Profiting from Punishment

By Aurora Hotti | International | October 25, 2021

Illustration by Tyler Rutherford / Unsplash

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin took the life of George Floyd. Over the following year, protesters and activists pushed for a remedy to the various institutions of racial injustice prevalent in the United States under the banner of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, originally conceived after police killings in  2013. However, as time went by, discourses around the root of the problem simmered down. This article seeks to shine a light on a system that still needs to change.

The US is composed of 5 % of the global population and yet, boasts 25 % of the world’s prison population. The prison industrial complex is part of the economic model of the American system which pursues mass incarceration. In fact, Black men are 6.4% of the US demographic and make up 40.2% of the prisoners, which adds up to 1 in 3 Black American men facing jail time in their life. The stereotype of black men being “super-predators” and needing to be controlled stems from white political elites and the need of business establishments to access cheap working labor. In the highly recommended documentary 13th (Duvernay, 2016) statistics come to light showing that there are more cases of white men raping black women than of black men raping white women in the US.

Companies like “SECURE” make 114 million dollars in just one year by supplying phone services for prisoners to call their loved ones, same goes for companies like Aramark that offer food services to prisons, in which maggots have been found. 

Large corporations like Microsoft and Victoria’s Secret are investing in free labor from inmates, 97% of whom are pressured into accepting plea bargains for crimes they may not even have committed. Inmates that are kept in cells you would not even keep your pet inside, inmates that can`t afford to post bail for having (allegedly) committed petty crimes like forging a 10 dollar bill while laws like “Stand your ground” in Florida have allowed people like George Zimmerman (age 28) to get away with the murder of a 17-year-old unarmed black child. Why are charges not pressed against racist cops and prosecutors that forge evidence to place innocent lives in jail like the injustice against the Central Park 5?

And as for prisoners who did commit crimes, prison should be a place of re-education and rehabilitation as opposed to a reality rife with brutal police who instigate violence and only worsen the inmates’ chances at re-entering society. 

Best case scenario, they are let out and have to face a felony record which prevents them from getting access to jobs, student loans, business licenses, housing rentals and even food stamps. We condemn slavery and speak of concentration camps as if they were primitive, without realizing that that type of exploitation still exists and is exercised upon innocent men and women because of a physical attribute. It has gotten to the point where lawmakers support the criminal justice system because they are being bribed. We are living cloaked by privilege, however, with the internet, we are slowly being exposed to the domestic terrorism taking place in the US by the very people who pledged to protect the nation. 

According to an in-depth look at Police History by SAGE Publications, “The History of the Police,”

“Slave patrols first emerged in South Carolina in the early 1700s, but historical documents also identify the existence of slave patrols in most other parts of the southern region. Samuel Walker (an american army officer) identified slave patrols as the first publicly funded police agencies in the American South.” The American police force, mirroring in an uncanny manner slave patrols of the 18th century, was therefore not designed as a preventative to crime, but as a manifestation of minority oppression and white comfort.

On May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer was captured on footage. The brutality moved millions of people to signing online petitions and funding families of the many black lives stolen by the police force. Protests have been held in all 50 states of the US and 48 countries around the world, every continent part-taking, excluding Antarctica, to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement during an on-going global pandemic.

One could say that spreading awareness online and taking action are two different things, but the sharing of content and provision of a platform for inspirational black leaders to express themselves might have played a role in introducing a bill in Colorado that would address abusive law enforcement, a bill names “Breonna’s Law” being passed in Louisville, the mayor of Los Angeles and lawmakers in New York calling for the defunding of police departments and the unanimous passing of mandatory police education and bias training through Michigan State. 

We live in an era where police cannot link a movement to an IP address, they can no longer show up at someone’s door and shoot the leader of a movement in an attempt to silence it. In the words of Fred Hampton- you can jail revolutionaries, but you can’t jail a revolution.

A phenomenon currently occurring on Instagram is users posting pro-black content and using conservative hashtags to break the homophilic filter bubbles and filling right-wing pages with left-wing content. This is an attempt to peacefully educate publics affected by the Southern strategy. 

The Southern strategy was made to fuel rage in uneducated audiences who need someone to blame for their economic vulnerability, which leads me to state that the core problem is that politicians and institutions know what they are doing is wrong and they simply do not care. Reagan`s campaign strategist, Lee Atwater, was very much in favor of the southern strategy and in 1981 stated; “Ya`ll don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying ni**** ni**** ni****. By 1968 you can`t say ni****, that hurts you. It backfires. So, you say stuff like forced-bussing, state`s rights and all that stuff. You`re getting so abstract now. You`re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you`re talking about are totally economic things and the byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” 

It must be up to the current generation, and the generations to come, to begin defunding the police departments and to stop spending money on companies that support mass-exploitation. There are now apps like “Goods Unite us” which tell you the political funding of thousands of companies so that you can make more informed purchases. 

“The only criminal in the broader scheme of things is the US governmental Justice system…”

The only criminal in the broader scheme of things is the US governmental Justice system which needs to be held accountable for disposing of a sea of potential in exchange for free labor and for inflicting unnecessary force not only on black men, but also black women and anyone who does not meet the government agenda. 


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