Revolution #262, March 11, 2012
"Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide" Strikes a Visceral Nerve
On February 18, Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party gave a talk at New York City's Riverside Church: "Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide! Mass Incarceration—Its Source, the Need to Resist Where Things Are Heading and the Revolution We Need!"
In the course of this talk, Dix presented a very powerful case that the mass incarceration of millions of people in this country—the majority of whom are Black and Latino—as a concentration of what this capitalist-imperialist system is doing overall to Black people, constitutes a slow genocide that could easily accelerate. And he laid out the reality that stopping this once and for all will take a communist revolution that gets rid of this capitalist-imperialist system—when the conditions for that have emerged—and brings a radically different state power into being, that we have the leadership we need for this revolution in Bob Avakian, and that we are working to get BA's work and vision everywhere in society as part of fighting the power and transforming the people for that revolution. He called on people to get into BA and get with this movement for revolution. And he urged people—whether they agreed with the need for revolution or not—to stand up and resist mass incarceration and the direction things are heading.
Among the elements of the genocide that Dix spoke to were: the millions who are locked in prison and millions more who are on probation or parole, and the devastating effect this has not only on those imprisoned but their friends and loved ones; the fact that tens of thousands are kept in conditions of solitary confinement that constitute torture; the disproportionate use of the death penalty against Blacks and Latinos; the stopping and frisking of hundreds of thousands of overwhelmingly Black and Latino people every year by the NYPD alone; epidemic police murder and brutality against people of color, exemplified by the 2,000 cases of police killings—most of them of people who were unarmed—just in the decade between 1990 and 2000, as well as the recent murder of 18-year-old unarmed Black man Ramarley Graham by cops in the Bronx who broke into his home and shot him in front of his family; and the spouting and fueling of genocidal white supremacist rhetoric by this system's political representatives and media who demonize Black people with the intent of justifying all this.
Dix further laid out that the cause of this slow genocide that could easily accelerate is not a "prison-industrial complex" through which a few interest groups seek to profit off of racism or the exploitation of prisoners. Rather, the cause is the workings and conscious policy of a capitalist-imperialist system that has exploited Black people from day one—first through slavery, then sharecropping, and then confinement to the lowest-paying, most dangerous and dirtiest factory jobs—but now, because of major changes in the global economy, no longer has a way to profitably exploit Black people and no future for this entire section of society and seeks to impose a counter-insurgency in advance of the insurgency; that is, to crush the sections of society that the system fears greatly before they are able to rise up, which is a possibility the rulers of this system are acutely aware of given the Black liberation struggles of the 1960s and the central role it played in the overall revolutionary upsurge of the time. Dix emphasized that genocide does not happen all at once, nor always in the same form, but rather proceeds in stages and can take different forms.
Interviews conducted by Revolution newspaper after the event revealed that the theme, "Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide," struck a powerful and visceral chord with people who attended. Several of those we spoke to were moved to talk about how this phenomenon plays out in society as a whole as well as in their own daily lives and experiences.
"I believe that totally," a young Black man said, interjecting before the interviewer had even finished asking for his reaction. "Yeah, I believe that totally."
Revolution suggested that many people don't see the developing patterns.
"I see the pattern," the man responded. "I've been stopped and frisked and jailed before. I definitely see the pattern. My friends tell their stories of being frisked and stopped for no reason."
He then recounted an experience in which he had been given a $125 ticket for walking in between two subway cars, which he had done simply to position himself closer to the most convenient subway station exit. The "justification" cops offered for this was that people had been mugged and muggers moved between train cars.
"What the hell's that got to do with me?" he said. "No one has shouted out to you 'Get him, get him! He stole my...'"
A man who works with formerly incarcerated people—he said this had motivated him to attend the event—spoke poignantly about the lives and conditions of those he works with, making the point that it would be very difficult for people who grew up in the desperate conditions that they did to avoid crime and still survive.
