Mass incarceration is bad for everyone.
The scope and scale of the United States’ prison-industrial complex is unprecedented in history. Deplorable and oppressive conditions in jails, prisons, and for confined immigrants, violating the human rights of incarcerated people, including those who have not been convicted of crimes. The media reports only a small fraction of deliberate and sometimes deadly assaults by guards; violence, including sexual violence is also a risk, especially for trans and gender non-conforming people. There are also routine denials of basic health care. Pregnant women may be shackled during delivery, putting themselves and their infants at risk. Conditions in jails and prisons and immigration incarceration facilities may be dangerous: oppressively hot in summer or perilously cold in winter; water may be inadequate or unsafe. But because of social inequality, as well as discriminatory policing, bail practices, and court systems, jails and prisons, affect some people and communities more than others.
Racism is foundational to the prison-industrial complex.
Anti-Blackness includes historic and contemporary attitudes, ideas, policies and practices that are built upon and reproduce the dehumanization of Black people. Anti-Blackness makes Black people primary targets of everyday and state-sanctioned violence and structural inequality. Police killings of unarmed Black youth, stop-and-frisk policing, high arrest rates, and predatory fines in Black areas are interconnected ways that the prison-industrial complex affects people unequally. Because of racist policing practices, a Black person, other person of color, or Native American is far more likely to be arrested and charged than a white person who acts in the same way. While 7% of immigrants in the United States are black, 20% of all immigrants deported on criminal charges are Black, since Black people are already over policed and criminalized.And local police arrests are a primary funnel of immigrants into deportation proceedings.
Anti-Muslim racism is a global phenomenon that intersects and overlaps with other forms of discrimination. It identifies Muslims as racial and religious “others,” which leads to Muslims being targets of systemic inequality and violence in both interpersonal and institutional interactions.Muslims, Black people, and especially those who are both Black and Muslim are heavily impacted by the broader structures and histories in which mass incarceration is embedded.Those with intersecting marginalized identities, such as Black Muslim immigrants, encounter anti-Black racism, anti-Muslim racism, and xenophobia throughout the prison-industrial complex.
Surveillance of Black (and) Muslim people began during the transatlantic slave trade. In the 1930s, the U.S. government began tracking the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple. (Malcolm X’s 9,000 page FBI file includes his prison activism, calling for pork-free meals for incarcerated Muslims.) Over decades this surveillance transformed into an elaborate FBI system of targeting and the use of informants known as COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). The Reagan-era War on Gangs and War on Drugs had further devastating effects on Black communities, which were disproportionately affected by discriminatory policing and harsh sentencing strategies. Clinton-era policies continued a prison expansion trajectory, underwritten by notions of Black youth as nihilistic “super predators,” and accelerated deportations. Each day 30,000 immigrants are held in mandatory ICE custody. From 1978-2014, the prison population increased 408%, fueled by the economic and political incentives of being tough on crime, serving de-industrialized regions with new prison industry jobs (what some have called “dungeon economies”), and by the parasitic relationship that private contractors, vendors, and employee organization lobbyists have on the publicly-funded criminal justice system.
Although mass incarceration and surveillance have reached previously unimaginable levels, there are commonalities and continuities. The FBI has begun to target so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” organizers and activists critical of state violence, including police brutality and mass incarceration. In reference to this leaked FBI report, the organization Color of Change has labeled this practice an extension of COINTELPRO. The ACLU states that this report, “marginalizes what are legitimate voices within the political debate that are calling for racial and economic justice.” This treatment is extended to other organizers--ICE targets immigrant activists for arrest and deportation, and hires private surveillance groups to track those who protest family separation policies.
The accusation that these Black organizers and activists are terrorists links them in the public imagination to the deliberately cultivated fear of (brown) Muslim terrorists from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Especially since September 11th, Muslims have been surveilled, targeted, entrapped, and deported. A lawsuit on behalf of the New York Muslim community, Hassan v. NYPD, alleged the New York Police Department mapped and spied upon Muslim communities, businesses, and groups solely on the basis of their religious affiliation. The claims survived a federal appeal, and the parties settled in 2018 for damages and new policies guarding against surveillance of religious and racial communities. Patterns of surveillance targeting Muslims continue, including a recent Department of Homeland Security call for surveillance of Sunni Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the basis of which the ACLU calls “junk science.” These interconnected issues of policing, surveillance, immigration enforcement, and incarceration are vital for Muslims in the U.S. to grapple with.
Educating ourselves and each other about these facets of our history and our current situation—perhaps by hosting a fundraising iftar, which the next section explains, is vital to longer term projects of transformation, including ending the system of money bail. Using our zakat to bail out believers during this holy month of Ramadan is an immediate way to “stand firmly for justice” as the Qur’an (4:135) commands us to do.
Jeremy Raff, The 'Double Punishment' for Black Undocumented Immigrants, The Atlantic (Dec. 30 2-017), https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/12/the-double-punishment-for-black-immigrants/549425/.
Nick Pinto, Ice’s Attempt to Deport a Critic Was “Outrageous” and “Egregious,” Appeals Court Rules, The Intercept (Apr. 27, 2019), https://theintercept.com/2019/04/27/ice-ravi-ragbir-appeals-court-ruling/?menu=1; Ryan Devereaux, “Homeland security Used a Private Intelligence Firm to Monitor Family Separation Protests,” The Intercept (Apr. 29, 2019), https://theintercept.com/2019/04/29/family-separation-protests-surveillance/.