ensure that people of color are not disenfranchised. Now, states do not need to submit their voting regulations to the federal government for approval. This means that states have the autonomy to change their procedures as they like, like instituting literacy tests and having a voter ID. It is the a huge blow against all of the work that the Civil Rights Movement built. It amazes me how so many decades of struggle can be undone in one day. It amazes me how many people died in Selma and other places in the South to try to vote and how easily the Supreme Court spit on their legacy. Our elders went through hell to pass that bill and in the blink of an eye it is gone.

Already, several states in the South have vowed to implement voter ID laws and early voting restrictions that were prohibited by the sections of the VRA that the court struck down. Because thats the thing; as much as the State and the Media would like to tell us, we are not post-racial. We do not live in a world that doesn’t see color. And anyone who tells you that is a fucking liar. The evidence that racism is still institutional is plain to see. From higher incarceration rates for Black and Brown folks, to Native families still being torn apart, to the higher rates of violence and murder to trans women of color, to the constant attack on reproductive rights, one can plainly see that racial justice has not been served. Almost 50 years since the start of the Civil Rights Movement, we are still not free. We are still struggling against colonialism and genocide.

But even though it is plain to us, it is not plain to white people. Because they don’t have to experience it like we do, they do not need to look at it. In fact, the system is set up so that white people can ignore it. This is called systemic white ignorance. In a nut shell, this means that white folks are choosing not to believe that these things still happen because to do so would admit being a guilty for the subjugation of others. On top of that, people of color are dehumanized at every turn and so white folks can more easily ignore the injustices made against us because we are not seen as fully human. They choose to ignore it because they can.

One of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to gain full access to State participation. They were struggling for recognition as full fledged citizens of the United States. They wanted to be fully protected and equal under the law. They were organizing to have full voting access, to be represented in legislative bodies. And I want to honor their struggle. I know that I am here because of them. I want to honor their legacy. However, if I’ve learned anything in these short years of my life, it is that the State will not protect me. The State, which is one of the biggest perpetrators of racial, gender and class violence will not fix the problems that it created. The State is predicated on colonial, patriarchal and genocidal logic. You cannot fix a system that was never broken. The system was designed this way. It was intentional.

The only reason why SB5 didn’t pass last night in the state legislature is because over 2000 people were holding the State accountable. Otherwise, they would have passed that shit, no problem.

So as I see the State continue to legislate against Black and Brown bodies, against women, against queer and trans people of color, I am continually reminded that the Masters tools will not dismantle the Masters house. I am recommitting myself to the revolutionary actions of my ancestors. I am recommitting myself to the collective liberation of all people. I am recommitting myself to dismantling the Masters house from the outside, using art and collective struggle across difference to bring down those systems that want to destroy me.

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Post the Eighth 2 or On Juneteenth and Modern Day Slavery

I want to start this by saying as a non-black Latin@ that I have less of a stake in this. While my people today are subject to increased targeting by the prison-industrial complex, my people were not subject to slavery in the North. As a mestiza from Colombia and Puerto Rico, I am unsure of what legacy I have with colonization and slavery. I write this for my non-black sisters and brothers, so that we can talk about the ways that slavery still effect us.

Today is Juneteenth. It is the day that commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in all of the United States in 1863, it didn’t roll out to all of the states until 1865 when the Union army came to Texas to enforce it 2 years later. In fact, Texas down right ignored the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union army had to take over the Texas government to make it happen.

Today is a day of celebration. It is the marking of a great victory. The liberation of a people from bondage. It is a commemoration that change can happen. And that often the change only comes at the point of a gun. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Union army, or even Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves because the believed in the liberation of the slaves. It was all about winning the war and having Texas conform to the federal law. Lincoln himself said that if he could have won the war without freeing slaves, he would have.

Which brings me to today. Yes, we should celebrate. Because something is better then nothing. However, our work as abolitionist is not done. We are not yet free. You see, when Lincoln wrote the 13th amendment, he outlawed slavery except when it was the punishment of a crime. Slavery is still legal. And the prison-industrial complex is the logical extension of chattel slavery. Black and brown people are still being targeted at an alarming rate for incarceration. The sentences that black and brown people face are much harsher then for their white counterparts. And all too often they are convicted of crimes that were necessary for their survival. The inheritance of slavery is still plain to see in the generational poverty that Black folks have and the generational wealth that white folks have access too.

