Filed under: Editorials, Incarceration, Police
I could write about the newest murder committed by the police, could write about the newest life lost behind bars, but what would be the point? Like cancer and massive debt these things hold no shock value for us anymore. We’ve come to expect them in our everyday life, stare blankly as body after body goes into a cell or into the ground. We argue about “prison reform” and “better training” yet still the blood flows. Above all, all maintain that while it’s not pretty police and prisons are necessary for any society.
These people are, in the parlance of our times, spineless and servile little worms who are hideously, grotesquely wrong.
The bootlickers among us, those disgusting and shriveled souls who can idly watch execution after execution, might differ from my opinion. To them there is no problem, and if there was it could never, ever be the institutions themselves. It’s a given that rough men breaking skulls are needed to keep dangerous people away from the good; that large amounts of humans are required to be kept in cages where they will be raped, beaten, and humiliated on a daily basis to preserve society’s serenity.
Some of these people even dare call us “comrade.”
The radical breed of these poor deluded souls, clouded from years of competing with liberals, attempt to dress the same institutions in new language. They assure converts the people’s prisons will be filled not with criminals but “class enemies,” promise that the difference between a cop and a comrade is a matter of pages read by Murray Bookchin or a degree in intersectional theory. The most despicable of these repugnant creatures will even bubble the wretched idea that “cops are workers too.”
Nothing can be further from the truth and nothing can transform these institutions. Prison and Police reform are impossible because they are the epitome of exploitation, the crowning jewel of a modern-day slave empire. We do not need cops and we do not need prisons. We cling to these institutions not because they are necessary but because we can’t imagine a world without them, even if such a world has existed and continues to today.
But before we can see that world we must first cleanse our vision, douse our selves in hyssop and break free from the unclean spirits that litter our mind. We must first come to terms with what the police and prisons really are instead of what the police and prisons say they are.
The Police Are Your Enemy
Police were never created to protect anybody. Police instead have their roots in the rise of modern property relations 200 years ago and the “disorderly conduct” of the urban poor. This, coupled with their long history as slave catchers, highlight the fact the police only “serve” to steal value from the workers and “protect” the property of the powerful.
When the police admit they must arrest a certain amount of people, they are admitting they operate to intimidate and steal from workers. Witness the effects of a two-day work stoppage by the NYPD: citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, summons for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination plunged by 94 percent, parking violations dropped by 92 percent, and drug arrests fell by 84 percent.
This wasn’t some noble decision to get back to “protecting and serving,” but a calculated economic attack, and shows arrests mostly function as a way to generate revenue. Cops are nothing more than engines of profit, profit taken by force from the workers and deposited into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Court, criminal, and administrative fines contribute some $800 million to the New York City’s annual budget, according to its Office of Management and Budget’s projections, and that’s money mostly taken from the working poor.
To put that in perspective, the cigarette tax will bring in about $52 million a year, hotel taxes generate roughly $547 million, and commercial rent tax will supply $720 million. Don’t think this is some kind of New York oddity either, like mole people living in subways or a disproportionate pride in the fact you were born in a shithole. According to The Washington Post, some communities in Missouri draw as much as 30 percent of their revenue from these sources, and across the board they always seem to fall disproportionately on poor, non-white people.
The people are being fleeced, like sheep, by shepherds who have no qualms about killing the livestock. But these pastoral pigs don’t merely beat up the poor and shake them down for money.
You can only make so much money off a worker, but you can make a hell of a lot more off a slave.
Prison: The Modern Day Plantation
When we think of police we often think of half-evolved werewolves that “patrol” our neighborhoods, noses sniffing for easy prey as they roll by in race cars, but there’s much more to policing then that. A cop implies law, laws imply courts, and courts imply cages where those deemed troublesome can be left to rot. A cop’s job is to enforce the law, whether it is wrong or right, and especially if it means keeping prison beds full.
Prison and jail aren’t about rehabilitation, and they aren’t about justice. They are about money through slavery, and the significant 1871 court ruling from Ruffin v. Commonwealth puts it all in black and white. This landmark Virginia case set the precedent for state control of inmate bodies and labor, one still used today, and cuts no corners in laying out what the State hopes to gain from an individual’s imprisonment:
“For the time, during his term of service in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the State. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being a slave of the State. He is civiliter mortus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man.”
Slavery never ended. It just became legal. In privately run prisons inmates will receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they deem “highly skilled positions.” Federal prisons are a little better, offering $1.25 an hour. Both will make everything from blue jeans to body armor and hire their captive labor out to the highest bidder.
These are not hardened criminals being sentenced to indentured servitude. Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes and it is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. This is not by accident but by design.
Just look at who is being arrested.
African-Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population, and are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Considering the black imprisonment rate for drug offenses is about 5.8 times higher than it is for whites the “drug war” might better be called what it is: a coordinated attack against the black community with the goal of re-enslaving them.
