Freedom Rider: U.S. Prisons are Concentration Camps
There were already thousands of concentration camps in the United States before Donald Trump began his reign of terror over asylum seekers. They are called prisons.
“All of the horrors meted out to Hondurans fleeing the government imposed upon them by the United States are already experienced by the two million people living behind bars.”
Most Americans are loathe to condemn their own country. Even when they do they refuse to acknowledge its vast history of criminality and prefer to behave as if the latest outrage is an outlier event.
The disgraceful treatment meted out to asylum seekers at the southern border must be condemned unequivocally. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other House members performed their due diligence when they witnessed the horrible conditions first hand.
But Ocasio-Cortez is also the source of confusion on the subject. Her assessment that these facilities can be called concentration camps created consternation and debate. That reaction isn’t surprising considering that Americans are in a permanent state of denial about their nation. Those very loaded words are commonly associated with Nazi Germany, the country we are told was the ultimate embodiment of evil. It is difficult for most people to connect the country they think of as being good and virtuous with Hitler’s atrocities.
“Americans are in a permanent state of denial about their nation.”
The discussion should not revolve around the question of whether or not the term concentration camp applies in this situation. There is a larger problem in assuming that an entirely new condition has suddenly been established when that is not the case.
There were already thousands of concentration camps in the United States before Donald Trump began his reign of terror over asylum seekers. These concentration camps are usually referred to as prisons.
More than two million people are locked up for serious crimes but more often for more minor cases that should be adjudicated otherwise. There are people serving life sentences for non-violent offenses under the notorious “three strikes” sentencing laws. A black woman in Alabama was recently indicted after she was the victim of a shooting which caused her to miscarry.
That kind of draconian sentencing and punishment for its own sake is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime that is full of concentration camps. Juveniles are tried as adults, pregnant women given birth in shackles, and prisoners work for a pittance or are even charged for their incarceration. Private corporations run prisons and turn a profit. Other companies make money by selling products made by prisoners. Call centers are staffed by inmates and everything from clothing to furniture ought to be labeled Made in Prison.
“Juveniles are tried as adults, pregnant women given birth in shackles, and prisoners work for a pittance.”
There is nothing new going on at the border. All of the horrors meted out to Hondurans fleeing the government imposed upon them by the United States are already experienced by the two million people living behind bars.
The term concentration camp could have been used long before in describing the world’s worst prison state. Unfortunately even liberals succumb to the urge to defend their country. The use of nonsensical expressions such as, “This is not who we are,” are created by wishful thinking and are an effort to disappear a very ugly history.
The country that began with the attempt to exterminate the indigenous population and continued with the enslavement of millions of people was obviously the site of many concentration camps. Native Americans were held in them before being sent far from their homes. Slave markets and plantations were concentration camps as were the chain gangs which followed. The internment of Japanes Americans fits the same description.
That sordid history culminates in the mass incarceration state which disproportionately impacts black people. The group represented by a mere 13% of the total population comprises half of those caught behind bars. It is important to speak truthfully about this country, even if tender sensibilities are hurt in the process.
“Slave markets and plantations were concentration camps as were the chain gangs which followed.”
The days of pretending that evil deeds are anomalous must end. The rampant injustices in this country must be called out and there is no better place to start than with the prison state. It is commendable that workers at the Wayfair corporation protested the sale of furniture to detention centers. Yet there is no similar action directed towards the rest of the prison industrial complex.
Anti-black racism is so firmly entrenched in the system and in the national psyche that it continues to be unaddressed even by those who claim non-racist credentials. Every other group in need of redress may become the topic of national discourse while the elephant in the room is unnoticed.
If concerned people want to call the migrant detention centers concentration camps they should do so. They shouldn’t forget that this institution is not a new one. It is as they saying goes, as American as apple pie.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com . Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
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