Kanye West, "New Slaves" and a Long Tradition of Locking People Up for Profit

This was cross posted to The Huffington Post.

Projecting his latest music video onto the sides of 66 buildings around the world over the weekend, Kanye West debuted his new song, "New Slaves." He rapped:

I know that we the new slaves...
Meanwhile the DEA, teamed up with the CCA
They tryina lock n---s up, they tryna make new slaves
See that's the privately owned prison, get your piece today
They prolly all in the Hamptons, braggin 'bout what they made

Though he says some troubling things about women (and not just in this song), Kanye is right to call out CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America, for how it 'gets [its] piece' in our national overincarceration epidemic.

They tryina lock n---s up, they tryna make new slaves

Today, there are more African-American adults under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War.

We have a long tradition of bondage in this country – one that has recurred in various forms, under different names, even after the end of slavery. Take the convict lease system. In the first decades after the Civil War, many freedmen were returned to bondage – in some cases for the same masters who had owned them before the war. How? Vagrancy laws, which were used to sweep up freedmen who left their old plantations for new towns, on the excuse that they arrived without jobs.

More recently, two disturbing trends – the increasing overincarceration of people of color and the rise of a massive immigration detention machinery – have fueled the growth of a new heir to the convict lease system that rakes in billions of dollars a year for CCA and other for-profit prison companies. Over the past forty years, the United States has built up the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars. This is a historical anomaly; despite relatively stable incarceration rates earlier in the twentieth century, our prison population grew by 700% between 1970 and 2005, far outpacing both crime and general population growth.

And this overincarceration epidemic has a massive and disproportionate impact on people of color. If current trends continue, 1 in 3 Black men born today can expect to serve time behind bars.

Michelle Alexander calls this phenomenon "The New Jim Crow" because it has made the criminal justice system function as a new form of racial caste system, creating a massive underclass of Black and Brown people in this country who are denied voting rights, subject to job discrimination and housing discrimination, because they carry the label of "criminal." That "criminal" label obscures the underlying racial and economic realities. When a person is so branded, it becomes politically and socially acceptable – even desirable – to deny that person rights that politicians would not dare deny on the basis of race.

They prolly all in the Hamptons, braggin 'bout what they made

While communities of color suffer, the for-profit prison companies benefit. In recent SEC filings, CCA admitted that drug law reform and reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes are "risk factors" for them that could hurt their bottom line.

Another "risk factor" for CCA is immigration reform. In the past two decades, rising use of immigration detention has become a major profit center for CCA. In FY2011, nearly 430,000 immigrants passed through ICE custody. The U.S. government now spends more on immigration enforcement than it does on the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and ATF combined. And much of this goes to CCA; according to the nonprofit Detention WatchNetwork, nearly half of all of the immigrants detained by the federal government are detained in for-profit prisons.

In the immigration context, people who cross the border from Mexico to work here are not called "job seekers" – they are "illegals." Like the word "criminal," that term serves the interests of prison profiteers like CCA by obscuring the underlying racial and economic realities of the situation.

Whether it's projecting the message onto the Prada store on 5th Avenue or protesting CCA's shareholders meeting, the word needs to get out: slavery is slavery no matter what you call it. It is time for Americans to reject those who depend for their profits upon a flow of African-American and immigrant bodies into their prisons and stop accepting the linguistic distortions that enable this modern traffic in flesh to continue growing.

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Information Age

Being a member of the Hip Hop community, I've been busting my backside show people this article.

Anonymous

I definitely agree with your opinions with this article. Many people are unaware of this new slave system that is occurring in the private prison systems today. African-Americans are being targeted and basically captured to work in these prison systems for way below minimum wage. It is a very real and disgusting thing that is happening within our country, and more people need to be educated so we can speak out.

The CCA are the modern day plantation owners. They have created a system that is disguised as "prison" but it is really a plantation. As you reveal, there are more African Americans in jail than there were enslaved before 1850. This is not a coincidence. It is important to have blogs like these so more people can be informed. We have become used to this oppression, because legal systems are making this new slave system seem legit. We have to make a change. I don't believe it's as much as a racial thing as it was, but African-Americans are definitely being targeted for the CCA's financial greed.

