MUHAMMAD: Investing in the Criminal 'Just Us' System

Askia Muhammad | 11/26/2013, 2 p.m.
Why aren't there more of "us" involved in efforts to bring about drastic behavior modification among us?
Askia Muhammad

The immortal Richard Pryor humorously and correctly advised us (Black folks) that he went down to a courthouse looking for “justice, and that’s just what I found – just us.” So, I wonder then, why there are not more of “us” involved in efforts to bring about drastic behavior modification among us.

We are rightly outraged that the so-called “war on drugs” along with “three strikes” sentencing guidelines have really amounted to a war on Black folks. The numbers of young Blacks in prison has exploded by astronomical proportions since the 1980s, so much so that author Michelle Alexander has labeled what has happened, “The New Jim Crow.” This country now leads the world in incarceration, both numbers and the rates of incarceration.

There are thousands of children – teenagers when they were locked up – who will die in jail as a result of life sentences without the possibility of parole. There are thousands upon thousands more who are in jail on life sentences for non-violent crimes. And thanks to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which freed the slaves, slavery is still permissible as punishment for a crime!

How did we get to this place? Well, for one thing, the right-wing, Ku Kluxers who have driven the legislative agenda for more than a generation, are not uncomfortable with Black chattel slavery, and they also believe that if/when young Black folks get locked up and harshly punished for petty crimes, it’s just as well, because the guilty perpetrators are probably guilty of many other crimes for which they just haven’t been caught, and they’re probably right.

We are also rightly outraged that the “prison-industrial-complex” has been privatized. One of the more successful private prison firms is actually traded on Wall Street, and may even be in the 401(k) retirement plans, or union, or even church investment portfolios with money from lots of unwitting Black investors.

We protest and demonstrate in front of banks which invest heavily in private prison corporations, as we should, but we rarely, if ever demonstrate outside the housing projects, the rowdy, sometimes out of control schools, where our young people learn not just how to commit crimes – mostly against our own Black family members – but where the larceny in their hearts grows and is fanned by a low-life culture which teaches “something-for-nothing-ism” and creates peer pressure which makes us easily led in the wrong direction and hard to lead in the right direction.

Of course young White people are equally out of control, but not like us. When we read the summaries of overnight crimes in our cities, it is uncommon to see reports of White hooligans (and there are plenty enough of them) committing drive-by shootings at neighborhood parties or night clubs. It’s like the cowardly drive-by has risen to become almost a “Boyz In Da ‘Hood” art form.

The latest practice to rise to that “prestigious” pedestal is called “The Knockout Game.” In it, young people stalk innocent folks, whom they strike with one punch, hoping to knock the victim out. The exploits are recorded with cell phone cameras, and then posted on social media where the perpetrators can claim bragging rights. Is this what our young people are doing with the hard-fought-for Internet access and free computers our schools are providing them? (Parenthetically, we know that many ne’er do wells flock to public libraries so they can access pornography on free computers there.)