Black, Male, Released from Prison, and Unemployed: A Recipe for Social Estrangement

Black Men Released from PrisonThe tragedy of four police officers being shot on a routine traffic stop in Oakland, California, over the weekend, offered a set of circumstances that we all must face up to at some point in our society. Five people died (four officers), and condolences go out to all the families. It is a public tragedy “of monumental proposition,” to quote Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.

Hidden in the public tragedy is a greater social tragedy, young men who are re-entering society from prison stints that find it increasingly difficult to find work and are forced to go underground because they can’t find work. While the facts of the Oakland incident are being “investigated,” the scenario is not difficult to construct. You have a young black male, recently paroled from prison — to be paroled you must either have work or be actively looking for work — missed his check-in with his parole officer because he couldn’t find work and didn’t want to be violated (returned to prison), he’s violated and now a fugitive on the streets of Oakland, he gets into a confrontation “in the hood” that ends up with an assault with a deadly weapon, a no-bail warrant issued for him, and he was probably driving without a license and insurance when he was stopped.

The all too familiar line, “Step out of the car, sir” (if it was that polite) is the cue for what comes next. The “routine” encounter turned to panic and the rest is news. This young man, Lovelle Mixon, was estranged long before his final estrangement. He represented the worse extreme of prison re-entry; black, male and unemployed with a criminal “strike.” It is an equation for the social estrangement for many, many black males.

Just for the record, there is no such thing as a routine encounter when police stop black men. Anything can happen and anything has happened, it doesn’t matter how passive or professional the black male. When combined with negative stereotypes and egregious emasculation, there is a hyper-sensitivity directed at black men that is, for less than a better term, hostile. Hostility toward black males is reflected in most social and economic indicators — from high school dropouts to unemployment rates to lower pay when hired-from most traffic stops to most arrests to longer jail sentences. This hostility heightens the potential for “accidents,” as Richard Pryor once said, when police encounter black men, and the reasons for stopping them is frequently highly suspect.

Racial profiling studies bear this out. Recent studies on prisoner re-entry suggest that, in California, nearly 400 prisoners, A DAY, are being released into the community, with 70% to 90% of them being unemployed because only 20% of the state’s employers are willing to hire persons with convictions (no matter how long ago). Unemployment rates released last week show that black unemployment was at 12.5% (16% nationally), a full five points over white unemployment at 7.5%. The state unemployment rate is at 10.5%. However, by most estimates black male unemployment is over 20% with one in five black men being out of work. Black teen unemployment was nearly 40% last summer and is expected to be higher this summer.

With black males being only 3.5% of the state’s population but nearly 30% of the state prison population, the employment prospects of black male re-entry, are better in prison than outside of prison. Employment is nearly 100% inside the prison industrial complex. The problem is that black men can’t live on seven cents an hour on the outside like they can on the inside.

Being unemployed is bad enough. Being unemployable with convictions is social estrangement. Mix that with law enforcement policies that engage racial traffic stops as a form of social control, and eventually the panic we have all felt when lights flash behind us becomes disastrous. Lovelle Mixon, on one hand, is any black man in America who is stopped on any given day. On the other hand, he was part of the social estrangement that left him no options to rationally deal with the hostility he faced in his final law enforcement encounter. In the final analysis, his act now only makes the hostility black men already encounter even more heightened. This will not just go away.

Mixon was on record saying he was not going back to prison. He chose the graveyard instead. The reality here was that his options were few because his circumstances were dire. Mixon saw no way out. It didn’t give him the right to take these officers’ lives, and the real reality here was, once he did what he did he probably knew he would not live through the episode. Cop killers are rarely ever taken into custody. They’re usually dead wherever they’re found. His act was of desperation. A desperation stemming from a larger black male social estrangement. It’s easy to say, “He was just a criminal” As true as that statement is, it is just as true that there is a systemic problem here. Mixon’s act was not justified, but his socially estranged reality was real.

samad.jpgBlack men are more likely to be treated with extreme hostility and are more frequently put in desperate situations to lose their lives.

The question is now, how will this incident cause black males to be perceived in future police stops? Every black man in America may not be a Lovelle Mixon, but can we truly say that every black man will not be treated like Lovelle Mixon?

Or end up like Lovelle Mixon? It’s a real dangerous social quandary to ponder.

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is an author, scholar and the co-founder, Managing Director and host of the Urban Issues Forum. Dr. Samad has authored several books including “Fifty Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality in America” and “Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom”. His national column can be read here at the LA Progressive as well as other newspapers and cyber-sites nationwide. For more information about Dr. Samad, go to www.AnthonySamad.com.

Comments

  1. Lori Jordan says

    Very good!! I really enjoyed this post!!!! I am currently working on a research paper for my “Corrections in the 21st Century” class and your information was very helpful! you now have a fan and I will continue to read your posts!!! Keep up the good work!!

