I’m honestly torn. People always tell me how horrible the criminal justice system is and that we should make reforming it our first priority but I’m just not sure. The U.S imprisons more of its citizens than any other country. We have 2.4 million behind bars. China has four times more people than the U.S, but only 1.6 million prisoners. Of course, black men make up an ungodly amount of that population- around 35%. Blacks collectively comprise about 40%of total inmate population. This is especially troubling when put into a historical perspective. In his book, “Two Nations,” Dr. Andrew Hacker cites stats from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicating that in 1930 (a period when blacks were massively incarcerated for the purpose of re-enslaving them) blacks were only 22.4% of inmates, 29.7% in 1950.
But this is not merely a black issue, although today it seems to be. Interestingly enough, there was a net loss of inmate population in the 40’s and 60’s (a small increase the 50’s). However, the 70’s 80’s and 90’s saw dramatic rises in inmate population nationally; an increase of over 400,000 in the 80’s, over 500,000 in the 90’s. Further, it can be argued that perhaps 86% of federal prisoners today of all races are victimless criminals. In other words, they are in prison but there is no actual victim to their “crime.” Of course we know the infamous “War on Drugs” is the primary source of this rapid expansion of prison population but there has to be more- and there is.
I’m told we’ve been in an economic “crisis” for a while. The national unemployment rate peaked at 9.6% in 2010. Problem is, for blacks, we were over 10% for several years before the crisis. In fact, ever since stats have been kept, we’ve always had about twice the national unemployment rate. Even with all this misery, Wall Street is booming. A few weeks ago all the chatter was about the Dow Jones average possibly nearing its all-time high of 14,164. It’s been so great in fact, they’re now pouting over a six day losing streak- a whole six days, the worst streak since August. At this point we must ask ourselves some critical questions: how can Wall Street prosper when so many people have no job? It’s very simple. With just a little thought you’d have to conclude that everyone without a job is completely unnecessary for prosperity to continue.
David Simon said in a 2011 lecture in New York that perhaps 20% of the American population is unnecessary economically. With the shift from manufacturing and actually producing things to paper profits and services, companies simply don’t need as many people and thus massive unemployment can exist while profits boom. What to do with the “extra” people? One option is to have peasants killed by death squads, like the ones we helped fund in El Salvador. However, a more humane option is to simply imprison them. Further, make sure everyone’s tax dollars go toward this enterprise that enriches corporations operating the prisons for profit. But who to target? The most obvious strategy is to go after people no one will particularly miss or make a fuss over- blacks.
So I’m torn. If I fight the criminal justice system and win, what will happen to all those people we let out of jail? Where would they work? What would they do? So maybe that shouldn’t be my primary fight. Perhaps the fight should be to start businesses and promote entrepreneurship to create need for this “surplus” population. Ultimately, it’s not either/or but both/and. We must be deadly committed to both. In parting, I must say a word to non-blacks. While you might believe this is not about you, it is. You may believe your skill level, income or color insulates you but be careful. Once upon a time one couldn’t imagine that companies would not need factory labor. Today poor blacks are unnecessary, tomorrow I.T professionals might be. Put another way, Hitler killed six million Jews but he also killed about four million others.