“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
It’s mid-February in the land of milk and Honey Boo Boo and the nation is gearing up to pay homage to it’s dead presidents, each of whom played their part in ensuring the country would be a military and corporate juggernaut for the moneyed elite to launch their wars of resource reallocation. Contrary to popular opinion, the ruling class most certainly do believe in wealth redistribution…just not in the direction we would prefer. As Americans continue to be swallowed up whole by the polar vortex, the bipolar vortex known as the United States Congress stays the course on giving our tired, poor and huddled masses the collective middle finger. Forget yearning to be free, more and more Americans are just yearning for a job, a home, a healthcare plan slightly above the busted bronze tier. But nowhere in this sweet land of liberty are the wretched refuse more apparent than in our country’s labyrinthine prison system. Every day of every year, more and more young men and women find themselves journeying into this literal heart of darkness that belies every fundamental notion of human rights and decency that the U.S. claims to uphold. When a violent video game is released or a celeb bares her nipple on television, a cry is raised throughout the land, “Won’t someone please think of the children?” But when juveniles finds themselves making errors in judgement that are a reflection of the unfinished business taking place in their bodies and brains, we as a society have shown no compunction about throwing the book at them.In 1971, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a Supreme Court Justice and former tobacco lobbyist, wrote a confidential memorandum to the Chairman of the Education Committee stating that the “American free market system was under broad attack.” Powell’s letter was a knee-jerk reaction to the social justice, civil rights movements and political activism of the 1960′s and 1970′s. His strongly worded missive was an unambiguous call-to-arms to the corporate class to deal with the potential threat to the status quo that the public schools and universities represented to the elite. The WOD™ sent a chill through the spine of every black and brown male in America but it had a devastating effect on the women and children left behind to fill the void created by the mass incarcerations the WOD™ engendered. Families already deeply traumatized by the legacy of slavery had to contend with seeing their lives ripped apart yet again along with being castigated for not only their problems but for all of society’s ills. It was victim blaming taken to messianic levels and Ronald “welfare queens” Reagan and Bill “Cadillac-driving welfare queens” Clinton were only too willing to point their bony fingers. The “blame the victim” mentality is a feature not a bug of the captor-captive relationship that encapsulates the infantile relationship the mainstream public has with it’s government. Until the spell is broken, we will continue to sacrifice our firstborn for the spun gold known as the American Dream©.
Inevitably, the progeny of the WOD™ showed up in the hallways of our nation’s schools with the lingering scars of fetal alcohol syndrome, prenatal drug dependence, homelessness and hunger. Yet, these students were expected to exhibit the same academic and behavioral capabilities as their more advantaged peers. Fortunately, the pipeline is there to hoover up those chewed up and spit out by the machine’s unrelenting gears. It’s no coincidence that the zero tolerance policies that schools adopted happened to coincide with the genocidal War on Drugs™ launched in the 1980′s by the Reagan administration. A UCLA study of secondary school discipline measures found that “the suspension rate increase of black students was 12.5 percentage points, compared with 1.1 percentage points for white students.” The New York Times described the crisis, “School officials across the country responded to a surge in juvenile crime during the 1980s and the Columbine High School shootings a decade later by tightening disciplinary policies and increasing the number of police patrolling public schools.” Under the cover of the aforementioned zero tolerance policies, schools were given free rein to suspend, expel and arrest their wayward students, and if, by coincidence, those same students might have affected the standardized test results that schools depend on for federal funding, well, it was a win-win for the few at the expense of the many, a recurring theme in modern day capitalism.Thus, a perfect storm was created that produced No (wealthy) Child Left Behind, perhaps, the most blatantly hypocritical piece of legislation ever penned in American history and that’s no easy feat. NCLB and it’s sequel Race to the Top (of the cash pile ) have been the vises the princes of privatization have used to tighten the screws to the public education system. As the saying goes…beware of billionaires bearing gifts. It takes a special brand of capitalist who is willing to profit off the suffering and hardship of their fellow human beings. Like the schools and adult prisons, a push for privatization of the youth jails is underway. While multi-national corporations and global banks make record-breaking profits, there is mysteriously not enough money to operate these public services at an acceptable risk-benefit level (translation: there’s gold in them thar hills) without interference from the private sector. At the same time as we’re giving lip service to caring about children, we treat them with less compassion than our worst enemy. The juvenile justice systems mirror it’s adult counterpart in it’s racist and classist elements. Like their adult forebearers, kids will be subjected to unsupervised interrogations, incessant searches and invasions of privacy, denial of due process both in prison and after they are released and psychologically damaging seclusion placements. The criminalization of youth is yet another interlocking weapon in the ruling class’s overarching battle for social control and conformity.
This is the second installment of the nation at-risk series. Peace and solidarity to all readers.
A nation at-risk series:
American hustle (Part 1)
The hardest lesson (Part 2)
They ain’t heavy (Part 3)