Happy Cinco De Mayo.
While your peers are enjoying a double shot of tequila and you may be wearing a stupid hat, the U.S. is engaging in a full scale war against either you, or if you are the cultural tourist hat wearer or tequila drinker, the people you are likely culturally appropriating.
We live in a country where one in 32 residents are under parole or supervision. The law enforcement pastime of unjust arrest and sentencing of black men and women has been well documented. It’s so breathtakingly racist that, as Michelle Alexander told a branch of the ACLU recently, there are more black men in prison, jail and probation than there were slaves in 1850.
1850 is before the civil war started.
If you have looked at a prison growth chart like the one the United States Bureau of Justice releases, our prisoner counts look a bit like a kite flirting with a dangerous wind.
The dangerous wind is a rise in overt racism against people who are perceived as Mexican, Hispanic or who often identify as Latina/o or Chicana/o. It’s hard to tell how high the kite will fly. According to the Pew Hispanic Center’s “A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime,” the number of hispanic federal prisoners has nearly quadrupled since 1991. In 2007 they represented 40 percent of all incoming prisoners. For every 10, seven are undocumented. It is likely that, due to the nebulous nature of the designation “Hispanic,” many are not being counted. The number of white prisoners has been declining on an opposite arc.
This is no mistake. It coincides perfectly with a post-9/11 rise in xenophobia and national fear of anything not bathed in the vulgarity of stars and stripes. The national fervor over the audacity of an uppity immigrant—and by extension, anyone who is brown— to not show his or her papers on demand is the heart and soul of the acceptable —and, in some media outlets, outright encouraged—racism surrounding much of the media rhetoric about Arizona Senate Bill 1070.
This bill means walking down the street and occupying physical space is a crime. This bill even removes the ability to call 911 if you need help. Traditionally, a crime is not a crime against a person, but rather a crime against the state. In this sense, a victim is actually a witness. Law enforcement in Washington state cannot ask for papers when a crime is reported for this reason – the state itself finds crime so hideous, it wants it resolved. No more in Arizona.
This bill means a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault – women being the primary reporters of these crimes and simultaneously the most marginalized – would have to show her papers or risk being forcefully deported. But first, she may enjoy a stay in a correctional facility. Rape has always been a tool of war, but when it is supported by the state it becomes everyone’s problem.
See, SB 1070 was not a bill crafted from need (so, it drives me bonkers that I don’t see militias of so-called Libertarians opposing this thing with direct action). It was a bill aimed at capitalizing and furthering white supremacy.
It was at a series of American Legislative Exchange Council, an exclusive membership-based organization of legislators and corporations, meetings where the bill was debated, drafted and voted on. Among those debating the specifics of the language were representatives from Correctional Corporations of America – the single largest and most profitable private prison company in the United States.
This is a bill written by a the owners of a legal slave labor camp trying to grow their human resources through networking, legislative manipulation and straight up cash payments.
I’d be remiss if I continued to talk about this like it was happening somewhere far away. Like there aren’t immigrants or children of immigrants on campus right now.
EWU touts itself as a university of access, and in many places it shows. For example, the College Assistance Migrant Program is a program aimed at helping first generation students of migrant farm-working background get the support they need during their first year at EWU.
This matters in Cheney.
This matters on campus. If you are reading this on campus, you are likely sitting in
a chair that was shipped to EWU in non-descript packaging labeled Washington Correctional Industries. It doesn’t make you a bad person. We at The Easterner have even purchased, used and excitedly received equipment, furniture and even t-shirts in the same non-descript packaging.
EWU is required by state legislature to purchase what they can from Washington Correctional Industries by legislative mandate. These items have been assembled by prison slave labor.
Prison is not an option. Prison is a lack of options.
Federal prison is a $2 billion industry and often, prison pays around 40 cents an hour with a top end of $1.25. I’m not talking about the sort of offender many of us would feel a bit more comfortable with in a chain gang. I am talking about prisoners who are being legislatively shunted into prison like freight due to white racial superiority, and the prisoners that the media is telling us we should not care about because they are illegal and by extension subhuman.
Subhuman is when a country needs your labor and invites you to participate.
Subhuman is when your participation is already challenging due to your camp being far, far off the road and your English proficiency low.
Subhuman is when your job is not on a camp at all, and you walk by law enforcement every day on your way to clean – and at any time, they could send you to prison.
Subhuman is when your boss would simply replace you with another who has been made just as vulnerable by institutional racism.
Subhuman is when you are transgender and thrown in with the general population because the guards do not speak English or they do not care.
Subhuman is when your access to legal protections is swept from under you, and your promise of a paycheck is replaced with forced labor for pennies.
Subhuman is being fired for a disability you got on the job without anyone telling you jack about the disabilities act.
This is what it means when we call someone illegal. We call them subhuman and replaceable, marginal and without consequence. The word illegal is a carefully crafted political term employed by those waging the war against those – like you and I —who are fighting back.