Whats more, folks who are funneled into the prison system then become virtually free labor for multinational corporations. Companies like Victoria Secret, Microsoft, Forever 21, Boeing etc all use prison labor to make their products. And these prisoners make pennies a day. On top of that, private prisons are booming and the prison industry is now a many billion dollar industry. The government and corporations are still reaping profit from the bodies of black and brown people. And it starts young. Young people of color are being targeted at alarming rates by schools and are being funneled into the prison system. And once in, it is very difficult to escape.

The prison-industrial complex is the result of 400 hundred years of colonial, patriarchal and capitalist violence. It is the tool of the state to continue to commit genocide against black and brown communities. Instead of private ownership, bodies are now owned by the state and given to the profit of corporations.

The other thing that is interesting to me is how the movement against human trafficking has capitalized on the term “modern day slavery” to paint women who are trafficked as helpless victims. Don’t get me wrong, I think that human trafficking is a terrible thing that should be stopped. No one should be forced to do things against their will. However, the response that anti-human trafficking advocates have is to further criminalize sex work and to rely on state power and incarceration. This not only makes things harder for sex workers who aren’t trafficked but also doesn’t address the underlying reasons for human trafficking, namely colonial and state violence. All of the solutions that the mainstream anti-trafficking movements advocates for actually make the lives of trafficked women harder. All the while obscuring the very real ways bodies are being owned here in the US. Because the anti-human trafficking movement frames the problem as something that happens in other countries and not here in the US. And that the way to save all of those poor brown women is through imperial violence and conquest.

But the state will not protect you. You cannot solve a problem with the problem. And we are none of us free, until we are all free.

(Check out this post for more information on prison abolition and anarchist people of color.) 


Post the Forty-Forth or On the True Nature of Racism

The other day, I got into a huge Facebook fight about the nature of racism. (As a side note, this shit seems to happen to me ALL the time. Although I must admit that I have a hard time letting things slide). To the white commenters, racism is individual. It is one person, regardless of color, hating another. One person in particular was complaining about being discriminated against because he was white. And oh those mean brown people, how could they do that? How could they be so mean? Don’t you know who I am?

I was struck, not the first time, the difficulty of talking about racism with white people. Especially white people who don’t recognize their privilege. I often get very frustrated, angry and hurt. Frustrated because they don’t understand where I am coming from, angry because it’s just another manifestation of racism and hurt because it reminds me how fucked the world is. Moreover, it seems that I have these conversations with people I consider friends and it hurts me to be so invalidated and ignored. Most of all, however, it hurts because they are often implying that I’m the racist for calling them out on the white privilege and that is the king of ironies.

The other thing that struck me was that there was a part of me that wanted to agree with them. There was a small voice in my head that said, “What if they are right? What if I’m the racist one?” I quickly called someone to talk about the experience and was brought back to myself in short order. It reemphasized for me, however, the importance of being surrounded by a strong community. For like the sea beating upon the shore, if I don’t have some sort of insulating and protecting factor, I will be washed away like so much flotsam. The medium of racism that all people of color exist in is caustic to our being and personhood and if we hang out in it unprotected by community, our identities, our-selves, are quickly washed of any definition. We become a round, indistinct blobs that have no purchase and no personality. And the result of that is a soul crushing alienation from our-selves. At least, that is my experience.

So, for the record, racism is a system of oppression (that is given power by white supremacy) that privileges people of European/white decent over Third World people/people of color/brown people. It is the marriage of prejudice and power. It is a complex system that manifests in ways as audacious as apartheid to as subtle as everyday interactions. Racism is the reason why the poverty rate for Black and Latin@s is more then half then that of their white counterparts. Racism is the reason why Black people make up 39.4% of the total prison population and yet make up only 12.6% of the total population in the United States. Racism is the reason why young people of color go to college less then their white counterparts.

But more then that, racism is the reason why people of color experience a deep alienation from themselves. Racism is the reason why we feel disaffected, dissatisfied and depressed. There is a reason why Black and Latin@ have elevated rates of depression over their white peers.  Racism is why we have the soul consuming anger that we constantly have to surpress because otherwise we get ostracized at best or jailed at worst. Racism is a daily reality for people of color. It is inescapable.

