Rooted in Black resistance to anti-Black state violence and systemic oppression, at the warfront of prisons, Black August naturally relates to the work of abolishing prisons, policing and ending slavery’s pervasive legacies. If the solidarity economy demands us to transform the economy, we cannot overlook the role policing and prisons play in maintaining the oppressive economy and subjugating marginalized communities.
The Prison Industry
The Prison Industrial Complex gets its name from the literal industry of imprisonment, in a system where the vast majority of people in prisons are Black. The 13th amendment would disallow enslavement, unless an individual is incarcerated – creating an opportunity to continue the violent institution.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, mass incarceration costs the US government and families of justice-impacted people $182 billion per year. Corrections Corporation of America grossed $1.67 billion in 2010 alone. In this country, people trade prison stocks. Prison is quite literally an integral part of the current economy.
If you don’t already believe prisons are a major aspect of the economy, let’s look at how prison labor is used. From fighting wildfires in California, to building highways in the north, to farming under captivity on plantations, folks in prison have their labor extracted across foundational industries where elites don’t want to pay workers. After all, those in prisons are barely paid for their labor, if at all.
From the Prison Policy Initiative: “The average of the minimum daily wages paid to incarcerated workers for non-industry prison jobs is now 86 cents, down from 93 cents reported in 2001. The average maximum daily wage for the same prison jobs has declined more significantly, from $4.73 in 2001 to $3.45 today.”
Policing as an Economic Assault on Communities
Policing is similarly entrenched in the economic lives of Americans. In New York City, their $10 billion police budget represents a tenth of their overall budget, and in Atlanta, that proportion is more dramatic – their police department budget is one third of their general budget. Through fines and forfeiture, the police are used as a cudgel to strap folks with economic punishments. The same year Missouri police killed Michael Brown, we learned that the police took more from people than burglars.
Similarly, cash bail is an instrument of the state to enact punishments that disproportionately impact poor folks. Instead of pooling funds to build the institutions needed in these communities, folks are fundraising to pay thousands of dollars in bail.
These institutions, policing and prisons, also undermine our efforts to build economic democracy, where the leadership of the most marginalized is honored.
Abolitionists have argued that resources dedicated to policing and prisons could otherwise be used to meet community needs, like supporting solidarity economy institution-building, for example. Atlanta is a site of deep wealth inequality, flooding, and homelessness and yet the city is dedicating $67M to building Cop City.
In incarcerating the poor and permitting discrimination on the basis of arrest and incarceration, entire swaths of society are kept from meaningfully participating in the economy.
All of this to say, contending with and transforming the economy will require a struggle against policing and prisons.
Call to Action
It’s true – Black August calls on us to study, fast, train and fight, but not just anything. We assert that reverence to the originators of this tradition is a commitment to abolition of the forces they were fighting. The legacy of Black resistance contending with the very existence of police and prisons not only is very clearly work toward a solidarity economy, but also demands of us a similar, reciprocal commitment. People resisting the violence of prisons deserve our solidarity – through material support and dedication to their leadership and example. Political prisoners, whether they’re organizing around Cop City or they were resisting the War in Vietnam, deserve our solidarity.
Black August is a celebration that honors and commemorates freedom fighters we’ve lost and political prisoners who came out of the Black Liberation Struggle in the environment of prisons, specifically the San Quentin Prison in California where the Soledad Brothers and George Jackson were kept unjustly. Jackson dedicated himself to intensive training and study, inspiring the broader mandate to: study, fast, train and fight.
Throughout the month of August there were also tons of other rebellions throughout history. During August, a revolutionary heat is in the air. We collate this timeline to help us view history through the cross-section of Black August – with the hopes that this collection inspires Black revolutionary acts to come.
List of organizations to support
Solutions NOT Punishment Collaborative
Free Alabama Movement
All of Us or None
Community Movement Builders
Free Atlanta Abolition Movement
Black Radical Economics
More about Policing and Prisons, Abolition