From Military Industrial Complex to Prison Industrial Complex

By , December 20, 2009 9:23 am

In the 1950s and through the 1960s and 70s, you had a huge number of revolutions going on. Colonized peoples were kicking the French out of Algeria, the U.S. out of Vietnam, and so forth, all over the world. Here at home, there were also the beginnings of a revolution: everything from the civil rights movement to the anti-war movement to groups like the Black Panthers getting together and saying “we’re not going to take this any more.” People around the world were trying to liberate themselves from the institutions of colonialism, racism, and capitalist oppression. In my view, the origins of the modern PIC emerge out of the contexts of those struggles. More specifically, I think that the origins of the modern PIC are in what we might call the counter-revolution: the reaction to these struggles.

I find it hard to accept arguments that suggest a lot of guys woke up one morning and said “hey, I have an idea, let’s be mean to black people,” and got all their friends on the phone and went into a smoke-filled room and got busy. And that black people were just walking around minding their own business and then all of the sudden they got snapped up in the dragnet. Especially because, the morning before, these guys were already being mean to black people.

I like to think about it this way: in the 1950s and 60s, there really were people struggling on radical and reformist fronts, struggling for example to get rid of American apartheid. People were fighting really, really, hard and dying a lot in this struggle. The problem that the U.S. faced was that even though they could demonize this or that little group, there was enough of a positive response to anti-racist or anti-colonialist struggle that the state couldn’t really contain it. They really didn’t know where it was going to go. There really was disorder in the streets – and not all of it was following a political agenda, not all of it was fleshed-out in many years of study groups. Some of it was spontaneous and erratic and some of it was spontaneous and really great. And so the state’s response was “what do we have? We lost Jim Crow. Culturally, we still have racism, so we don’t have to worry about it too much, but legally Jim Crow is no longer a weapon. What do we have left in the arsenal? Well, we have all the lawmaking that we can do. And we do have the cultural idea that there’s something wrong with ‘those people’: the colonized or the victims of apartheid.” During this time, we saw the conversation around race change from “they’re just not smart enough” to “they’re not honest enough.” “Crime” became the all-purpose explanation for the struggles and disorder that were going on.

via Recording Carceral Landscapes.

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