One of the more controversial aspects of protesting the outcome of the shooting of Anthony Lamar-Smith by Officer Jason Stockley is that Lamar-Smith was alleged of committing a crime and that he had a history of drug dealership and use. Why defend someone who may have been a drug dealer?
This is the hardest question to answer on the spot, and the answer involves a long history that will take me more than one blog post to outline with any kind of clarity. It all has to do with the racist roots of the American police force, judicial, and penal systems. Before you get upset with me for even suggesting that the police force was established as an institution of racism, I simply ask for you to read to the end of this post and the ones to follow it and to check whether or not the facts that I present are true before you reject them.
To really understand what is happening in cities across America right now you have to first understand a little bit about what happened after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and “freed” all slaves in America. The South’s entire economy was based on free labor from slaves. The plantations in the south depended on slaves to maintain competitive prices on cotton, indigo, and tobacco that were exported to Europe.
Without slavery, these markets would collapse. So what could they do to stay in business? They used a loophole. The Emancipation Proclamation made it illegal to force someone to work without wages, but it had one exception: prisoners. If a person was arrested and convicted for a crime, they could be leased by the prison to plantations and forced to work with no wages. All they had to do to return Free Blacks to the plantations was to arrest them, so they developed what we call Black Codes, which were laws designed to incriminate freed slaves.
These newly freed African Americans had no land, money, or jobs, so they largely wondered around homeless. The Black Codes were laws against things like Vagrancy and Loitering, which made it a criminal offense to not have a job or to stand on property that you do not own. They combined these codes with laws against freed slaves owning property. Suddenly, every single freed slave became a criminal under the law. Free Blacks were arrested en mass, and sent to work camps, such as the Mississippi State Penitentiary, which was originally called Parchman Penal Farm, because before it was a prison it was the Parchman Plantation. Think about that. The first State Penitentiaries were former plantations and were used to imprison former slaves to work in them for free. This was legal slavery.
Slaves from the nearby King and Anderson Plantation were freed, then they were arrested and sent to Parchman Farm where they were sent to work on the same plantation that they came from for the price of food and housing at the prison. By many reports, the conditions in these prisons were worse than the previous conditions of slavery. We need to acknowledge what these prisons were not correctional facilities, they were concentration camps.
It’s easy as a white person to shrug this off as the distant past, but the Parchman Penal Farm was in operation into the early 1940’s. In fact, forced penal labor is still legal in America to this day. Privately owned prisons in America make tens of billions of dollars per year in revenues, while our tax dollars pay the room and board of the inmates. These are profits made at the expense of Black men’s freedom and every American’s pocketbook. There is currently a movement in American prisons for prisoners to refuse to work for free, which has landed many inmates in solitary confinement indefinitely.
This entire system depended, and still does depend, on the generally white public believing that people with black skin are criminals and should automatically be treated as criminals. These stereotypes were created specifically to incriminate and enslave Black men. We still have huge portions of our culture that promote this idea that Black men are criminals. This shows up in our language and media with words like “gang-banger” and “thug” being specifically used for describing young, black men who commit crimes. The end result is that when we see a person of color arrested or killed by police, we more quickly assume guilt without any trial or evidence. This is even the case when the young man is a juvenile and unarmed. These biases did not happen overnight, and they did not happen on accident. Our entire prison system was built to enslave people of color, and continues to depend on the enslavement of people of color in order to continue making a profit for rich, white, prison owners.
This is only part 1 of what will probably be 3 parts on this topic.
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