Doors of No Return

By Jon E. Yount, July 2003

President Bush's highly publicized July 7, 2003 visit to Africa, particularly Senegal's Goree Island and its infamous "door of no return" for millions of Africans shipped to America as economy-enhancing slaves, serves to illuminate recent replications of that 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century scenario within the U.S.; that is, the U.S. now outranks all nations, including those we label as tyrannical and repressive, as to the number of imprisoned residents.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that this nation's prison and jail populations exceeded two million, that 1 of every 142 U.S. residents is imprisoned, including 1 in every 76 U.S. male residents. How do we Americans extol ourselves as the epitome of freedom while most of our leaders find denial of freedom so easy -- and profitable?

Especially relevant to President Bush's comments while at Goree Island that slavery "was one of the greatest crimes of history" is that, according to the U.S. Justice Department, last year the U.S. imprisoned 1 in every 106 African American female residents and 1 in every 14 black male residents (1 in every 8 black males in their 20s and early 30s) in contrast to 1 in every 1,316 white female residents and 1 in every 101 white males (1 in 63 white men in their 20s and early 30s). The Washington D.C. Sentencing Project announced this year that of the 450,000 Americans locked up for drugs-only offenses, 3 of 4 are black or Latino -- though drug use is no higher in those groups than among whites.

What does imprisonment of such an egregiously disproportionate number of non-whites have to do with slavery? Nothing less than the same greed that drove the slave trade which President Bush so adamantly condemned in Senegal when he offered that "at this place life and liberty were stolen and sold." The number of prisons and prisoners have so dramatically increased during recent decades simply because the prison industrial complex, like eighteenth century plantation owners, discovered that the deprivation of freedom to so many for longer periods offers profits to these modern "slavers" beyond the imagination of their 18th--century counterparts.

As with many modern non-white U.S. prisoners exiled from urban communities, many expatriated Africans were supplied to slave merchants as "criminals" -- based upon real or concocted offenses -- by tribal leaders with an agenda. How similar to the old "slave ships" sailing from the "Black Continent" are hundreds of prison vans that daily transport minority U.S. residents from their urban "black communities" through "doors of no return" to white, rural prison sites bidding for an economic windfall founded upon 21st-century "slaves".

Clearly, a combination of skin color and profits have fueled both examples of stealing and selling life and liberty for profit!

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