Prisons As Rape

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A common argument against the abolition of prisons is the question of what to do with rapists if we can’t put them in jail. And yes, that points to a group of questions that needs to be answered if we are to fully do away with the prison system: What do we with violent people? How do we prevent violence? How do we seek justice and recompense?

These are demanding questions, but one thing is sure. The answers do not lie within but are rather opposed to the current criminal justice and prison system. In fact, the criminal justice system has nothing to do with justice, with making things right, or even with violence prevention. What it does and does well is to promote and encourage violence among certain demographics (namely those targeted by the prison industrial complex). And rape is a key pattern in this. Estimates vary, but roughly 20% of incarcerated people were raped while in prison or jail—whether from other prisoners or from guards.

The criminal justice system does not stop rape. As it should be clear by now, under six percent of reported rapes lead to an arrest, and 0.7% are ever convicted.

Incarceration does not stop rapes.

Rather than discouraging rape, it makes it clear that rape is a tool to punish those that transgress against the law. If people were serious about ending rape or at least preventing rape, they would close the criminal justice system

The same people often asking what to do about rapists tend to think of rape as a tool of retribution. Thus they joke and make light of the fact of sexual violence while simultaneously showing their hand that rape is a preferable type of punishment for certain people, those belonging to these demographics and thus deemed undesirable.

Abolish prisons. Because prison exasperates rape.

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Police and Prison Abolition: Dreaming of a More Just, Less Violent World

Because Black people desire to determine their own destiny, they are constantly inflicted with brutality from the occupying army, embodied in the police department. There is a great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police.

Huey P Newton (quoted in Bloom and Martin’s Black Against Empire)

To oppressed communities, the occupying army is never a liberator but only a powerful force of the empire that seeks to draw as many resources from the community as possible. In the era of neoliberalism, those resources tend to be of human capital. For various oppressed people within the United States, it looks similar. For Muslim and Near East, South-Asian people in the United States, they serve as intimate reminders of our War on Terror and the need to stockpile in the Military Industrial Complex. For Latin@s, it is the racialized threat of deportation, which extends in high-vulnerability times to more than just undocumented citizens – Latin@s in Anglo US are treated in ways similar to the orientalized Muslims. Native populations are still undergoing cultural and legalized genocide in order to lay claim to lands within the continent. And black Americans are inherently criminalized as a means of social and permanent-underclass control.

Human capital is capitalized through the Military and Prison Industrial Complexes as well as through managing and mitigating migration and migrant labor.

Early morning after Christmas, two black Chicagoans from the West side (just a couple miles from my residence and near where other family lives) were killed by police responding to a domestic dispute between a father and his nineteen year old son. The son – Quintonio LeGrier, an engineering student on leave from Northern Illinois University due to mental health issues – was carrying a bat and apparently threatening the father. The son was fatally shot, as was a downstairs neighbor, Bettie Jones, simply for opening her door. The father had called the police in an effort to get some help for his child, not accustomed to seeing him act in such a way.

LeGrier’s mother told media:

They did tell me he was shot seven times. That’s a bit much. That’s a bit much. I don’t take all of that. My son only weighed about 150 pounds. … Why do you have to be shot that many times? Why? If the police is trained in the field, then how, they’re just handling the situation by killing people?

The police cannot help. That is not their function or purpose. They are raised in a cop culture that treats them as hammers with every loose nail needing a violent solution. This is why they take down a fifty-three year old woman who pose no risk and a one-hundred and fifty pound teen with a baseball bat. They don’t second guess violent solutions because they are not trained to second guess violent and fatal resolutions when it comes to black lives.

LeGrier’s image held by his mother

Consider that, like the US and its military, nearly half of the general budget in Chicago goes towards the police. Consider also, according to the 2016 city budget, Chicago plans on releasing 319 officers from administrative work to directly police in “high crime areas” (p 12). For what purpose? What is a crime and who decides how to aid these communities?

