black agenda report highlights

Don’t Let the Demagog Party Bury the Movement
Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, Jul 9 2020

If power is measured by corporate endorsements and the kiss-up antics of Demagog politicians, the movement popularly known as “Black Lives Matter” is awesomely powerful, its name painted into the streets  of cities across the nation. Record-breaking contributions have also flowed to a broad range of social justice organizations from the public at large, with bail funds amassing almost $100m. Even tiny projects have seen their previously forlorn GoFundMe accounts suddenly stuffed with contributions. The cash windfall alone is enough to make one giddy, including life-long activists old enough to have participated in the radical mass movements of half a century ago. The “fascist pigs” have not been “offed,” but some of them have been indicted and Demagog politicians now claim they want to rein in the ‘warrior cops” that only yesterday were hailed as “heroes” of the constant “wars” waged against Black and brown Pindostan.

“Policing” as we have known it has been discredited in ways that cannot easily be reversed, with 70% of white people under age 45 agreeing that George Floyd’s killing was part of “a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African Pindos.” 60% of white folks of all ages told NYT pollsters  they feel “positively” about the “Black Lives Matter” movement, meaning a significant slice of Trump supporters object to police behavior, as do overwhelming percentages of Black and brown Americans. There is no doubt that, in the arena of public perception, we have witnessed a stunning rout of the forces that erected the modern Black Mass Incarceration State in response to the Black rebellions and radical movements of the 1960s.

The Demagog Party, whose politicians of all races have for five decades been the hands-on urban managers of the world’s largest police state, pretends to have suddenly seen the light. In Covid-19/Great Depression Two Pindostan, the servants of capital say we are all Black Lives Matter, until the “crisis of legitimacy” passes. But the oligarchs that rule this country and both its corporate parties have no intention of dismantling the racist police state, beyond staffing the blue legions with more Black, brown and female officers, embedding the multiracial occupation army deeper in our communities and increasing their intelligence capabilities. The “reforms” trotted out by local and national Demagogs do not alter, but rather enhance and make culturally more palatable the police mission to contain, control and politically neutralize Black Pindostan.

To dethrone the overtly racist and imperially undependable Donald Trump, the oligarchs ensured the presidential nomination of hapless Joe Biden, who vows to veto Medicare for All, opposes defunding the police, and whistles tunes of war with Russia (but doesn’t remember the words). Biden personifies ruling class determination to double down on endless war, Race to the Bottom austerity, and an ever-expanding national security state, including the local police component, the same policies that led to the Crisis of Legitimacy of 2020. The Covid mass deaths and accompanying economic shutdown is the result of privatization and austerity. The oligarchs get what they pay for. Therefore, the Demagogs will wipe the clown paint from their faces, fold up their kente cloths, and apologize to the cops for joining in the “dozens” circle as soon as the movement has been sufficiently exhausted or co-opted.

If the “Black Lives Matter” movement is to be neutralized, it will be by capture and cooptation by the Demagog Party, just as befell the great mass Black movement of half a century ago. The oligarchs are now vastly more concentrated and powerful than in the previous era, and their Demagog duopoly apparatus has thoroughly infested every nook and cranny of Black civic life. The Demagogs are the capitalist enemy within Black Pindostan, ultimately answerable to the same forces that pull Thug strings. The main difference is that Demagogs, like most of the oligarchy, have seen the advantages of a diversified, multiracial management of Black grassroots unrest and repetitive capitalist crises. Send in the Kente squads.

Half a million or more protesters in the streets resisting the police brought people’s politics back to life, but the Black movement will be asphyxiated by the ubiquitous fingers of the Demagog Party if it does not build independent nexuses of people’s power. ‘Defunding the police” may result in some reshuffling of local budget funds to social services, but does not in itself transfer power over those services or the police to the people. Movement-speak is replete with the word “transformational,” but only people’s power can transform the relationship between the Black masses and the oligarchs’ state. Cutting police budgets does not alter the anti-Black nature of the police mission, and neither does adding Black cops to the blue ranks. Only community control of the police can create the institutional people power to transform, and eventually do away with, policing as we know it. The cops will still be the cops, whatever their numbers and pay scales, unless they are made accountable to the communities they “serve,” who will shape the security force’s mission and manage and evaluate its performance.