"That life, because it leads to prison, to drugs, many of them never live to see 40," he said. "It is like a slow genocide. Definitely. Absolutely. And I think that he [Carl] made a good case for that."
A graduate student was asked what he thought of Dix's case that what is going on with mass incarceration constitutes a slow genocide that could become fast genocide.
"I thought it was very compelling," the student replied. "I spent some time in Rwanda this summer, and so in preparation for that did a lot of studying about what led up to that genocide. And it's a very different set of circumstances there than it is here, but it's very compelling in that genocide is always systemic, it's always planned, it's always more intentional than it seems while it's happening. It usually involves a government. The reason we study genocides of the past is to learn the warning signs. This is a thing that humans are capable of, unfortunately, and there have emerged things that indicate that that is going to happen."
A group of three Black men and one white woman had heavy stories to recount.
One of the Black men, in his 40s, recalled being stopped by an undercover cop after using a "block ticket" at a subway station. A block ticket, the man explained, is issued when subway services are discontinued, to be used at a different time. The ticket agent let him through.
"So I'm like 'OK, it's no problem.' I go downstairs, this cop approaches me, he starts writing down my personal information because at first he was gonna let me go. Then he saw my stop and frisk button, he asked me if I was trying to intimidate him. I'm like, 'How can I intimidate you? You have .45 bullets.' So he wasn't too happy about that. So then he took me back upstairs, he said 'Well, using this ticket is illegal, and it's a misdemeanor.' I went to court, the judge looked at my record, she said, 'You don't have a criminal record.' She's like "What's going on?' ...
"The day that I went to court, the courtroom was full of people from Harlem. Everybody that was in that courtroom—there was an 85-year-old mother who swiped her son on the train. They had her in handcuffs, she was facing two to five years for theft of services."
The white woman in the group went at the situation of Black people in this country from a different, but also very powerful, angle.
"My greatest issue is the demonization of Blacks," she said. "And it's done in a very—what's the word—subliminal and primordial level. My cousin came here from Italy, and where she's from in Italy ... there are no Black people. And she is a very egalitarian person. When she came here, and she came to visit me, she actually started to shudder. And I asked her, 'Well, why?' And she says, 'Because your neighborhood is Black.' And I said, 'What's that got to do with it?' And she says, 'I know it's irrational, but somehow I feel it deep in my heart.' And after thinking about it for a long time, she says, 'My God, they've conditioned me, just from watching American films.'
"'These people who are so wonderful, your neighbors, who all want to help me when I was lost, I couldn't find my way. These are wonderful people.' She says 'Oh my god, I can't believe what they've done to me.' And then she thought, 'My god, what happens here in this country? Where I only see it in American films every so often, you experience it every day.'"
During his talk, Dix drew a historical parallel between the situation facing Black people in this country and the experience of the Jews in Nazi Germany, making the point that what comes to many people's minds when they think about the history of Nazi Germany is Jews being rounded up, shipped to concentration camps, and exterminated by poison gas. But in fact, Dix said, this was the final step of a genocide that had many stages. And genocide does not always take the same form.
Dix referenced the book Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State by Richard Lawrence Miller, which compares the war on drugs to Nazi Germany, pointing out that Miller's book talks about a "chain of destruction" leading to genocide: Identification; ostracism; confiscation; concentration; and extermination. Dix then walked through how Black people have been identified and ostracized in the form of being: demonized as criminal predators to justify police acting as occupying armies in Black and Latino communities; brutalized, harassed, and killed by police who do all this with impunity; viciously discriminated against in the courts; disproportionately subjected to the death penalty; and imprisoned and paroled at numbers that exceed the number of people held as slaves in 1850! As far as confiscation, while Black people have not had their property taken in the way that happened to Jewish people before World War 2, historically the fruits of Black people's labor has been stolen in the form of slavery and subsequent forms of oppression. And Black people are concentrated in the worst urban areas, in run-down schools, in prisons. Dix further emphasized that he was not saying that all-out genocide against Black people was inevitable, and that whether or not it happened depended to a large extent on whether people—including those in the room—responded to this situation with silence and passivity, or rather with determined resistance.
