The article that I will analysis in this blog is about the violent arrest of a 20 year old black youth, Martese Johnson (BBC 2015). I could discuss what happened to him, however this is unfortunately not a one off incident. It is the result of an ever growing culture of greed, ignorance and deeply embedded racism. The rapid escalation of structural racial violence in the name of the Criminal Justice System in the United States is because of the rise of neoliberal capitalism and the privatization of the prison system (Davies 2014).
Neoliberalism is a political economic doctrine that argues that social progress can be most effectively furthered by ‘liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework, characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade’ (Harvey 2005:2) In other words, it is the progression and restructuring of the advanced capitalist system. Neoliberal policy involves minimizing the role of the state to enable the free flow of the market.
Neoliberal ideology is built on a meritocracy model, where by everyone is seen to have equal chance to gain access to rewards in society, thus neoliberalism is essentially colour blind(Aulette and Wittner 2015).As neoliberalism sees human agency as simply a matter of individualized choices. Colour blindness within a social economic system produces systemic and institutional racism by ignoring past histories of slavery and colonialism (Davies 2014).
Today people of colour continue to be disproportionality incarcerated, policed and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counter parts. While people of colour make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates (Kirby 2012). Whilst the rate of imprisonment for black male youth is extortionate, it should also be noted that the fastest growing group of prisoners are black women and that Native American prisoners are the largest group per capita statistically (Davies 2015).
Today under neoliberalism attention is deflected away from the reality of institutional racism and toward blaming the ‘culture of poverty’ or ‘drug and ghetto culture’ (Ansell 1997:111). This kind of discourse falls back on the old cultural stereotypes that have been generated throughout colonial and imperial history. In the U.S policing has increased to combat the ‘war on drugs’ however because of colonial based stereotypes, this means that the war on drugs is directed at African American youth, even though research on drug use shows that the ‘races’(because race as a concept is a social construction) are similar for different racial ethnic groups. This gives the police and in the case of Martese Johnson the Alcoholic Beverage Control the ability to justify the rise of surveillance and racialized random police checks (Aulette and Wittner 2015).
Giroux states that “mobilization of state violence is symptomatic of the neoliberal, racist, punishing state emerging all over the world” (2014:1) Racialized repression under capitalism can ultimately linked to the birth of slavery, under slavery black bodies were used as commodities as resources to be bought and sold. Wacquant (2002) makes suggest that modern racial discrimination and the rise of the prison industrial system has horrifying similarities to slavery.
The prison industrial complex has become a for-profit business in which inmates are the product. In late 2013, a new report from In the Public Interest (ITPI) revealed that private prison companies who use (low paid/ free) prison labour, such as Motorola and Microsoft are striking deals with states that contain clauses guaranteeing high prison occupancy(Davies 2015). This means that states agree to supply prison corporations with a steady flow of residents–whether or not that level of criminal activity exists. Some experts believe this relationship between government and private prison corporations encourages law enforcement agencies to use underhanded tactics often targeting minority and underserved groups to fill cells (Buczynski 2014).If the notion of punishment is a source for profit, then a the colour blind (racist)neoliberal system and ideology makes mass punishment become a normalized aspect of society (Davies 2015).
The masking of racism and the mass incarceration of people of colour in the prison industrial system is repeating history. Communities of colour, immigrants, the unemployed, the undereducated, the homeless, and in general on those who inhabit the substratum of the hierarchical based society are being used as commodities, as products to make capital that can be pumped back into the ever advanced system of capitalism. The prison system was once supposed to be used for rehabilitation to help citizens to get back on their feet, however today under the confines on neoliberalism is just a packaging plant, a place to manufacture capital through free labour, it is a modern day system of slavery (Davies 2015)).
This is all very disheartening and makes one wonder why we are not fighting back against this neoliberal capitalist system that is debilitating every aspect of our lives. We can!!! In fact there are bunch of grassroots organizations that are fighting to not only end the prison industrial complex, but fighting to smash boarders, prisons and the state (and eventually take down capitalism and all forms of oppressive hierarchical structures). One of these organizations is Kingston based [EPIC] and have information available athttp://epic.noblogs.org/.
Ansell, A, E. “New Right and Reaction in the United States and Britain”. Washington Square New York: University Press .1997
BBC.” Virginia Governor calls for inquiry into student arrest”. BBC News U.S and Canada. Accessed on April 2 2015. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-31965856
Buczynski, Beth. “Shocking Facts about Americas for Profit Prison Industry”. 2014. Truth Out Retrieved on April 1 2015. from http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21694-shocking-facts-about-americas-for-profit-prison-industry
Davis. Y. Angela. “The Meaning of Freedom and other Difficult Dialogues.” NewYork : City Lights Books 2014. Retrieved from http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/16188-recognizing-racism-in-the-era-of-neoliberalism
Davis. Y. Angela. “Masking Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex”. From History as a weapon. April 1 2015. Retrieved from http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/davisprison.html
Epic. “Fuck your racist Prisons, Fuck your Racist Nation: Imigration Detention and the Prison Industrial Complex” in End the Prison Industrial Complex [ Zine] Accessed on April 2 2015. Available at http://epic.noblogs.org/
Giroux, A. Henry “State Terrorism and Racist Violence in the Age of Disposability: From Emmett Till to Eric Garner.” Truth Out December 5 2014. Available at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27832-state-terrorism-and-racist-violence-in-the-age-of-disposability-from-emmett-till-to-eric-garner# Accessed March 28 2015
Harvey, David. “A brief history of Neoliberalism”. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2005
Kerby, Sophia. “ The Top 10 Most Startling Facts about People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States: A Look at the Racial Disparities Inherent in Our Nation’s Criminal-Justice System”. A center for American Progress. 2002 Retrieved on March 29 2015. From. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/
Root, Aulette. Judy and Judith, Wittner. “Gendered Worlds” New York: Oxford University Press 2015
Wacquant, Loic. “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Rethinking the ‘Race Question’ in the US”. New Left Review 13. 2002 Retrieved April 1 2015. From http://newleftreview.org/II/13/loic-wacquant-from-slavery-to-mass-incarceration