The BOOKPRESS February 2000

Stars and Stripes


Paul Sawyer

Lockdown America
Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis.
By Christian Parenti.
Verso, 1999.
290 pages, $25.

Race for Justice
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Fight Against the Death Penalty.
By Leonard Weinglass.
Common Courage Press, 1995.
272 pages, $15.

In a recent article on George W. Bush, The New York Times noted that Texas has performed fully one-third of all executions in the nation since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty 23 years ago and that Governor Bush has presided over the executions of 112, far more than any governor. The rate of executions has increased since Bush became governor, in part because of a law he signed in 1995 that (in the phrasing of the Times) "streamlined the appeals process."

The Texas system for capital crimes has been called by its critics "the most merciless and unfair in the 38 states with a death penalty" (members of the state parole board, who make clemency decisions, fax their votes separately to a central location, in secret, without discussion). But the governor has resisted three legislative attempts to change this and other features of the system.

One admirer of the Texas system is the other prominent son of the man who made Willie Horton famous—Governor Jeb Bush of Florida who has submitted a proposal to speed up the death penalty in his state, in emulation of his brother. According to the Times, Governor Jeb complained to a caucus meeting of the "grief" he was receiving in the Florida press for his proposal: "‘But somebody needs to be standing up for the families of these victims,’ he said" (NYT, January 7).

Cut to Washington, where President Bill Clinton recently held a dinner in honor of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, the former heavyweight boxer who has been exonerated of a triple murder after years on death row and is now the subject of a movie and two books. At the dinner, Clinton called Carter "an inspiration." But in an op-ed page in the Times, one of the boxer’s lawyers remarked that future Carters will languish in prison because of a law signed by Clinton himself. This is the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which mandates that federal appeals courts can reverse a lower court’s ruling on a capital case only if they find that the previous ruling would seem unreasonable to any reasonable subject—a standard of judgment so high that the law effectually blocks any federal appeal of a state decision (NYT, January 10). The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the act in two to three months.

Cut back once more to the presidential campaign of 1992. There, candidate Clinton absented himself from the critical New Hampshire primary in order to preside personally over the execution in Arkansas of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged murderer. In Lockdown America, Christian Parenti quotes this contemporary account of Rector’s last night:

[Rector] carefully put aside the slice of pecan pie that came with his last meal. Rector always liked to eat his dessert right before bedtime, and he apparently expected to return to his cell for his pie after he had received the lethal injection ordered by [Clinton]...Just hours before he died, Rector told [his attorney]: "I’m going to vote for Clinton in the fall" (64).

What, one wonders, would a Rip Van Winkle asleep since the ’60s make of the news bits I have just juxtaposed—or of this strange new breed of political leader, so affable and so brutal? Like Rip Van Winkle, we are continually waking up to the strangeness of our contemporary world and its language. Since the ’60s, we have experienced history differently; profound changes occur off the front pages and far away, like weather patterns, obeying an obscure logic and leaving their residue in coinages like "globalization," "global warming," "de-industrialization," "post-modernism." Americans are also beginning to wake up to the present state of our prison system—that, for example, we lock up more people proportionately than any nation in the world but Russia, that our prison population has tripled since the 1980s, that most of that increase is in nonviolent offenders.

As a guide to this set of problems, Lockdown America is invaluable. Its title, though, is misleading, because the book concerns far more than prisons or than any specific abuse. Its subtitle makes clear that for Parenti, "police" and "prisons" are two terms that constitute part of a general crisis in our social system. Parenti treats this crisis not as a set of weather trends but as a story with a complex explanation, one that profoundly illuminates every aspect of our political life. The true aim of this extremely important book is to show how and why America has evolved into what he calls a democratic police state.

Parenti begins his account with "zero tolerance," or "quality of life" policing as it was developed by William Bratton, the former Police Commissioner of New York. According to Bratton’s idea, if law enforcement cracks down immediately and massively on relatively minor infractions, it can prevent serious crimes from occurring. When he was in charge of the City Transit Police, Bratton re-outfitted his rank-and-file with nine-millimeter semiautomatic handguns, then organized them to go after turnstyle-leapers in undercover squads of up to ten. Instead of merely ticketing "fare-beaters," Bratton’s transit cops rounded people up, held them in paddy wagons until full, booked them, sometimes held them overnight. "Taking back the subways"—mainly from the homeless and other indigents—was the prelude to a series of mini-campaigns instituted by Rudolph Giuliani in 1994 as part of what Parenti calls the mayor’s "pacification program." First came the war on "squeegee operators" (unemployed men who used to wash the windshields of cars stopped in traffic, sometimes to the annoyance of drivers); then the war on youthful truants from public schools; then the war on prostitution and porno shops; and so on. Although Giuliani’s paranoid belligerence might make him seem anomalous, Parenti is careful to show the precise social logic of quality-of-life policing and therefore its popularity among a growing number of cities. For example, in the case of the campaign against truants:

