New Wayne County Jail: A Tool for Black Oppression

Yusef Shakur

The United States of Amerikkka has held the distinction of having the largest prison population in the world— over two million folks— for too many years to count. What’s missing from these numbers are the millions of  prisoners held in county jails or the young people held in juvenile prisons. Then if you add all the folks on probation or on parole, increase that two million figure to probably over five million. And when we go deeper and examine expenditures on mass incarceration — the money that is being pushed out to maintain the incarceration of prisoners— we better understand the undermining of Black communities and neighborhoods.


It is well known that it costs between 35,000 dollars and 40,000 dollars every year to keep a person in prison, but in majority-Black counties the State only pays close to 7,000 dollars for the education of Black students. Amerikkka the great would rather incarcerate than educate, and this discrepancy is evident in the City of Detroit where a new county jail is being quickly developed in a city with 50% of its population surviving below the poverty line. The writing is on the wall: white businessmen such as Dan Gilbert would rather incarcerate the poor instead of spending money to educate them. The lack of jobs and resources has always been a recipe for the criminalization of Black communities/neighborhoods. This is the foundation that mass incarceration was built on. Black communities/neighborhoods that lack stability become more vulnerable than ever, which accelerates the destruction of Black communities/neighborhoods through incarceration. This is the cycle in which the new County jail will play a huge role in the City of Detroit.


Black Detroit has been manufactured into ‘Third-World ‘Hoods’— oppression on steroids! Black people who are surviving in these Third World ‘Hoods have received a life sentence of poverty, hostility, criminalization and waking up every day trying to figure out how will they navigate the political, educational, cultural, social and economic violence that is being heaped upon them, sometimes producing violent human beings as a means of survival. Being neglected produces neglectful human beings! Being buried alive in poverty, decay and blight begins to take root and those who are oppressed become a product of their oppressive environment.


This is what makes the case of Siwatu-Salama Ra so significant. It exposes the complexity of being Black in Third-World Hood conditions and being a neighborhood organizer in these conditions. We are putting Our lives on the line daily in some form or fashion, fighting to organize Our people in the interest of Black liberation. For those of Us wearing the shoes of being a neighborhood organizer the struggle is personal and political! We find ourselves battling hostility at Our doorsteps! We are charged with the holy responsibility of being the gatekeepers of peace while Our peace is at stake! Siwatu is a beautiful Black woman who was raised to love her people, defend her people, struggle for her people and serve her people while, as it turns out, putting her own life in the crossfire! Through this selfless act,  this courageous Black woman took a stand to not allow harm to come to her family by someone who was intoxicated with internalized oppression. She then found herself charged, convicted and sentenced to prison while pregnant, eventually giving birth to her beautiful Black child in the belly of the beast— prison.


Siwatu is a ‘political prisoner’ because her development had been political. She exemplifies what it means to be a neighborhood organizer, being deeply rooted in Third-World Hood conditions and organizing against incredible odds. Prison or death is not what We are fixated on as neighborhood organizers, but it is part of the consequence of doing the work that is so desperately needed and where We find Ourselves housed in places like the new county jail waiting to be shipped off to prisons.


County jails and prisons have always been used as a tool to suppress neighborhood organizers and activists. We must resist these efforts of oppressing and suppressing Black bodies by any means necessary. But to be effective in resisting these efforts, We have to be clear about Our organizing strategy. Neighborhood organizers are not on islands. We are treated as such because of the lack of support from larger audiences of people who, through their silence, allow the State to charge and sentence Us to prison or set up social conditions to kill Us! We need people as neighborhood organizers, functioning as a movement that positions itself to not only challenge Our oppression but to transform Our people into new human beings fighting against Our collective oppression! If We want to end mass incarceration then We must end Black oppression. We need organizers who are committed beyond a moment, who are willing to build a movement that is committed to Black liberation.     

Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win



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