Community control of the police is a project in democracy and Black self-determination, while defunding the police, inevitably in practice, is an immersion in Demagog Party budgetary dickering that legitimizes the imposition of the police upon the people. It will suck the righteous energy out of the movement, while failing to transform any power relationships of importance. Along the way, key operatives will be “captured” as they form alliances with the “better” Demagog politicians in divvying up the budgetary spoils. Instead, the demand for community control should be expanded to include people’s control of social services, schools and the other institutions and services that organizers foresee benefiting from defunding the police. This approach allows the movement to make common cause with social service, education and other workers and professionals, broadening and deepening the movement beyond policing/security issues, gaining enough political fuel to stay in the streets as long as necessary. If the movement is to be sustained, it must keep its focus on bringing Power to the People, and avoid Demagog Party diversions. They are the grave-diggers of social movements.

The Police Defunding Con Game
Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report, Jul 8 2020

Cutting police budgets without establishing public control over their behavior doesn’t solve the problem, and invites politicians to shuffle budget numbers around like a three-card monte swindle. Unfortunately, a key demand of the new movement has led to confusion and to political defeats at a crucial moment. At first glance, the idea of defunding the police seems to have merit. Everyone who wants to end police brutality welcomes the idea that they might lose some of the resources they use in their terrorism spree. The police are the modern day slave patrol and any effort to diminish their capabilities seems like a good idea. But the state doesn’t work that way.

It has no intention of just giving up the power it has bestowed on the police. One can see how the ruse works as false friends display window dressing and treachery. In NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio  is the head phony in charge. He claimed he would cut the NYPD budget by $1b, but after the budget was finalized the trickery became clear. He moved budget lines for school safety officers from the NYPD to the Dept of Education. He also postponed two police academy classes. But the NYPD is exempt from the hiring freezes that apply to every other NYC agency. Philadelphia approved a similar trick. Philly’s mayor eliminated a proposed increase to the police budget while also moving school safety lines to other agencies.

Proposals to defund the police will inevitably play out across the country as they have in New York. Politicians know the public mood has changed, and even a majority of white people see the movement in a positive light. While the police are exempted from the austerity created by the COVID-19 economic crisis, de Blasio creates public relations spectacle. He has decreed that all five of the boroughs that make up the city have street murals painted with the words Black Lives Matter. Instead of seeing changes in policing, New Yorkers will have an opportunity to drive or walk over the words that have become a rallying cry. Politicians know what people want to hear and they also know how to look like they’re doing something when they aren’t.

It was a serious strategic error to promote defunding. It is also a mistake to believe that cities will abolish the police, as the Minneapolis city council has given the impression of doing. The city where George Floyd was killed takes the lead in the lip service olympics with a proposal to recreate the police department via an amendment to the city charter. Minneapolis would create a Dept of Community Safety and Crime Prevention, so there would be a name change. However, that is all that is known at this time. Even charter amendment proponents haven’t said how many police there will be or what they will do. They haven’t said how policing will change. The murky ballot proposal would have to be approved by the mayor, who said he opposes it, before being voted on in a referendum. Any talk of Minneapolis reducing or eliminating its police department is very premature.

Defunding cannot be discussed as a stand alone issue. The police must be under direct public control. There are activists in Minneapolis who have been working towards that goal for some time. They are demanding an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council  (CPAC) just as communities in Chicago and elsewhere have done for many years. This is where public pressure must be maintained. Mayors and city councils can shuffle budget numbers around like the old three-card monte swindle. The people want to see the police reined in, without the power to arrest for minor offenses which inevitably lead to assault and sometimes death. They want the right to hire, fire and subpoena police, end their legal protections and the cozy relationship between police and prosecutors which allows killers to go free. When defunding is the only demand the public will inevitably be treated like chumps.

The new movement has grown precisely because millions of people want to see changes that until recently were thought to be too radical for the majority to accept. No one is marching in order to be placated with bean counter sleight of hand. The crises afflicting this country are quite real and that is why the movement has such wide support. Demands for community control of the police and rest of the public sector are just what the people want. If the people fight for the changes they want, it will be harder for corrupt and cynical politicians to betray them with insincere gestures. All demands must be worth the fight and street murals certainly don’t fit that description.

Beware of Right Deviations That Have Emerged from the Three-Headed Crisis of Pindo Imperialism
Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, Jul 8 2020

Black Agenda Report places much of its attention on the Demagog Party, and for good reason. The Demagog Party has held the Pindo left in ideological captivity for decades. Over this period, Demagog Party influence has sent movement after movement to its eventual death. Black Pindostan has been the principle target of the Democratic Party’s ideological and political assault, which is meant to keep the most progressive and revolutionary force in the history of Pindostan far away from the struggle for peace and social justice. The events of the last three plus months have exposed another political trend to be wary of. COVID-19’s devastating impact on Pindostan coupled with an economic collapse and a mass uprising against racist policing has activated a long-standing political tendency within the imperialist world. Libertarianism is often viewed as an anti-government, pro-capitalist ideology that worships the free market doctrine of Adam Smith. However, such a definition does not consider the racist context of Pindostan. Like all capitalist ideologies, libertarianism is bound with white supremacy. Libertarians oppose the predations of monopoly capital in words, but become most active in their hatred for Black people.