It was a masterful orchestration of disparate social forces...multiple layers of public and private social control—from the press to jails—acting in concert to form a totalizing net of surveillance, enforcement, and intimidation. Perhaps archaeologists of a future world will someday read the records of such campaigns as the deranged youth initiation ceremonies they are. What do kids learn from such treatment? How to be cuffed; how to shield one’s face when paraded before the press; in short how to act like a criminal. But in 1990s New York turning police power against children made perfect sense (78).

Treating more and more activities as criminal—leaping turnstyles, open drinking, "disorderly" offenses like playing music or throwing footballs in the street (the offense which caused the death of young Anthony Baez in 1995)—is one step in criminalizing the young; another is to enfold the offender into a system of surveillance. In the words of one of Giuliani’s supercops: "Your open beer lets me check your ID" (89). This insight has been particularly useful in the outrage of racial profiling and in California’s war against gangs, both of which make a dead letter of the Fourth Amendment. For example, anti-gang task forces can use statutes that prohibit "loitering with intent to sell narcotics" as an excuse to interview, search, and run checks on virtually anyone occupying public space. As the result of street interviews, a youngster can be "gang-labeled" according to any of ten official criteria—including associating with known gang members, using a gang handshake or wearing gang clothes. "This sort of ‘intelligence gathering,’" Parenti writes, "does not merely ‘discover’ delinquency, but rather by its very nature produces criminal identities, and thus justifies ever more layers of aggressive, invasive, and brutal policing" (121).

The second chief feature of the democratic police state is the general use of paramilitary policing—"enforcement using the equipment, training, rhetoric, and group tactics of war" (112). The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 is the measure chiefly responsible for the vast increase of supercops and equipment; it answers Clinton’s grim call to put a hundred thousand more police on the streets by issuing $8.8 billion in policing grants to states over six years, as well as $7.9 billion in grants to build new prisons—a financial device which, once the grant money expires, obliges states to continue the financing on their own or face politically unpopular cutbacks. As a result of this kind of funding, the nation now has (among other elite groups) 30,000 SWAT teams—heavily-equipped tactical units, many of them all-white, which were created to deal with crisis situations but are now used increasingly for routine policing of neighborhoods inhabited by people of color. The SWAT team of Fresno, California—the most aggressive in the nation—mounted its first sweep of a gang-infested area dressed in "gray jungle camouflage, military helmets, bulletproof vests, ski masks, goggles, combat boots, and armed with AR-15s, MP-5s, attack dogs, ‘flash-bang’ stun grenades, smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper spray, metal clubs, and less-than-lethal ‘blunt trauma ordinances’" (114). Parenti fills his pages with accounts of massive and highly coordinated assaults, using phrases like "counterinsurgency," "search-and-destroy," "colonial warfare," and "electronic battlefield" to show that the new supercops comprise what is essentially an army of occupation.

Throughout, Parenti is careful to acknowledge the seriousness of some urban crime—the poor are after all its chief victims; and he concedes, at least in the case of New York, that Bratton’s policing was one likely factor in the decline in crime rates. But against this achievement he weighs the inevitable rise in human rights abuses. Because SWAT teams typically act with suddenness, in overwhelming numbers, in order to surprise and disorient, some victims of SWAT shootings are simply people who think they are being robbed. In New York, brutality complaints have jumped 62% in Giuliani’s reign. In the well-publicized Amadou Diallo case, four members of the elite undercover Street Crimes Unit shot 41 bullets at the unarmed immigrant, striking him nineteen times. (At a news conference following massive protests, Giuliani announced that the NYPD would from now on be using hollow point rounds in their semiautomatics—bullets banned in international warfare which expand upon contact, blowing holes in human flesh [109].)

In the chapter "Policing the Themepark City," Parenti argues that one function of the new urban warfare is to make cities safe and clean for business expansion, as in the case of downtown conference centers, and for the onward army of gentrifiers. In the battle of Tompkins Square Park, the NYPD spent days besieging squatters in five city-owned buildings, then finally burned the buildings down, "destroying them in order to save them" (105).

