Unless you have been living under a rock in the last decade, you should already be aware of the disproportionate number Black men in America who are in prison, on parole, probation, or perhaps just “under watch.”
Right now in Georgia, where I call home, the largest prison strike in US history is taking place without much media fanfare. The strike began on December 9th and through grassroots efforts and social media, momentum is gaining on behalf of nearly 22,000 inmates who reside in Georgia’s correctional centers.
Black inmates (both male and female) account for over 66% of Georgia’s inmates, with the majority being admitted from Fulton and Cobb counties.
A few days ago, the GA branch of the NAACP held a press conference at the State Capitol, with representatives from the Nation of Islam, ACLU, the Concerned Black Clergy, the SCLU, elected officials and others who have formed the The Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights.
According to the coalition’s press release, inmates in six out of 30 Georgia prisons are, “Petitioning the Department of Corrections for their human rights, including being paid for their labor, provided educational opportunities, decent health care and nutritional meals, a halt to cruel and unusual punishments, and just parole decisions.” Although the “mass media” is reporting the strike is over, online petitions and other assistance continues.
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a Black Voices columnist who calls himself “The People’s Scholar” questions why the Congressional Black Caucus is not supporting the protest. Dr. Watkins believes the entire Black community should. “The reason that African-Americans need to pay attention to what’s happening in Georgia is quite simple: prisons are killing our families. Black men are being left uneducated by a public school machine that is designed to send them into an economic system for which they are ill prepared. When a young man has no job, no education and nothing but idle time, he finds himself in a ready-made prison bed facilitating his path to becoming a pawn of corporate America,” he states in an online article. “
Really? Are “prisons” killing our families? Or the people in them? When I was an undergraduate student, I had an opportunity to give open forums to inmates in New York State prisons and even did an expose on conditions in Riker’s Island for a Black weekly. Those were really sad days, as I got to know many of the inmates and knew to be locked up was the worst thing that could ever happen to any human being, let alone all these “fine” men with muscles. They were just wasting away in prison, while many Black women were left to look after the community. I get it. Although I had the highest sympathy for them being locked up, I am against criminal activity, especially in the Black community, for these three major reasons:
(1) Black men are at-risk of being arrested and incarcerated if they seemingly sneeze too loud in public. So by partaking in any criminal activity, they are as the old-timers used to say, “Throwing bricks at the penitentiary.”
(2) Although there is a saying, “we covet what we know,” it is a sad, cold and harsh reality, if a Black man is actually guilty of a crime, it was likely a crime perpuated against another Black person. KRS-One rhymed, “I never ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan and I shouldn’t have to run from a Black man because that’s Self-Destruction.” Very early on, many Black parents (no matter their class or their socio-economic means) teach our children to “fight” in school, instead of telling the teacher. Not even realizing they are most likely learning to devalue and disrespect another life that looks like them.
(3) There are so many people who have sacrficed for generations so we could all be more than a common criminal. Their work or lives should not be in vain.
Of all the seemingly hundreds of males down my family tree, I know of only two stories of men (in my generation) who have ever been to a state prison and they were guilty of arson and robbery. One had his father in the home most of his childhood, the other did not. They are among the most smartest of “the boys.” One even graduated from Lincoln University and had a successful job on Wall Street before succumbing to criminal activity over emotional issues with a woman.
In terms of Georgia directly, I will admit to having the hardest and most difficult time last summer trying to get support of a prison transportation program created by Young People Matter. A few volunteers, and myself, worked tirelessly to provide this service for families to visit loved ones in juvenile detention centers and adult prisons—the majority of which are four or more hours away from metro Atlanta. There was a lot of talk from correctional representatives, nothing really tangible (like access to their parking lot with our bus). Our idea is still sitting on the shelf.
Inmate Support meets Facebook
After I posted Dr. Watkin’s article, entitled Prison Inmates in Georgia Stage a Massive Protest | Black Men in Prison on my wall with a simple “FYI” something interesting emerged.
A White facer friend, Brian K. was the first to comment. He wrote:
“Poor criminals. I guess they should have thought how luxurious prison was before they decided to break the law. What’s that saying? If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime. I hope they are as miserable as possible. It will be a good reminder for them not go back after they are released. Wouldn’t you want to make it as miserable experience as possible?”
Agreed. My thoughts shifted to the Black man who murdered my own biological father in a robbery when I was 10 years old, my brother was 5 and my sister was only 6 months old. His murderer could have cared less that my father would be leaving behind a wife and three young children.
Another Black family devastated.
Two Black men join my FaceBook conversation. Hayes S., a successful Black man, who grew up in the suburbs in upstate New York, has visited every state in the US, as well as over 20 countries. Hayes is also actually married to the mother of his children. Another, who asked to remain anonymous for this article, I will simply call Brother X, grew up on Long Island, in the suburbs of New York City. Brother X is a single father, raising his 9 year-old son on his own and was seemingly not aware that “Brother Brian,” as he referred to him as, is actually White. These two Black men, in the American White media, allegedly do not exist, so I am always interested in their perspectives on Black issues.
Brother X asks, “I wonder how many innocent men are locked up? They are caught up in this hyprocasy of a joke, we call the justice system in America.”
Brian responds: “I’m sure there are a few innocent locked up and that’s very unfortunate. However, justice in this country favors the criminal just to prevent innocents from being locked up. The founders would have rather seen ten guilty people go free than to have one innocent person locked up. Criminals are comparatively lucky to be incarcerated in the US. He adds, “Criminals need shame, not coddling.”
