The United States has reached another numerical benchmark in its unique saga of racial oppression: two million Americans incarcerated on any given day, half of them Black. Without fanfare and as a matter of daily racist practice in every hick town, suburb and urban center of the land, the U.S. has gathered up Black bodies to create a Gulag such as has never existed in the history of the world - irrefutable evidence of the barbarism that throbs at the deepest core of American society.

Figures released Sunday by the grotesquely misnamed Justice Department showed 2,019,234 persons in prisons or jails at the end of June 2002 - one out of every 142 Americans but an astounding 12 percent of Black males in their twenties and early thirties. Among Hispanic men of the same age, the incarceration rate is 4 percent, for whites, 1.6 percent.

Prison has become integral to the collective Black experience. Twenty-eight percent of African American males will do jail time at some point in their lives.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides a panoramic view of the ongoing American civil war:

At yearend 2001 there were 3,535 sentenced black male prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,177 sentenced Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 462 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.

Almost 10 percent of Black Americans of both genders are under some form of criminal justice supervision, compared with two percent for whites.

The Justice Department statistics are understated, failing to take into consideration juvenile jails and other forms of confinement in the U.S. In 2000, the overall incarceration rate for the United States was 699 per 100,000 population. Russia's rate was 675 in 2000, and declining. Next in descending order are other nations of the former Soviet Union, Singapore (effectively, a military dictatorship), then South Africa, with roughly two-thirds the U.S. rate. Britain locks up only 100 of every 100,000 persons.

Imprisonment is modern America's response to the Black presence. No ethnic group in the world confronts such institutional oppression - except one: the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Spain. made this comparison in our first issue, April 5, 2002, with the commentary, "Psychologically Unfit: The U.S. Can't Handle the Death Penalty."

Hungary's beleaguered Gypsies, or Roma, constitute 5% of the population but account for around 60% of the nation's male prison inmates. The penal system of Romania, home to the world's largest concentration of Gypsies, appears to have been designed mainly for the purpose of keeping the Roma out of circulation. In Spain, the descendants of the women who bequeathed Flamenco dancing to humanity represent just 1.5% of the population, yet comprise 25% of female prisoners.

It is important to note that Romania's Gypsies were enslaved until the mid-19th Century, and that Hitler tried his best to erase the Roma from the face of Europe during World War II. This is the kind of historical company the U.S. keeps.

There is no correlation between crime and punishment in the United States - crime rates have been declining since 1994. White America's racial fury rages unabated, oblivious to the facts of crime, consumed by a frenzied, collective will to lock up ever increasing numbers of Black men - and women.

Female prisoners now account for 6.7 percent of all inmates - more than 96,000 - overwhelmingly women of color.

Jail populations increased 5.4 percent in the year that ended last June, and federal prison populations grew by 5.7 percent. State prisons, forced by budget cutbacks to downsize corrections personnel, nevertheless added one percent more inmates. Since the 1980s, incarceration rates have quadrupled. Race is the only constant factor.

"The relentless increases in prison and jail populations can best be explained as the legacy of an entrenched infrastructure of punishment that has been embedded in the criminal justice system over the last 30 years," said Malcolm Young, executive director The Sentencing Project, in an interview with Reuters news agency.

Race dictates the demography of the American prison landscape. Maine has the lowest incarceration rate, at 137 inmates per 100,000 residents. Louisiana is the most enthusiastic incarcerator, at 799 per 100,000. Race makes all the difference.

The United States has long been a world leader in imprisonment, having virtually invented the modern penal system, and Blacks have always been disproportionately represented behind bars. White America's answer to the Black assertiveness that sprang from the movement of the Sixties and early Seventies was to create a Gulag, a system of social death that expands, relentlessly. In a little over a generation, Black America has been purposely deformed in uncountable ways.

The Sentencing Project has attempted to tally the damage in a new book, "Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment." Edited by Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind, the volume "reveals how the two million imprisoned Americans and their families are being punished by factors well beyond incarceration. Leading scholars and advocates explore the far-reaching consequences of thirty years of 'get tough' policies on prisoners, ex-felons, and families and communities."

But books and facts are for reasonable people. The new incarceration numbers are essentially casualty statistics from a centuries long, one-sided war that is escalating toward some unknown, ghastly conclusion. We cannot go on like this.

Baring the cross

The nine mediators of justice at the U.S. Supreme Court decided April 7 that states may consider cross burning a criminal offense. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor delivered the opinion for four of the 6 - 3 majority, upholding Virginia's right to treat cross-burning as a "true threat" rather than protected, symbolic speech.

