Left Voice - January 27, 2021

Yesterday, Joe Biden announced a “racial equity” plan, paying lip service to George Floyd, the unarmed Black man whose murder sparked a national and international uprising against police brutality and racism. Biden claims the plan is a step toward “ending institutional racism.” One of his primary initiatives is an executive order that directs the Department of Justice not to renew contracts with private prisons that house federal inmates. This largely returns to a policy adopted by the Obama administration in August 2016 — an executive order issued only a few months before he ended his eight years as president.

“To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate by phasing out the federal government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities,” Biden wrote in the order. Of course, Biden holds much of the responsibility for the huge increase in mass incarceration resulting from his 1994 Crime Bill, which created tougher sentencing laws, increased police funding, and vastly expanded the already massive U.S. prison system. Due in part to Biden’s policies, the United States has 25 percent of the total incarcerated population of the world, with Black people incarcerated at five times the rate of white people.

In words dripping with hypocrisy, Biden added, “We’ve never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation … that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives …Now’s the time to act.” Of course, these “founding principles” were written by enslavers and capitalists who wanted to maintain their power.

Prisons have become a central point of activism over the past few years. Incarcerated people have gone on strike against meager wages paid for their labor, solitary confinement that often relegates prisoners to years of minimal human contact, and onerous job training and education programs. People have demanded to #FreeThemAll throughout the coronavirus quarantine, as well as that #NoNewJails be built and for Rikers Island prison in New York City be closed. One of the central aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement has been to question not only police budgets but also the massive prison-industrial complex, which is one of the pillars of institutional racism in the United States. ...
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