On May 12th, 1994, the Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled: Making Crime Pay-Triangle of Interest Created Infrastructure To Fight Lawlessness - Cities See Jobs; Politicians Sense a Popular Issue and Business Cash In - The Cold War of the 90's.
Knowing how government employs the media to persuade the public to support
political objectives on behalf of military and business interests, the
subtitle, The Cold War of the 90's, set an alarm off in my head. What in the
past had been called the war against crime, has evolved into an official
social and political policy of government; it has now become a viable
military and business interest. The government is now renovating military
bases into prisons, so that former military communities will continue to have
an industry. Today's rural communities want a prison in their backyards. The
"Americans' fear of crime is creating a new version of the old military-industrial complex, an infrastructure born amid political rhetoric and a shower of federal, state and local dollars. As they did in the Eisenhower era, politicians are trying to outdo each other in standing up to the common enemy; communities pin their economic hopes on jobs related to the buildup; and large and small businesses scramble for a slice of the bounty. These mutually reinforcing interests are forging a formidable new "iron triangle" similar to the triangle that arms makers, military services and lawmakers formed three decades ago."
What is truly ominous about this development is the fact they are talking about increasing the number of people being sent to prison. They are talking about how big business like Goldman Sachs & Co., Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Smith Barney Shearson, Inc., and Merrill Lynch & Co. are among those competing to underwrite prison construction with private, tax-exempt bonds - where no voter approval is required. In essence, big business is investing in the prison system.
This begs the question, when have big business and big investors ever put the welfare of the people before their own profits? How do big investors plan to gain a return on their investment, and make a profit? What does this mean to the average worker, and what does this mean to those communities in which most prisoners, being Africans and Hispanics, come from?
This country imprisons more of its citizens, about 1.4 million people, than any other industrialized nation. Although Euro-Americans comprise 69% of those arrested, while Blacks comprise 29% of those arrested, institutional racism in the criminal justice system incarcerates Blacks in disproportionate numbers. It imprisons African men 9 times more than European-Americans, and 4 times more than did apartheid South Africa. While Blacks comprise 48% of the U.S. prison population, they are only 12.5% of the entire population.
Presently, the fastest growing ethnic group being imprisoned in this country
is Hispanic. Although these statistics were gathered several years ago by the
federal government, imagine how these numbers will increase in the years to
come with this developing infrastructure reminiscent of the
industrial-military complex. The article purported that:
"Parts of the defense establishment are cashing in, too, scenting a logical new line of business to help them offset military cutbacks. Westinghouse Electric Corp., Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., GDE Systems Inc. (a division of the old General Dynamics) and Alliant Techsystems Inc., for instance, are pushing crime-fighting equipment and have created special divisions to retool their defense technology for America's streets... Many lesser-known companies already are doing well fighting crime. Esmore Correctional Services Inc., the biggest U.S. maker of police electronics, recently was taken public by Janny Montgomery Scott."
If contemporary history is any indication, it is evident that the government and business "Cold War of the 90's" is directed at the African and Hispanic communities. In their search for people to pillage and conquer for profits, the collusion of government, military, and business interests has turned inward, and now the enemy is us, it is the poor, it is the new immigrants of color, and it is the disenfranchised.
To gain support for this new conquest of manifest destiny, this opening of the new domestic frontier, the general public, i.e., European-Americans, must be made to support what ultimately is the resurrection of involuntary servitude and slavery in America. To ensure that this happens, the government's nefarious alliance with the mass media has created an air of hysteria about crime. It has done so, although the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently reported that crime in America is decreasing - not increasing. The power of the media and government is extremely awesome, it is the power to define what we think about and how we think about it. It is the power that shapes our collective consciousness and attitudes, and in so doing, motivates people to respond to specific stimuli, and respond in a specific way. As stated in the article "...according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, more than 70% of those surveyed support longer prison terms for violent offenders... Meanwhile, a recent Justice Department study shows that 21% of all federal prisoners are guilty of low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as possession of small quantities of illegal drugs, but are serving lengthy sentences under mandatory minimums set by Congress." By shaping the collective consciousness and attitudes, the politicians are then able to pass into law draconian sanctions. Sanctions that appease the will of the people demanding a safe society, and ultimately serve the interest of restructuring the industrial-military complex, by forging an infrastructure for the proliferation of prison building. Although it soothes and anesthetizes the collective consciousness towards the desired end of permitting hundreds of thousands, if not millions more people to be incarcerated at no moral or psychic detriment to those who constitute the majority of Americans, this buildup fails to inhibit or prevent criminal social behavior by the poor and disenfranchised. This is particularly significant when "(T)here's a food fight among communities that want these prisons." For politicians like New York Assemblyman Dan Feldman, chairman of the legislature's criminal-justice committee, prisons have become, he says "the juiciest pork in the barrel." Dr. Thomas, the academic, observed: "With the population in private prisons growing at four times the rate of the general prisoner population, growth for the private-prison industry is virtually guaranteed. If you were in the hotel industry, you'd think you died and gone to heaven."
The "Triangle of Interests" has set the stage for the resurrection of slavery in America, since this peculiar institution was never abolished. It is heralded that the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolished involuntary servitude and chattel slavery of Africans, although there exists an exception clause for those who have been duly convicted of a crime. The exception clause has been consistently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, holding that prisoners are no more than slaves of the State. Presumably, the U.S. will then be able to compete with China's prison made products on the international market, since Clinton recently maintained favorite nation trading status with China despite human rights violations.
Given this reality of the proliferation of prison building, the logical consequence of this developing infrastructure of big business investment, military security technology, and government sanctions, along with the mass media support suggests an increase in human toll. Hence, the reason for Pell grants being abolished, the removal of boxing and weight lifting from federal prisons, lowering the age to 13 for a person to be sentenced as an adult, the increase of the number of death penalty laws, and "three-strikes you're out." As we enter a new millennium the criminalization of poverty in capitalist America points to the desensitization of a moral determination. It points to the entrenchment of the idea of putting profits before people, lending to an understanding that if you are a poor Euro-American, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or any combination of the same, prison could very well be part of your future.
A Jalil Bottom is a political prisoner of war and former member of the Black
Panther Party/Black Liberation Army who has been in prison for nearly 24
years. Write to:
A Jalil Bottom 77 A 4283
P.O. Box 149
Attica, New York 14011-0149
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