I repeat. “Criminals need shame, not coddling.” “I used to have a friend (not the old Black friend—I liked that) who lived in a bad neighborhood. A girl he has known since childhood was prostituting out in front of the house where she grew up with her family. That would be totally unacceptable in any other neighborhood (meaning White right?). Do you know why she felt comfortable doing that? It is because the community refused to pass judgment and shame this girl into a different behavior. A community will get the behavior they allow to go on. If a community excuses criminal behavior because of some perceived injustice then criminal behavior is what you will get. I do not allow people to litter in my neighborhood without condemning them. Surprisingly, I do not have any litter in my neighborhood,” notes Brian.
The comeback from Hayes: “Yeah, the “founders” locked up people! Mostly African families. He adds, “Lol” which reduces some of the tension I am sensing from all this testorone. However, Brother X then responds—Malcom X style. “Criminals need shame not coddling.” I totally agree so let’s start with the WICKiest of criminals, the US Government and the Just Us system of locking people of color up.”
We’re going deeper. ”Are you telling me that with a Black president at the head of government and a Black man in charge of the justice department that they are conspiring to lock up innocent people of color? Do you have any proof of that? Can you point to the policy that is in place that makes it so easy to lock up innocent people? I am very openminded, so I would like to know what I don’t know,” Brian writes.
White guy lost. Even I have to admit, that is a tadbit naïve. The fact remains, Black men are imprisoned more than any group in America and sadly, many are innocent or receive an abundance of time over others. Until Whites in America have to live under constant oppression, (e.g., Driving While Black or just driving period—in the wrong neighborhood or at the wrong time), they may not fully understand the pseudo apartheid system within the US.
We all know the hateful, racist Whites get the most airtime. What intrigues me the most is Brian is sharing a dialogue, we rarely see or hear. I could not even find a suitable picture for this article after Googling, “White man helping Black youth.” All I found were coaches. Hmm.
Brian has given a glimpse of his perception of Black USA, without actually being racist. Brian shares, “This is the perspective of a compassionate outsider looking in.” Is it possible a 35 year-old White Libertarian male could possibly be the key to helping keeping our Black youth and men stay out of prison? We have Black prosecutors and judges who lock up Blacks and White defense attorneys who help them get released, and it is not secret in the Black community to “get a Jewish lawyer” if you can afford one.
I wonder, because his heart seems to be in the right place, as Brother X writes, is Brian a descendant of slavery abolitionists? Has any group, which has discussed sagging pants with our youth ever, had a White man in the room to really tell them what they perceive? Surprisingly, Brian lets us know we share the same ideas on sagging and criminal activity: it’s tragic, embarrassing and humiliating. I would like to see him on a panel.
Yet, it is Brian’s final post which leaves me, “speechless.”
“Well, you are right that I will never know discrimination the way a Black person does, but I certainly believe it exists. However, there is a certain amount (a lot actually) of glorification of the criminal (gangster) lifestyle in the Black community. Until the community stands up and says it is unacceptable to wear your pants around your knees and glorify violence and drug dealing you will always have these problems with stereotypes and high crime rates in your community.
One reason for so much criminal behavior is the lack of employment in these communities but who wants to hire someone that looks like they might come back and rob you? It really is a vicious cycle. I personally don’t respect people who look like thugs. In my book you earn respect through actions not because you demand to be respected. Looking like a gangster is no way to earn respect or get a job. This glorification of the criminal lifestyle is the reason why the incarceration rates are so high, not because these people have been wrongly convicted by a racist justice system.
A lot of young Black males view prison as a rite of passage. When your idols are 50 Cent, TI (or the corner drug dealer with money in his pocket) you have doomed yourself to failure. I personally still hear Black people deride other Blacks who perform well in school and don’t speak a certain way as “acting White.” That is very detrimental to progress. Any Black person that doesn’t vote a certain way is a trader to the race. It is all very bad for the community.
Did Barack Obama get ridiculed for acting White? I bet he did. What about Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party? He’s a very successful Black man who could be a great role model for kids trying to get out of the cycle of violence and prison but how does the Black community at large treat him? Like an Uncle Tom traitor. That mentality is a big problem. He should be admired the exact same way as Barack Obama or Benjamin Jealous (National NAACP President), a highly successful Black man that can inspire young people.
I think it goes without saying that if there are probably innocent people in jail. Then you fight like mad to have that wrong righted. The fact of the matter is, the number is so miniscule as to be hardly measurable. I still challenge anyone to point to a more equitable justice system.
One final nail in the coffin is the breakdown of the family unit in the Black community, which was facilitated by White liberals who feel they can decide the communities’ future better than the community. Please look at the woman who started Planned Parenthood and her beliefs about race. It’s really scary but I bet you can find a Planned Parenthood clinic next to most of these troubled neighborhoods.
I think the phrase “My baby’s momma” is much more common to hear than “My wife.” White liberals and their condescending attitude towards Blacks irritates me, to no end. I think it has directly affected a Black man’s sense of self worth.
I am a Libertarian because I want government out of my way so I can be successful. I think if the Black community viewed the government as a hindrance, instead of a crutch, so many things would change for the better.”
When I ask how is Brian so knowledgeable about the Black community, he admits he reads my Facebook posts and says, “Maybe that is how I learned.” He also shares, “I really do care about these issues. It hurts to see any community divided, hurting and feeling isolated.”
Brian’s final words of the day: “I long for the day these discussions are irrelevant.” As do I Brian, as do I.