In San Francisco, where the Diggers once gave out free food near Golden Gate Park and where the homeless now represent a larger proportion of the population than that of any American city, the police of Mayor Frank Jordan endlessly ticketed homeless sleepers in pre-dawn raids, crushed their shanties, shopping carts and other worldly possessions with bulldozers and garbage trucks, and even attacked and jailed the group Food Not Bombs, which tries to give away free food (102). But within the ghetto itself, paramilitary policing serves another purpose: controlling whole communities by terror. In 1998, ninety city and state police staged a predawn raid on a cooperative housing project in San Francisco. The next day at the station house,

a train of furious and sobbing African American victims recounted...how police officers slapped and kicked them, stepped on their necks, and pressed pistol and shotgun muzzles to their heads as other officers ransacked their homes, up-turning beds and ripping open closets. Among those held at gun point were city employees and grandmothers; scores of people with no charges against them were ‘flex-cuffed,’ including weeping and terrified children as young as six, some of whom urinated in their pajamas as they were separated from their parents. Police Chief Fred Lau explained this last touch—cuffing the kids—was to keep them from "running around" (126).

This raid, incidentally, took place during the mayoralty of Willie Brown, formerly the outspoken African-American Speaker of the California House.

But the severest and most systematic "zero tolerance abuses" recorded by Parenti are those suffered by Mexican immigrants. The INS, the Border Patrol, and many other allied agencies perform their "theatrics of terror" through periodical round-ups of documented and undocumented aliens, protracted detention, and massive deportations on trivial infractions, all supported by a scapegoating anti-immigration movement fanned by politicians. In one raid in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 153 Mexican immigrants were rounded up, corralled, and branded on the forearms with large numbers, while the non-documented were deported in a manure-strewn cattle truck.

The war against immigrants can be explained fairly obviously in functionalist terms: in order to maintain a docile supply of low-paid labor for the most dangerous and dirty jobs, police terrorize immigrants with the ever-present threat of deportation, occasionally sacrificing individual businesses for the benefit of the class of employers as a whole.

For Parenti, this fact distinguishes the oppression of immigrants from the oppression of inner-city people of color: whereas one group is economically useful to an exploiting class, the other is a problem precisely because it is useless—a population "made redundant, chewed up, spat-out and shunted aside by the quest for profit" (106)—a key insight to which Parenti returns at the conclusion of the book.

The end-product, as it were, of zero-tolerance policing—of all the paramilitary equipment, the massive sweeps, the newly criminalized offenses, the longer sentences, the vast enhancements of information-gathering and surveillance—is of course the incarcerated population, which by its expansion has created a growth industry of prison-building and related services and a cadre of correctional employees which, through their unions, can now influence political decisions on their own. (In the past decade, the cost of new prisons was about seven billion dollars a year; 122 new prisons were begun in 1996 alone.)

The most harrowing pages of Lockdown America contain Parenti’s account of Corcoran State Prison, the super-maximum security lockup in central California that became the subject of a well-publicized FBI investigation in the 1990s. From 1989-1998, Corcoran CO’s (correctional officers) shot and killed thirty-nine prisoners, only one of whom was armed. The carnage was abetted by a seemingly liberal California state prison policy which at Corcoran turned into gruesome rituals—the policy of deliberately putting opposed racial groups of prisoners together in the yard. The investigation showed that the mostly white CO’s at Corcoran promoted these confrontations into a form of gladiatorial combat, viewed and videotaped by guards who in some cases bet on the outcomes. In one videotaped example, Preston Tate, a black prisoner on round-the-clock lockup, is attacked in the yard by two angry Hispanic prisoners; after several seconds of violent fisticuffs, a round from a guard’s semiautomatic rifle blows open Tate’s skull.

This and other examples of spectacular, race-driven sadism may make Corcoran State unusual in the American prison system. Much more typical is a policy of divide-and-conquer, in which the "auto-destructive" behavior of racial gangs is ignored or even exacerbated by CO’s as a means of better controlling the prison population—a microcosmic version of the larger social strategy outside the walls that is the general topic of the book. This is one guiding theme in the chapters on prisons; the other is a brilliant examination of what has come to be called the "prison-industrial complex," the interlocking system of for-profit prison corporations, public subsidies, non-unionized COs, and a related practice of remunerating prison labor at meaninglessly low rates. (At Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, the average hourly pay actually received by prisoners is about 42 cents.)

