When U.S. corporate media operatives use the term “police state,” they invariably mean some other country. Even the so-called “liberal” media, from Democracy Now to the MSNBC menagerie, cannot bring themselves to say “police state” and the “United States” without putting the qualifying words “like” or “becoming” in the middle. The U.S. is behaving “like” a police state, they say, or the U.S. is in danger of “becoming” a police state. But it is never a police state. Since these privileged speakers and writers are not themselves in prison – because what they write and say represents no actual danger to the state – they conclude that a U.S. police state does not, at this time, exist.
Considering the sheer size and social penetration of its police and imprisonment apparatus, the United States is not only a police state, but the biggest police state in the world, by far: the police state against whose dimensions all other police systems on Earth must be measured.
By now, even the most insulated, xenophobic American knows that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. He might not know that 25 percent of prison inmates in the world are locked up in the U.S., or that African Americans comprise one out of every eight of the planet’s prisoners. But, he is probably aware that America is number one in the prisons business. He probably approves. God bless the police state.
For the American media, including lots of media that claim to be of the Left, it is axiomatic that China is a police state. And maybe, by some standards, it is. But, according to United Nations figures, China is 87th in the world in the proportion of its people who are imprisoned. China is a billion people bigger than the United States – more than four times the population – yet U.S. prisons house in excess of 600,000 more people than China does. The Chinese prison population is just 70 percent of the American Gulag. That’s quite interesting because, non-whites make up about 70 percent of U.S. prisons. That means, the Black, brown, yellow and red populations of U.S. prisons number roughly the same as all of China’s incarcerated persons. Let me emphasize that: The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
However, police states must be measured by conditions behind the bars, as well as raw numbers of inmates. And, by that standard, the American Gulag is even more monstrous.
Civilized people now recognize that solitary confinement is a form of torture. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, reports that solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture, yet, as Al Jazeera recently reported, it is typical for hundred of thousands of U.S. prisoners to spend 30 or 60 days in solitary at a stretch. Twenty thousand are held in perpetual isolation in so-called supermax prisons – that is, they exist in a perpetual state of torture. Studies now show that, all told, 80,000 U.S. prisoners are locked up in solitary on any given day. That’s as many tortured people as the entire prison system of Germany, or of England, Scotland and Wales, combined.
If that is not a police state, then no such thing exists on planet Earth.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Solitary Confinement: Torture Chambers for Black Revolutionaries (newamericamedia.org)
- It’s Time To End Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons (ideas.time.com)
- Russell Maroon Shoatz – Solitary for 30 Years (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Do US Prisons Violate European Human Rights Law? –Interview w/ Hamja Ahsan & Aviva Stahl (indybay.org)
- Death in Pennsylvania Solitary Confinement Cell Raises Questions (solitarywatch.com)