Washington, D.C. -- About 40 people turned out September 14 to protest a new prison planned for the city's Ward 8. The D.C. branch of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League (RAIL) attended the rally. As MIM Notes has previously reported, the Federal government and its District of Columbia proxies are fixing to build a private prison in the city's Ward 8, which is 90% Black and the poorest ward in the city. The new prison would go on some federal park land.
Ward 8 had a median household income of $26,300 in 1997, one-third less than the city median of $39,792 and only two-fifths the median income of richest area, Ward 3, which is 79% white. In 1990 Ward 8 had the highest unemployment rate, the highest number of single-parent households, the fewest homeowners and the highest proportion of people in public housing projects in the city. Since 1990, its population has dropped 19%.
This economically devastated area is also the location of several large government installations, such as St. Elizabeth's mental hospital, Bolling Air Force Base, and the city's wastewater treatment plant. In 1994, almost 90% of those who voted cast their ballots for Marion Barry.(1)
From the point of view of state and corporate interests, in other words, a perfect place for a prison.
The rally, which took place right before local elections, included several losing politicians and others hoping to capitalize on the not-in-my-backyard flavor of the event (winning politicians stayed away -- they support the new prison). DC-RAIL had picked up a flyer opposing the prison, distributed by the local International Socialist Organization (ISO, a group with Trotskyist origins and largely social-democratic politics), but attributed to the Ward 8 Coalition, which includes many local organizations including Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and the ISO.
Although DC-RAIL also opposes the new prison, we disagreed with some of the Ward 8 Coalition's arguments on their flyer. DC-RAIL distributed a flyer at the rally title "Oppose all U$ prisons -- Support prisoners!" which explained our position.
Our main disagreement was with the argument that Ward 8 was the wrong location for a prison, and the implication that the prisoners were the problem. the DC-RAIL flyer read in part:
"RAIL opposes the construction of anew prison in Ward 8 -- or any other ward. The 'not in my backyeard' approach to prison construction ignores the real problem of skyrocketing U.$. prison populations, especially in D.C. ... While RAIL recognizes the injustice of dumping another unpopular project on Ward 8 and calling it economic development, we believe that the real danger posed to Ward 8 is the government's increased capacity to lock up more of its population."
The Ward 8 Coalition flyer noted that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which is planning the new prison, recently had some escapes in Ohio, where D.C. prisoners have been transferred to a CCA prison -- and this was a reason to oppose locating the prison in Ward 8. Another flyer passed out at the rally said, "We refuse to allow a prison to be built near our homes, schools and churches!" The DC-RAIL flyer added:
"RAIL recognizes that prisoners are not the real threat to public safety. The danger posed to society by an escaped prisoner pales in comparison to the everyday threat posed to the Black, Latino and First Nations as well as all oppressed people by U$ imperialism. In a just society prisons would not be filled with people from oppressed nations and the relatively poor groups in society imprisoned for property and drug crimes, while the worst criminals, like the people who bomb medicine factories in Africa, wield state power."
RAIL opposes CCA, but not because prisoners are more likely to escape from CCA prisoners than government-run prisons. Rather, as the flyer said, we oppose prison privatization because "when oppression of the people becomes a business that goes to the lowest bidder, society takes another step towards fascism." Likewise, RAIL does not oppose CCA prisons because prison privatization does or does not save governments money.(2)
At the rally, some of the slogans were things RAIL could well agree with, such as "Educate, don't incarcerate!" and "Money for health care, not for jails!" But "Ward 8 prison has got to go!" and some other slogans were of the not-in-my-backyard variety, with which we do not agree. The flyer concluded: "The people can't afford a victory that increases public animosity toward prisoners."
RAIL agrees with the other protestors that building a prison is not a good answer to Ward 8's local economic problems. Prison jobs are parasitic and nonproductive, and draw members of working class and middle class into the repressive state apparatus, all of which we oppose. But we do not agree with the argument of the leader of the rally, Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, who complained that prison guards from Lorton prison (the prison for D.C., located in Virginia, that is closing) are supposedly being guaranteed jobs at the new prison. Kinlow wanted the prison guard jobs to go to Ward 8 residents. We do not argue that oppressed-nation members should get police-state jobs doing the dirty work of neocolonialism for the imperialist masters.
RAIL opposes CCA, the new prison, and the whole prison system -- but we want to build opposition that furthers the cause of undermining U.$. imperialism and building Black nation self-determination.
1. Ward 8 profile from the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/dcelections/wards/ward3p1.htm
2. For MIM's view on fascism and prison privatization, see MIM Theory 11, "Amerikkkan Prisons on Trial."
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