If Family Separations at the Border Outrage Us, So Should Family Separation Through Prison and Policing
Like many of you, I have been disturbed, angry, saddened, and dismayed by the recent policy shifts of the current administration at some U.S. borders which have allowed for the separation of families and detaining of children. But just as it was when we watched the much-needed swift, decisive protest actions against the so-called “Muslim Ban”, I am once again confronted with how anti-Blackness permeates even those spaces which purport to fight for justice.
In this moment, as we come together to speak out against these horrendous actions at the border, it is important that we also examine why these children and these families have evoked such a strong emotional response from the public, and with white liberals specifically.
Even if we set aside the historical fact and context that these United States have used separating children from their families as one of its building block since the land was stolen, the simple fact is that this country continues to routinely separate children from their parents and has done so well before this current border crisis. I would posit that it has perfected this action, in fact. Even now, in 2018 they shackle mothers as they give birth.
We must understand that the same rhetoric being spewed by conservations of “law and order over all” and “if you break the law, you lose your rights” are the same arguments many white liberals and progressives make when activists, organizers, abolitionists, and families cry out for support to #EndMoneyBail, #AbolishPrisons, and stop police killings.
The lack of humanity applied to those who are in the bondage of prison—“lawfully backed up by the 13th amendment”—is directly connected to the treatment of those seeking asylum right now. Both of these injustices are held up in part through the idea that once someone is labeled a “criminal”, they become less than human. That is how we arrived where we are today.
Many people believe this narrative—people you know and love. In every community. They may even be sitting silently and saying over and over in their heads, “If you break the law, you deserve whatever you get.”
We must not allow this issue at the border to be separated from the fight against prisons and policing—they are the same issue. Those who are working towards ending prisons should also be doing and supporting the work to end detention centers—because it is our duty to fight.
It must be said that those who are now so concerned and teary-eyed about the travesty of these family separations at the border should be equally active in advocating for all the parents separated from their children behind bars.
I want to remind you that Debbie Africa was recently released after 40 yrs in prison. She was pregnant when sentenced and gave birth behind bars. She held her son outside of a prison for the first time this week. He is 38 years old.
I need you to think about Siwatu-Salama Ra, who is sitting in jail right now, separated from the child she gave birth to in bondage. She was sentenced to two years for defending herself with a gun she owned legally.
I implore you to think about 17-year old Antwon Rose, gunned down by police in East Pittsburgh this week. Shot in the back. Antwon’s family will never be with him again.
There is anti-Blackness at play here and it must be called out, clearly and often. Put simply, if you agree that breaking the law does not strip the folks entering the border of their humanity, it is imperative that you ask yourself if you feel the same about the Black youth currently in jail, disproportionately. Or the sixteen Black Panthers who are still political prisoners. Or the many parents whose babies were killed by the police.
Step up today. I urge you to join Mijente’s Call to Action, but be sure that you also get clear on how, when, and where to show up in your community to #EndMoneyBail, #AbolishPrisons, and bring our people home.
Leslie Mac is a Brooklyn-born Black Woman who founded the Ferguson Response Network to connect nationwide efforts supporting the Movement for Black Lives. She is the Co-Creator of the recently shuttered Safety Pin Box, a subscription service for white people striving to be allies in the fight for Black Liberation, and a Founding Lead Organizer with Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism. For more information visit her website.
The Black Youth Project is a platform that highlights the voices and ideas of Black millennials. Through knowledge, voice, and action, we work to empower and uplift the lived experiences of young Black Americans today.