Probably one of the biggest reasons to celebrate the King Holiday on January 15 was when Governor James Doyle Jr., at the behest  of Milwaukee's African American legislative delegation, announced at  the state's King Holiday tribute that he was creating a special task  force to look into the astronomically high incarceration rates of African American males in Wisconsin. This fact  coupled with other disturbing statistics that measure the quality of life for the African American community led blackcommentator.com to label Wisconsin to be the worst place for African Americans to live in the United States.
      African American men, in general, have been in the political crosshairs of  Wisconsin's electoral system for the past 25 years. It is no surprise that the incarceration rate of African American men has steadily climbed during the same period. When the Republican Party learned that the crime issue with a Willie Horton face on it sold well with a large segment of  Wisconsin's independent voters, they continued to cash in on the issue every election day.
      Whether or not crime was up or down, the  "soft on crime" label that Republicans always trotted out each election stifled any kind of meaningful discussion about the impact of sentencing versus treatment for drug possession had on our state and on the  African American community. We were not able to have a meaningful      discussion about the impact of the disparity in sentencing for powder  versus crack cocaine. We were not able to discuss the impact of racial profiling on the skewing of incarceration rates. We were not able to discuss what the minimum level of legal representation should be provided by the state and whether or not it allowed due process for poor, indigent people -- which in this state a disproportionate number are African  American.
      But what has probably been the most detrimental consequence of the stifling of this important issue is the growth of the prison-industrial complex here in Wisconsin. Back when Tommy Thompson was first elected governor, he promised the rest of the state that he was going to decentralize state government so that state tax dollars would go back to the other 71 counties in the form of state offices, personnel and services.  Tommy campaigned hard against Madison and won. He had to deliver something      if he was going to be reelected.
      Now at this same time, many rural communities were experiencing declines in their local economies because farms were getting fewer and larger and the population shift was still toward the large urban areas. Tommy needed to provide some type of economic development for these communities and create jobs that didn't require a college degree. Low and behold, making the sentences for drug possession crimes longer and keeping drug treatment programs under-funded dictated  that the state provide more prison beds and more prisons. And low and behold, these new prisons were built in rural communities that sometimes mortgaged their futures in incentives they offered the state to build  there. And the communities desperately wanted those prisons in order to  provide hundreds of jobs that would keep the taxpayers and tax base in their community. This was nothing more than "quick fix" rural economic development that allowed Tommy Thompson get reelected. These towns and villages now had an economic reason to ensure the prison population remained the same and Tommy had a political reason to do so as well. The African American community, especially in Milwaukee County, was not a part  of Tommy's political base. And since it didn't vote in large enough numbers, they didn't really matter.
      What has now strengthened this fundamental economic incentive to keep things the way they are is the growth of prison industries in which the state and private companies makes use of the relatively cheap labor force in the prison.  There is no labor union, and no minimum wage. Slavery was banned by the Thirteenth Amendment except in our prisons -- you have to read the fine print to know that.  Again, there are economic incentives for parts of the state and some companies to keep things the way they are.
      So when we look at the people who benefit from the expansion of our prison  system during the past 20 years, we can see that a prison-industrial complex has developed, which has benefited from the alarming incarceration   rates of African American males. It is a force that has at least been partially circumvented by last November's election and the rise of a Democratic majority in the state senate.
      This is probably the first time that this type of task force has been politically feasible in the past 25 years. The causes of the disproportionate number of African American males are complex and entrenched. They are economic, social, and political. Some  of these causes will prove to be quite intractable. I don't expect  any magic bullets, but at least we can now talk about it. I hope that the task force will be diverse in terms of race, income levels, professions and political party, but united in its mission to do something about this deplorable situation in order to give it the political wherewithal to get something done. While talk is ultimately not enough, thank God --and Governor James Doyle -- we now will start talking.
JANUARY 24, 2007
stories/columns

*
The Literary Divide: Bush "surges" ahead to take side in no-win situation in Iraq,
by Dr. Paul Barrows

*
Sen. Lena Taylor: A New Voice for a New Day
(part 2)
,
by Jonathan Gramling

*
Tubist James Jenkins to perform at Morphy Hall,
by Jonathan Gramling

* Letter to the Editor,
by Ike Anyanike

*
9th annual MLK Youth Service Day-- March to the Capitol: "Do what is right!"
by Laura Salinger

*
Neighborhood House Community Center's 90th Birthday,
by Heidi M. Pascual
(www.asianwisconzine.com)

*
Politicas de Hoy: Bush decepciona una vez mas,
por Alfonso Zepeda Capistran

*
Simple things:
Shared Memory: Christmas 1954
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by Lang Kenneth Haynes

*
Voices:  A letter to President Bush,
by Dr. Jean Daniels

*
Herzing and Edgewood College's Diversity Institute on Wheels: Ivory tower to community,
by Jonathan Gramling

*
Random Order: Reflections on a New Year,
by Tracie Gilbert

*  Se estrena en EU El laberinto del fauno del mexicano Guillermo del Toro,
por Elda Gonzalez

* Tosha Songolo,
by Jonathan Gramling

* Winter in Wisconsin is all that ... and then some,
by Sheree Dallas Branch

* Carter G. Woodson Foundation's Reading is Fundamental,
by Jonathan Gramling

VOL. II No. 2                 Jan. 24, 2007
The Man and the Movement
Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Excellence
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                         End of the prison-industrial complex?
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