While neolib Demagogs and corporate “resistance” forces have decried the rise of the so-called alt-right throughout the Trump era in part to avoid accountability for their role in the Pindo Nightmare, libertarian forces have played a problematic role in promoting political confusion and racist demagogy over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic with little fanfare. Trump’s perceived identity as an “outsider” who mixes anti-war, anti-globalization politics with racist red-meat ideology no doubt attracted the growth of libertarian sentiment in Pindostan. When the COVID-19 pandemic began killing people in Pindostan by the thousands, libertarians led the way in accusing billionaires Bill Gates and George Soros, China, and the federal government as a whole of concocting the virus from thin air and exaggerating its impact. According to these forces, COVID-19 was a larger plan to socialize “lockdown” and purge Pindostan and the West of their grand rights to “free speech” once and for all. Once hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets in protest of the police murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, libertarian tendencies within the movement sounded the alarm that George Soros was pulling the strings of the incipient movement to start a “color revolution”.

Libertarian ideology is more evident across the Pindo political spectrum because it has been intentionally spread by the ruling class. Forty-plus years of the duopoly’s evisceration of the last vestiges of the social safety net was carefully imposed alongside anti-poor racism. The contradiction of vicious austerity coupled with the consolidation of military and police repression inevitably confused a large section of the Pindo population eager to find an easy scapegoat for systemic problems. Understandable resentment toward the government and the banks increased over this period, but it was largely without the guidance of a proletarian-oriented movement led by Black Pindos or the oppressed writ large. Right-wing and libertarian ideas have thus been able to thrive on the political vacuum left by the two-party consensus of endless war and austerity. Rather than an organized movement, libertarianism is more of a dormant force within the ideological disposition of white Pindos on the left and the right which has been activated amid the crises precipitated by COVID-19. Confusion has been the only result. Mass characterization of the partial “lockdowns” in cities across Pindostan as “medical martial law” deflected from the very real dangers of the Pindo response to COVID-19 that led to a literal massacre of Black and Native communities. Speculation about how ‘lockdowns” were killing more people than the virus distracted from the very real need for state intervention as was seen in China  and Cuba, two nations where the needs of the people were taken care of while more research and work was done to mitigate the impact of the virus. Blaming Soros and outside agitators on the mass protest of racist policing negated Black political agency and delegitimized a much-needed analysis on the impact of non-profit organizations and NGOs on social movements.

Libertarianism is an attractive right deviation within a decaying empire bereft of an organized left. Libertarianism claims to be anti-government and anti-finance capital, at least on the surface. However, libertarianism is still a white supremacist ideology that does not recognize the humanity of the oppressed and the “wretched of the earth.” It ignores the fact that Black Americans marching in the streets of Minneapolis were the catalyst of the nation-wide rebellion that has ensued around police brutality. It ignores the fact that the People’s Republic of China has demonstrated to the world what a successful pandemic response looks like. And it ignores the fact that the economic crisis of capitalism cannot and should not be resolved by “reopening” capitalism; it can only be resolved through the overthrow of the parasitic capitalist class and the reorganization of society around humanity’s right to a living wage job, a livable environment, and all of the necessities that secure the right to life. We on the real anti-imperialist and Black left are familiar with libertarians within anti-war spaces. There are times when libertarians openly oppose the system of mass incarceration and endless war. But this does not change how the ideology operates in this moment of crisis as an additional hurdle in navigating the multifaceted crisis of imperialism. Corporate Demagogs & Thugs certainly shoulder the institutional blame for the crisis, but at the level of the grassroots, libertarian tendencies have made up fake conspiracies to cover for real ones and thus have done more harm than good.

