50 Years After Selma, African Americans Remain Targeted by Mass Incarceration

TRNN’S Eddie Conway speaks to Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford about the accomplishments and challenges facing the black community on the 50th anniversary of Selma (1/4)

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EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to the Glen Ford report. I’m Eddie Conway. And today we’re going to discuss several things, starting with Selma.

Give me a little overview, if you will, of what you think of Selma and the recent trip and the 50th anniversary celebration. Is this related to the film? Or is this something significant?

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Well, people want to relate Selma to whatever they want to relate Selma to. This weekend we had two presidents of the United States, not just Obama, but also George Bush, who was there in a celebratory mood, taking credit for a black mass movement of the ’60s as if that struggle in its many, many dimensions that actually been won. But in point historical fact, only the battle against legal apartheid–or Jim Crow, as we used to call it–was won, and that only in a very insecure kind of victory.

And within five years of passage of the Voting Rights Act, which is really at the heart of the Selma celebration, within five years of passage, the apartheid regime had already been replaced by a new regime of mass black incarceration. And that regime has been in place for the last two generations. And it endangers the very social coherence of black America. And that is the system that prevails today. It’s the system that’s finally being challenged by what may become a new movement. And it’s the system that Obama and Eric Holder are defending vigorously. And the message of this administration up to Selma and in Selma is that black lives actually do not matter. They don’t matter enough to indict a cop who takes those lives.

CONWAY: Well, go back for a minute for me, because it’s interesting. You say five years after that civil rights bill was passed, right after the–Selma, you said that a new form of apartheid was in place, mass incarceration. But what about the jobs? I mean, once black people won the right to vote and to go into places and to spend money, all of a sudden the jobs that we had disappeared. Is that related?

FORD: Well, certainly the segregation economy disappeared, and that was very bad on black businessmen, who had a captive audience.

In terms of jobs and in terms of educational opportunities and in terms of being able to get to become a policeman, there was a level of upward mobility provided by the civil rights victories of the movement that allowed a segment of black America, those who were in a position prepared to take advantage of those victories, to advance. And many folks in that segment then decided that since they had gotten what they wanted, there was no need for a mass movement, especially people who were politically minded, because a politician wants does not want a mass movement around. He wants folks voting with their feet only every two or four or six years and voting for him. Black politicians no more than white ones abhor the existence of a grassroots movement in their midst, because it’s an irritant to their ability to rule the way they want to and make deals the way they want to.

CONWAY: Well, one of the things is that, yes, that upward mobility did take place and people got special privileges that they had been blocked from before, but it seemed to me down on the ground the broad masses lost a lot of factory jobs, a lot of blue-collar jobs, the industry went offshore to China, India, etc. And I think that was part of what helped devastate our community and created that whole scenario and where people can be incarcerated because they didn’t have jobs, so they were breaking laws. Is all of this part of the same package?

FORD: Well, certainly. The black unemployment rate has been twice that of whites for all of my adult life. And I’m 65 years old. So that pattern did not change.

What changed in terms of upward mobility was that the ceiling was lifted for a certain percentage, a certain segment of the black population. And their wealth and their nominal power, including a black man in the White House, is then made to appear to be progress for all of black folks. But the numbers tell a different story.

CONWAY: Yeah. And that’s interesting, because it’s my understanding that in the last six years or so, the collective wealth of the black community has actually decreased from one-tenth of what the white community had in terms of wealth to now one-twentieth, which means we’ve lost 50 percent of our wealth just in just recent times and since Obama has been elected. So when you make that statement about their saying that black lives don’t matter, perhaps maybe there’s some sort of damage that’s being done also in the black community with the loss of that wealth.

FORD: Well, in terms of black wealth, that has totally collapsed. And that means they’re writing history for future generations, because if you have no wealth in the family, then an entire range of possibilities are no longer possible.

But President Obama made it very clear early on in his tenure that he’s not going to do anything specifically targeting black folks. He says that a rising tide lifts all boats. But you can’t lift a boat that’s only one-twentieth of the other people’s boats.

CONWAY: Thank you for joining The Real News.

End

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