By Oscar Blayton
Almost every high school student in America knows about the compromise reached during the drafting of the U.S. Constitution resulting in enslaved people being counted as three-fifths of a person during the national census held every 10 years.
Even while white Southerners denied enslaved people in those states the rights guaranteed to citizens, they still demanded that the enslaved people’s bodies be counted in the census. The Southerners made this demand because the size of a state’s population determined how many representatives those states would be granted in Congress. The more representatives a state had, the greater the state’s power in the federal government.
The Northern states, seeing this ploy for what it was, resisted Southerners’ demand but, eventually, a compromise was reached where each enslaved body would be counted only as three-fifths of a person.
This is just another example of how white supremacists benefited from the use of black bodies while not providing one drop of benefit to the souls inhabiting those bodies. It also helps us to understand how black bodies currently are being used to enhance white supremacy in America.
Today, significant numbers of prisons – where brown and black inmates from urban areas are incarcerated – are located in rural, predominantly white census tracts. And for years, these brown and black bodies have been used to inflate the census figures in order to enhance the political power of those rural white areas.
The practice of counting prisoners in the census tracts where they are incarcerated decreases the political power of the home communities of those prisoners and transfers that power to an alien community with diametrically opposed interests. This is what happens when an individual is removed from his urban home in a liberal Democratic district and incarcerated in a district that voted for a white supremacist like Donald Trump. The body of that inmate, who by incarceration is ineligible to vote, has now increased the population count in the conservative district while the count of his liberal home district has been reduced.
The body of the inmate of color, like the body of his or her enslaved ancestor, has been stolen in order to enhance the political power of his or her oppressor.
There are approximately 2.3 million Americans in prisons and jails today. It also has been reported that between 1970 and 2000, more than 1,100 prisons were built in the United States, with roughly 70 percent of those prisons being located in rural communities, mostly in conservative Southern states such as Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas.
Data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that largely rural counties that voted for Donald Trump had a 53 percent higher jail admissions rate than those that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
The national NAACP has reported that while African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 56 percent of all incarcerated people in 2015.
A slide rule is not necessary to figure out that when you have large numbers of people victimized by the mass incarceration policies of this country, and a significant number of those inmates are used to further empower white supremacists in rural areas, there is little incentive for conservative politicians to correct this injustice that has been dubbed “prison gerrymandering.”
In addition to stealing bodies to gain political power, these rural areas receive increased federal funding based on their inflated population figures. This takes money from inner cities where many of the inmates had lived and redeposits those funds into the rural, predominantly white areas where the prisons are located. This is a win-win for white supremacy and a significant handicap for urban areas victimized by a lack of services, over-policing and courts that hand down harsh sentences.
The practice of prison gerrymandering is slowly attracting attention. Six states – Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, California, New York and Washington – have outlawed prison gerrymandering and others have started taking steps to reduce or eliminate it.
The year 2020 is coming. It is not only an election year, but a year when the next census will be taken. Battles will be fought over racial gerrymandering and voter suppression. Ending prison gerrymandering is a battle that also must be fought. If prison gerrymandering is taking place in your state, organize and act.
The year 2020 is coming and we must fight against all attempts to foster white supremacy, including prison gerrymandering.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia
The lying has gone on much too long and every time the lie is repeated, we are all the worse for it.
The lie is that in America, everyone is equal under the law.
It’s time to pull back the curtain on this lie, but in order to do so, first we must have an understanding of what “Law” actually is.
In its most basic form, law, is a process of authoritative control whereby certain members of a particular community establish and maintain a specific public order.
This definition may seem like a mouthful, but history can help us unpack it. Nazi Germany had anti-Jewish laws, the racist regime of South Africa had apartheid laws and the southern states in this country had Jim Crow laws. The Nazis, the Afrikaners and the Southern segregationists all had authoritative control over their respective national and state communities. And with that control, they each ordered their societies in the manner they desired.
In each of these instances, it is not difficult to identify those community members who sought to maintain a specific public order, nor is it difficult to identify the “specific order” they sought to maintain.
For Blacks in South Africa and the segregated southern United States, subjugation was the public order where they lived. And in the case of Jews living under Nazi control, it was extermination. For these people, those were the laws.
A law need not be just or fair or benign to be the law. Law, like a gun or any other tool, can be used for good or for evil.
To disguise the fact that laws can be cruel, unjust and designed to harm certain members of our community, “Blind Justice” was the myth created to foster the notion of a fair legal system in America. But observations in most American courtrooms will instruct us that what passes for justice in this country is not color-blind.
Our laws are written with high-sounding words, full of dignity and sensibility but words are not deeds. And as in courtrooms, the long arm of the law, embodied in the form of law enforcement officers, reaches out into the streets and neighborhoods where we witness the double standards that are applied in enforcing our laws written in lofty language.
Even though the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery more than 150 years ago, people of color are still forced to wear the shackles that are the double standards in our country’s legal system. Bigots and racists use our system of laws and law enforcement to police Black and Brown bodies, making it clear to people of color that we are neither welcome nor expected to exist in white spaces.
Ohio maintains a specific public order that allows whites to walk the streets with automatic rifles unmolested by the police, but justifies gunning down a Black man who is purchasing a BB rifle in an open carry state. And it finds no fault in a police officer executing a 12-year-old Black boy for playing with a toy gun in a park. This is the law in Ohio.
Many cities and states maintain a specific public order that targets people of color for fines and the confiscation of property in order to fund local and state governments. Ferguson, Mo was proven to use the disproportionate levying of fines on people of color to fund their municipal activities. That was the law in Ferguson. The state of South Carolina’s civil forfeiture law allows police to confiscate money and property from people merely suspected of having committed a crime. This is often done without a trial, and in some instances, without even an arrest. Black men are subjected to this law at a rate vastly disproportionate to their numbers in the general population. A statewide journalism project in South Carolina titled “TAKEN” reports that while comprising only 13 percent of that state’s population, Black men represent 65 percent of all citizens targeted for civil forfeiture. This is still the law in South Carolina.
The slave codes, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Jim Crow laws of years past and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act just a few short years ago are all part of a process of authoritative control by certain community members to establish and maintain a specific public order that keeps people of color in shackles. There are many more laws that do this, but the list is too long to discuss in this short commentary.
We must pull back the curtain to determine the true public order purpose of each law governing our lives and to identify those community members who seek to establish and maintain them. Once we do this, then we can ask ourselves, if this is the America we want for ourselves. And if not, what are we going to do about it?