For once, the law and order faction was on the right side of an issue, although certainly for the wrong reasons. Clarence Thomas, who justifies the beating of prison inmates as a constitutional form of punishment and who has never seen an unfair death penalty sentence, felt confident enough to declare, "those who hate cannot terrorize and intimidate to make their point.... The cross was a symbol of that reign of terror."

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg generally agreed with civil liberties lawyers, who feared that a ban would take the court down the proverbial "slippery slope" to prohibition of a widening circle of political speech.

We are sympathetic to this position, knowing full well that American federal and state governments will mangle their own constitutions to selectively smother Black and "radical" freedom of speech. For this reason, 's publishers opposed mainstream Black demands that racist J.B. Stoner, of Georgia, be banned from the airwaves for his virulent anti-Black broadcasts, in the 1970s. We knew that Minister Louis Farrakhan's weekly radio "Muhammad Speaks" would be next on a banning list that might ultimately include any Black critique of white racism, based on the politicized "community standards" of a racist "community."

However, we all live in specific contexts framed by history. The American burning cross has always been a terrorist threat, an incitement to mass murder - a crime against humanity that merits execution under widely accepted international standards of justice. Its appearance on any acre of American soil represents a "clear and present danger" to a specific people who continue to be ritually slaughtered on the cue of the symbol's illumination - a far more exigent threat and incitement than a swastika in Skokie, Illinois.

The High Court found Virginia's prohibition unconstitutional, however, since it allowed a jury to infer that the act of cross burning is intended to intimidate. Under the new standard, prosecutors must prove intent - a problematic exercise under American conditions of low-level race war.

Tulia's targeted tenth

The authorities of tiny Tulia, Texas decided one summer night in 1999 to arrest 10 percent of the town's Black population. So they just... did it - and threw in a few whites involved in interracial relationships, for good measure.

On the uncorroborated word of sleazy white undercover investigator Tom Coleman, who presented no physical evidence and little else but the testimony of his own, changing memory, 46 people were roused from their beds on drug charges and ushered directly into hell. It took four years, many anguished columns by Bob Herbert, of the New York Times, the resources of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, two prestigious Washington law firms, a dedicated non-rich lawyer from Amarillo, thousands of man-hours of work by many small, activists groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, and ceaseless agitation to throw out the convictions of 38 of Tom Coleman's victims.

"It is established by all parties and approved by the court that Tom Coleman is simply not a credible witness under oath," said Judge Ron Chapman. His ruling left 16 people still in prison. Tulia's 5,000 white residents had reason to be embarrassed that the tale they so readily bought from Coleman could not withstand scrutiny. But the damage to Black Tulia was already done, as reported in the April 3 New York Times.

Seven of the 38 who were convicted based on his accusations went to trial, receiving sentences of at least 20 years. Fourteen other people received prison sentences after pleading guilty. Twelve pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation or had earlier probation revoked. Two people pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and were fined. Three had cases dismissed but had probation revoked in other counties while the Tulia charges were pending.

Swisher County has agreed to pay $250,000 to the Tulia 38. Defense lawyers say the money will be divided based on the hardships inflicted.

As Silja J.A. Talvi writes in "Finally, Justice In Tulia," Coleman's crime was abetted by the entire Sheriff's Department and the larger community. Black Tulia was horribly violated.

Last fall, I watched one Tulia resident, Mattie White, stand in front of a small room of reporters, struggling to find a way to put her grief into words. Four of White's relatives were arrested that morning in 1999. A son and a daughter wound up in prison, so far away from her that she had only seen them twice in the years since their separation.

I watched as White, a big, strong woman - a full-time prison guard herself - trembled in front of the room. Mattie wanted nothing more than to be able to see and hold her children who had been sent hundreds of miles away to sit in isolated concrete cells.

The Lubbock lawyer brought in on the case as a special prosecutor proclaimed, "What we've seen here is the beginning of a vindication of the system."

Which means, he didn't learn a damn thing.

Anti-drug law activists say that the 46 men and women arrested in 1999 were victims of a "senseless" drug war run amuck. That explanation fits the bare facts of the case, but is not the essential truth. Black Tulia was viciously assaulted because white Tulia wanted it to happen. Larry Stewart, the elected Sheriff who hired Coleman, is still on the job. That's proof enough of white Tulia's intent. We can safely assume that a large proportion of the "good" white folks of Tulia got arrested with the Blacks, four summers ago, and that the rest have since left town.

