Tuesday, July 10, 2007

War Is Hell

This post began as a comment on one of dna's posts over at Too Sense. The issue under discussion was the shooting of 7-year-old Tajahnique Lee, who was trying to get home on her bike when she accidentally got caught in the crossfire between two gangs of drug dealers in Trenton, New Jersey, but which could have occurred in any major urban area and many not so major. The focus of the New York Times article about the incident was that, despite the fact that it happened last year and there were numerous witnesses, no one has come forward so that the specific individuals at fault can be held accountable. The Times and their sources attribute this blanket of silence to fear of the dealers. And certainly, I would not suggest that this doesn't play a monumental role. However, I would suggest that there are multiple layers related to this kind of issue that should not be forgotten, but are, needless to say, rarely mentioned, let alone addressed.

One of them involves the fact that street drugs are the basis of an industry the proceeds of which are estimated at upwards of $80 billion annually. Sociologists have found that most of the profits go to mainstream White male businessmen who have the ability to make massive investments in any arena – legitimate or otherwise – without suspicion because of their standing in the community and often with the knowledge of police, prosecutors, and even judges who are bought off as a business expense of sorts. Additionally, multiple sources have told us that four out of five cocaine abusers are also White.

Unfortunately, however, the many African-American men who are summarily blocked out of the employment arena find themselves relegated and, in fact, welcomed and encouraged to become foot soldiers in the army to line the pockets of their much lighter-skinned bosses by delivering the “product” to their much lighter-skinned customers, where the bulk of the risk is taken by the middle-man. The effects of the policy that prevents convicted felons (and most particularly Black male convicted felons) from being hired for other jobs further exacerbates their desperation and increases their willingness to “volunteer” for this role, however dangerous it may be.

To make matters worse, the law enforcement practice of rousting Black male children as young as eight-years-old for no reason and photographing them on the street with numbers across their chests to “build a file,” just in case they ever do cross the line can cause youth to accept their “master status” as “criminals” before they graduate from middle school, ensuring that the prisons will stay full and the Wall Street investment dividends flowing.

The end result, of course, is that many people in very poor neighborhoods have at least one member of the family in pushing “product.” These very poor neighborhoods are disproportionately marked for toxic dumps, sewer treatment plants, and a lack of decent schools or other services, and have been virtually abandoned by legitimate job-providing industries. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they wind up becoming the battlegrounds of the wars not on drugs but over drugs and law enforcement not only can’t, but doesn’t necessarily want to control it in any real sense. Police officers themselves have reported to me that some of them shakedown petty dealers for payoffs. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

So why would the African-American community “cooperate” with law enforcement? It’s a set up. The law enforcement community knows it. The dealers know it. And little girls that catch an occasional bullet in the face are just collateral damage.


dnA said...

Great post Changeseeker. Lawmakers need to become of aware of the role that law enforcement plays by treating children like potential criminals. Your description "the war on drugs" as becoming a war over drugs is mad true.

By the way, the joke in the above cartoon appears in an Outkast song called "Da Art Of Storytelling". It appears as an exchange between Andre 3000 and a girl he knew as a child, he says:

in the middle of the ghetto on the curb, but in spite

of all the bullshit we on our back starin at the stars above

Talkin bout what we gonna be when we grow up

I said what you wanna be she said "alive"

made me think for a minute then looked in her eyes

I coulda died

There's more, but it's terribly sad. Great song though.

Peacechick Mary said...

NPR had a segment on the air today about the "legal slavery" made by the prison system. They pointed out that the slave labor now comes from the same black population only now it's from the prison business.

Anonymous said...

yes, you are right that the problem is multi-dimensional and more complex than the "stop snitching" aspect.

As for peacechick's comment, I would say that prison is the natural racial evolution of state control after segregation was broken down in the 60s.

Changeseeker said...

dna: I had no idea about the Andre 3000 song, but I'm not surprised. Outkast has done some excellent work. I even went to see Idlewild. It was uneven, I thought, but they are SO talented and some of the musical numbers were TOTALLY worth going for. The poem is deeper than the cartoon, of course. I appreciate you bringing that up.

Mary: The prison industrial complex is driving the train now, not only where race is concerned, but even economics in general. The Federal Bureau of Prisons Industries is now the single biggest industry in our nation.

Charles: I completely agree. It's funny you should say that because I once made the comment that I thought prison was this society's answer to Affirmative Action legislation.