Nowhere is this more apparent than Louisiana.
The Future of America Lies in Louisiana
Louisiana is run by police and for police, and is a great model of what policing run rampant looks like. Police have a month before they have to give any reason as to why they killed anybody and attacking a police officer is automatically filed as a hate crime. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world (even greater than the US) and does this almost exclusively on the basis of making a profit.
David, a New Orleans resident who I spoke to, filled me in on the details.
“Parishes upstate depend on prisons for employment. Most of those locked up are black folk from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Most of the COs are rural white dudes. It’s a cash cow for the sheriffs and allows them to rule their parishes like fiefdoms because they can dole out CO jobs in exchange for votes and favors.”
“More than a decade since a prison-building boom swept the state,” he continued, “Louisiana’s corrections system is a sprawling, for-profit enterprise. Private companies got in on the spoils, but the primary beneficiaries have been local sheriffs, who use the per-diem payments from the state to finance their departments and to pump jobs into moribund rural economies.”
He went on to describe a system that seemed right out of a time machine, one covered in confederate flags and dialed in to the early 1800’s. “With little oversight from the Department of Corrections, sheriffs wheel and deal among themselves for inmates. Cupp and other rural north Louisiana wardens drum up business with daily rounds of phone calls to their suppliers — urban areas such as New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport that produce more criminals than their own jails can hold. The mad scramble to build prisons has become a mad scramble for inmates. Like hotels, prisons operating on per-diem payments must stay near 100 percent occupancy to survive. The political pressure to keep beds full is a contributing factor to the state’s world-leading incarceration rate. No other state comes close to Louisiana’s 53 percent rate of state inmates in local prisons, and few lobbies in Louisiana are as powerful as the sheriffs association.”
The “training” the guards receive at these for-profit prisons, as exposed by investigative reporter Shane Bauer, speaks to the kinds of conditions one can expect to find for inmates.
“‘If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?’ he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, ‘I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit.’
Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. ‘If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him,’ he says, pacing slowly. ‘If a inmate hit me, I’m go’ hit his ass right back. I don’t care if the camera’s rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he’s gonna have a very bad day[…]Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I’ll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him.”
Safety is of course a priority, not for the slaves who are replaceable, but for the slavers.
“He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.
‘I’d probably call somebody,’ a cadet offers.
‘I’d sit there and holler ‘stop,’ says a veteran guard.
Mr. Tucker points at her. ‘Damn right. That’s it. If they don’t pay attention to you, hey, there ain’t nothing else you can do.’
He cups his hands around his mouth. ‘Stop fighting,’ he says to some invisible prisoners. ‘I said, ‘Stop fighting.’ His voice is nonchalant. ‘Y’all ain’t go’ to stop, huh?’ He makes like he’s backing out of a door and slams it shut. ‘Leave your ass in there!’
‘Somebody’s go’ win. Somebody’s go’ lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!’ The classroom erupts in laughter.”
Louisiana may be the most nakedly cruel, but it is not alone. For-profit companies are responsible for approximately 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners in 2015 (the most recent numbers currently available). This number is only growing. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that in 2016, private prisons held nearly 75% of federal immigration detainees, a number now swelling due to the ICE raids launched under Trump, and they are being used as free labor. Stocks in these companies have soared by 100% and Trump’s administration has rescinded a memo that former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued last summer which moved to end the department’s reliance on private prison companies.
The business of human enslavement is booming. Capitalism, in its quest to consume everything, has taken one of the grotesque aspects of modern living and found a way to make it worse.
Is there a better way, beyond the State and beyond Capital? Can a world without slavery truly exist?
A World of People Instead of Prisons
To a population domesticated from the moment it fell out of the womb such a question seem ludicrous. All our lives we’ve been told cops, judges, and prisons are the pinnacles of civilization, needed to keep our innate savagery in check. To imagine a life free from them is often called “Utopian” and against “human nature.”
History says otherwise.
Paul H. Robinson and Sarah M. Robinson in “Pirates, Prisoners, & Lepers: Lessons From Life Outside the Law” have collected 250+ pages of such history, everything from pirate crews to plane crash survivors thriving with no courts, no cops, and no jails to punish the wicked. One of the most interesting examples in the book is the early mining camps in the hills of Sierra Nevada, a place where real world Anarchism existed unnamed.
Thousands lived without laws, licensing, fees, taxes, or formal land ownership. The miners, a mix of “puritans and drunkards, clergyman and convict, honest and dishonest, rich and poor,” shared no common language or culture. No one worked for anybody else and nobody needed anybody’s permission to mine a location; what was done individually was owned individually, and what was done collectively was owned collectively. All this without an executive to enforce order, without police to make an arrest, and no jails where the dangerous could be confined.