Take, for example, Bill Gates, a capitalist mogul whose Microsoft corporation is at the forefront of the Pindo-backed genocide in the DRC, which has killed over 6m people since 1996. Furthermore, his philanthropy has been tied to the privatization of health-care in West Africa and the pauperization of African agriculture through the subsidization of Monsanto-produced seeds. The Gates Foundation has been in the vanguard of the privatization of education in Pindostan, and recently received a sweetheart deal from liberal darling Andrew Cuomo to use the pandemic as a pretext to accelerate the end of public education as we know it. None of these legitimate issues can be tackled when Gates is used as a foil to delegitimize the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Black Pindostan. Then there is the claim that Black Lives Matter is a “color revolution” designed to overthrow the Pindo government at behest of … George Soros? This so-called libertarian anti-establishment theory completely bastardizes the very real outrage in Pindostan toward police departments that sport homicide totals of around 1k/yr. It also completely undermines any real analysis of actual Pindo-backed “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere. “Color revolutions” are largely intelligence operations with the direct intent of overthrowing a sovereign government in service of an alliance of imperialist powers. The 2014 “color revolution” in Ukraine placed neo-Nazis into state power and facilitated a brutal civil war that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people. Equating Black Lives Matter with a “color revolution” actually justifies the repression of the movement, since “color revolutions” worldwide are most beneficial to imperialists.

Just as the left should reject the Demagog Party’s attempt to establish the façade of “normalcy” in a period of crisis while offering nothing to improve the lives of the people, so too should it guard against any right deviations that only threaten the integrity of the movement. Many challenges lay ahead which neither libertarianism nor the totality of ruling class ideology can possibly resolve. Deadly pandemics, economic crises, and racist institutions cannot be wished away. The Pindo imperial state has been thoroughly exposed in a matter of four months as completely incapable of providing for the needs of the exploited and the oppressed. Another state, a socialist state, must take its place, and that means the left must struggle for power and oppose any ideology or activity that disorganizes people from taking on this immense task. Much work must be done toward building the power of the people to not only imagine but also to create the political infrastructure for a revolutionary moment here in the belly of the empire. There are demands put forward by Black Alliance for Peace  and the Black is Back Coalition  that are worth adopting, including:

  • Community control of the police
  • Abolish AFRICOM stationed in all but two African countries
  • Full employment, universal housing, and universal healthcare
  • End the 1033 program, which provides military weaponry to local PDs
  • Close all Pindo military bases

This only scratches the surface of the demands put forward by revolutionary forces within the broader movement. These demands should shape the terms of debate within the movement, not libertarianism or any ruling-class ideology.

The State and White supremacy: The Inextricable Link
Ajamu Baraka, Black Agenda Review, Jul 8 2020

As an ongoing phenomenon, the analysis of what is referred to as the George Floyd, or now the “Black Lives Matter” demos, must be necessarily tentative. It has been instructive to observe how the energy and passion of the spontaneous militant response to the murder of George Floyd went from a movement that saw the burning of a police station transformed into one in which, according to Martin Schoots-McAlpine, the most militant demand was to make “minor amendments to municipal budgets.” I will resist the temptation of attempting to address all the components and will only focus on one central element in this short essay. That element is the nature and role of the state, an element that has almost disappeared from liberal/left discourse and analysis but is essential for understanding the current political moment.

As the article by Schoots-McAlphine lays out in meticulous detail, the state was able to engage in an effective counter-insurgency strategy in response to the protests in cities and towns across the country, which achieved many of its goals and objectives. And while I will not attempt to cover those arguments, I will restate my analysis that corresponds to many of the points in the article. The state was able to meet many of its counterinsurgency goals primarily because of the unevenness of political development that is reflected in the spontaneity and the narrow and amorphous demands for something called justice and then for ending “racism” or “white supremacy.” I characterized those objectives as:

  1. To get people off the streets in mass numbers,
  2. To split the movement by empowering moderates and isolating radicals, especially white radicals,
  3. To flip the oppositional energy into a re-legitimization of the state and
  4. To drive the remaining energy into the dead-end of policy wonkism.

I wrote about this as it was unfolding in real time. The media’s fixation was on property crimes and the “violence” of the protestors, the white outside agitators, the PR stunts by the police kneeling and even joining in with some of the protests, the state’s attempts to colonize and co-opt with the painting of BLM slogans on the street, and state boxtops joining demos, after they had effectively separated out the militants and created the narrative of the good, peaceful protestor. And finally, the appropriation of the actions by the Demagog Party as a referendum on Trump since, of course, he is responsible for racism, police violence and state repression!

