The prison industrial complex affects all of us. Most of us in the African American community
have a relative or friend who has been hit hard by this system. Many of us have even been affected ourselves. What's most interesting about the prison system is that people have convinced us that racial disparities in sentencing, arrests and incarcerations are primarily the result of African Americans
choosing to embrace their own demise. This could not be farther from the truth.Rev. Al Sharpton
, who is also the host of 'Keeping it Real With Rev. Al Sharpton,' a nationally syndicated radio show, has helped take the lead in liberating the black community from the shackles of mass incarceration. His approach of mentioning the health care debate and recent recession as possible driving factors behind our nation taking the necessary steps to improve our prisons and racial disparities is noteworthy.
In a recent article on the topic, Rev. Sharpton had this to say
: "Why is it that more than half of all black men in America don't finish high school? Why is the unemployment rate in powerful cities like New York at 50 percent for Black men? Why did Congress abolish Pell grants for prisoners in 1994 that virtually eliminated all 350-incarceration college programs across the country?"Is it any coincidence then that six out of 10 Black men who drop out of high school have spent time in jail by their mid-30s? With unemployment rates on the rise (and many would argue well in to the double digits among people of color), arrests for nonviolent infractions and petty crimes are leaving families motherless, fatherless and hopeless."
Rev. Sharpton is asking all of the right questions with his commentary, questions that we should all be asking. The truth is that when you look deeper at the prison system in America, you see a two-tiered society, where black men are on the bottom rung when it comes to education, economic opportunities and incarceration. This is not only a set of outcomes that are designed for our demise, they are outcomes that must be laid at the feet of President Barack Obama
and Attorney Gen. Eric Holder
. Holder and Obama's choice to give speeches to black men
, telling them to stop misbehaving is no different from telling rape victims how to dress more appropriately. Our time might be better spent asking political figures why they do things that don't make any sense, such as spending $49,000 per year per inmate (as the state of California does) when they could provide effective education for inner-city children at a much lower cost. We might also ask why inmates have their rights to vote, get jobs or attend college revoked after they are released when we know that marginalizing the ex-convict only increases the likelihood of recidivism. Finally, we might ask why inmates are crowded in to prisons and allowed to rape one another, leading to the spread of disease that ultimately harms the general public.
If you want to know if I believe that all of these outcomes are coincidental, the answer is that I do not. While the sabotage of the black community
by the prison system may not be entirely deliberate, the truth is that the politicians who allegedly represent us have made it clear that they simply do not care. Perhaps it's time to make them care, and we can start with our attorney general and president. Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.