The police are trained, but for what purpose? To police. To enforce borders. To minimize threats to the state and those it represents. In the United States, this threat is represented in the most intimate of ways not by white men who have caused most of the domestic and international violence in this country and through the world, but by the black population – those, as we know, forced into chattel slavery and substandard living conditions for the last four hundred years by the very white populations arming the police to intimidate, detain, and kill.

For the crime of policing – for the reasons of policing and the means of policing – we need reparations. African American and Native communities need recompense for the crimes of genocide, land-theft, chattel slavery and intentional bordering and how police have maintained these structures. Poor communities need recompense for wage and wealth theft and how the police have maintained these structures. But rather than make reparations, we are forced into racial and class policing, to keep us in line and keep the threat of blackness – which is to say the threat of resistance – at bay.

When we ask for accountability and control, we are given alternatives such as community policing, which acts as another way to police the community by training a small faction within – especially gentrifying areas – to police their own. Thus community members assist the police in restraining, detaining, reporting, and confiscating black and brown people.

CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, Chicago’s community & police organizing mechanism] is not an attempt to develop equal partnerships or to cooperatively address problems. They are efforts to police through the community, to enlist certain community figures and organizations to enhance the power and legitimacy of the police…

[C]ommunity policing is a misnomer. These programs result in neither democratic accountability of police agencies nor meaningful changes in police practices. Instead, they mobilize a small group of residents to provide a façade of legitimacy that allows policing to continue as usual. Community policing can result in more aggressive policing as “respectable” residents lobby to the officers to aggressively enforce low-level, nonviolent street crimes. (Counter-CAPS Report)

Rather than continue what does not work – arming and training a force towards violence and incarceration, aimed at poor and black citizens for the most petty of offenses – we need to reduce the police force by at least half and invest into making the community more safe, more whole, more responsive to its own needs. More livable for its own people.

Many of our problems are caused by the generational stigma of poverty and witnessing first-hand experiences of domestic and state violence. Children grow up with PTSD and have little recourse or guidance to deal with their anger in holistic means. Thus, survival becomes reactionary and even proactionary as several young people learn to strike-first or be killed. This is the state of detainment that we have become; not because Chicago’s neighborhoods are filled with bad people without morals, but because our city deals with us immorally.

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Screengrab via Jason Berger. Acknowledgement to John W Brandkamp

A moral budget and a moral city hall would instead divest from the police and from our carceral systems. Instead of the armed and state-backed gang of police roaming the streets looking to escalate in order to terminate conflict, we should hire corps of counselors, clinicians, mental health workers looking to solve and reduce conflict. Job and skill training workshops that feed into actual jobs situated in the communities. Instead of divesting the communities through carceral justice, invest through schools and holistic, reformative justice. Turn empty lots into assisted living complexes, affordable fresh fruit stands, and health clinics built by and run by community members.

Yes, at first it’s going to cost more. It always does when there is generational trauma to pay back. But the investment far outweighs the daily toll of death and destruction.

This reinvestment is something we need to do because we’re human.

Pre-Crime: Reduced Crime and Increased Criminals

Note: I woke up this morning and had some new thoughts. They’re not unique – in the sense that I’m sure any prison advocate (ie, Michelle Alexander or Prison Culture) has already outlined – and certainly informed and helped to inspire these ideas. As has living in Chicago and in some of the very landscapes I’m describing here. But they’re new to me and I wanted to share.

Since the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, the overall crime rate has been reduced tremendously. As have the murder rates in large cities, to such an effect that the 500+ people killed in Chicago was such a shock. Those numbers would have been low in the early 1990’s, though, even in the early 2000’s since the numbers were decreasing from an all-high of 943 in ’92 (source).

Why have these numbers been decreasing overall? It’s not as if the economy has improved for the working class (who are most often blamed for violent crimes. After all, white collar economic violence is neither recognized as violence nor as a crime in most cases) or the middle class overall. Nor is it that people are better off or just in any ways better than they were 30 years ago (nor, for that matter, are we getting worse as a people). And though there are always various factors that contribute to this decline, the most glaring one is the increased prison population.

