Mass Incarceration in the US

In addition to the physical walls that separate free citizens from those who have been incarcerated, there are also powerful and self-fulfilling metaphorical walls that make it difficult to see and recognize (for historic, cultural, corporate and political reasons) the humanity of countless human beings whose lives have been unnecessarily wasted when we threw away the key after we locked them up for no particularly good reason.

We talk about these cultural 'wars' (the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime), but then we tend to forget that our actual practices have become a de facto war on the poor, on the homeless, on black and brown, and a war on criminals, and we forget we've made it a crime in this country to be black or brown, to be homeless, poor or unemployed, to be transgender, to struggle with mental health issues, to lack proper nutrition, healthcare and education. And we treat these issues—especially when applied to non-whites—as issues that require we lock up and abandon the very people who have been the victims of systemic injustices and lack of opportunities for most of our history, the people who are in most desperate need of our compassion and our help... And the numbers, the sheer numbers!!!




Here is sociologist Bruce Western on the virtual inevitability of ending up in prison for certain demographics, particularly young black men:



Here is Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the powerful Between the World and Me, on the enduring myth of black criminality and how our response to various social issues that we could very well solve through humane sociological interventions, are often treated instead as mere issues of criminality:




Here is documentary producer Matthew Cooke providing some historical context for the ways in which racial biases have been created, maintained, strengthened and perpetuated in an effort to serve the economic interests of a wealthy elite at the expense of some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society:



And if you want a more thorough understanding of the systemic history of racial inequality, the structures and institutions of our legal system, the political backroom deals, the financial incentives, the self-perpetuating logic of the system, the targetted and discriminatory application of these draconian and inhumane measures, as well as the consequences for individuals, for families, for communities, for race relations, for our nation as a whole, for our own cultural perception and collective self-identity, and for the impact on our culture and values, I can do no better than to recommend you pick up and read Michelle Alexander's powerful exposé and manifesto The New Jim Crow, which you are also welcome to listen below:





And just for a little perspective on how we compare to other countries (to our shame, unfortunately), click on the following infographic:



In the land of the free, we can do better than to thoughtlessly acquiesce to the fear-mongering and racism that has denied so many people the liberty we all want to claim for ourselves...
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