Some people Revolution spoke to after the event, while suggesting that the situation of the Jews in Germany was not identical to that of Black people in this country, also expressed agreement with some key aspects of the analysis Dix presented.
"Absolutely," said a Black man from Harlem who is in his 20s. "I don't know if it's on that level, but there are definitely certain comparisons that are very real that Carl was making, as far as all the propaganda that was said in Nazi Germany before it led up to actually all the millions of people being murdered. So there's definitely similarities in that aspect."
He also saw a parallel in terms of the need for resistance.
"Like Carl was saying," he said, "if enough Germans that actually were against what was going on—all of the racist propaganda that was going on against the Jews—if enough people were involved, then maybe, just maybe, that could have been prevented. Who knows?"
The man who works with formerly incarcerated people said: "I mean, it's a different situation, the Jews in Germany, to some extent...What he said is very true, it didn't start with genocide. That was the end point. And there was a lot of buildup to that point. But genocide is something that Black people have faced ever since we came to this country, and in Africa. They killed far more Africans than were enslaved.... So the genocide is not new to us, and I think it continues."
It was posed to the graduate student who visited Rwanda that people sometimes argue against historical parallels between different genocides because this or that particular aspect of the genocides might be different.
"Right, but you could have said that about all of them," the student pointed out. "No two genocides or incidents of mass slaughter will be identical, ever, right?"
People Revolution interviewed expressed different understandings of problem and solution. For instance, a Black woman we spoke to, who found out about the event from her husband, referenced his advocacy of people pulling their money out of banks, and buying food from farmers rather than supermarkets. The white woman who shared the story about her cousin argued that a big part of the problem is that police do not live in the communities they work in. She—along with one of the Black men in her group—also seemed to see the problem to at least some extent in terms of gentrification. There were also different conceptions of what is meant by revolution and what kind of revolution is needed. The man who works with formerly incarcerated people expressed support for the idea of a classless society but said that he is a Muslim and believes that "God has to be part of touching people and guiding them to revolution." The Black man in his 20s from Harlem indicated that he conceived of revolution as people "getting involved" and resisting.
This is a further example of the urgent need—on the heels of this event and in relation to the issue of mass incarceration, and in an ongoing way, broadly throughout society—to put the revolution we need and the leadership we have on the map in a big way and to struggle to win people to this understanding of the problem and solution.
But even with this range of conceptions of what we are up against and what is needed, a common thread running through people's comments after the talk was a sense of urgency.
A young Black man spoke to the statistic Dix referenced of one in eight young Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 in prison in this country.
"I'm one of those young men," he said. "I've never been incarcerated, but eight other men like me lined up, one of us will be jail. That's alarming. And the fact that it's not being promoted as such is alarming in itself and just lets you know the state of the media, as far as there's no real free media right now."
He went on to speak to how he saw the importance of Dix's talk. "This place should be flooded with more people," he said. "At the rate that things are happening, there's no time to really wait and hope for the next four years of presidency to change or counteract that."
A Black man said that he had found out about the event only a couple hours earlier from revolutionaries on the street who were passing out postcards and flyers for the talk, and felt he had to be in the room.
"I felt like it was my civic duty," he said. "It was 2 o' clock. It was happening at 4 o' clock. I dropped everything that I did and made it my first priority to be here. So, kudos to the revolutionaries out there."
Another Black man who was in his group minced no words.
"We have an opportunity right now that we will never have again if we don't act now," he said. "With NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] and all these bullshit laws that they're passing, if we don't take this opportunity, if we allow this door to be closed, it will never open again. Understand that. Understand that. They are already trying to crush this movement, and us, and if we don't continue to fight, we'll have nothing to fight for, plain and simple."
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