Mass Incarceration = A Legal Form of Oppression

By: Racheal Adeoti

Mass incarceration = a legal form of oppression. Black people in the U.S. have always faced oppression, but it has taken on many different faces. This piece focuses on how the Clinton campaign used the War on drugs to target black people by exploiting racial stigmas and prejudices, ultimately leading to mass incarceration. In doing this, the Clinton campaign solidified racial stigmas and changed the way society views black people today.


We all know racism was the justification of capitalism by using slaves for economic profit, and that racism is still alive in our communities. After the Civil War, the South lost the only thing fueling their economy, so they arrested black people in large numbers, and painted them as animalistic and predatory. This is the foundation of the police system we have today. The Civil War forced black people to flee from the terrorism they faced in the South only to meet a more legal form of oppression in the North: segregation. And even though civil rights activists and protesters spoke up about the oppression black Americans faced, they were still portrayed as criminals. Sound familiar? (Trump? *cough cough*). During the civil rights era and still to today, there was a mass incarceration of black people. Before this, the prison population was relatively low. As a way to fuel the economy and further the oppression of black people, the government used the issue with drug abuse (that plagued all of America) to violate the black community. The War on drugs became a cover up for the war on black people. They were falsely portrayed as criminals, creating a society that saw them as monsters or "super-predators"; a term coined by Hilary Clinton in the 90's. An example of how these stereotypes have worked against the black community is seen in the story of the exonerated five, who were brutality and falsely prosecuted for a rape they didn’t commit. Their story is told in the limited series, “When They See Us”, which sheds light on the blatant discrimination the five experienced due to their race. Interestingly though, America never recognized the mass rape of black women during slavery; this is not surprising because our education system fails to educate us on the oppression of black people.


In the 90's, the “The New Democrats,” a term used to describe moderate Democrats who aligned with Bill Clinton, introduced tough crime policies to ensure their public approval. During Clinton’s presidency, he introduced a crime bill with a handful of laws that targeted black males. From this bill, California implemented a “three strikes and you're out” law in 1994; 95% of prosecutors were white. Judges became required to sentence people with misdemeanors to harsher sentences if they had previously been convicted two or more times, even for petty crimes. Clinton’s crime bill in essence led to the expansion of the prison system. It created a trend that led to the hyper-incarceration of black people. Keep in mind that they have always been targeted by the police in the U.S., but the legal system in the 90s, along with the media, amplified the discrimination and harsh public opinion towards black people. Decades before this, the FBI regarded MLK, a peaceful activist, as one of the most dangerous men in the United States. This goes to show that black men were always treated as a threat to society.

After the War on drugs, a new reason for the mass incarceration of black people emerged: capitalism. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a political lobbyist group that writes laws for Republicans, was founded. The organization became a legislative powerhouse, aiding Republicans in achieving their agenda. One of their laws that was put into action was later used to justify the murder of Trayvon Martin. Roughly a quarter of state legislators are part of the ALEC, according to NPR. Corporations like Walmart and CVS use the ALEC to influence our laws, and pass on the Republican ideals. This in turn, led to the under-representation of voices by large companies, furthered within our laws. The ALEC didn’t stop there though. Private prison corporations made contracts with states to keep prisons filled, even without crimes. Private prisons are currently multi billion dollar corporations. ALEC introduced legislation to increase numbers in prisons because companies profit off of mass incarceration through these private contracts. Phone companies, for example, charge inmates and their families inflated phone rates. Food service providers, health care services, and more, all utilize these private contracts, adding up to millions of dollars of profit. Jail systems profit off of the fact that most people they arrest can't post bail. Over 97% of people who go to jail get plea bargains and stay in jail for crimes they didn't commit according to a story done by NBC. Once again, this topic is covered by the movie, “When They See Us”, where it explains how the justice system manipulates young black boys into taking plea deals, which is a human rights violation. Over 30% of men in Alabama have lost their right to vote due to these prison systems, this is regarded as simply another form of Jim Crow. More black men are currently imprisoned in America than were ever enslaved, all as a result of racial profiling that came from capitalism. The Huffington Post explains that 1 in 3 black males are likely to be put in prison during their lifetime, and that most of them are there as a result of a system that is working exactly how it’s supposed to. The Mass incarceration of black people is just another form of oppression, and instead of the n-word they use the word criminal.

"Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me” - Tupac Shakur


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