It’s half-past the seventh year of the Obama era, and the nation’s policies of police terror toward Black and Brown communities and Black mass incarceration are pretty much unchanged.
More than 80,000 US prisoners remain in long-term solitary confinement, many with untreated mental illnesses, for taking part in work stoppages or hunger strikes, because they’ve been branded as “gang members” or so that authorities can coerce them into implicating other prisoners or themselves.
The budget of the federal Bureau of Prisons has grown every year of the Obama administration, and the Department of Justice refuses to allow UN human rights inspectors to visit its Supermax prisons.
After a six-month victory lap, the first Black attorney general has been succeeded by the first Black woman in that post, to the praises of the Congressional Black Caucus and the rest of the Black political class.
But cops in the first Black president’s hometown still run their own “black site” where disappearance and torture are routine. Federal officials steadfastly refuse to tally incidents of police violence. The brutalizing and killing of Black people is the normal, peaceful state of business as usual, and the only disruptions to public peace occur when citizens protest.
How is this possible?
It’s possible because elected Democrats and their operatives call Black and Brown communities their “base vote,” by which they mean the support Democratic candidates can count on getting – no matter what.
It’s possible because Republicans campaign on fear and contempt of the Black, the Brown, the foreign, the queer and poor, and because restrictive ballot access laws protect elected Democrats from competition of Greens and other parties to their left.
Even though the Democratic “base voters” are overwhelmingly against the death penalty, favor decriminalizing of petty drug use, and want to roll back the mass incarceration state; despite the fact they want to see debt relief, the police restrained, early voting expanded, same-day registration made universal, the Pentagon budget cut, privatizations ended, and something else besides stadiums and gentrification on the table as “economic development” – no Democrat in a November election ever stands for these things.
Thwarted by Dems
Activists in my native Chicago and many other cities struggled in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to find and run good Democrats and hold them accountable. We were thwarted by constitutional amendments, rules changes and obstinate local officials who refused to enforce progressive laws like “Motor Voter” until these could be undermined and overturned.
We were hobbled by the selfish laziness of the Black political class, which even though its numbers grew sevenfold in a generation with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, were too timid to use their temporary strategic advantage to push for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote.
At one blow, it would have overturned felony disenfranchisement and made national standards for voter registration, voting machines and how votes are counted.
When local activists threatened to take over Democratic Parties in cities and run anti-corporate candidates in primary elections, those local contests where made “non-partisan” so big money could choose the candidates instead of the Democrats’ “base vote.” So it was that in the 1980s, we elected Harold Washington mayor, but by the end of the decade, another Rich Daley was mayor for another 20-plus years.
In every state legislature and the US House and Senate the speakers of the house, as well as majority and minority leaders, are never chosen because of the depth of their vision. These posts go to the legislators who can reliably pass corporate donations through to compliant colleagues and who will withhold those funds from those who don’t go along with the program.
In 2005-2006, current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel headed up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and channeled corporate donations to pro-war Democrats running against antiwar ones – as direct a defiance of Democrat “base voters” as one could imagine.
Ten years later, Democrat Mayor Emanuel presides over “black sites” run by the Chicago Police Department – the perfect example of Democrats in office ignoring, making invisible and normalizing violence against communities of the Democrat “base voters” which elected them.
Nothing to say
It should be no surprise that Attorney General Loretta Lynch can’t find room to comment – let alone act – on the kind of uncontrolled and entitled violence exhibited by police in McKinney, Texas or a hundred places like it. As Brooklyn’s federal district attorney, the only time she prosecuted a case against NYPD was in the sodomizing of Abner Louima – after tens of thousands of New Yorkers hit the streets in protest.
Her first priority in office, she declared, was to restore the self-image of the nation’s police. For her as much as any of her predecessors, civil unrest only occurs when citizens object to police violence, immunity and impunity. For her and Democratic officeholders like her, Black lives emphatically do not matter.
Political parties are the organizations people use to project their political will. Democrats and Republicans are political parties of their donors, not their voters. Those donors have no interest in rolling back the prison state, or restraining the police. All of these are issues that will have to be taken up by some other party – if one can be formed or found.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.