Does being young and Black in America predetermine an encounter with the prison system?
Increasingly, the answer is an unfortunate yes.
In America in general and in New York City in particular, prison is inextricably linked to the lives of young Black men and women who by all accounts are non-violent citizens.
Black Ink Crew shows that American incarceration policies are specifically designed for violent offenders. Law enforcement is not meant to enforce meaningful laws or protect Black citizens. It is in existence solely to disrupt the everyday lives of Black men, women, and families, who commit no harms to society that should compel the heavy hand of the white night stick. Latino populations also feel the heavy hand of white injustice, as they are also increasingly policed and incarcerated for absolutely no law enforcement reason.
O’Sh*t is one of these men, whose life has become entangled with the prison system for absolutely no law enforcement reason. He initially became entrapped in the courts when the police stopped him in a vehicle. For all we know, the only crime he committed was the fictitious crime of driving while Black.
During the stop, the police found a gun in the glove compartment of the vehicle. The gun doesn’t belong to O’Sh*t. In fact, it is a military-issued weapon that belongs to the woman whose car he borrowed. She happens to be in the U.S. military. As the car is not his own, he was unaware that a weapon ever existed in the car. There’s also the question of why does a police officer need to search the vehicle for a routine traffic stop? Of course, that point is conveniently left out of white media.
For a Black man in America, a simple misunderstanding like “This gun isn’t mine. It belongs to someone who fights for the U.S. military” is enough to disrupt one’s entire life course. It becomes reason to brand a Black man as a delinquent criminal. And as Michelle Alexander and the New Jim Crow points out, once a Black person is branded as a criminal, they are legally discriminated against–prohibited from voting, prohibited from having a job, prohibited from living in certain areas, and prohibited from fully participating in society – mass disenfranchisement.
Useless charges on non-violent people do not make our streets safer. They only disrupt the lives of Black men, his families, and communities.
In this episode, O’Sh*t goes to a routine check with his bailbondsmen. The bailbondsmen are already upset that O’Sh*t checks in only once every two weeks when he is supposed to report every week—another way that white men unnecessarily police and monitor Black men’s lives.
The bailbondsmen erupt into a fit and re-arrest O’Sh*t over what appears to be a modicum of what they call “an uncontrolled substance.”
This arrest comes as quite a surprise. We have heard countless discussions in white media about how “drugs” should be decriminalized and how some “drugs” actually are helpful to people. We even see vignettes of white toddlers who are able to enjoy their privileged lives due to their experimentation with marijuana, though in these cases whites are adamant that the use of “an uncontrolled substance” is strictly “medical.”
For all this talk about decriminalization of non-violent offenders in America and in New York City, on Black Ink Crew we begin to understand that these policies do not apply to Black communities.
This treatment of O’Sh*t gives me little confidence that white law enforcement have any plans to stop locking Black men up for absolutely no law enforcement reason. Instead, these police officers have every intention to continue to disrupt Black men’s and women’s lives to feed their prison industrial complex home business. Black Ink Crew gives us an up-close view of how this system of oppression works against Black men, women, and families.
If O’Sh*t has to go back to prison, he won’t be able to be by his fiancee Anya’s side when she gives birth to their first child, his third.
Sky is also recently dating a man in jail, who got locked up for driving without a license. Again, a non-violent offense in New York City that is accompanied with jail time. If these two examples are packed into one episode of Black Ink, how many other instances are there of Black men and women whose lives are affected by unnecessary policing of non-violence?
Sky intends to try to make the relationship work, despite her new beau’s unfortunate encounter with white law enforcement. The Season 3 premiere also gives us a short sneak peek from a future episode, where Sky herself might face years in prison.
These brushes with white law enforcement on Black Ink Crew are an example of how everyday Black men and women, attempting to run a business and work in America, in other words trying to just live, upon all the challenges those ventures bring, have to also deal with white law enforcement for absolutely no law enforcement reason.
America continues to lock up non-violent Black men, while white murderers are free to terrorize Black communities for as long as they shall live.
How long will these white crimes against Black humanity endure, not just on Black Ink Crew but in the lives of Black men and women everyday and everywhere?