Dissecting Black Anti-war opinion

As anti-war sentiment evaporates to barely one-fifth the white population under the even whiter heat of "solidarity" with the troops - just as the Bush men knew would happen - the corporate press ponders the mystery of stubborn Black opposition. The March 28 Gallup Poll - almost certainly weighted in favor of war sentiment based on cultural factors well known to Black demographers - showed only 29 percent of African Americans support the war. The divide is even more dramatic when it is considered that military families overwhelmingly support the Iraq invasion, and Blacks are far more heavily represented in the military than whites.

The general nonsensus among the corporate media is that Blacks oppose the war with such intensity - at higher levels than they opposed the 1991 Gulf War - because they so vehemently dislike George Bush. "To Blacks, its 'Bush's War'," chortled CNN's chief political honcho, as if he had just discovered the Holy Grail. Delusional, he cannot perceive African Americans as anything but cardboard characters, too dumb to seriously weigh the merits of a war that will have vast consequences for their own nation, their sons and daughters, their individual and collective futures. No, Blacks just hate Bush, that's all. (Very much like "they" in the Muslim world "hate us" for no reason other than "our way of life.")

These racists (that's the name for people afflicted with this delusion) are incapable of considering that Black people possess an historical memory. As one million incarcerated Blacks can attest, there are also certain contemporary realities of African American life that would logically lead Black people to a different set of opinions than their white fellow Americans - who actually have every good reason to dislike Bush, too, but are too delusional to know why.

Therefore, it was refreshing to see the corporate Knight-Ridder newspapers unleash upon the general public an article by Alfred Lubrano that actually makes sense regarding Black public opinion. In "War in Iraq points up racial divide," Lubrano goes to the trouble of speaking to real Black opinion molders (as opposed to GOP check-cashers):

The American decision to attack Iraq pre-emptively, without proof that Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction, reminds some black people of hostile police behavior. "It rings of the experience of cops' saying, `I thought I saw a gun' to justify the shooting of an unarmed black suspect," says the Urban League's [William] Spriggs. "You gotta give us more evidence than, `I thought I saw a gun'...."

Historically repressed by slavery, prejudice and limited choices, black Americans are uncomfortable witnessing the "might-makes-right perspective," according to sociologist Darnell Hunt of the University of California at Los Angeles. And why intervene when oil is on the line, and not black people's lives, as in Rwanda? asks the Rev. Steven Lawrence, president of the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia.

For years, says Ron Walters, professor of African-American politics and culture at the University of Maryland, "war has been made on us. Our mentality is that of a defeated people, and we tend to identify with many of the oppressed and defeated groups around the world."

If the corporate media allowed room for more Alfred Lubranos, Black media could spend its limited resources exploring the question, What is to be done? instead of having to daily explain to our audience, What they told you in the newspaper was a lie.

The color of need

As Dr. Walters said, "war has been made on us." It is often a war much like the type Gen. Sherman introduced with his scorched earth march through Georgia, destroying the material basis for Black sustenance. Generations of psychological warfare operations have so befuddled the (already delusional) white electorate that they readily scuttle programs designed for themselves once the impression has been created that these programs benefit Black people.

In his April 3 New York Times column, "Mugging the Needy," Bob Herbert provided needed exposure to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study of how the Republican House plans to pay for $1.4 billion in tax cuts.

"The cut in Medicaid, if achieved entirely by reducing the number of children covered, would lead to the elimination of health coverage for 13.6 million children."

"The cut in foster care and adoption programs, if achieved by reducing the number of children eligible for foster care assistance payments, would lead to the elimination of benefits for 65,000 abused and neglected children."

"The cut in the food stamp program, if achieved by lowering the maximum benefit, would lead to a reduction in the average benefit from an already lean 91 cents per meal to 84 cents."

Two decades ago, Rev. Jesse Jackson never delivered a speech without reminding the audience that white people were the largest beneficiaries of federal social programs. As subsequently observed, the message did not penetrate delusional brains. White America continues to associate "poor" and "needy" with "Black" - despite the evidence of their own eyes. The cuts do have disproportionate effects on Black people, however - so the severed white noses are not totally wasted in the process of spiting Black faces.

Ten thousand mostly young and Black demonstrators last week let the Supreme Court know that there is still some street power behind the demand, "Save Affirmative Action." Presidential candidate Al Sharpton saw the turnout as evidence that new formations are stepping forward. "Dr. King wasn't the head of the NAACP," Sharpton told NNPA reporter Hazel Trice Edney. "Those that led the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s did not come out of the traditional organizations. They formed new groups. And I think what you're seeing is the emergence of new voices today as you saw the emergence then."