In contrast to the liberal conception of a state and government, V I Lenin asserted in the pamphlet, State and Revolution, that a state was essentially “an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another.” A central component of that class rule is that the state has a monopoly over the legitimate exercise of coercive force. But beyond the element of force, the state is made up of government, social institutions like educational institutions. But the modern, advanced capitalist states also have incorporated into the state all of the cultural and ideological apparati like the media, entertainment, and now the social media. All states represent the interests of its dominant class. A state representing the interests of workers and all oppressed through the colonial capitalist order would be fundamentally different than the current Pindo state, which represents the interests of the white male super-minority capitalist ruling class.

The Pindo state that was established coming out of its bourgeois war of independence and consolidated in 1791, represented the interests of the white male slavocracy. The white power represented in its founding documents, and its constitution represents a continuity of white supremacist power right up to this very moment. That is why the concentration on the so-called confederacy, at the time when people are talking about removing symbols of white supremacy, is so absurd and ahistorical. As an instrument of class rule, and in the context of a settler colonial-capitalist state ruling on a white supremacist ideological foundation, the state is not a neutral force that can be appealed to. It has no autonomous rational character. It does not arbitrate disputes or contradictory demands from the oppressed people. Rather, it will modify those demands so that they remain within the bounds of the existing state.

The state will give the appearance of attempting to respond to certain demands as an ideological device only when open repression is not necessary or would create political problems. For example, the call to defund and abolish the police can be viewed as a democratic or transitional strategic demand that represents an understanding of the role of the police as a protector of oppressive white colonial power. The strategic ideological and organizational objective of that demand should be to create awareness of the real role of the state and to facilitate the building of an independent organizational power based in the working class in order to create the conditions for the elimination of the police, the capture and dismantling of the oppressive bourgeois state.

With that basic understanding, there is clarity that two interconnecting errors were being made by the forces who separate the demand for abolition of the police and prisons from the state and its role as an instrument of class rule: first, operating within context of a liberal idealist framework; and secondly, normalizing the existing state by the implication that the state can make alterations in its basic institutions of class control without having to be fundamentally changed. That is precisely why the protests and the demand for something called “justice” by the public had the ironic, or contradictory, result of re-legitimation of white supremacy by re-legitimizing the state as an institution that could in fact render justice!

As a consequence of the vicious counter-insurgency waged against the Black Liberation Movement, which intensified during the Nixon 37 administration and continued throughout the 1970s, even after the revelations of the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the Movement was devastated. This created opportunities for the ascendency of the Black petit-bourgeois administrative/managerial class that assumed political positions in municipal governments and even in Congress. For our liberation forces, the disruption of organizational continuity meant that the experiential knowledge from militant struggles of the past and the moves made by the state to counter mass resistance has also been disrupted. It has meant that the last few generations have been forced to construct new knowledge, a process heavily influenced by their experiences in academia. Post-modernism and Afro-pessimism has produced a toxic brew of confusion which, out of the necessity of the battle being waged over the last few weeks, some are just beginning to emerge from. That is what is hopeful.

Although the state was able to achieve its goals, these goals were/are short-term and stop-gap. The objective conditions of the collapse of the national and global economy and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic translates into a situation where the state is still facing a formidable challenge because the structural crisis of capital has produced a set of irreconcilable contradictions. Subjectively, large numbers of the young unemployed and under-employed petit bourgeoisie have been radicalized. Disparate but increasingly connected processes are developing that are leading toward the consolidation of a “new left” that will be grounded by the leadership of Black radical organizations, networks, and coalitions. This will be the foundation of the intellectual and organizational leadership of the more longer-term resistance in Pindostan.

These Black formations will not see a dime of the massive amounts of money coming down the pipeline from the settler state and its associated institutions and the corporate sector. Why? Because these Black radical organizations, networks and coalitions are clear that it is the settler state, and the corrupt colonial/capitalist system and the interests that it upholds, that must be the target. And while we recognize the righteous anger that our people have for the occupation forces in our communities, we also recognize that the police are one, albeit important, institution that must be brought under the control of the people if we are to have community self-determination as a collective human right.

The complete control of and democratic governance of territory where Black working-class people reside will represent a necessary qualitative development in self-reliant organization. However, we operate under no illusions about what it will take to develop that capacity. Moreover, when it comes to the state’s repressive function as the leading edge of white capitalist rule, we understand that it will not voluntarily relinquish control of that apparatus. Therefore, the task is crystal clear: If one wants peace, human rights, self-determination and social justice in societies, in harmony with the needs and rights of mother earth, we must take and dismantle the capitalist state apparatus, take power from the capitalist minority, and build socialism. Any position short of that is a liberal and reactionary distortion.

