Liberal White Supremacy and the West County Jail Expansion

I was raised in the bay area to view white supremacy as something that was somehow far away - hidden under hoods, tucked into small southern towns or all white rural enclaves. I was not raised to recognize the benevolent liberal white supremacy right in my own upbringing, my schools, my political leaders, and in the destroyed families and communities of my friends. This lack of recognition allows benevolent racism to flourish in our midst and to harm our communities, but by naming these frameworks when we see them we can begin to see ways to dismantle institutional white supremacist violence.

With the West County Detention Facility expansion vote coming today* at the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors meeting (Tuesday, June 20th, 8:30am at 651 Pine St, Martinez, CA), we must recognize and confront the liberal white supremacy in our midst lest we condemn another generation of our children to over policing, school to prison pipelines and mass incarceration. It should go without saying that any prison that has been built and will ever be built in this country will be disproportionately filled with black and brown bodies, managed and guarded by those who are disproportionately white. The institution of prison is one that is therefore inherently white supremacist. Our community has been telling our Supervisors for over five years now that we do not want the West County jail expanded. Yet tomorrow, with the help of some duplicitous false allies, these same Supervisors think they have found a way to implement this profitable jail expansion in spite of public outcry. We must call them out on this morally inexcusable action at every level, including naming this jail expansion for what it is: the white supremacy in our midst which we are called to fight in this critical moment in human history.

It recently came to public light that Rebecca Brown, executive director of the Reentry Success Group of Richmond, which works to aid former inmates in transitioning to life outside prison, actually helped our Sheriff, David Livingston, to write the newest iteration of the proposed jail expansion. A woman who is supposed to be helping our community to aid and rehabilitate those of our community members who have been exposed to our racist and destructive prison system, is instead actually helping their jailers build more beds in which to destroy the lives of more of our children. She has used the trust placed in her by formerly incarcerated people and the rest of the community to speak against their interests and against the interests of the entire community. And she will get away will this, because she is white and educated, and therefore seen as the natural keeper of people too savage to rehabilitate themselves. Benevolent white supremacy like this is so deeply ingrained in white liberal culture that Ms. Brown is likely to be congratulated by many on her good work.

The County Supervisors will now go on to use Brown’s credentials, and her work with the formerly incarcerated people whom she has betrayed, to legitimize building a bigger, more profitable jail. They will use the words of this white woman, whose work they view as legitimate, as an excuse to ignore not just concerned community members but formerly incarcerated people themselves, the very people Brown will claim to speak for. In the grand tradition of white supremacy, they will accept her Brown’s lone white voice in lieu of hundreds of voices with more experience with prison systems and mental health to railroad the county into accepting a jail expansion in the same part of the county where they just closed a hospital. They will also congratulate themselves for their good work once the vote is taken.

The silver lining is that while white supremacy may win in the short term with a jail expansion approval today, activists across Contra Costa will continue to diligently fight back against this last gasp of overt white supremacist governance with a huge voter registration and issues organizing drive across Contra Costa county throughout 2017 and up to the 2018 election.

If this county has 25 million to spend on expanding a jail, it definitely has five million to invest in the West County Hospital and another 20 million to invest in the preventative mental health our community so desperately needs. If we cannot get our current county leaders to accept these truths, we will find ourselves Supervisors who are willing to stop pursuing a Trump-friendly white supremacist agenda when instructed by their constituents to do so. We as a community will move forward in truth — determined to recognize white supremacy in our midst and to hold our leaders accountable to a vision that both better serves all people and keeps our communities safer for everyone.