Recent critics of the prison-industrial complex have argued that the growth in prisons is ultimately motivated by opportunities for private profit. Indeed, it would be impossible to disagree with the view that the prison boom has brought a modicum of prosperity, and thousands of jobs, to the depressed rural communities where most new prisons are built, and that the interests of the rural prison economy have taken on an economic life of their own. But in a carefully argued refutation, Parenti shows in the first place that prison-produced goods have actually turned out to be too expensive for the producers, however low the labor costs; and in the second place, that a combination of bad publicity and the organized opposition of state and federal CO’s unions has probably checked the growth in for-profit prisons.

What Parenti calls the "muckraking approach"—the valid but limited attempt to correlate social abuses directly with individual greed—yields in his account to a structural analysis which rests on the concept of policing an economically superfluous group. This insight generates a powerful interpretation of recent American history.

In the story Parenti tells, in the later sixties a combination of economic developments—increased competition from abroad, a strong union movement, high employment, and a wave of environmental regulations passed by the Nixon-era Congress—ate into the profit margins of American corporations. Capital regained the level of profits to which it had been accustomed, first by the sharp recession, engineered in 1979 by Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and then by the economic re-structuring of the Reagan years. Capital requires poverty—specifically in the form of a class of unemployed who exert a downward pressure on the wages of the employed and weaken the power of unions. According to Parenti, the "anti-crime binge" of the 1980s came not in response to domestic disorder (which in the sixties had produced an earlier law-and-order reaction under Nixon) but to a "newly impoverished and immiserated" class:

But the criminal justice buildup was not necessarily designed with class racial containment as its sole aim. In many ways the incarceration binge is simply the policy by-product of right-wing electoral rhetoric. As economic restructuring created a social crisis for blue collar America, politicians found it necessary and useful to speak to domestic anxieties; they had to articulate the trouble their constituents were facing, but in politically acceptable forms which would avoid blaming corporate greed and capitalist restructuring. This required scapegoats...And so it was in the 1980s that people of color and the poor (usually conflated as one category) came under renewed ideological assault (168).

The contradiction of poverty in a capitalist system, then, is that capitalism requires and even creates poverty ("surplus populations"), yet it is simultaneously threatened by disruption from those populations: "Prison and criminal justice are about managing these irreconcilable contradictions" (238-239).

Of all the numbers in this statistically rich book, the following seem to me the most significant:

• In 1994, only 29% of all prison admissions were for violent crimes; 31% were for "property offenses" (robbery, larceny, etc); and 39% were for nonviolent crimes (30% for drug offenses and 9% for "public order offenses," such as drunk driving and weapons possession) (167).

• The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 legislated mandatory minimum sentences of five years for possession of 100 grams of heroin, 500 grams of cocaine, and only five grams of crack. African Americans are more frequently arrested for possession of crack than of powder cocaine (57).

• African Americans (12% of the population) represent 13% of monthly drug users, 35% of drug arrests, 55% of drug convictions, and 74% of all drug prisoners (239).

• About a third of all black males under age 30 are either in prison, awaiting trial, or on probation. Mainly because of drug and prostitution cases, the fastest growing group of imprisoned people is black women (their rate rose 828% in the four years from 1986-1991).

• Although unemployment figures for all groups declined significantly in the 1990s, official figures do not include those who have stopped actively searching for work or who are otherwise out of the work force. If one adds to the official unemployment figure for blacks in 1997 (which was 8.5%) the figures for "discouraged" African American workers and the enormous number in prisons, the total percentage reaches 25.2% (239; the figure appears in Dollars and Cents, November 1, 1998).

Figures like these crucially illuminate not just the fate of the groups represented but the very nature of our socio-economic system. They undermine, for example, the now-standard assumptions about the "strength" of the American economy as compared to the Western European economies, where unemployment still exceeds 10% in many countries. And when we also recall that no Western European nation has more than a fraction of the percentage of imprisoned citizens that the U.S. has, and that none has the death penalty, then we can grasp how profoundly divergent, unique, and characteristic has been the American "solution" to social conflict within the community of nations to which we most like to compare ourselves. Parenti summarizes this solution as follows: "The emerging anti-crime police state...though not necessarily planned as such, is the form of class control currently preferred by [American] elites because it does not entail the dangerous side effects of empowerment associated with the co-optative welfare model" (241). In short: the new police state has become our alternative to social democracy; and its most significant enabling terms are race and drugs.

