Black Women and the PIC

While I was banished to the land of sickness,  I was still able to see Kendrick Lamar’s interesting Grammy Performance. The 28-year-old rapper made a heartfelt statement about black men and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

It was a bold stand at an event that has become too pop/boring/white washed.  I know I personally haven’t paid attention to the Grammy Awards show in years.

I read an article critiquing the lack of space given to black women prisoners in his performance. I’m willing to give Lamar a slight pass for this. As a young man, he’s probably had more experience with his male friends/relatives/young folks he mentors having contact with police/the prison system.

With that said, despite black women being incarcerated at an alarming rate as much/if not more so than black men, the focus still tends to be on black men in prison.

Years ago, I took a class on women and the PIC. Our class read “Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women,” by Victoria Law. Law, an anarchist writer and prison abolitionist, detailed her experiences working with women prisoners. A zinester/DIY artist, she helped the women create a zine showcasing their words/art on prison life. The majority of women she came into contact with had children.This brings me to why it’s urgent we also focus on black women in prison.


The truth is, women tend to be the primary caretakers of their families. It doesn’t matter if there is a male partner in the home or not. This is particularly true in black communities, were we rely heavily on our extended female relatives.

A disturbing trend I noticed in our class readings, is that whole black communities are being wiped out due to the PIC. It’s leaving significant amounts of black children without parents or guardians. Because not only are the mothers being overly incarcerated for minor/non violent offenses, but so are grandmothers/aunties/cousins etc. I remember reading about a grandmother and her daughter and the daughter’s daughter all locked up   in the same prison (drug addictions). The young daughter’s children were in foster care. There was no one to take care of them.

These mothers are losing custody of their children left and right. Obviously, they are in prison. They can’t just walk down to the local courthouse to attend court dates etc .

The PIC is destroying black motherhood/families. This issue really needs to be addressed in folks anti-PIC activism. Good job to Lamar for highlighting the problem of black men in prison, but we need to expand the conversation.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (3)

When the first horrifying video of Janay Rice being hit was released, initially people faulted her for the incident. Since the video was not shown in its entirety it was assumed Rice had attacked first and thus “deserve what she got.”

The rhetoric tends to be if you step to a man then expect to be treated like one.

Many domestic survivors have talked about “walking on eggshells” when they were with their abuser.  Yet, in the end, it didn’t matter what they did or didn’t do. Abusers abuse because they want to.

Over time, domestic violence victims take on a “flight or fight” response. Living in constant violence, intimidation, and fear takes a toll on these women. Some victims flee to protect themselves, while others notice the red flags when the abuser is about to “go off,” and prepare to try to fight back.

That was the case of Rice and for Marissa Alexander. Alexander fired a warning shot when she felt threatened by her husband.

“She claimed that he broke through a bathroom door that she had locked and grabbed her by the neck. She said she tried to push past him but he shoved her into the door, sparking a struggle that felt like an “eternity.” Afterwards, she claimed that she ran to the garage and tried to leave but was unable to open the garage door, so she retrieved a gun, which she legally owned. Once inside, she claimed, her husband saw the gun and charged at her “in a rage” saying, “Bitch, I’ll kill you.” She said she raised the gun and fired a warning shot into the air because it was the “lesser of two evils.”

Alexander was sentenced to over 20 years in prison for firing this shot in the air. The incident took place in Florida, the same place where a defenseless black teenager was shot and killed. The killer was let off because he used the “Stand Your Ground” defense.

This same strategy didn’t work for Alexander, despite the fact she didn’t even kill anyone. The killer was non black, Alexander is black.

The harsh sentence spoke to the over criminalization of black people. This outraged people and there has been a campaign to free Alexander. The sentence has been overturned, for now. Alexander’s retrial is later this December. If found guilty, she could face a mandatory 60 years in prison.

A lot of people don’t know that October is not only Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but is also the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration.

There is a huge connection between domestic violence and the Prison Industrial Complex. The majority of black women serving ridiculously long sentences, is due to defending themselves against abusers.

“When women, particularly women of color, defend themselves, they often find themselves assaulted twice – first by their attacker, then by the legal system. The zealous prosecution, as well as the lack of charges against their attackers, reflects the pervasive and socially sanctioned violence against women, particularly women of color and the prevailing notion that women should not fight back.”

The rates of black women in prison has skyrocketed.  “In 2010, black women were incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of white women” (Violence Policy Center, 2011; The Sentencing Project, 2012).

When looking at the issue of domestic violence we need to understand the reasons why women fight back, that they have a right to fight back, and they should not be locked up for the rest of their lives for doing so.

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Happy Birthday Angela Davis!!

I can’t believe Angela Davis is turning 70 today.  It’s a reminder that our great black leaders/resistance fighters are growing older and will soon pass. I have much respect for Davis and all the work she has done regarding the racist prison industrial complex. I still need to watch the new documentary about her activism/life…Happy birthday, Ms Davis 🙂

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