Racist reconnaissance-in-force

If war is too harsh a term for the state of race relations in the U.S., tell that to the white supremacists who are flooding into the northern Utah region between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. A state task force is reportedly "tracking about 132 known white supremacists in Weber County" alone, drawn to the area by prison gang word of mouth:

Gangs on the rise include the Aryan Circle and the White Aryan Resistance, in Arkansas; the Southern Brotherhood, in Alabama; the Nazi Low Riders, in California and Nevada; and Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, in Utah. One of the largest white prison gangs, World Church of the Creator, founded in Illinois and active here and in other states, has been tough to control, the authorities say, because of its religious underpinnings, which allow its members to gather for meetings in prison.

The locals seem to have brought the influx on themselves, by appearing to the white supremacists to be their kind of people. The Utah legislature has for four years failed to pass hate crimes legislation, a signal to the racist gangs that a friendly and familiar environment exists among the good Mormons of Utah. For example, one Utah town forbids on pain of law entrance of anyone associated with the United Nations. Another Utah jurisdiction requires every household to possess at least one firearm.

Not-quite terrorism

A Seminole County, Florida podiatrist faces only 12 ½ to 15 years in a plot to attack at least one and as many as 50 Islamic mosques. Robert J. Goldstein, the St. Petersburg Times reports, "wanted to make a statement for 'his people' against Arabs and Muslims in light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to court documents."

Goldstein was arrested with two light anti-armor rockets, a number of handguns, a 50-caliber rifle and homemade bombs, and a list of 50 Muslim centers around Tampa Bay. His written objective: "Kill all 'rags' at this Islamic Education Center - ZERO residual presence - maximum effect."

The local district attorney allowed Goldstein to plead guilty to the remarkably lenient charges of conspiracy to violate civil rights, attempting to damage religious property and possession of unregistered firearms.

"This appears to be a double standard," said Ahmed Bedier, communications director of the Florida office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. "This sentence also sends a message that it just might be worth the risk to attack American Muslims."

A later statement by the Florida office of the CAIR-FL was more blunt. "The fact that Goldstein was not charged as a terrorist demonstrates that the Patriot Act is a tool to be used solely against Muslims and Arabs," said CAIR-FL Executive Director Altaf Ali.

On April 5, the day after Goldstein and the Florida district attorney came to an understanding, a Muslim school bus was firebombed in the Washington suburb of Fairfax, Virginia. The DC office of CAIR asked the FBI to investigate.

Just a bunch of "hajis"

Just as the Bush men argue that the U.S. should be prepared to fight several foreign wars simultaneously, American media show prodigious capacity to recycle and juggle several brands of racial hatred on the home front. The New York Post performs its patriotic duty:

"America is shouldering the burden of freeing Iraq - and killing its vermin."

Editorial headlines such as this serve to justify the coddling of anti-Arab terror in Florida, and illuminate the processes that allow U.S. Marines to arrive in Iraq with the Middle East equivalent of "gook" already tripping easily from their lips. British reporter Mark Franchetti observed Marines at the battle of Nasiriya, Iraq. A group of Iraqis emerged from a cluster of buildings.

"It's just a bunch of Hajis," said one gunner from his turret, using their nickname for Arabs. "Friggin' women and children, that's all."

Another Marine summed up the Corps' geopolitical mission, as he understands it.

"The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," said Corporal Ryan Dupre. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."

Franchetti works for The Times (UK). His March 30 report ("US Marines turn fire on civilians at the bridge of death") was easily the best battle coverage to date, most notably because Franchetti refused to sanitize the worldviews of the Americans - who learned everything they needed to know about "hajis" right here at home.

The U.S. military believes it has assembled a volunteer force that is well suited to the role of foreign legionnaire. Forty-two percent of enlistees now come from the Southeast, and the combat arms are disproportionately white.

In Iraq - as in the White House, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives - the good ol' boys rule.

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Issue Number 37
April 10, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
From Soul Power '68 to Pirate Power '03

Will Colin Powell eat his own words?... An International Edition of BC?... Too much talk about "racism"?... How many reasons for skeezin’?

News From BC Enters 2nd Year

I've Been to the Mountaintop
April 3, 1968 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Commentaries in Issue 36 April 3, 2003:

Cover Story
Racist War and Pirate Plunder

The Issues
Harlem to Rally for Peace... Lieberman’s Black booster... Rep. Jackson rocks the gunboat... Affirmative action is payback

"Skeeza" is as "Skeeza" does... Countdown to impeachment... U.S. journalism’s corporate death

Guest Commentator
Is the US Funding Haitian "Contras"? By Kevin Pina, Port au Prince, Haiti

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.