Shaka Shakur, Black Agenda Report, Jul 8 2020

There shall neither be slavery nor involuntary servitude unless duly convicted of a crime.”
– 13th Amendment of the Constitution

We as prisoners held captive in one of Pindostan’s many modern-day plantations wish to stand in solidarity with our people as they protest the systemic racism and genocide perpetrated by Pindostan’s security forces and kriminal (in)justice system. As our people march and protest in righteous anger and rage throughout the country, we not only want to add our voices in unity, we also want to say, We Too!

  • We Too! Are often murdered/lynched in the streets by the pindo security forces and throughout its prison system, and it’s ruled a suicide or natural causes.
  • We Too! Are often lynched in the biased and racist courtrooms throughout amerika as we are railroaded into the Prison-Industrial Complex.
  • We Too! Are systematically harvested from our communities and families and fed into the Prison-Industrial Complex in the interest of big business, privatization and social control.
  • We Too! Are often the first to be sentenced to death, either literally or figuratively through a slow death of an outrageous amount of years.
  • We Too! Are the victim of racist attacks and beatings while unarmed or handcuffed behind our back by racist guards or strike teams and its covered up.
  • We Too! Are subjected to white supremacist gangs and militias hiding in plain sight behind badges, in prison guard uniforms and as prison administrators.
  • We too! Are subjected to the planting of evidence, the filing of false reports/charges and thereby extending our sentences without any checks and balances or oversight.
  • We Too! Are subjected to decades in solitary confinement without due process or penological justification.
  • We Too! Are the first to be denied parole or clemency for decades, no matter how many programs we have completed and in spite of meeting the criteria.
  • We Too! Are denied preventable health-care and allowed to die and suffer due to official Indifference.
  • We Too! In the midst of a pandemic that is sweeping the country and ravishing the prison system, are also being denied C-19 testing.
  • We Too! Are being denied serious consideration for early release or pardons based on the color of our skin, what city or community we come from or based on our politics or religious beliefs.
  • We Too! Are here and feel your pain, because your pain is our pain and we stand united and in solidarity with you because Prison Lives Matter as Black Lives Matter!!!


Committee For Freedom
Shaka Shakur #1996207
P.O. Box 860 Oakwood, Va 24631

To Abolish the Medical-Industrial Complex
Gwendolyn Wallace, Black Agenda Report, Jul 8 2020

The past six months have highlighted the fight that Black people are in against state violence, both in the form of policing and the Pindo health-care system. Though the ruling class cries that the coronavirus pandemic is “the great equalizer ,” the virus continues to demonstrate exactly who our capitalist health-care system was designed to keep alive. So far, across the country, about 42% of coronavirus deaths have been Black people, even though they were only about 21% of the population in the areas analyzed. In Louisiana, over 70% of people who died were Black, despite Black people being only 32% of the population. Along with high rates of death, countless stories have emerged about Black people turned away from hospitals, struggling to access testing, and being disproportionately arrested or ticketed for not following public health guidelines. On top of this, uprisings have taken hold across the country, starting in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. Many groups are calling for police to be defunded and for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex. In the midst of a pandemic, it is crucial to understand how the prison-industrial complex intersects with the medical-industrial complex, and commit to abolishing both.

Though medical institutions portray themselves as benevolent and objective, the structural reality is that biomedicine was forged in the political and social terrain of colonialism. Commonly known as the medical-industrial complex, we are all affected by a huge system that provides “health-care” services for profit and makes billions of dollars each year. Mia Mingus, a writer and community organizer who focuses on disability justice, helped put together the above detailed visual of the medical-industrial complex along with other organizers like Cara Page and Patty Berne. The diagram shows how four “core motivations” serve as the foundational structuring agents of the four sections of the visual. Desirability structures health, population control structures safety, charity and ableism structure access, and eugenics structure science and medicine. This is what makes the medical-industrial complex so profitable.

Along with its foundations in anti-blackness, the medical-industrial complex is also inherently gendered and contoured by ableism, fat-phobia and anti-transness. Internationally, all of these systems of domination affect vaccine development and allocation of medicines. This diagram also beautifully illustrates how all of these parts are interconnected and serve to sustain each other. In the bottom right-hand corner, we can see that the prison-industrial complex has its own place in the diagram. The abolition of the prison-industrial complex requires the knowledge that our systems of medical “care” have been built on carceral logics, from the criminalization of domestic violence survivors to psychiatric hospitals. In “Are Prisons Obsolete?” Angela Davis writes that board members from the Corrections Corporation of Pindostan and the Hospital Corporation of Pindostan, one of the first private hospital companies, worked together to help found Correctional Corporations of Pindostan in 1983. Like prisons, health-care systems are part of the way that empire reproduces itself.