How did this catastrophe happen? Why have most people been aware from time to time of its symptoms but rarely of its extent? I write these words on the national holiday that celebrates the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., in a country where people get tearful listening to the "I Have a Dream" speech; a country that made Bill Cosby the highest-paid TV entertainer of his time and that buys its books at the bidding of Oprah Winfrey; that promoted the two "Michaels" into international superstars and that made popular successes of movies on the Amistad mutiny, the Goodman-Schwerner-Chaney murders, Malcolm X, "Hurricane" Carter, and a fictional, saintly black man on Death Row.

Historians of the future will have to re-construct imaginatively the extent to which the media conglomerates in our time, and the social consciousness of most Americans, re-interpret class as a two-fold division, a kind of life-space inhabited by "us" (the generic and the normal) on the one hand, and a criminal "underclass" of deviants on the other. This bifurcation of class, as Parenti calls it, is activated by the figure of the "racialized other."

As economic contradictions deepen, the racialized class other—the immigrant, the urban mendicant, the cheats, the dark skinned, the "thieves" and "predators"—looms ever larger in the minds of the economically besieged middle classes. As politicians face the fact that the corporate system will not and cannot profitably accommodate the needs of the poor and working majority, they necessarily turn to crime baiting and racially coded demonology as a way of inciting, mobilizing, and diverting legitimate political anxieties towards irrelevant enemies [132].

This figure does not bear the mark of color alone but combines color, crime, and poverty into a single signifier that can’t be disjoined and so perpetually obscures and confuses the aims it covers. An ironic result is to render white poverty invisible to the public eye (and in Parenti’s book as well). Because of the color/crime/poverty signifier, whole populations of people of color are selectively devastated, never in the name of race but always of something else. The practice therefore shrouds itself in something like plausible deniability. We recall that the Willie Horton political commercial was defended because it was about a rapist who only happened to be black—which does not explain why the commercial was first aired in the Carolinas. Governor Jeb Bush does not believe the Florida death penalty is racist, just as his brother is confident he has never sent an innocent man to prison.

Our very awareness of racism as a "force" or a "reality" in our private behavior—important as that is—may help to work against comprehending its most terrible effects. If "racist" is typically the term accusing an individual of malignant intent, then it can seem farfetched, if not irresponsible (as it does to Governor Jeb Bush) to call the death penalty "racist." At one extreme, the right-wing publicist Dinesh D’Souza can argue in his book The End of Racism that racism simply does not exist any more as a pervasive or structural reality in America. In a less extreme case, when a prominent Harlem-based clergyman called Rudolph Giuliani "racist" after the mayor cut several hundred hospital jobs occupied by women of color, the city columnist of The New York Times (often critical of the mayor) responded with shock: Giuliani may have made some bad decisions, but he is no racist. To qualify as a racist, the mayor would presumably have to have joined the Klan, or used the n-word in public (I cite the form of "nigger" used by television journalists during the O.J. Simpson trial). It is hard, in short, to find commonly-accepted words to describe the problem let alone to change it. Parenti solves this problem of meaning by using the phrase "racialized class hatred" instead of "racist," thereby getting at the primary problem of class struggle.

What can be done? In his brief concluding section, Parenti insists on the obvious: we need more alternatives and less sentencing—less criminalization, less surveillance and terror and isolation and destruction of young lives, and therefore and most crucially less "crime" as officially constructed. If Parenti’s book proves anything at all, it proves that the anti-crime police state could never have taken the form it has if it could not have demonized the use of drugs (a technique of social control, one might argue, that was first "tried" successfully as a means of criminalizing the counterculture). I have become convinced—as I was not before reading this book—that Parenti’s second and more radical recommendation is correct and should be the basis of future struggle in this area: All drug use must be decriminalized.

An omission in this otherwise sweeping account of policing as a form of racialized class-hatred is the phenomenon of deliberate and wholesale fabrication of criminal cases against people of color. This practice first caught the attention of the press in a recent police scandal in Philadelphia that has resulted in the release of over three hundred wrongfully incarcerated people. The press treated the case as a shameful exception, but a similar unfolding police scandal in Los Angeles (not yet, so far as I know, scheduled to appear in any episodes of LAPD) and the earlier David Harding case (which resulted in several wrongful imprisonments in upstate New York, including that of Shirley King) suggest that fraudulent prosecution is a pervasive, if not universal, technique of the anti-crime police state.

