Published in SF BayView (USA) on April 19, 2006
by Larry Pinkney

The most telling gauge for determining the justness and humanity, or lack thereof, of any society including that of the United States of America, is the treatment accorded to those who are locked in its prisons.

Notwithstanding the reality that the prison “industry” is one of the fastest growing industries in America, nothing gives a clearer view of the moral and political bankruptcy of U.S. society than its burgeoning prison population. This population is disproportionately Black and Brown, overwhelmingly poor, and increasingly desperate – none of which came about by mere coincidence.

It should be clearly understood that the mental and physical degradation and brutality in America’s prisons easily rivals, and in many cases surpasses, that which is occurring in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanemo and elsewhere. In fact, America’s prison populations have in many cases been the testing grounds for the brutal practices presently being carried out in the international “gulags” of the US.

It would be both self defeating and hypocritical to ignore the link between America’s prisons – its 21st century slave plantations internally – and the increasingly undeniable exposé of U.S. barbarism towards people of color externally. If the plight of the millions of incarcerated men and women in the U.S. is not seriously addressed, and soon, it will be at the deadly peril of U.S. society as a whole, and Black people in particular.

The potential of prisoners

Many, indeed most, of our men and women incarcerated in U.S. prisons have the potential to be our next Malcolm Xs or Fannie Lou Hamers, if they are not abandoned; and we need them here and now more than ever.

Words fail utterly to explain how important it is for prisoners to keep their spirits intact, their hope strong and their wits sharp. Prisons in America exist fundamentally not only to profit from the labor of prisoners but also, as on the U.S. plantations of old, to dehumanize and break their very human spirit. Prisoners have the often very painful advantage of experiencing society precisely as it really is with little or no pretense or cushioning.

I reiterate: In addition to being laborers with no de facto rights, prisoners are fundamentally the ongoing prey of institutional authorities who engage in the daily stripping away, layer by layer, of their very humanity – which is of course an integral part of maintaining slavery while simultaneously virtually guaranteeing the ultimate return to prison of some ex-prisoners [i.e. recidivism]. It is America’s 21st century slavery.

While it is absolutely urgent to seriously support the struggle of political prisoners, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Kamau Sadiki, the Angola 3, Marshall “Eddie” Conway and political exiles such as Assata Shakur [see It’s About Time, the news organ of the Black Panther Party Legacy and Alumni,], let us remember that the entire prison system throughout the U.S. is rotten to its core and is nothing more than a nationwide 21st century slave plantation consisting of millions of de facto slaves.

What is at stake is the very survival of Black people in America. To paraphrase the words of the late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, “When the prison doors are opened, then shall the real dragon fly out.” The question is, what kind of dragon will it be? The answer is ultimately up to us as a people.

Larry Pinkney is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In connection with his political organizing activities, Pinkney was interviewed in 1988 on the nationally televised PBS News Hour, formerly known as The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, and more recently on the nationally syndicated Alex Jones Show. Pinkney is a former university instructor of political science and international relations, and his writings have been published in various places, including The Boston Globe, San Francisco BayView newspaper, Black Commentator, Intrepid Report, Global Research (Canada), LINKE ZEITUNG (Germany), 107 Cowgate (Ireland and Scotland), and Mayihlome News (Azania/South Africa). He is in the archives of Dr. Huey P. Newton (Stanford University, CA), cofounder of the Black Panther Party. For more about Larry Pinkney see the book, Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker, by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn]. (Click here to read excerpts from the book.)


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