Without the devastating ramifications of mass incarceration, Donald Trump never would have been elected president of the United States. That’s an argument that Van Jones, CNN host of The Messy Truth, nimbly makes in an interview with Vanity Fair.
He quickly deconstructs how the country’s current prison system—a topic explored in the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary 13th—disadvantages the black community, which consistently supports Democratic candidates at staggeringly high rates. Florida’s 2016 turnout is one example: it’s a state where “hundreds of thousands of African-Americans [are] permanently barred from voting because they’re convicted felons,” Jones says. If former inmates were able to get voting rights restored, Florida “would be a blue state every time.”
Jones is passionate about this issue. He’s currently involved in the Dream Corps campaign #cut50, which aims to reduce the prison population by half. Jones was also one of the many people interviewed in the Ava DuVernay–directed documentary 13th, currently nominated for a best documentary Oscar. The film explores the history of mass incarceration in the United States and its deep connection to institutional racism, persuasively making the case for an overhaul of the current system. The amount of interest in the film has also led Netflix to grant public screening access to elementary schools, universities, community groups and more.
“It’s devastating and important,” Jones says of the film, which also features interviews with figures like Angela Davis and Cory Booker. “There are very few things that you see or read that you literally wish were mandatory viewing for the country.”
Though people might walk away from the film with different conclusions, Jones feels that it can teach “some people who are not close to the black community [to] at least understand why there are protests called Black Lives Matter, at least understand why there are so many African-Americans in prison.”
The statistics are shocking. Black men make up about 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, but 40.2 percent of the prison population consists of black men. They’re imprisoned at much higher rates than white men, even if they commit similar crimes. Latino men and black women also face disproportionately high imprisonment rates. As 13th argues, this is the result of years of racially charged legislation that effectively strips people of their rights once they’ve been through the system.
With Trump as president, there’s little hope that this White House will aid any mass-incarceration reform efforts. On Election Night, right after Trump was elected, Jones was one of the first voices of clarity, calling his ascent a “whitelash against a changing country,” in a CNN interview that quickly went viral.
Thus far, Trump’s White House appears to be carrying out this particular form of “whitelash.” Though Jones is very careful to acknowledge that not all people who voted for Trump are white nationalists, he says that it would be “ludicrous” to pretend that none of his supporters are.
“There is a persistent white-nationalist current within the Trump movement,” he says. “Steve Bannon is in the White House . . . that is very, very disturbing.”
The recent resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who is under fire for his communication with Russian officials, is just one example of the ongoing political chaos that surrounds Trump—but Jones finds this major resignation “encouraging.”
“There is blood in the water,” he says. “People should get more aggressive and figure out—what did the president know, when did he know? The answer to that question will and should shock his supporters, and should weaken his support in the Republican Congress.”
And now more than ever, leaders must support mass-incarceration reform efforts, Jones says—particularly because of Republican gerrymandering, though voter suppression is not caused only by redistricting and targeted voter I.D. laws.
“Voter suppression is: you’re 19 years old and you get caught with marijuana, and you’re forced to plead to a felony,” Jones says. “Then you can never vote again, whereas a white kid getting caught with marijuana is gonna be admonished and sent home to their parents. That’s voter suppression . . . mass incarceration is a strategy not just to criminalize a generation, or now generations of African-Americans, but also to politically marginalize the black community. Mass incarceration is not just taking our freedom, it’s taking our vote. It’s taking our power.”
He adds that progressives must make this a top priority, because their core vote “is the black vote.”
“If you’re in the Sierra Club, or if you’re in Planned Parenthood, your No. 1 problem is that your core vote can’t vote. Nobody thinks about it that way. Planned Parenthood’s core vote is not white women, it’s the black community. The Sierra Club’s core vote is not white, Prius-driving, NPR-listening environmentalists. It’s the black vote, because black people elect Democrats and Democrats enact all of these policies. When you stand back and you let the black community be incarcerated at six times the rate of white people and say it’s ‘not your issue,’ but then you want to cry about the outcome in Florida, it doesn’t make sense. If people had stood up against mass incarceration and stood up for people having the right to vote when they get out of prison, you’d never have a Donald Trump.”
See full article here: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/02/van-jones-13th-trump