This morning, as I was waking up, making coffee, I was overhearing an interview with former education “Czar,” William Bennett. This was the guy who wrote several books on virtue (for children, no less) and was later found to be an inveterate gambler. Now, I’m not one to judge, but if I’m going to get on a bully pulpit, I’d better have my own shit together. Imagine setting myself up as an addiction “expert” and all the while doing drugs. My question is so: why are conservatives like Bennett still considered relevant? Why is he on TV giving “expert” testimony on Obama’s presidency? Why aren’t the media asking Bennett about his own indiscretions?
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-=[ A Savage Disgrace ]=-
Not too long ago, I attended a conference in which one of the panelists related a story that to me is more horrifying than any slasher movie. A child in kindergarten class was asked to draw a picture showing how he saw himself in the future. It’s an innocent enough exercise, one given in kindergarten classes across the nation. The child drew an elaborate diagram. In it he drew his school. From his school, he drew a tunnel that wound its way through a rather sophisticated landscape. That tunnel led to a prison.
Now, the teacher was horrified. She called in her superiors, who called the parents, and so on. When asked why he would draw such a picture, he responded in the typical honesty only children can muster. He said he drew it because it was true.
And he’s right…
After watching that blustering fool, William Bennett, CNN gave some lip service to a report on the US prison population. We incarcerate more people than any other nation in the world. We have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. There are currently 2.3 million men and women behind bars in the USA right now. Add to that the 5 million on probation and parole and you have an epidemic.
The vast majority of those in prison are young people of color. You might say that this is so because people of color are more prone to crime, but you would be wrong. The Sentencing Project has shown that all other factors controlled a black youth is five times more likely to be sentenced to prison than his white peer — even when the crime and criminal histories are the same.
You might say that, hey, prison is fucked up, but we need to lock up criminals in order to stem the tidal wave of crime. Again, you would be wrong. There is no correlation between incarceration and crime rates. In fact, New York City’s record crime drops occurred during a decade in which the prison population was decreasing.
You might say that the collateral damage done to these individuals is justified if it keeps dangerous criminals off the street and again, you would be wrong. The majority of those currently incarcerated are non-violent, first time offenders — often low level drug dealers who are addicted. Our criminal justice system is full overburdened, that if everyone currently fighting a case would choose to go to trail, the system would implode. As a result, plea-bargaining — giving up the right to a fair trial in exchange for a more lenient sentence is the norm rather than the exception.
In other words, the vast majority or people in prison didn’t even have the benefit of a fair trail.
Finally, you might not give a fuck because you think this doesn’t affect you, but, again — you would be wrong. Where do you think our government gets the money to build and maintain these prisons…?
They get if from money that would’ve other wise gone to education, health care, and community revitalization projects that, in the long run, do more to prevent crime than anything else we could think of. The money comes from your child’s school, from your community, from your pockets. In other words, we have transformed ourselves from a nation that envisioned a Great Society, to a prison nation. Our responses to addiction, poverty, lack of access to opportunities all rolled into one: incarceration.
And for what? For an expensive way to destroy a life? Here in NYC, we would rather spend over $70, 000 a year to lock up a black youth, than to spend a fraction of that to send him to a decent school.
So, considering the above, how wrong was that child? We call it the school-to-prison pipeline. In the coming days, I’m going to tie all this together and putting to rest, once and for all, the notion that we live in a post-racial anything. It’s all connected, folks…