Black health disparities are not an incidental feature of the health-care system. The coronavirus pandemic has further demonstrated that the medical-industrial complex is so deeply deleterious to Black people that reforms like increasing the number of Black doctors or unconscious bias training for health-care professionals are not enough to ensure Black people’s lives. The values of the medical-industrial complex run in contradiction to the wellbeing of all Black people. In her essay The Death Toll , Saidiya Hartman writes:

The health-care system is routinely indifferent to black suffering, doubting the shared sentence of bodies in pain, uncertain if the human is an expansive category or an exclusive one, if indeed a human is perceived at all.

The pledge to “do no harm” has little meaning when Black people are still excluded from the human. Ultimately, Black “health” is an impossibility in a system built and sustained by anti-black violence and logics. From its inception, the medical-industrial complex has been in service of white supremacy and capitalism. In his essay “Medicine and Colonialism,” Frantz Fanon writes:

The colonial situation does not only vitiate the relations between doctor and patient. We have shown that the doctor always appears as a link in the colonialist network, as a spokesman for the occupying power.

The ruling class continues to claim that biomedicine is simply abused occasionally for evil purposes, which purposefully detracts from addressing that it has always been a child of slavery and European colonialism. It is no coincidence that today, many health studies continue to act as though race is a biological category that exists without racism. Race-making has always been a crucial mission of the medical-industrial complex. In his 1851 “Report on the Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro,” Samuel Cartwright, a prominent physician, writes about a mental illness called drapetomania which compels slaves to run away. In 1875, 24 years after Cartwright’s report, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, dean of Harvard Medical School and an avid eugenicist, wrote in an essay about the mechanisms of crime:

If genius and talent are inherited, why should not deep-rooted moral defects and obliquities show themselves, as well as other qualities, in the descendants of moral monsters?

Theories of genetic inferiority created by physicians were the same that Prudential, one of the largest insurers of Black people at the time, used to justify their announcement in 1881 that insurance policies held by Black adults would be worth only one-third as much as those of white people. Their weekly premiums, however, would be the same. It should come as no surprise then, that a 2020 paper published in the Journal of Internal Medicine was entitled, “Obesity in African-Americans: is physiology to blame?” before public outcry forced a change in title.

Experimentation on Black people has also created the foundation for medical knowledge. People often reference the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, but there are also a plethora of other studies that were conducted on Black people, like the “Acres of Skin”  experiments done by dermatologist Albert M Kligman on incarcerated Black men in Philadelphia from 1951 to 1974. White doctors even abused Black people after their deaths. In her book Medical Apartheid, scholar Harriet Washington explores the histories of medical schools stealing the bodies of Black people for dissection practice into the 20th century, even going do far as to rob Black cemeteries. Of course, medical history is also rife with examples of doctors abusing Black people’s reproductive freedoms. From J Marion Sims’ experimental surgeries on enslaved Black women in 1845, to George Gey’s 1951 theft of Henrietta Lacks cells which still power the medical industrial complex, biomedical encounters have always been a threat to Black women’s health. The Eugenics Board of North Carolina didn’t cease operations until 1977, and of the almost 8k people sterilized in the state, about 5k were black. While medical and research institutions make sure to target Black people for experimentation and abuse, they also systematically deny Black people health-care resources. Chicago’s Southside neighborhood lacked an adult trauma center until 2018, despite its high rates of gun violence. This is just a part of a long history of medical facilities being intentionally built far away from predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Framing any of the cases above as an exceptional misuse of science is a dangerous way of avoiding the conversation that they are all expected outcomes of a system that was never made to ensure the health of Black people. Science and medicine have not simply absorbed the racism of other institutions, they are institutional violence themselves. The state continues to discredit Black peoples’ legacies of healing through granny midwives, root workers, and conjurers because they are a threat to white supremacist capitalist medicine. Black people have been, and continue to be, the enemies of medicine. In the end, white people are only able to secure their own health when they can place it next to the unwavering illness of black people that they create and re-create. Abolition, whether of the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex or the medical-industrial complex, is always a positive project. Once the old systems are destroyed, we are faced with the task of world-building, of learning to “imagine a constellation of alternative strategies and institutions,” as Angela Davis says. For the medical industrial complex, this means having conversations where the point of departure is the truth that Black people know what keeps them well. This means asking friends and family what it is they need to heal. For many, this means uplifting the holistic healing practices of our ancestors with the understanding that care can transcend both space and time. Throughout history, Black liberation has always involved finding ways to ensure the well-being of one another outside of the state and its medical institutions. From enslaved women exchanging recipes for abortifacients with each other to granny midwives like Margaret Charles Smith, who delivered over 3500 infants in rural Alabama during the 20th century and never lost a mother in childbirth. From the Black Cross nurses who provided Black people with health services and education, to all the Black farmers who belonged to Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Farm Collective.