Conflicts of course arose, but there was an understanding among the miners that any sense of justice would rely on them alone. If an offense was committed miners were gathered from nearby to hear the victim and the accused state their case, the decision of guilt decided by the assembly often within hours of the crime. In special circumstances, where the crime was particularly heinous or of great importance a “halloo was sounded from ridge to ridge, and a general gathering from a larger district was summoned for careful consideration and deliberation.” When the issue was particularly tricky a mock trail was set up, with a witnesses testifying before a jury of six or twelve persons.
Richard J. Oglesby, who worked in several mining camps, recalled:
“There was very little law, but a large amount of order; no churches, but a great deal of religion; no politics, but a great deal of politicians; no offices and, strange to say for my countrymen, no office-seekers. Crime was rare for punishment was certain…I now remember Charley Williams whack three of our fellow-citizens over the bare back, twenty-one to forty strokes, for stealing a neighbor’s money. The multitude of disinterested spectators had conducted the court. My recollection is that there were no attorney’s fees or court charges. I think I never saw justice administered with so little loss of time or at less expense. There was no more stealing in Nevada county until society became more settled and better regulated.“
“In Rojava conflict resolution is handled in a bottom-up manner and integrated into daily life as opposed to exclusively institutional settings…The Peace and Consensus Committee is composed of a few neighbors who are invested in finding a reasonable outcome to conflicts. The ‘office’ where they meet is a neighbor’s house. The family might be at home, other neighbors may pop in, and in the middle of this familiar environment, the participants talk over the issue they are trying to resolve. According to Ercan Ayboğa, ‘The goal of Peace and Consensus Committees…is not to condemn one or both sides in a proceeding but rather to achieve a consensus between the conflicting parties. If possible, the accused is not ostracized through a punishment or locked away but rather is made to understand that his or her behavior has led to injustice, damage, and injury. If necessary, the matter is discussed for a long time. Reaching consensus among the parties is a result that will lead to a more lasting peace.’”
The goal here isn’t to inflict punishment or to generate profit, but to provide social cohesion through personal development.
“Council members will sit down with people in the midst of a crisis and talk it through with them. According to one council member, ‘We work with conversation, dialogue, negotiation, and when necessary, criticism and self-criticism. When someone does something wrong, the party who perpetuated the harm has to make it up to the people he injured…There’s no death penalty, we don’t put perpetrators in prison or penalize them financially.’ Even in cases as serious as murder, the solution is to help the perpetrator develop into a better person, using the help of psychologists or others.”
Total Abolition is the Only Way
The more rules and regulations there are the more thieves and robbers there will be; put a person in a cage and you’ll turn them into an animal; absolute power corrupts absolutely. We’ve ignored these pearls of wisdom in the hope that the more we force people to behave through beatings and cages the better off we’ll all be.
It is an idea that has failed and continues to descend to ever darker depths of depravity.
The human spirit cries out in torment, pain caused not by isolated incidents but devilish design. On lonely nights when the moon is black and the rum flows just right I hear the screams. I fight the overwhelming urge to flee to the highways, gun in hand and wild with drink. I want to get away, need to get away, but there is nowhere to run. The plantations are everywhere, as are the slavers, cautioning us that everything is as it should be. The words of one officer weigh mightily on my mind:
“‘Does anybody know why we don’t want them to individualize their uniform?’ Parker asks us. ‘We want them institutionalized. You guys ever heard that term? We want them institutionalized, not individualized. Is that sort of a mind game? Yup. But you know what? It’s worked over the couple hundred years that we’ve had prisons in this country. So that’s why we do it. We do not want them to feel as though they are individuals. We want them, for lack of a better term, to feel like a herd of cattle. We’re just moving ’em from point A to point B, letting them graze in the dining hall and then go back to the barn. Okay?’“
Dehumanization is the point of it all, both for the entrapped and the onlooker. Shrieks ring out from Human Factory Farms, wailing people trapped in cages and gnawing on one another in between working for pennies. Long enough and they become lost, twisted and mangled living corpses who’ve internalized the system that devoured them. Their cries mix with the howls of cops roaming the streets, rabid bloodhounds hunting for families that escaped the end of slavery only to suffer it again. They kill with impunity and the people are powerless, shielded behind the idea that so much evil is needed. Natural. Always been this way, always had. Humans becoming cattle, individuals becoming dollars.
Police and prisons exist to exterminate everything that is human in us. They have arisen from the most rotten aspects of our history and continue to sour. Nothing here, nothing in them, is worth saving. Anarchism cannot exist beside an institution of upgraded slavery, of wanton murder, and of badges that grant extra privileges. Neither can human beings.
We can live without them. We have before and some intrepid souls are doing so today. We can join them if we stop clinging to the lies and institutions slavery has handed to us.
Reform is not possible. There is only once choice if we are to be free:
We must banish the cops, break the law, and burn the prisons to the fucking ground.