It’s that time again! It’s the time when hollow buzz words such as “prosperity” and “freedom” dominate the airwaves, bombarding the senses yet falling short of truly addressing the issues. Yes, folks, its election time in the United States! With less than a week left before the election, partisan bickering is nearing its highest levels and the pressure to “choose sides” is increasing with each day. Two of the largest voting groups that are being targeted in these final weeks are students and black voters. Large supporters of Barack Obama in 2008, these constituencies could be the deciding factor in ever-important swing states such as North Carolina and Ohio. However, there is a disturbing lack of discussion regarding the topic of mass incarceration in the United States, a systemic epidemic that disproportionately affects Black and Latino youth.
Mass incarceration has become a third rail topic for major presidential candidates. Discussion of mass incarceration, or incarceration of any kind, is not a leading topic for President Obama or Mitt Romney. When President Obama was sworn into office, there was hope that the United States could finally leave some of the racism of its past behind. There was true optimism that issues that disproportionately affect black communities – like unemployment, the drug war and incarceration – would finally be addressed. Admittedly, these hopes were misguided. The mere presence of a Black President wasn’t going to suddenly upend the systemic inequalities of United States history. Even though it may have been optimistic and naïve, there are still outcries for the current administration to confront this issue that is intertwined with everything from health care to education.
The Black community has not been silent on this issue. Legal Scholar Michelle Alexander has written on the topic, paralleling the current state of mass incarceration, where 1 in 3 men in the Black community is imprisoned, to Jim Crow laws. These are the very communities that Barack Obama needs to win on Tuesday.
What can be done?
Now is the time to speak up about mass incarceration. Contact both the Republican and Democratic parties and demand that mass incarceration be a part of their platform. You can also contribute to and support organizations that work to end the injustice of our criminal justice system. The ACLU, Critical Resistance and the Prison Activist Resource Center do wonderful work.
Move beyond the confines of the two-party system and vote for someone else. There are at least 14 other candidates that are running for president and voicing your opinion is not a “vote wasted.”
by Caroline Lefaivre