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Issue #1730      May 11, 2016

Culture & Life

Crime and punishment

As everyone knows, the USA is “the greatest country on Earth”. The US propaganda machine drums it into people relentlessly. So relentlessly, in fact, that one is moved to say – taking a line from the Bard – methinks thou dost protest too much!

Apart from the crushing poverty, unemployment, homelessness, violence and crime, the heartland of capitalism is also plagued by persistent, pervasive and institutionalised racism. The lynchings that caused Paul Robeson to proclaim “we charge genocide!” in the 1940s may have ceased, but they have been replaced by the mass jailing of African Americans, fodder for the USA’s commercial prison industry.

The US now has the dubious distinction of holding in its prison system no less than 25 percent of all the people in jail in the whole world. Confronted by advocates for the Black Lives Matter campaign, presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton responded very differently. Senator Sanders called for the end of mass incarceration, aiming for the US to no longer be the country with the highest number of people in jail by the end of his first term in 2020.

In contrast, Chelsea Clinton, campaigning on behalf of her mother Hillary, said Sanders’ proposal was “of concern” and that his plan “worried” her. Hardly surprising when you think about it: the mass incarceration of Black and Hispanic people in the US really got into gear with the racist Crime Bill that was a feature of her father Bill Clinton’s presidency in the ‘90s.

The best that Hillary Clinton has been able to come up with on this score is an almost meaningless promise to “build a cradle to education and cradle to jobs pipeline,” whatever that might be. Somewhat undermined when husband Bill denounced protesters from Black Lives Matter for “coddling murderers”.

The Clintons’ position is only marginally better than that of the Republican “front runner”, the openly racist and xenophobic Donald Trump (let’s not beat about the bush: the man’s a fascist).

Bernie Sanders is the only “mainstream” candidate who is concerned with policies rather than personalities. Consequently, Sanders has been endorsed with glowing tributes by a number of US trade unions. There are other political parties taking part in the US elections that are also concerned with policies (the Green Party, the Workers’ World party, to name but two). However, thanks to monopoly control of the mass media, most Americans are and will remain unaware that these candidates are even running.

Candidates for local office win votes by being “tough on crime” or espousing other populist slogans beloved of radio talk-show jocks. The real substantive issues of concern to the mass of US citizens barely get a guernsey.

The USA’s social system is based on inequality and pandering to greed. It is not surprising then that those who have missed out on a share of the riches they are encouraged to covet will resort to trying to acquire them by stealth or force.

Such a self-help approach is frowned upon as “criminal activity” and is punished with a much heavier hand than the far more substantial criminal activity engaged in by the “business community”. Many of the anti-social actions undertaken by corporations or the wealthy, actions designed to increase their profits and devil take the poor – or indeed, anybody else – are not even illegal under capitalism, however much they may be deplored by “reformers”.

Equally frowned upon is seeking to escape from the tension and worry of coping with the frustrations of capitalism through the use of recreational drugs. Possession of these drugs – if you’re unlucky enough to have been in trouble before – can get you sent to prison for life with no chance of parole.

It is well known that the crack cocaine “epidemic” was introduced into Black districts of the urban USA by the CIA, working with its Colombian associates. The resultant spread of the drug trade as a way of escaping from poverty among young Black Americans led to the criminalisation of a generation and effectively curtailed the growth of militancy among them. Which must have been a relief to the White establishment.

Many commentators, especially in the USA itself, have noted the re-emergence of slavery, as Black youths in particular are incarcerated in huge numbers within the private for-profit US prison system. There they are employed operating call centres or in manufacturing at a “wage” of a few cents a day. A capitalist’s dream of paradise.

No wonder some judges with a reputation for handing down harsh sentences have been accused of taking kick-backs from the prison industry!

The combination of “tough on crime” policies with a popular drug culture has resulted in not only the world’s largest prison population, but also one of the most inhuman.

Amnesty International has denounced torture in the US prison system. Arbitrary “throw away the key” sentencing is commonplace (especially in some of the Southern states like Alabama), death sentences are handed out (and carried out) as though they were an actual deterrent to crime, and the number of people killed by guns continues to climb towards the stratosphere.

Clearly US society is in deep crisis, a crisis enhanced by the growing militarisation of America. As militarisation grows, so does reliance on “military” solutions to social and other problems (such as drug use – a medical, not a criminal problem).

US law enforcement agencies are arming themselves with heavy weapons as they engage in open warfare with the people they are supposed to protect. The killing by police of young unarmed Black men has reached epidemic proportions and produced mass protest demonstrations in numerous US cities.

However, as long as US society is subject to the iniquities of capitalism there is little chance of improvement. A radical social change affecting people’s attitudes to one another and their attitudes to society itself is needed to change things for the better. When people feel that the society they live in works for the people and not a privileged elite, they can and will give it their full support.

Anti-social behaviour will inevitably diminish accordingly.

In the meantime, the capitalist state will continue to wage war on its inhabitants as the contradiction between what it says and what it does wreaks its destructive effects.

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