The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 71/No. 40      October 29, 2007

SWP candidate joins debate
on Blacks in Iowa jails
DES MOINES, Iowa—The causes of the high proportion of Blacks in prison in Iowa and nationwide were heatedly debated October 11 at a meeting hosted by the Corinthian Baptist Church here. The Socialist Workers Party candidate for Des Moines mayor, Diana Newberry, took part in the debate, and received a good response from some of the participants.

Iowa incarcerates Blacks at a rate nearly 14 times that for whites—more than double the national average. There are 4,200 Blacks in jail per 100,000 residents, according to a study by the Sentencing Project. In the past two decades, with mandatory sentences and other brutal “anticrime” measures, the prison population has mushroomed in Iowa, as it has nationally. Today 2.2 million men and women are behind bars in the United States, 900,000 of them African Americans.

At the meeting here, 75 people listened impatiently to Iowa Corrections director John Baldwin, who said that by the time prisoners are in jail “it’s too late,” and to Polk County judge Odell McGhee, who blamed the problems not on racism, but on the breakdown of the Black family.

McGhee, a former government prosecutor who is Black, said Blacks are locked up at a higher rate because they are guilty of committing more crimes. If children went to bed earlier and were disciplined by their parents, they wouldn’t end up in jail, he asserted.

Meeting participants lined up at the microphone to ask questions, give their opinions, and in many cases take on the ideas put forward especially by McGhee. Others took the microphone to agree with him.

A nurse at Mercy Medical Center pointed out that the racism Blacks face is already noticeable in Des Moines schools. Black elementary students, 15.3 percent of the student body, made up 36.8 percent of those suspended during the 2003-04 school year.

“The whole system is stacked against us,” one person said from the floor. “Everywhere we go face discrimination. Don’t blame the Black family. It’s the system.”

“Once you make it through the glass ceiling, you forget what it’s like down here underneath it,” David Burkett said, referring to Judge McGhee. “When my 17-year-old son has problems, I can’t tell him to call the police, because we can’t trust the police.”

Socialist Workers Party candidate Diana Newberry joined the discussion. “Racism and unequal treatment is institutionalized at every level in the United States, and there is no individual solution,” she said to applause from some. “We see it in jobs, the schools, where people live, and in the prisons.”

“That’s why we need affirmative action with quotas in employment, housing, and education. That’s why the actions to demand justice for the Jena Six are so important.”

One person at the meeting who agreed with Newberry’s remarks offered to help introduce her to others in the Black community who he believes should hear her ideas.
Related articles:
Noose sparks protest at New York campus
Blacks were in forefront of 1930s labor battles, resistance in WWII
Minneapolis meeting: ‘Justice for Jena 6!’
Des Moines paper interviews socialist contender for city council  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home