Harmful Policies Are Giving All Americans a Black Experience
Whenever you take a look at a bad law that is on the books, or a policy that the government has put into place, you can bet that someone paid for that. And in this most horrid of political seasons, you’d better believe that attached to each deplorable piece of legislation is a sales receipt.
Case in point: the proliferation of guns in our urban centers. It is an irresponsible policy, to be sure. Garry McCarthy, Chicago’s new police superintendent, told some truth-telling that you rarely hear from a public official in his position these days. “So here’s what I want to tell you. See, let’s see if we can make a connection here. Slavery. Segregation. Black codes. Jim Crow. What did they all have in common? Anybody gettin’ scared? Government-sponsored racism. I told you I wasn’t afraid [of race]. I told you I wasn’t afraid,” said Chicago’s top cop. He added: “Now I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of the African American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy: Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children.”
McCarthy received the predictable criticism from Andrew Breitbart, the gun lobby and others, but that doesn’t change the fact that he spoke the truth. In fact, their response validated the truthfulness of that which he spoke. There is no reason for the sale, distribution and trafficking of these weapons of mass destruction, other than to kill people. Corporate greed on the part of arms manufacturers has turned an obscure and anachronistic amendment dealing with militias into a license to kill, literally, on a massive scale. The result is a gun for every American, with no system of licensing, registration and background checks.
And there is no valid or logical purpose for these guns, which injure nearly 100,000 Americans each year, killing a third of them and costing us $100 billion annually, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Of the large high-income nations, 80 percent of firearm deaths occur right here. Over a million have died since Martin Luther King’s assassination, and they are disproportionately black and brown. In 2007, African Americans accounted for 13 percent of the population, but 49 of all homicide victims. Black juveniles are five times more likely than their white peers to die from firearms. And we export our violence to other countries. The U.S. arms race fuels the Mexico drug war by supplying 70 percent of the weapons used by the drug traffickers in the carnage to our South.
The U.S. war on drugs has been an abysmal failure – primarily a war on poor people and black and brown people who fill the prisons and are separated from their families. A color-coded law enforcement policy hunts for drug activity not in the affluent suburbs, but in the inner cities, where such activity is more conspicuous, out in the open. President Jimmy Carter has called for an end to the global drug war, which was declared 40 years ago. During that time, Carter noted, worldwide consumption of opiates has jumped 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and marijuana 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Our drug policies have created a burgeoning prison population, busting at the seams. With 743 people in prison for every 100,000, America boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world. Government spending on incarceration has skyrocketed. And I don’t see anyone challenging us for bragging rights. Over 3 percent of the U.S. adult population finds itself under the supervision of the criminal justice system, either in prison, on probation or on parole.
Meanwhile, America’s attempts to craft positive alternatives to incarceration are thwarted by private prison profiteers, who lobby lawmakers, network and contribute handily to political campaigns, according to a new report from the Justice Policy Institute. Private prison companies work hard to put more people behind bars, and their efforts have paid off, for them that is. Last year, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, generated over $2.9 billion in revenue. The three major corporations have given $835,514 to candidates for federal office, over $6 million to state races, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying. In case you believe that the Arizona immigration debate was really about the interests of ordinary Americans and safe and secure borders, keep in mind that 30 of the 36 Arizona lawmakers who sponsored that state’s atrocious anti-immigrant, anti-Latino law received contributions from the private prison lobby. Apparently, in the land of opportunity, if a profit can be made from the suffering of others, that extra buck has been tagged and will be claimed by someone.
And someone seeks to profit from the nation’s failing public schools, which funnel poor, black and brown children into a school-to-prison pipeline. Groups such as the Koch Brothers – financiers to the Tea Party – and the Amway and Blackwater-affiliated DeVos family are pouring resources into radical rightwing schemes to privatize public funds, kill the public schools and pocket the money. When Tea Party types such as the Koch Brothers peddle vouchers and “school choice,” feigning concern about poor children and children of color, it is time to walk the other way.
African-Americans and Latinos are the disproportionate victims of the deregulation craze, which led to predatory lending, the Great Recession, and a foreclosure crisis that decimated homeowners of color and eviscerated billions in private wealth. And at 16 percent, black unemployment has reached Depression-era levels, double that for whites. For black men, it is 17.5 percent, and for black teens, 41 percent. In New York City, 34 percent of black men between 19 and 24 are out of work and out of luck.
But really, Americans as a whole are out of luck – the victims of deceptive policies created in the backrooms and boardrooms, by corporate lobbyists and rightwing think-tanks, and paid for by the fortunate few under a legalized system of bribery called campaign finance. Bad policies gutted Main Street, and facilitated a concept known as the jobless recovery. The wealthy – getting richer by the day and paying less in taxes – are sitting on their money. They only need the rest of us to the extent that they can squeeze more money out of us. Yet, there are no new jobs, and the poor have nothing to spend.
Some of those who are elected to serve the people are really on the take, water carriers for the plutocracy. They are paid by wealthy interests to bring ordinary people down, to strip them down to the bone. Dressed up as shared sacrifice, a regressive regime of trickle-down economics and union-busting has hollowed out working people. Corporate socialism and welfare for the banks has meant austerity and crippling budget cuts for the common folk. The hallmark of such policies is America’s upward income redistribution and rising inequality, the shame of the industrial world. The richest 400 Americans own $1.37 trillion, which is more than bottom 50 percent of all U.S. households combined.
And to that extent, everyone is having a black experience now. Get used to it, or do something about it. In boom times and bust, Black folks in America are used to being poor, of living without, and making do with very little or nothing. They always made it through with the help of the church, the blues, and each other. But somewhere in there, there was a movement, too, hint hint.
David A. Love