V.McLean

Would we accept slavery again? Most would say no, some would say yes. Those that say no, have bought into the belief that such practice could never revisit America and we have become moral beacons of the earth but some would be surprised to know that as stated by the ACLU that “there are more African-American adults that are under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850 before the civil war” (as quoted in the ACLU NATIONAL PRISON PROJECT, 2013). A system that has grown by 700% from 1970-2005 is problematic. The numbers are ridiculous as they don’t even keep pace with crime or population growth. The fact is capitalism hangs and waits for anybody it can catch in its web of greed. Many years ago the thought of free labor and untold potential riches fueled slavery, many justification were concocted to keep that institution running like a well oiled machine.

V.McLean

The prison industrial complex and culture of mass incarceration is a looming threat hanging over the heads of all Americans. This threat has captured the attention of organizations such as the ACLU and the NAACP, amongst others because of human rights violations. For profit or private prison undermine an already broken justice system making things worst. Slavery was akin to for-profit prisons and the motives of greed are all too common. Slavery is wrong and we as humans understand why. The prison industrial complex seems to be immune to respecting human rights under the pretense of breaking the law. Just because its law doesn’t mean its right, which is one thing we have to remember. No law should suppress a since of goodness and morality; sacrifices are made to correct or do away with such things. Let us remember our past and the pain and understand to revisit it, will result in the destruction of ourselves no matter what colorful spin you put on it.

Would we accept slavery again? Most would say no, some would say yes. Those that say no, have bought into the belief that such practice could never revisit America and we have become moral beacons of the earth but some would be surprised to know that as stated by the ACLU that “there are more African-American adults that are under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850 before the civil war” (as quoted in the ACLU NATIONAL PRISON PROJECT, 2013). A system that has grown by 700% from 1970-2005 is problematic. The numbers are ridiculous as they don’t even keep pace with crime or population growth. The fact is capitalism hangs and waits for anybody it can catch in its web of greed. Many years ago the thought of free labor and untold potential riches fueled slavery, many justification were concocted to keep that institution running like a well oiled machine.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, this is sound physics, so what is the opposite action of capitalism? The answer is greed, which when unchecked can result in situations like the recession that hit the USA, when institutions were pretending to have more cash then they possessed and a few players knew everybody else’s “cards”. Unfortunately capitalism works well in making a creative society, so this is why it works here in America. Responsible capitalism is the key. Many hold the private sector to be the Holy Grail for a perfect society but nothing can be further from the truth. Fact is, when your bottom line is the only concern, people inherently protect their interest. The private sector can’t fix all of society’s problems. Let’s take the food industry, it’s heavily subsidized which is a form of controlled communism, it’s not really a free market. The US realizes that food can’t totally be put in the private sector, it just would not work. Because the U.S. has such subsidies we have surpluses of food and prices are relatively affordable for some. The government is capable of responsible policies but they also can make things seem very cumbersome as well. When put under the microscope of true justice, private prisons look ugly, real ugly.

References

ACLU. (2013). The Private Prison Debate Challenge. Retrieved from
https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/aclu-v-cca-private-prison-deb...

Takei, C. (2013). Kanye West, "New Slaves" and a Long Tradition of Locking People Up for Profit. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights-racial-justice/kanye-west-new...

Anonymous

shame.fdfffffffffssssssssssssssssss

Anonymous

The prison industrial complex and culture of mass incarceration is a looming threat hanging over the heads of all Americans. This threat has captured the attention of organizations such as the ACLU and the NAACP, amongst others because of human rights violations. For profit or private prison undermine an already broken justice system making things worst. Slavery was akin to for-profit prisons and the motives of greed are all too common. Slavery is wrong and we as humans understand why. The prison industrial complex seems to be immune to respecting human rights under the pretense of breaking the law. Just because its law doesn’t mean its right, which is one thing we have to remember. No law should suppress a since of goodness and morality; sacrifices are made to correct or do away with such things. Let us remember our past and the pain and understand to revisit it, will result in the destruction of ourselves no matter what colorful spin you put on it.

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