Extra-judicial killings, mass incarceration and government attacks on civilians: The elephant in the room

Soon after the Michigan State Prison was built at Jackson, “Agents” – the term for prison wardens at the time – began contracting inmates out to companies that wanted cheap labor. The Jackson Wagon Co. was allowed to build a factory on their grounds, thereby becoming complicit in the exploitation and abuse of not only people but also animals stolen from Africa, in this case, Jumbo the Elephant, all in the name of capitalism – this trading card is an example. Born in Sudan, Jumbo’s mother was killed by hunters and he grew up in Paris and London zoos. Despite public protest, he was sold to P.T. Barnum of the then world famous Barnum & Bailey circus in 1882. Barnum claimed that Jumbo measured 13 feet 1 inch at shoulder height. When we ignore the elephant in the room, we deny our capacity for the truth to set us free!

by Herukhuti Sharif 

Policy makers and law enforcement in America have patterns and practices of harming Black people. It is the custom of the dominant culture in the United States to cause Black people to suffer.

When cycles of so-called extra-judicial killings occur, sane and moral folks are rightly outraged, but law enforcement has been extra-judicially killing Africans, New Afrikans, Black people since the beginning. What stands out is how that same outrage isn’t expressed every time Black people are put in prison.

Cops executing Blacks during traffic stops, officers beating a Black person, prosecutors hiding evidence, judges ignoring material facts and colluding with prosecutors to convict and sentence Black people are ALL abuses of state power and international crimes deserving of our fury.

Let’s be clear, everything that Black, underdeveloped and oppressed people suffer at the hands of the criminal justice system are extra-judicial crimes. There is no fundamental fairness, due process nor equal protection in American courts for Black people. Prison sentences are extra-judicial; convictions are extra-judicial.

Black people are experiencing – and have always experienced – defacto rightlessness in a de jure democracy.

It’s Sister Dr. Marimba Ani’s “Rhetorical Ethic” principle being used against us. Dr. Ani teaches that the Rhetorical Ethic is at the center of Euro-Aryan and white American values; it is a strategic tool that is woven into their religious, social, political, economic and legal systems.

The Rhetorical Ethic “allows the user to give lip service to ideas they themselves don’t believe in or have any intention to practice; a superficial verbal expression not meant to be assimilated by members of the culture that created it; the ability to act like friends to your enemy(ies); the ability to appear other than what one is to prevent the victims from anticipating the oppressor’s behavior or intentions and thus to encourage non-strategic political behavior.”

In addition to far too many of us being beguiled by the Rhetorical Ethic, there’s another problem: A lot of Black and vulnerable people are still using white North American settler capitalist concepts, lexicology, standards and paradigms to interpret our reality and make decisions.

Thus, there are no widespread protests and lawsuits filed when thousands of Black women, men and even teenage children are abused and killed in American jails, prisons and detention facilities every year; no nationwide public outcries of injustice when thousands of Black people are arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned and denied appeals.

Understand that if all of our Brothers and Sisters who have been murdered by law enforcement over the years had not been killed, they would have been beaten, racially profiled, pepper sprayed, arrested, charged and prosecuted and convicted and sentenced, with bias, in a racialized system of double standards revenge, class warfare and genocide – all of which are unacceptable and worthy of our protest, defiance and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of state authority.

These are systems that are designed to kill, limit, stagnate, suppress and nullify the possibilities and potential of Black and vulnerable people, to undermine our advancement. 

Whether or not Black and oppressed people are outright killed or “just” arrested and imprisoned, they’re all fruits of the same tree of racial discrimination, classism and state terrorism. Through the lenses of integration and assimilation, individuals and collectives evaluate crisis in parts isolated from the contextualized, larger picture: Arrests and imprisonment are perceived as benign, acceptable occurrences, while only police killings of Black people are viewed as unacceptable and heinous.

Yet, the effects of all state and federal actor violations of our human rights are destroying our communities equally.

Many of us advocate for reforms of the criminal justice system, prisons and policing practices; for the killer cops to be arrested and convicted; for greater Black and Brown representation in government institutions and positions of power; and for better oversight and auditing committees to ensure the system is operating the way it’s supposed to.

This line of thinking and practice displays either a feeble understanding of the dominating cultural, political and socio-economic forces, along with their historical development or, for certain minorities in privileged positions, complicity in and support for the status quo for secret benefits in the classic neo-colonial sense.

Instead of seeing a generally fair system with a few bad apples, we need to be deploying anti-imperialist and self-determinist strategies and tactics that counter, resist and overcome the root that’s producing them. The entire system is corrupt and rotten.

Black and vulnerable people must realize that not even the most well-intentioned individuals can alter the nature, or purpose, of the judicial machine and law enforcement. The system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to in accordance with the core values, guiding principles and interests of those who created and oversee it (them) – those who hold true power and authority.

These are systems that are designed to kill, limit, stagnate, suppress and nullify the possibilities and potential of Black and vulnerable people, to undermine our advancement. 

None of what’s been said should be surprising when we consider that the cornerstones of American government and culture are racial oppression, slavery, genocide, theft etc. The Constitution and laws are anchored in them; key institutions are reflections of them.

These cornerstones are embedded in the psyches of unconscious citizens and the collective subconscious of the country.

Prisons are where America freely hides its continuation of slavery, it’s torture, abuse, racial persecution and carnage – it’s New Jim Crow and New Holocaust – with public approval.

American society was born in settler capitalism as a racialized caste system, where right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, legal and criminal, significant or irrelevant and worthless were determined by whether a person was or is white or Black.

