Yesterday, Americans heard the broadly broadcast Propublica audio recordings of caged babies and it made mainstream us sad enough to at least talk about it. It sounded like our babies would sound if they were panicking, locked away from us while we were breastfeeding and they didn’t know how to suck a bottle. It sounded like our toddlers sound when they go concave with hurt and fear.
Interrupting the stream of whimpering stolen children, the President of the United States addressed the nation. “We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force: separate but equal.”
But not even a shout out to lawful racial segregation with a proclamation of galactic domination drowned out the audio of those wailing immigrant children in those cages in empty Walmarts.
We have been locking up and ripping babies out of the arms of the conquered, the enslaved, the criminalized, the tired hungry and poor for centuries. But when we have to actually listen to what that sounds like? We were collectively outraged for at least five minutes.
Today is Juneteenth. Fox news covered it (in a way that’s problematic, to me, for other reasons) and the Fox audience comments came in at what I’d call not-so-fringe-troll/mainstream-porn level racism.
The 13th Amendment says its okay to have slaves as long as they have been convicted of crimes. That is not an interpretation – that is what it actually says. And that is what actually happens.
Back in the day, we had vagrancy laws that made it a crime to be “without visible means of support” to re-fill the chain gangs and fields and factories and mines after slavery. Still, prisoners pick crops, sew clothes, answer calls, and make stuff for free. Vagrancy laws died the year I was born, but various schemes of criminalization evolve to keep locking up the symptoms of poverty, of illness, of victimization, of seeking asylum.
In my lifetime the prison population has increased 500+%. We have 5% of the whole wide world’s population and 20% of its prisoners.
No one has more people in jail and prison than us. No one. Believe me. Everyone agrees. We have huge prisons. Huge.
And if we see a decrease in undocumented migrants picking crops for next-to-nothing, you know who will pick up the slack? Prisoners. They get leased out to agri-business. As in, the corporations pay the prisons for use of its slaves/prisoners.
Prisons are run by private, for-profit, profitable companies. The largest one, GEO Group had its last leadership summit at a Trump golf course. It is classified as a real estate investment trust. It spends millions of dollars annually lobbying. It donated to Trump super PACs. It loves Trump. When he reversed the Obama policy of reversing the trend toward privatization of prisons, its stock went nuts. It’s been build, build, building like mad since.
It owns and runs the federal immigration detention centers. It buys the warehouses and Walmarts and builds the cages for the babies. The NYSE values it at $7,432,590,000.00
Homeland Security uses your money to pay GEO to put them in cages grouped by ages. For a few days. Then they move to a new box store that has beds. And basketball, movies, and Zumba. Zumba classes. Because that’s what all children in the throes of shock and trauma want. It costs a lot of money to house them, feed them, teach them Zumba.
We pay for that. We shake our heads and express dismay and then we pay for it. With our taxes and our investments. Here are some shareholders in GEO: Bank of America, Vanguard, BlackRock, State Farm, State Street, Prudential, Tiaa-Cref, the Public Employee Retirement Systems of I don’t know how many states, maybe all. Pretty much every mutual fund, hedge fund, all the funds, the banks, the whole street.
So, before you distance yourself too far from this latest round of atrocities, before you blame THEM, please be aware that it is US.
We do this. We do racism, isolationism, nationalism, xenophobia. We benefit from it and we, generally speaking, do nothing to stop it. Our individualistic values and apathetic behaviors, living the dream, willfully ignorant, distracted by Space Force, tuning out the cries of children forced into cold, metal cell spaces.