is exhibit A in the case against southern white people who have not
managed to move beyond their ignorance, hatred, greed and racism.
Still fighting to win the Civil War one day and preserve Jim Crow
segregation the next, they keep electing politicians such as Alabama
Ivey has announced she will use $400
federal COVID relief money and other funds to build more prisons —
not build infrastructure, provide economic assistance to people in
need or relieve the state’s health crisis.
to the governor, this plan “will yield untold benefits to all
Alabamians in the days ahead,” adding the prisons need to be
built. “The Democrat-controlled federal government has never
had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their
ideological pet projects,” Ivey said.
evidence suggests only some Alabamians will benefit from more
prisons, and they are not Black folks. According to the Prison Policy
Initiative, Alabama has an incarceration rate that is higher than any
democratic country in the world. Its prisons are the most
violent in the country and
have the highest rates of death sentences and executions.
it is no surprise that Black people in Alabama are 28% of state
residents, but 43% of the people in jail and 54% of those in prison.
After all, this is a former slave state that never really rid itself
of its slave plantations. With the convict
lease system that
first began in Alabama, the state’s white elite maintained
slavery within the prison context, and used the plantation as a model
for prisons. Black
Black men to be thrown into prison for the most minor offenses, once
again providing free labor for the plantation owners. Faced with the
prison slavery conditions,
many Black men were wiped out and died.
conditions in Alabama prisons are so bad the U.S.
Justice Department sued
the state, filing a civil rights action against the entire Alabama
prison system for unconstitutional living conditions such as
overcrowding, homicides, sexual and physical violence from other
inmates, unsanitary conditions and excessive
prison guards. In recent years, the prison homicide rate in Alabama
has been 10
times the national average.
And over 2,000 inmates have
contracted COVID in the red state.
of COVID, it is incomprehensible, or very much on brand, for a state
such as Alabama to invest in incarcerating more (Black) people in the
middle of a most devastating pandemic. The needs are great, yet the
priorities are all wrong.
the pandemic, 45% of
people in Alabama (2.1 million people) were poor or low wage,
according to the Poor People’s Campaign, including 52% of
children, 46% of women, 59% of Black people, 64% of Latinx people and
37% of White people. The coronavirus has only exacerbated these
the bottom in the country in health,
education and criminal justice and
800,000 people in poverty, Alabama has been hit particularly hard by
the virus. The state was once dead
vaccination rates and now has a mere 43% of
people fully vaccinated. Last year, for the first time, more
people died in Alabama than were born.
A state with a long history of a low regard for human life — an
with embryos and fetuses but
absolute contempt for living poor and Black people and their welfare
— time has caught up with the Cotton State. A leader
in lynching and domestic
Alabama’s solution to COVID is more violence behind prison
has a record of shooting itself in the foot for the sake of white
supremacy. For example, the state’s 2011 anti-immigrant
which denied usual
and fundamental rights to undocumented immigrants — drove
migrant workers from Alabama, causing crops to rot, and leaving a
worker shortage in poultry plants, landscaping and other industries.
latest story of Alabama building more prisons in the midst of a
pandemic is a reminder that some people cannot do better, and refuse
to be better than the backwoods swamps from which they came. With
their faith in the gun and White Jesus, they will keep Black people
down, out of the game and on the plantation at any price. But they
can’t do it forever.
is why voting rights matter, and the efforts of Black racial justice
activists in the South are important to turn this all around. There
will be no more Black folks picking cotton on the prison plantation.
commentary was originally published by The