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A Nation in Chains

"Presidents Reagan and Bush have ensured that the federal courts will not be representative. Instead, they are a bastion of White America. They stand as a symbol of White Power." Can you guess who said these words?

I'll wager most folks missed the identity of the speaker. Stephen Reinhardt, Justice of the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals, made those remarks during commencement for law school graduates at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California, Spring 1992.

Reinhardt told the throng of potential attorneys, "What the African-American community perceived from the Supreme Court's decisions was that the federal judiciary is no longer interested in protecting the rights of minorities, that federal judges are far more concerned with...protecting the interests of white males."

Reinhardt pointed to the recent McClesky decision, where the US Supreme Court rejected overwhelming evidence of racial disparity in death sentences, the dismissal of a civil suit filed by a Black man injured by the infamous Los Angeles police choke hold, and a host of rulings narrowing civil and voting rights laws, to support his argument.

And that ain't all.

Across the US, an astonishing number of people in the "land of the free" are caged up in pens.

In fact, the US now imprisons over a million people, with over 4 million under "correctional control."

The number of Blacks, especially Black males, is striking. In numbers per 100,000, over 3,109 persons were locked up in the US; in South Africa, the number of 729 Black males per 100,000 population, meaning the Pretoria regime imprisons less that one-quarter of what the US does to its Black male population.

Look at it this way: The number of people imprisoned in the US is more than the number of people who live in 13 states; the number of people in US jails and prisons would constitute the 11th largest city in the nation; and the number of all people under "correctional control" (meaning prison, jail, probation or parole) is one and a half times greater than the population of Chicago or Nicaragua.

While Judge Reinhardt speaks solely of the federal system, surely the same or worse can be said of state court systems, where politics is more overt as an influence on who goes to jail and who doesn't.

This system of encagement is accompanied by a severe and reactionary reign of constitutional and statutory repression, from America's highest court, the Supreme Court, to the local justice of the peace.

The Fourth Amendment, said to "guarantee" freedom from search and seizures, has been scuttled by the state.

The First Amendment is an afterthought violated daily by the state, where dissidents are imprisoned for refusing to renounce their faith (as in MOVE) and Indian sacred lands are violated for the All-American god of business.

As evidenced by the recent instances of martial law in San Francisco and Los Angeles, not to mention the mass deportation of Spanish-speaking Americans back to Mexico, without notice or hearing, the Constitution is possessed of all the power and relevance of toilet paper.

This is America 1992 - the largest, Blackest prison population on earth; a judiciary of white, male, biased millionaires; a land smoldering in racial, class, sexual, ecological conflict; a nation in chains.

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