  2. says

    For a couple of years I've been jotting down my thoughts on this topic with the hopes that eventually I'd be able to write about it. The "it" I am referring to is the way black young men are treated in this country. You are right to say that black men contend with far more that we want to recognize. I too am the mother of a black man. I learned from my 32 yr old son, just this week, that when he was 8 yrs old he was verbally assaulted by adult white men who told him that niggers don't belong in their town.

    • says

      How tough your son is to have grown with that memory! My son was 3 when he was called a "bigger" from another little girl who said, "my daddy doesn't want me to play with biggers." Imagine my horror when my son came home asking what a bigger was because little Brittney can't play with him. In 8th grade, he fought with a boy who outright called him 'nigger' on the playground. The boy told him he didn't like "his kind" and would make life hell for him. Of course, I pushed the envelope by raising him in predominantly white communities. Some of my black friends hinted that living there was a form of neglect. I think, however, that my son is all the better for it. What's more, he's been a positive influence in those white communities…helping them see that stereotypes don't fit everyone. I could never walk in my son's shoes. As a white woman, it's mission impossible. But I will speak up when I see injustice. Again, I hate labels!

  3. says

    As the mother of a black man, this scares the shit out of me! He's 19 with his life before him. Yet, even with a black president we all fought so hard to elect, standing in the forefront as a role model, there just seems to be far more for which a black man has to contend than we want to recognize. I've sat with white, rural friends while watching the show "Cops" and have been amazed with the comments that come from them. That said, I've also watched that show in the home of some of my black friends who live in Baltimore's Fayette Street projects. It's unbelievable what I've heard from them as well. I've also been among a group of culturally diverse, upscale folk who shake their heads while their eyes are practically glued to the set while watching the same show. Thing is, everyone has an opinion and yet none seem to have a clue about the root of the problem. Neither do they seem to want to be a part of the solution.

    There are several things to consider with the Oakland incident as Mr. Samad effectively points out. Yet, the solution, in my opinion, will take more than a Petition project. I believe the answer lies in facing fear.

    White people (anyone who is not black or dark skinned) have to get over themselves. We are not a society of supreme "races." We are a society of diversity. We have to accept that beauty and brains come in all shades. Labeling and stereotyping do nothing but alienate.

    Eliminate labels. Rewrite the parole rules. A man who has served his time/fulfilled society's punishment for a crime should have a clean slate. No man, black or white, should have to write the word 'felon' on an application once he has paid the price for the crime he committed. Will we continue to judge them based on the past? As with the case of pedophiles…if you can't trust them to live in society without a label, then they should remain in a contained environment. (But that's a completely different battle.) Bottom line, we can't keep punishing a man/woman for a crime for which they've paid the assigned debt.

    Start with the man/woman in the mirror. I'm no fan of Michael Jackson's, but you have to appreciate the lyrics to "Man in the Mirror." Imagine yourself in every situation you want to judge. Seriously, try it for a day. When you see yourself looking down upon a person (for whatever reason), put yourself in their shoes–just for a moment, consider that person's predicament. Every time I do that, I feel less than the person I'd like to be and quickly adjust my thinking.

    If you're a cop, a businessman, a little old white lady, the father of a white daughter, please give my son a chance. Be nice to him. Give him the benefit of a doubt. Don't judge him based on your fears. He's a great young man with a most charming personality. Engage him in your conversation; he'll make you laugh. And if he happens to do something wrong, set him straight, but be fair. I promise, I'll do the same for your son.

    • Lorien says

      Sorry, but white people HAVE gotten "over" themselves. If that weren't the case, we wouldn't have the president we have. I'm not saying all white people are the freaking image of tolerance, but the huge majority of us are. I'm so sick of being villified and generalized just because of the color of my skin. Sound familiar, folks? My family on both sides did not even immigrate here until long after slavery was abolished. Further generations within my family fought for equality and civil liberties for all, protesting with MLK jr., petitioning apartheids, burning bras. I've spent countless hours and dollars trying to make this a more tolerant society for OUR children and future grandchildren.

      • Lorien says

        All this article does is cause a divide! Sure, 30% of the prison population is comprised of black males, but that means 70% of that same population is comprised of non-black males. Are you telling me that those men don't face the same struggles finding an employer who will hire felons? Do you think a cop who pulls over a white, wanted male wouldn't arrest him? Do you think they'd shoot any slower if they thought their lives were in peril because of the criminals pale skin? Do you think the aggressiveness of police towards black men has everything to do with race and nothing to do with the stereotype that so many black men seem hell bent on reinforcing? That is has everything to do with White v. Black and nothing to do with subculture within the black community that seems to be a breeding ground for repeating history?

        I can be your ally until you stop calling me your enemy.

  4. says

    A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)

    THIS PETITION SEEKS TO ABOLISH ALL PRIVATE PRISONS IN THE UNITED STATES, (or any place subject to its jurisdiction)

    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
    We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

    Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

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    John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

    There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

    Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

    The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
    These new slave plantations are not the answer!

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  5. Bonny says

    You seem far too ready to give this guy the benefit of doubt on many many levels simply because he is black… Seems wrong to me.

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