Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.
Obama Out-Bushes Bush on Preventive Detention

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Constitutionality aside, Barack Obama's preventive detention proposal is "damn near criminally irresponsible" and "like lighting a match in a room full of gasoline." The United States was founded on the principle that "lesser" or "dangerous" peoples should be "detained" for the good of the nation - on reservations or in slavery. Were it not for "rampant race hatred directed against Arabs and spilling over to all Muslims...there would be no serious discussion of preventive detention in the United States, today." The nation's first Black president is provoking a racial whirlwind.

Obama Out-Bushes Bush on Preventive Detention

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Calling for preventive detention in the United States is like lighting a match in a room full of gasoline.”

If George Bush had had the gall to propose changing the laws of the United States to allow people to be detained for long periods without even the intention of putting them on trial, progressives across the nation would be howling that the fascist hordes were at the gates. And they would be right. Even the do-nothing, scared-of-nearly-everything Congressional Black Caucus would be up in arms. George Bush and Dick Cheney empowered to imprison people without trial? Progressives everywhere would be justified in crying out against the threat to civilization as we know it. But when Barack Obama last week proposed the very same thing, preventive detention without trial, there was relative silence. People pretended it was just another Wednesday.

The best thing that can be said about President Obama’s preventive detention remarks is that they are damn near criminally irresponsible. Calling for preventive detention in the United States is like lighting a match in a room full of gasoline. No nation in the industrial world has a history more entwined with detention of whole classes of people, than the U.S. More Americans are incarcerated than any other inhabitants of the planet – in raw numbers, and as a percentage of population. African Americans alone make up one out of every eight prisoners on Earth, as a direct result of decades of deliberate public policy. Japanese Americans were detained for no crime but their ethnicity. Native Americans – those that were not killed outright – were forcibly “detained” on reservations that were in fact open-air prisons. Slavery was the greatest detention of all – a lifetime of house or field arrest, at hard labor, with no prospect of escape for oneself or one’s children – detention without trial for centuries.

Slavery was the greatest detention of all.”

It was the deeply ingrained belief among whites in the necessity of lifetime Black detention under slavery that conditioned Americans to tolerating – or demanding – the harshest criminal justice system in the developed world. Race saturates the American criminal justice conversation – so much so, that one’s race has more impact than one’s crime on whether or not one is ultimately detained in a U.S. prison. Were it not for rampant race hatred directed against Arabs and spilling over to all Muslims, and to those who are mistaken for Muslims, there would be no serious discussion of preventive detention in the United States, today. We would not have witnessed the spectacle of almost the entire U.S. Senate figuratively jumping on top of tables, screaming in terror at the prospect of a few Guantanamo Bay inmates being transferred to maximum security prisons in their states. These senators were exhibiting a kind of primal fear that is both irrational and racist in nature – and a lot scarier than any combination of detainees pacing in a cell. This is America, land of everlasting detention, and preventive execution – where evidence has never been necessary.

Is President Obama aware of the racial whirlwind that he is unleashing with his talk of preventive detention? Or does he care? On thing is certain: on this issue, Obama has proven himself to be worse than George Bush.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Direct download: 20090527_gf_detention.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:29am EDT