One of the most relevant examples of community health-care and preventative services is the Black Panther Party and their survival programs. In spring of 1970, the Black Panther Party made free health clinics and programs to feed children breakfast mandatory for each chapter. Health clinics were staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, as well as activists, who encouraged patients to ask questions and advocate for themselves. Physicians were trained in alternative forms of medicine as well as biomedicine, and the BPP required that doctors read the work of Mao, Che and other revolutionaries. Along with their clinics, the BPP did research and screening on genetic disorders like sickle cell anaemia, provided immunizations, and trained members of the community as lay health workers who were able to provide both health services and social services. The legacy of these programs lives in many organizations, collectives, and health centers today. In our current moment, groups all over the country are creating networks where people can access health-care without relying on the medical-industrial complex or prison-industrial complex. Dream Defenders, a radical group of young people in Florida, has established a Trauma Response Center to combat the violence of both systems. The center offers “free legal services, violence interruption, mental health counseling, stop the bleed training as well as skills training and job placement, arts programming,” among other services. In Chicago, a volunteer Black health collective and mutual aid organization called Ujimaa Medics runs workshops on gunshot first aid, and also teaches people to respond to asthma attacks, seizures and diabetic emergencies. There are also organizations like Project LETS, which builds “peer support collectives” and other community-based mental healthcare systems. When we abolish the medical industrial complex, this is the world that awaits us. Mia Mingus writes :

What would it mean to not have to be afraid of going to the doctor? To be able to trust that the care and treatments you are receiving will not only take care of your body, but the planet and future generations as well?

Abolition looks like creating networks and institutions that answer these questions. The demise of the medical-industrial complex gives us the opportunity to fully imagine and reimagine these new systems as our needs change, because they belong to us. The goal of this space is not to become human as defined by colonialism, but to generate Black healing from the violence wrought by ideas of health. Once we come to the collective understanding that anti-blackness has not distorted medical relationships and institutions, so much as built them, we are able to continue to imagine ways of taking care of ourselves and our communities that actually improve the wellbeing of all Black people. The abolition of the prison-industrial complex and medical-industrial complex are inextricably linked. We can keep us safe, and we can also keep us healthy.

Cuban Spies Disguised As Doctors
Roger Stoll, Black Agenda Report, Jul 8 2020

The EU now excludes travelers from COVID-ridden Pindostan, but welcomes those from the virtually COVID-free Cuba, the country that sends doctors and infectious disease specialists around the world to fight the pandemic, the country that Pindostan has held in contempt for 60 years, villified with every epithet and sanctioned and embargoed and blockaded to within an inch of its life. In a catharsis of propaganda, Pindostan tries to convince the world that Cuban doctors are victims of human trafficking, or else they are all spies, or perhaps bothRosa Miriam Elizalde likened it to a vision of Cuba as the Red Planet, sending spies to take over the Earth. Spies! Yes, they just might be spies! What perfect disguises: doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, medical technicians! And what if they could come to Pindostan? Perhaps they could secretly take over our health-care system, make sure we are all carefully looked after, and teach us to treat epidemics like they are epidemics, as if everyone must be protected because everyone is at risk! You know, like in Cuba! And while they are at it, perhaps they might send us more spies disguised as economists, to surreptitiously teach us how to give everyone a home, a job, education, money to live on and time for recreation! You know, like in Cuba! Maybe they will send us still more spies disguised as actors, artists, photographers, musicians, who will teach us …well, they won’t necessarily have to teach us too much about art, though that would be nice, but they will show us how to do it all collectively, cooperatively, without the corporate veto that corrupts, defunds, starves and destroys so much art and the ones who make it. And then maybe Cuba will send yet more spies, disguised as school teachers and literacy experts, to teach us exactly how to go about educating everyone without exception, to the best of their abilities and inclinations, to make every school as good as every other school, and to show us how to treat our teachers like the precious mentors they are! Like in Cuba! Oh, Cuba, please send us all the spies you can spare! For we are suffering from a severe lack of spies! And we are dying because of it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.