And this may or may not be the case. But let’s treat it like it is. Let’s treat it as if there are less crimes because we have fewer “criminals” in the public. There are less “bad people” doing “bad things” (again, notice white collar crime is completely given a free pass here). I mean, it jibes so much with conservative law & order politics – which is a big, fat problem.

Pre-Crime.

Let’s call this a preemptive strike against criminals. Or we can recall the Spielberg 9/11 tech-thriller Minority Report and refer to it as pre-crime (who are the precogs? ALEC seems to be one). It’s also known as the Broken Windows treatment, where the smallest infractions are treated as big crimes in order to clear the streets of the “criminal element.” If you make sure there are no broken windows, the logic goes, the neighborhood pride goes up and it takes better care of itself (except it can’t when its population is restricted and denied access).

Yet this pre-crime approach is not guilty-until-proven innocent. It’s presumption-of-guilt-before-act-of-guilt. And often the most damning fact that proves future guilt is class and color, especially color. Racism is the precogs.

The numbers.

0.7% of the US population is in prison. That may not seem too much, but consider that is 2,266,832 people – roughly the size of Chicago. And these are prisoners – not people being held in a jail. And consider that when we talk of the WHOLE population, we are including seniors and children. Take away those numbers, and the percentage point goes much higher. Nevertheless, it is the highest incarceration rate in the world, with other rich countries coming in at 1/7 – 1/10th the incarceration rate, and even poor, zero-tolerance states like Russia coming in well under the US (source).

Yet, 4.3% of the black male US population is currently in jail or prison (source). Of the nearly 2.1 million males in prison, non-Latino black males make up 841,000 of them (about 2/5 of the prison population). Non-Latino white males make up a significantly smaller 693,800 (about 1/3), although white non-hispanics make up 66% of the entire population (2/3) and black people (including Black Latinos) make up around 13% of the entire US population (1/8th). Latino numbers are also skewed in a fashion somewhat between White and Black numbers with Latinos making up 16% of the population and about 25% of the population. So the numbers are a bit off, and racially suspicious.

War

So this War on Crime is yet another front on the War on People Of Color. Our precogs first-strikes are built on assumptions. And while we aren’t normally honest about what those assumptions are, occasionally the truth strikes out. Occasionally, we have a George Zimmerman. Occasionally, we have a Great Northern City defend accosting young black males while turning up nothing. Occasionally, White supremacy rears its ugly head. Occasionally, we can see it for what it is clearly, out in the open.

This while upper income kids get off scot-free due to access to lawyers, “clean image,” and having the law on their side. The cogs don’t recognize upper-class white people. Meanwhile, the incarcerated (mostly people of color) are exploited for their labor, lose voting rights, and become virtually unemployable.

And while the numbers of reported crimes have diminished, is it worth it?

For all the money and effort spent locking away young men and women of color, is this a wise investment?

What will be the return-on-investment?

No.

No.

Death and destruction.

Even just plainly looking at the numbers – is locking all of these people up good for us in the long or short run? Sure, in the immediate, it may appear to be good for some communities, but absolutely devastating to others. And the ways this out-of-control first-strike is destroying the latter communities means it will have ripple effects on all of the other communities as well.

Prison Culture does not invest but rather divests from communities of color. When we say ‘war,’ this is what we are saying: It ravages and destroys and does not build but is only there for the taking. Only. There. To. Suck. Life. Dry.

In a year when dozens of schools were closed in Chicago and the remaining ones had their budgets cut by 15-20%, our public monies lie in not investing – but in locking up. We say there is no money to put into the small black-owned business. But there is plenty of money to bar black businessmen and women who find few options but to sell illicit materials. Meanwhile white collar businessmen/women are given golden parachutes after committing wide-spread, tumultuous violence on middle- and working-class families.

Precogs don’t recognize that violence. It doesn’t compute.

What needs to be acknowledged is that we have locked up a few possibly incorrectible career criminals at the expense of millions who made a couple mistakes. So the numbers may be down, but we have solved nothing. We are not preventing criminals but creating them.

And we may have locked up the wrong ones.