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The “Black Guerilla Family” launched Black August in 1979 when a group of incarcerated men came together to commemorate the deaths of brothers Jonathan P. Jackson (d. Aug. 7, 1970) and George Jackson (d. Aug. 21, 1971) at San Quentin State Prison.
It is an annual reminder of the oppression Black men and women face in America and the remembrance of members of the Black Liberation Movement who lost their lives while incarcerated as “political prisoners.”
Throughout America’s history, Black Americans have been a disproportionately large percentage of the prison population. While the 2020 decennial Census revealed that 13.6% of the American population is Black, whereas 75.8% is Caucasian, 38.4% of the prisoners were Black men and women.
Moreover, although Black Americans comprise just over 13% of the population, they account for nearly one-quarter of all Americans living in poverty.
Right-wing politicians continue to lie, claiming that poverty has nothing to do with crime in America. However, the average income of the nation’s prisons before incarceration was $19,185 per year, far below the poverty line.
Keeping all of this in mind, it is easier to understand that little has changed for Black men and women in America over the last 246 years. At the forefront of this disparity is a fact those in authority would like to hide from the American people: Racism and white supremacy are far more pervasive in law enforcement and the military than reports indicate.
Many prison sentences result from antiquated laws and a justice system created to punish impoverished suspects to the full extent of the law while allowing the rich and powerful to escape with a “slap on the wrists.”
Current drug laws demand punishment, not rehabilitation, and the poor cannot hire the best attorneys. A significant number of incarcerated individuals committed drug offenses, primarily for possession — approximately 65,800 or nearly 45% of all prisoners.
Black August began in America’s prisons and continues to be focused primarily on the mistreatment of Black men and women living much or all of their lives in the nation’s institutions designed to punish, not rehabilitate. Without any realistic plan by those who operate prisons and no system in place by the Justice Department to make rehabilitation priority number one, the recidivism rate in America is about 50%.
The lowest reported recidivism rates over the last several decades were in Iceland and Italy, with about 28%. However, America consistently remains in the highest.
Finally, the most damning statistic affecting all problems within the prison system is exceptionally upsetting. The United States has just over four percent of the world’s population, yet over 25% are forced to spend much or all of their lives in prison.
Black August is a reminder that Black men and women are likelier to become nothing more than numbers in America’s prison system. Their human rights are ignored by a society in which racism remains rampant.
Racism exists in every aspect of human life in America. The application of stereotypes and simple prejudice based on nothing more than assumptions passed down from generations of white men contribute to every form of abuse possible. Yet, every year the “Innocence Project” succeeds in freeing wrongly convicted Black men and women who were wrongly incarcerated. This single fact demonstrates the incompetence of the justice system if the accused is poor and/or a minority.
Racists complain about organizations like Black Lives Matter and Black August, but if there were no racism, they would not exist.
Op-ed by James Turnage, Novelist
Democrat & Chronicle: What is Black August? A look at what planted the seeds and how it is commemorated; by Adria R. Walker
Center for Constitutional Rights: Black August – A Celebration of Freedom Fighters Past and Present