The best-known contemporary instance of alleged police framing is of course the case of Mumia abu-Jamal, on death row since 1992, who has been the subject of a well-publicized, international defense movement. Both sides have made him a symbol in the debate over race and criminal justice. Race for Justice is a collection of defense documents prepared and assembled by the well-known civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass as part of Jamal’s 1995 appeal for a stay of execution and a new trial.

At the age of 15, Jamal became Minister of Information of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party; as a result, he was put on an FBI surveillance list and was arrested in a COINTELPRO operation. In his twenties, he became a radio journalist, was elected President of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists, and was an outspoken supporter of the revolutionary action group Philadelphia MOVE. On the night of December 9, 1981, Jamal approached Officer Daniel Faulkner, who was frisking a suspect—evidently Jamal’s brother—next to a parked car in downtown Philadelphia. Within moments, both Jamal and Officer Faulkner were critically wounded; Jamal recovered, and the officer died. Jamal was tried for the murder of Officer Faulkner, found guilty, and on the July 4 weekend of 1982, sentenced to death. At every point, Jamal has declared his innocence.

The case against Jamal appears strong as his jury heard it. A prostitute named Cynthia White identified Jamal as the person who approached and shot Officer Faulkner; the prosecution claimed that Faulkner shot Jamal as he fell dying. Jamal’s gun was recovered by police as he lay wounded. A policeman and a hospital guard both testified that at the hospital, the wounded Jamal shouted, "I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies." The relatively brief defense produced a string of character witnesses, but none that could directly contradict these claims. Jamal was defended by a court-appointed attorney (because he was indigent and could not afford his own lawyer) but was himself absent at times from the trial and did not take the stand in his own defense. In the summation and in the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecution represented Jamal as a hate-filled revolutionary who, among much else, had once said, "Political power issues from the barrel of a gun."

But Weinglass’s complaint alleges prosecution misconduct so ruthlessly, blatantly, and (one wants to say) hamhandedly fraudulent that it would seem to belong to ’20s film comedy. Among the items in the complaint: No witness recalled seeing Cynthia White at the scene, though a defense witness, also a prostitute, declared in a deposition that the police offered her immunity from harassment if she testified against Jamal (and in fact White was later seen working with a police escort). The cab driver who testified against Jamal was an alcoholic on parole for arson, who in any case reported seeing Faulkner shot by a "large black man" fifty pounds heavier than Jamal. The testimony of both key prosecution witnesses is, therefore, suspect and in fact likely perjured. Four witnesses, including a prosecution witness, reported seeing a man fleeing the scene immediately after the shooting (police never followed this lead). Another person has reported seeing Faulkner shot by the man who fled, but he said police repeatedly tore up this statement until he told a different version; as the result of further police harassment, he left Philadelphia and did not testify. Jamal’s gun was a .38 caliber; the prosecution ballistics expert identified the bullet extracted from the officer’s body as a .44. As for the hospital "confession," neither witness made this claim until two months after the arrest, whereas Gary Wakshul, the officer officially escorting the wounded Jamal, wrote in his journal "the black male made no comment." (Wakshul was suddenly put on vacation before the trial, and never testified.) In short, at least three prosecution witnesses—Cynthia White, the hospital guard, and one officer—gave fabricated evidence. Jurors did not know any of this, though they might have noticed that the prosecution used challenges to remove about 80% of available African Americans from what therefore became a predominantly white jury.

The ultimate, implicit claim of the Weinglass petition—and the explicit claim of the Free Mumia movement—is that the prosecution of Jamal is part of a political murder. In this argument, the police saw their chance to eliminate a prominent ideological enemy, who was therefore a physical threat; to them, Jamal figuratively, if not literally, killed Daniel Faulkner. But the action against Mumia also consisted of judicial misconduct in collusion with police criminality. According to the NAACP, Albert Sabo, the Judge in the 1992 trial, has sentenced twice as many people to death as any other sitting American judge. A glance at a few of his rulings as listed by Weinglass et al helps show why: Judge Sabo refused to permit Jamal to represent himself, even though Jamal claimed (and his lawyer agreed) that his lawyer had no means to prepare an adequate defense; upon Jamal’s repeated complaints, the Judge removed him from portions of the trial; he allocated the defense only $150 per expert witness, so the defense could not afford any—not even a ballistician—instead of the four they requested; he dismissed a black juror in Jamal’s absence; he even refused the defense’s request to order Officer Wakshul back from vacation to testify that Jamal never confessed to the shooting in the hospital; and so forth.

