Message to the Community
Continued from last week’s issue of the Milwaukee Courier:
Capitalists can profit off the misery of Black people. If we examine the economic boom generated by the mass incarceration of Black people and follow the money, we will see how many people benefit. Law enforcement, the courts, and the correction institutions have grown. The number of careers and the number of high paying jobs within these areas have quadrupled. Each one of these professions are supported by a higher education system that teaches and trains the workforce. The explosion of crime fighters, lawyers, and correctional officers are now a big part of the American economy – for some of these towns they have swapped out agriculture for prisons. Now, nearly everyone in the town works in prison. In addition, look at the number of jails, prisons, and courts, that must be built to accommodate the massive influx of contractors, architects, developers, financiers, and so many others are benefiting from the mass incarceration of Black men. Yes, Black lives matter only when there is an economic benefit (i.e. mass incarceration).
Every year, more and more tax dollars are going towards the judicial system (police and enforcement, courts, and corrections) than any other part of the government budget. It is estimated that it costs between $40,000 and $60,000 annually to house an inmate and this is only covering the basic necessities for living (i.e. food, clothing, and shelter). Food contracts, clothing contracts, furniture contracts, health contracts and very lucrative and there are some businesses that feed solely off this industry (by the way they are doing well for themselves and their families). While there are a number of businesses that benefit from these prisons, very little of the funds spent are used to rehabilitate and retrain those incarcerated. This is why nearly 75 percent of all those that are released return usually within a year.
In the example of mass incarceration, there are just too many people and private companies that stand to benefit from misery and absolute havoc that the mass incarceration is wreaking on the Black community. Making the agenda to keep things the way they are is easier and easier. Restated, these economic gains that happen off the backs of our Black men can’t change until we have an agenda equally as powerful as those that benefit. It reminds me of the economic windfall that slavery had on the world economy. Why don’t you see legalization of marijuana; the elimination of mandatory sentencing; an equitable distribution of justice of powder cocaine versus crack cocaine; why it’s nearly impossible for ex-offenders to get a job when they must, by law, “check” the box for prior arrest; or why nearly 90 percent of all cases tried are never tried and are plea-bargained which is clearly a sign that justice means “just us.” Black lives will never matter when there is bigger gain on the struggles and suffering of Black men.
The White business community, under the guise of an open and free market are those that dictate to the politicians what their agenda is – and you bet every penny that you have or will ever have, their agenda is not our agenda (it’s also called public safety). In fact, their agenda is directly opposed to our agenda. The Black agenda would be to get back to reasonable levels of incarceration of Black men. What’s reasonable? I would say reasonable would also be equitable, and if Black men represent approximately four percent of the nation’s population then they should equally represent four percent of the prison population and not nearly 55 percent. What would that look like? It would mean that nearly 1.3 million Black men would be released from prison tomorrow. Black lives will not matter until this is reversed, and it can’t be reversed without a political agenda.
The mass incarceration of Black men is not only an economic driver for the American economy, but it also helps to support and sustain a climate and culture of White supremacy and Black inferiority stereotypes which significantly and absolutely devalue Black life. The portrayal of Black men as animals and criminals only helps to fuel the racist justification for such an oppressive system especially when you consider that the majority of men imprisoned are not violent but trapped in an unequal and unfair system involving drugs. Let’s face it, how can American politicians justify spending nearly two-thirds more on imprisoning Black men than to educate them? They can do it because: 1) mass incarceration of Black men is their agenda and 2) we don’t have agenda. If Black lives matter, the Black community must have an agenda. If Black lives matter, the agenda must be backed by a mobilization and political education effort for the Black community.
In addition to developing a Black agenda, we must re-educate the Black community to re-engage in the political process. The Black community must become politically active and engaged. There is no room for political apathy, what some might say is political laziness. The Black community can’t afford to be politically disinterested. I don’t care how many disappointments that we suffer. The only way in America to get others to respect you and to value Black life is through the political process. No other pathway will deliver. Black people can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect to hold others accountable to our agenda when we won’t even hold ourselves accountable to the basics. The Black community must double down on the political front and not continue to have either anemic voter turnout or giving our vote without accountability. Instead of low voter turnout in our elections, we should have 100 percent voter turnout. We must get our people to change their behaviors.
The Black agenda must be developed by a Black “private” sector power center that has three distinct focuses: 1) political – that fully optimizes and navigates the political process; 2) business – organizing and aggregating our Black business community to develop strategies, grow scale, create jobs, and increase the circulation of money in our community; and 3) grass roots activism – we must align all existing “activist” groups to focus in the political agenda. The private sector power center must work in the best interests of the Black community and be a conduit for competing interests, ideas, and priorities. In addition, the Black private sector power center must work to change social issues to economic ones and restore public confidence in Black leadership in the process.
Brothers and sisters, Black lives will never matter to others more than they matter to us. If Black people are unwilling to organize and fight for themselves, we will continue to see that Black life is threatened even at a greater level than it is now. Black people must break the cycle of disunity and disconnect which I call functional unity. Our unity is predicated on the implementation of our collective agenda – an agenda that understands the inter-relationship of these structural issues. Protesting alone will not provide us relief. Every day we are bullied and all we do about it is protest when we have the power to punch the bully in the face.
Black lives will never matter if there is no Black movement and the movement cannot be successful until, as a collective, we begin to believe that Black lives matter and we take “action.” In a democracy like America, Black lives will never matter until Black votes matter. Voting as a block is absolutely essential and critical to our political strategy. The movement that will validate that Black lives matter is both internal (change behaviors) and external (hold America and its institutions accountable). The behaviors that we must change requires that we work smarter and closer together. We must break the cycle of disunity and disconnection. We must have the different sectors of our community working with each other and our agenda must be comprehensive. The movement is a long-term proposition and the issues that affect the Black community will not happen overnight, but change will come if we will it to happen.
As I stated in part one, it’s time for us to “put up” or “shut up.” I’ve listened to every revolution speech known to man, and most ring hollow when it comes to more than just activism. There is no plan except to “act up.” When it’s all said and done, this isn’t about some emotional acknowledgement of Black lives matter but a transfer or resources. If Black people are to benefit from these resources outside of entitlements (i.e. welfare, etc.), we will need engage the business community. In addition, we will need to challenge each system through the courts system to get the relief that we need. We also need laws to be amended, abolished, and created by legislators that will support our agenda. It is the combination of all of these things that will create real change. Black lives will never matter in America until they matter to Black people enough that will force them to use all of the tools in the toolbox to fight back and the biggest tool is the Black vote. Black lives will never matter until the Black vote matters.
Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)