The other point I want to make is that racism can only go one way. This is because people of color don’t have the institutional power oppress white people. People of color can’t be racist because they don’t have the power to do so. Can they be prejudiced? Absolutely! But even then the context is different. When I say that I am tired of dealing with white people, I’m not saying that they are inferior to me or that I hate them or that I want to commit genocide on their people. What I am saying is that after centuries of being hated, called inferior etc, I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. And anyone who thinks that that is unreasonable needs to go take a long walk off a short pier. If we lived in a post-racist society then I would totally be in the wrong. If those power differentials didn’t exist, then I would need to revise my position.

But that is the thing; we DO NOT live in a post racist society.

Racism is still real, today. Ask anyone at the Rez if genocide is being committed. Ask anyone who as lived in low income communities for generations if colonization still isn’t happening today (read: gentrification). Ask anyone stopped by the police if Jim Crow is still alive. Ask any families separated by ICE if racism is still real.

So before you go complaining about how you are oppressed as a white person, remember that you will never have to worry about the things mentioned above. And you might not like it seeing all this. This might be painful. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see someone who is implicated in the death of generations of people. But trust me, it is better then the alternative.


Post the Twenty-First or A Eulogy for Troy Davis

I am Troy Davis

A man was murdered this week. A man was murdered at the hands those who purport that they pursue justice. This week was the culmination of a whole system of inequity that claimed the life of an innocent man. And this murder was not the first and is unlikely to be the last of its kind.

Troy Davis was lynched.

Let’s not mince words here, Troy Davis was killed because he was black. He was killed because of the racism endemic to the Prison-Industrial Complex. He was killed because of a system that keeps people oppressed and creates slave labor. He was killed because we operate under a system of legalized murder.

There was no weapon found, no DNA that matched his and 7 out of the 9 witnesses recanted their statements. It all pointed to, if not innocence, than enough doubt that capital punishment should have been out of the question. But did Georgia give him clemency? No. Would he have gotten clemency if he had been white? My intuition says yes. Troy Davis’s case exemplifies perfectly the horrific nature of the Prison-Industrial Complex.

The Prison-Industrial Complex has a history of convicting and imprisoning more people of color, poor people, young people and queer/trans people than their straight/cisgender, more affluent, older and white counterparts. Moreover, people in prisons are oftentimes treated without respect and dignity. They are confined in tight spaces with very little freedom to move about. They are more often than not the last to get evacuated in natural disaster situations, if they are evacuated at all. People who can’t afford bail are trapped in jails even though they have not been convicted of anything. Trans people specifically are denied the clothing of their corresponding identity and are placed in cells with people of their birth assigned gender. They are also denied access to the hormones that they might want and are either address with incorrect pronouns or with epithets or both.

On top of that, there is often a very strong police presence in low-income communities and in communities of color and people who live in those communities are often suspected of wrong doing even when they aren’t doing anything. Not only that but the police have a history of using excessive force on people who aren’t older, white, straight and affluent. How many times do we hear about another police officer brutalizing a young person of color and not having to face any reprisals?

And a lot of this oppression is motivated by capitalism. It is motivated by a desire to make money. Not only because prisoners are forced to do slave labor, but also because prisons are being privatized. As this privatization occurs, more and more people are convicted to populate these prisons which then increases the company’s profit.

At the end of all of this violence is capital punishment. Capital punishment is the culmination of this great big hate machine. It is the final act of violence. The final act of a depraved and dehumanizing system.

Capital punishment is both morally repugnant and degrading to all people involved.

It does nothing but continue the cycle of violence that many people are born into. Moreover, it does little to prevent crime. This is because negative reinforcement is much less effective than positive reinforcement. And it doesn’t get much more negative than capital punishment. Capital punishment does nothing to “rehabilitate” the prisoner. It adds nothing to the fabric of society. It can only take away. It is expensive and ineffective.

Aside from all that, however, is the fact that killing is always wrong. Let me repeat that. Killing is always wrong. It doesn’t matter what the person in question did or what they will do, killing for any reason is wrong because that person is still a person. This is the fact that I want to drive home, people who commit crimes are still people with hopes and dreams and fears. They are still people who experience suffering and joy, love and hate. They are people who’s dignity must be respected. The minute we dehumanize someone is the minute we think that we can do as we like someone. We must always remember that humans never lose their humanity.

Moreover, capital punishment does not address the underlying issues why crime occurs. It does not treat the cause, it merely ineffectively treats the symptom.

If you want to reduce crime, reduce poverty.