Laws were for whites; democracy was for whites; wealth and freedom were for whites; law enforcement was, and is, for the protection of whites – and their wealth – all in opposition to the needs and interests of “non-human Black property.”

Police departments evolved out of the slave catcher; modern prisons and mass incarceration evolved out of slavery itself, through the paradoxical 13th Amendment, a way for historical oppressors to continue legalized slavery even after the Civil War.

Most social scientists and scholars agree that prisons and mass incarceration are not for addressing any crime crisis. They are for social control in response to emancipation, Black reconstruction and Black power and Civil Rights struggles.

Prisons are where America freely hides its continuation of slavery, it’s torture, abuse, racial persecution and carnage – it’s New Jim Crow and New Holocaust – where every single human atrocity is committed, in secret, with public approval.

American police departments are being trained in Israel and are highly militarized, demonstrating that the criminal justice system has been weaponized to engage in warfare against civilians, citizens and residents on American soil. Can any sane person believe that cops killing Blacks, mass incarceration etc. are anything but carryovers and modifications of America’s true character?

State violence and willful crimes against Black and vulnerable humanity, in America, is never going to stop! We have to come to terms with this.

Hate, fear, racism and greed are too deeply embedded in the fabric of the dominant culture’s society, who are, in turn, the ruling elite. These cancers are systemic to the extent that the governing institutions will harm us even if the most spiritual and altruistic of persons filled the positions within them.

Supreme Court justices have made rulings and affirmed lower court decisions that violate the human rights of Black people. Congress has created laws that undermine critical elements of our fundamental human rights.

After the Civil War and during the first reconstruction period, state actors under the cloak of authority carried out or permitted lynching, bombings, the burning down of our homes, the passing of draconian laws that violated our human rights and the use of their courts to subject us to torture and degrading treatment.

The common civil action suit people use to sue government officials, section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States code, is actually Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.

Judges, governors, legislators, sheriffs, wardens etc. engaged in these concerted actions and conspiracies to the degree that the federal government made a show of sending Black people protection – for a while.

The Department of Justice was created to enforce the new 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that were meant to make Black people free and equal, since the state actors weren’t respecting our rights. But state governments, agencies and residents didn’t stop violating the human and civil rights of Black and vulnerable people, nor stop committing international crimes against us.

So, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Their mandate was to not only enforce civil rights laws but to “ensure the domestic implementation of the international human rights treaties that have been ratified by the U.S. government.”

There’s one more instrument that was created because state and federal actors, actual governments, were terrorizing Black people: The common civil action suit people use to sue government officials, section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States code, is actually Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. 

It was meant for Black people to use to enforce our new constitutional rights after the Civil War because white racist state judges refused to enforce them. Federal judges eventually joined them, sending our lawsuits back to the very state courts who violated our rights.

There are serious problems when these institutions have to be established in an attempt to, unsuccessfully, keep law enforcement and government actors from attacking and harming civilians. 

The pattern is clear. Nothing has changed. They will not stop!

Unfortunately, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are only among the latest victims of state and government power that will continue to accrue.

Every time a Black person is gunned down by a cop or white civilian, or we are arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced in kangaroo courts, the DOJ should be on the scene – but they aren’t.

Black and vulnerable communities are under siege by American and state governments who represent the interests and values of the dominant culture.

Where is the Department of Justice? Where’s the Civil Rights Division? 

Every time a Black person is gunned down by a cop or white civilian, they should be on the scene. Every time we are arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced in these kangaroo courts, the DOJ should be on the scene investigating and prosecuting state actors. But they aren’t.

Black people must learn how to assert, exercise and enforce our fundamental international human rights. The United States has treaty obligations to protect Black and vulnerable people – including prisoners, LBGTQ, women, immigrants etc. – from hate crimes and crimes against humanity in their jurisdiction, but they remain non-compliant.

How can Black and vulnerable people expect any redress or protection from American government institutions when sitting judges, legislators, presidents, attorneys general, prosecutors, detectives, governors, sheriffs, teachers and other officials belong to white supremacy organizations; when the U.S. Constitution still considers Black people to be only three fifths of a human being; when the U.S. Constitution legalizes slavery and peonage; when our so-called freedom is not the consequence of human rights and fundamental freedoms but the product of an illegal document that actually re-enslaves Blacks to the federal government and forces second-class citizenship onto us?

Every instance of state violence and color of law crimes must be seen in the light of international human rights law.

The Black and vulnerable liberation and self-determination struggles will begin to gain traction and momentum when we internationalize, trans-nationalize them and adopt a global citizenship identity; when we use international human rights law as our collective and individual support and form alliances with global cultures, communities and states; when we go beyond being spectators to the evaluation of human civilization to once again directing it.

We are not viewed or accepted as full American citizens as a whole and should therefore eclipse our forced token citizenships with world citizenship. We wouldn’t be renouncing anything, only broadening and strengthening.

When governments and state actors abuse state power and attack or violate the human rights of Black and vulnerable citizens, they go from being domestic crimes to being international crimes under universal jurisdiction. Every instance of state violence and color of law crimes must be seen in the light of international human rights law.

We can’t continue prioritizing one form of injustice over another and valuing some victims of genocide and oppression over others. It’s counterproductive, ideologically myopic and political suicide.

The international community is on our side and waiting for us to reach out in solidarity and common cause for humanity’s great push forward.

Send our brother some love and light: Anthony Sharif Gay, 188904, ASPC-Tucson, Winchester Unit 8B25, 10002 South Wilmot Rd, P.O. Box 24401, Tucson, AZ 85734; Herukhutisharif@gmail.com