It is important to understand how a judge like Sabo encourages and perpetuates police criminality, but it is even more important to understand the system that makes it possible for both judge and police to destroy the rights, not only of exceptional or notorious defendants but of ordinary ones as well. Exhibit 45 of the petition is an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer entitled "Poor defendants pay the cost as courts save on murder trials." The writer describes a trial similar to Jamal’s, in which the defense could not afford expert witnesses; it also criticizes the notorious disparity in Philadelphia between the predispositions of judges and lawyers, calling the choice of lawyers and judges "a crap shoot." Judges have also held on to the power to appoint attorneys, a practice that easily degenerates into favoritism. (A similar system in Texas became so corrupt, so productive of bad representation and unfair sentencing that the state legislature passed a law against it—which was then vetoed by Governor Bush, under pressure from judges.) A statement by a former public defender sums up the pertinence of the Jamal case to the more general arguments of Michael Parenti’s book:

There is the standard applied generally to a defendant who is regarded as having "worth": the defendant with means who can afford his own lawyer, the white-collar criminal, the police officer or other public official. And then there is the other standard that reverses every constitutional promise and is, basically, that a person is presumed guilty of whatever he is arrested for (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1992).

In one of the most profoundly suggestive sections of Lockdown America, Parenti draws on Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish in order to clarify the nature of class bifurcation in America. Foucault famously argued that modern European nations moved from a technique of social control based on spectacles of terror—the torture, for example, of prisoners, performed publicly and at anguishing length in the name of a personal monarch—to techniques of social control using milder means—the surveillance and disciplining of bodies and the multiplication of criminal and "deviant" categories. The chief (but not the only) aim of the second form of control is to create citizens capable of internalizing social controls in order to function in schools, in the army, and in factories and bureaucracies. A problem with this thesis is a tendency to generalize the effects of social control—to see all of us as "in it" together, equally subject to the workings of power. Parenti significantly departs from this model, arguing that the new police state bifurcates social classes according to radically different forms of control: for blue collar workers and the productive middle classes, the relatively benevolent means of regimentation and supervision; for the racialized "others," the historically antecedent model of a "theatrics of terror."

This bifurcation is of course not new in American society, as Parenti implies. The most vicious and appalling of all forms of documentary evidence of injustice on the North American continent—both in its content and in its uses—is the lynching photograph. These pocket-sized artifacts, depicting the dangling, contorted, and sometimes charred victims as well as the crowds of onlookers, fresh, proud, and sometimes smiling, were often printed on postcards and mailed as warnings or souvenirs.

On January 13, The New York Times reviewed a traveling exhibition of these photos, now at the Ruth Horowitz Gallery in Manhattan. In looking for contemporary examples of this savagery, the heartfelt writer comes up with a spectrum of phenomena ranging from "the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. near Jasper, Tex., in 1998, to the difficulty black men face trying to hail cabs in New York City." But if these examples represent ends of a spectrum, then the extremes, we might say, meet at a point beyond controversy: none of "us" are racists in either of these ways. The examples are wrong for other reasons. Lynchings were brutal, frequent, permitted, public rituals inflicted upon a criminalized other—yet one would hardly expect an arts writer for the Times to name "the racist death penalty" or the Amadou Diallo case. That, for reasons I have discussed above, is part of the problem. There are, of course, great differences between the "then" of lynching and the "now" of the drug wars: although public terror today is performed spectacularly by paramilitary policing, the other working of the anti-crime police state—imprisonment and execution—works in the opposite way, by efficient disappearance of the "other" through imprisonment or execution performed as efficiently as possible. What is most important to grasp is neither the specific similarities and differences between now and the past but the continuities—from slavery to the dark years of lynch law and the prison farm to the Jim Crow system and its abatement in the ’60s, to the neoliberal state of the Giulianis and the Sabos and the Border Patrol. In stages and with variations, America has flourished by exploiting, containing, scapegoating, terrorizing and criminalizing a racial "other." The contemporary form of this process—what Parenti calls the anti-crime police state—is the most urgent domestic issue facing reformers today.

Paul Sawyeris a professor of English at Cornell University. He tutors writing at Auburn Correctional Facility.

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