The story we tell ourselves as Americans is that we do not engage in the brutal behavior found elsewhere in the world. Sadly, over the past few decades, those traits we believed ourselves above – police summary executing suspects, torture, a prison system designed to oppress rather than rehabilitate, the elimination of basic rights from whole classes of citizens – have proven to be not only found here, but that we are one of the most egregious of abusers.
The Department of Justice has now launched an investigation based on the report from the Miami Herald on rampant prison abuse, including murder of inmates by corrections officers. One such example is that of Jerry Washington, a man serving life for a variety of charges, including attempted murder, armed robbery and burglary who was found dead after reporting several correctional officers for sexual assault late last year. He had written to his family fearing for his life, claiming that the officers had marked him for death, that he was to be the victim of the next “pick-a-n*****-Friday” to be held, referencing the old slavery term for torturing or killing a slave in order to keep the others in line.
Another case is that of Randall Jordan-Aparo who, in a scene eerily reminiscent of those found during World War II, was forced to strip, thrown into a sealed room, which was then was filled with gas, killing him. The gas in the room appears to have been so thick that he was reportedly covered in orange residue. Of course the officers claimed that filling a room with noxious gas to the point it painted the victim the color of a spray tan had nothing to do with his death, and it was a random fluke caused by an unknown and mysterious medical condition.
And these are only two such cases, out of the 346 inmates who died while in custody in Florida last year alone. And the lack of accountability for these deaths echoes similar accountability gaps found in other areas of law enforcement. Prison abuse is rampant, and as one report puts it, prison operators game the system, making addressing these problems very difficult.
With the United States having the largest prison population in recorded history, abuse of inmates is inevitable. That we allow this to continue and how we treat the least among us tells the world how we should be treated as a nation. We already employ prison labor, and have officers perform what amounts to summary executions. Having prisons turn into death camps, just completed the picture.
What happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave?