Jim Crow is alive and well in American Prisons

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Five inmates were said to have been hospitalized in critical but stable condition on December 20th after a riot erupted at the State Prison in Lancaster, California. Twelve additional inmates were treated for cuts in the prison infirmary and twenty-six homemade weapons were recovered. Officials from the California Department of Corrections provided this information as well as the statement that the riot did not appear to be racially motivated even though 300-400 inmates were involved.

The event didn’t have any sizzle so the dominant media took their reporters off the story and there was no follow up or investigation launched. This could have been the end of the matter except for the fact that the Associated Press released some additional information the following day on December 21st which contained an interesting statement by a Department of Corrections spokesperson. I was already having trouble believing that 300-400 inmates with weapons could get into a riot over anything except their color. Who has that many friends or enemies to get involved in a potentially lethal fight? The Associated Press story confirmed my suspicions. In part it read, “The fight apparently began when a group of white inmates began fighting among themselves, and some black and Hispanic inmates used the opportunity to attack each other, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman from the Department of Corrections”. Even though we now live in an era where oral sex isn’t sex it seems clear to me that when a group of “black and Hispanic inmates” attack each other that’s a race riot.

The Department of Corrections’ spin machine managed to cover up the true nature of this event simply by reporting to the media that it was not a race riot. And then, end of story, all except for the Russ Heimerich statement which appeared the following day in the Associated Press release which didn’t seem to be run by the Newspapers, Radio and Telivision stations which had already abandoned the story. This cover up is part of an ongoing policy by the media to ignore the main source of the racial animosity which brews in California’s prisons.

Institutionalized racial segregation is the policy of the Department of Corrections which pits people against each other based on racial equations. From the moment prisoners arrive at California prisons they are assigned beds and housing based upon their race. The prisoners eat with members of their own race. They even have Black, White and Hispanic barbers with separate grooming tools for each group. The Jim Crow South is alive and well in California. The weight lifting areas  have separately labeled weights for each group. Sometimes even mundane items such as toilet paper are distributed to inmates in allotments based on race. Can anybody in America other than the Department of Corrections run a barber shop which has segregated barber chairs or sell toilet paper in racial allotments?

This pigment think leads to the kind of pressures and thinking which make it easy and frequent to have race riots in our prisons. Anyone who doesn’t care about what happens to these people while in prison should remember that almost everybody comes out of prison and they bring their experiences and attitudes with them. This whole problem is exasperated by a media policy of letting the prisons operate as they see fit and to just report events including riots however they are portrayed by the Department of Corrections. If you think you can trust what you hear on TV consider this. If Rosa Parks’ famous bus ride were to happen today the Department of Corrections would report that the bus had both black and white people onboard and therefore was an integrated bus.

Today’s media would likely print the story just like that and where would our civil rights be today? The next time you think about racial profiling think about the level its practiced at in our prisons.

Medger Evers was right. It was hard to get our civil rights and its even harder to keep them.

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