Ending Privatized Prisons Appears on The Horizon
Discussing the impact of President Joe Biden’s new executive orders
In New Orleans, you will hear hear the phrase, “don’t forget where you came from.” What it really means is that you should not become successful and forget the people who helped you achieve the greatness you enjoy. While many people consider themselves to be “self-made,” we know that success comes from hard work, support, and pristine environmental conditions. In that light, Joe Biden would never have become the 46th President without 91% of Black women supporting him. And while it feels great to see a Black woman as Vice President, it’s all pomp and circumstance. What Black women want and need are policies that uplift the Black community. Now that the voting is over and Americans removed Donald Trump from office, we need to make sure that Joe Biden doesn’t forget where he came from. And again, I’m not talking about Scranton, Pennsylvania.
So far, Biden has signed a series of executive orders directed at tackling structural racism. I felt skeptical, and in many ways, I still am. Black women must closely watch his administration because a promise made in the heat of the night won’t always get kept when the sun rises. Still, things seem off to a good start. Ending federally contracted privatized prisons is a huge step, one that Black Americans have fought to end for decades.
Even though the end of federally funded privatized prisons is on the horizon, we cannot ignore the fact that mass incarceration continues to harm Black people disproportionately. What will the Federal government do to decrease State-run privatized prisons, reform living conditions for prisoners, release non-violent marijuana drug offenders, stop the cash bail system, and end unethical prison labor programs? Joe Biden’s executive order was a downpayment. Sure, his administration showed its stance on criminal justice reform. However, Black women need to make sure the Democratic Party is onboard to cash the checks he’s been writing. Let’s consider what the 46th President has to say.
We face deep racial inequities in America and system — systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long.
Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd’s life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around — all over the world. It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn’t be forgotten. It stirred the conscience of tens of millions of Americans, and, in my view, it marked a turning point in this country’s attitude toward racial justice. (Biden, 2021)
Name dropping George Floyd at the beginning of his announcement showed that he did not forget about the horrible scene we witnessed. Taking the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter activists reaffirmed his intent to honor his memory. However, he referred to this as a turning point, and the jury is still out on that one. Republicans vehemently opposed The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Now that the Democrats are running the show, they are likely to try again to pass substantial policing reform. However, Joe Biden’s statement implies he thinks that all of America experienced an aha moment after seeing George Floyd die on camera. It seems there is a disconnect between what liberals believe about America and how it treats Black people.
In the aftermath of that tragic incident, many white people took to the internet to mock George Floyd’s death. Their smiles brought back an eerie memory — white folks smiling and laughing underneath Black bodies hanging in trees. Black pain has always filled many White Americans with uncontrollable joy and pleasure. We cannot turn away from that. So, while Joe Biden sounds like an ally, he is fooling himself if he thinks that most white people want reforms that Black people do. During the summer of 2020, Republicans opposed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Does that sound like the entire country is going through a racial reckoning? No, it shows that too many white people oppose reforms that Black people want to see. And he should not forget who put him in office.
After hearing Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, I wondered whether or not this President would lean into American exceptionalism or American potential, and it seems he landed on the latter. For Black people, it’s crucial to have leaders who see the country as flawed. Only then will they work to make changes.
We have never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation, to state the obvious, that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives. And it’s time to act now, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because if we do, we’ll all be better off for it. (Biden, 2021)
Right here, he broke it down for white people who think that helping Black people will somehow hurt them. He realizes that America needs to change and that doing so will help strengthen the nation. What he said was true — America has never treated all people equally. Black people have been saying this for years, and it felt refreshing to hear that from one of the most powerful white men in the world.
He spoke about the insurrection at the capital and did not mince words about who they were and what they came to do.
It’s just been weeks since all of America witnessed a group of thugs, insurrectionists, political extremists, and white supremacists violently attack the Capitol of our democracy. (Biden, 2021)
Joe Biden, a proud consensus builder, called them white supremacists, and his declaration will set the tone and tenor of his administration going forward. Many white people struggle with calling other white folks racist or white supremacist. Throughout American history, the insistence on pandering to former and wanna be Confederates held Black communities back. He certainly doesn’t sound like a race-neutral president. Still, I’m not exonerating him of his role in the 94' Crime Bill, which contributed to mass incarceration. However, we have to keep it real — the Congressional Black Caucus also supported the bill at the time. The tide is changing as modern activists understand how harmful the three-strikes and mandatory minimum aspects of the bill were for Black people, families, and their communities.
The bottom line is, previous generations had warped views about combating crime. They thought that increased policing would deter crime when in reality, it solidified it through broken-policing policies. But, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of that on another day. It’s time for Americans to turn the page on a criminal justice system that punishes Black people more than any other group. There is enough blame to go around — from liberals, moderates, and yes, conservative Black folks. Now, addressing systemic racism is more mainstream than ever before. And within the Black community, there is more consensus on precisely what policies we need to improve. Change starts with leaders at the top of a government admitting the real root of divisions amongst Americans.
We face deep racial inequities in America and system — systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long. (Biden, 2021)
The 46th President did a great job of calling a spade a spade, but there is always a caveat. He said systemic racism had plagued our nation for “far too long.” However, Black people understand that America has always faced inequities due to systemic racism. The country began under the watchful eye of slaveowners. You cannot take anti-black racism out of the founder’s intent. His statements show why an ally is lovely, but a Black representative is optimal. Some part of white Americans, even the antiracist ones, want to believe that America is just going through a tough time. They should wake up and smell the coffee — White men founded this country on the genocide of Indigenous people and African people’s enslavement. Thus, you cannot take out a timeline of America and point to any time in our history in which America was not racist. As a writer, I pay attention to words because how we describe things matters. We cannot play with the concept of American exceptionalism in any way, shape, or form. Reforms only happen when we acknowledge that this country has never been fair and that equity is an aspiration that we should strive to obtain.
Joe Biden announces his executive order on racial equity
Today, I’m also issuing an executive order that will ultimately end the Justice Department’s use of the private prison industry- — private prisons, an industry that houses pretrial detainees [sic] — detainees and federal prisoners.
The executive order directs the Attorney General to decline to renew contracts with privately operated criminal facilities — a step we started to take at the end of the Obama administration and was reversed under the previous administration.
This is the first step to stop corporations from profiteering off of incarcerating — incarceration that is less humane and less safe, as the studies show. And it is just the beginning of my administration’s plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system. (Biden, 2021)
With Biden’s statement, we can expect the ending of federally funded privatized prisons. His executive order shows he won’t act shy about speaking about racism and trying to dismantle white supremacy in tangible ways. Still, a President cannot make laws. He can only execute them. So, we need Democrats, who currently control both houses of Congress, to cash the checks Biden wrote. He claimed this is only the first step, and as long as advocates keep pushing the narrative forward, we may actually see the changes previous generations tried to obtain. Let’s hold this administration accountable and take a moment to rejoice — ending privatized prisons is on the horizon.
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Biden, J. (2021, January 26). Remarks by President Biden at Signing of an Executive Order on Racial Equity. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/01/26/remarks-by-president-biden-at-signing-of-an-executive-order-on-racial-equity/