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Reviewed by:
  • Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy
  • Katy Ryan
Joy James , ed. Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. 376 pp. $24.95.

Activists and scholars struggle to come up with the comparison, the statistic, the map that will convey the enormity of the penal crisis in the United States: over two million people are locked in cages, and another five million are tracked by some form of state surveillance. Four maps of the United States, designed by Rose Heyer, appear at the beginning of Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy. The dates for the maps are 1900, 1940, 1980, and 2004. With each map, colored dots are added to identify new prison facilities, and red dots indicate prisons built between 1981 and 2004. With the last map, the country explodes into red.

This visual mapping is followed by essays, diary entries, letters, interviews, and pamphlets that discuss the "American Archipelago." Edited by Joy James, these new and previously published works detail the suffering and injury [End Page 528] exacted by mass incarceration as well as the principles and actions of organized resistance. The collection uniquely frames U. S. penal practice and policing as forms of warfare with most casualties hidden from public view by propaganda, embedded reporting, censorship, and prison policy.

Frank B. Wilderson's opening essay argues that the prison abolition movement is profoundly implicated in anti-blackness. A human rights activist and former official of the African National Congress, Wilderson maintains that the refusal of the radical left to absorb the lessons of Frantz Fanon, George Jackson, and Assata Shakur—to reckon with historical evidence that white supremacy trumps class exploitation as "capital's primary desire" (28)—leads inevitably to antiblack "reform" and a devastating inability to recognize the "renaissance of slavery" (28). Although the "prison abolition movement" could be discussed with greater specificity, Wilderson makes a compelling case. The "scandal" of the black subject, he argues, cannot be accommodated by Gramscian discourse any more than by American civil society. Dylan Rodriguez furthers the argument in the subsequent essay by comparing the methods and means of the slave trade with those of the prison industry, underlining that both have to do with "effective mass capture, immobilization, and bodily disintegration" (50). The Middle Passage, that sustained instance of "seaborne mass incarceration," acts as prologue to the contemporary U. S. prison regime.

After Hurricane Katrina, Cornel West asked if "black suffering is required for the preservation of white America" (309). This inquiry is at the heart of this collection. Contributors return to the need to confront the legacy of slavery if we are to assess accurately contemporary human rights violations. In an essay that disputes the "few bad apples" explanation for the torture at Abu Ghraib, William F. Pinar makes essential connections between the sexualized racial violence aimed at black bodies in the United States and the sadism inflicted on people captive in U. S. prisons abroad. His essay positions the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib within three "cultures of torture" in American history: lynching, the convict lease system, and abuse inside domestic prisons (290). Pinar makes clear that the image of the United States revealed by the photographs—categorically denied as being representative by American officials—is neither a new nor an inaccurate one. Jared Sexton similarly locates the sources for recent anti-democratic policies not in the passage of the Patriot Act or in the latest Executive Order, but in the "antebellum slave code and its antecedents, in colonial statute" (201). Black Americans, Sexton reminds, have always been subject to unlawful arrest and seizure as well as systematic disenfranchisement. Sexton recounts the bipartisan and judicial contempt for black citizenship that inaugurated the twenty-first century and the presidency of George W. Bush. In the name of "reconciliation" and the "democratic process," the Senate ignored the formal objection of the Congressional Black Caucus to Florida's compromised electoral vote and thus countenanced the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of black voters. The movement, in Sexton's words, from " 'war on crime' to 'war on drugs...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-6182
Print ISSN
1062-4783
Pages
pp. 528-530
Launched on MUSE
2011-09-23
Open Access
No
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