Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wise Intelligent: Drugs, Gangs, and Gentrification

Part 2 of a 3 part series interviewing some of the progressive militants of the hip hop culture.

Basics: Could you speak about the kind of work that’s being done in New York or Jersey right now with gangs and youth?

Wise: The government is taking on this lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key policy. The prison industrial complex is alive and thriving, and the youth are a commodity now, an investment to the prison-industrial complex. So we’re giving the youth some political orientation and giving them some knowledge of the environment in which they are embedded that’s imposing a lot of negative behaviors on you… You’re not the one who is sick, it’s the society that you’re in that’s sick, and that’s what needs to be broken down and taken out of the way.

Basics: Right now, the government, is bringing in mandatory minimum sentencing, and is putting hundreds of millions of tax payers’ dollars into building up the prison system. Can you comment on how the whole prison industrial system developed in the 1980s and 1990s in New York, and how what the community’s going through now?

Wise: It was the psychologist BF Skinner who said that behavior is shaped by its consequences, which means that they can control your behavior by modifying certain aspects of your environment. When we look back on the late‘70s/early’80s, we see a lot of closings of factories and plants in the inner city that employed a lot of inner-city black families. This created a large population of unemployed African-American men, who were in supervisor and management positions in a lot of these companies. And these black men were bringing their sons in to these jobs. So it was a perpetual employment routine. We lost that economy in the black community. This is what started the ‘urban decay’, and ‘white flight’ and ‘suburban sprawl’ that followed the factories leaving.

The government understood that all they had to do was bring in drugs from Laos, from the war in Nicaragua, and flood the black community with those drugs, and then these unemployed, stressed-out black men are going to do one or the other: they gonna sell the drugs or they gonna smoke the drugs. Then they enforced their ‘War on Drugs’, which was a policy of designed to perpetuate the prison-industrial complex. At the exact same time they went public on the market with prison-building companies, like Wackenhut Corporation and Corrections Corporation of America. These companies are on the New York Stock Exchange. You can actually go and purchase stock in these companies and invest in the incarceration of young black youth throughout the country. So, it’s a business, it’s a very big business.

Basics: What do you see as the prospects for transforming the youth caught up in this struggle into revolutionary organizations to challenge their conditions?
Wise: The weapons of this day and time are information – the truth is the weapon. At this point, we have to disseminate the truth – like with your magazine, Basics. It was Marcus Garvey who taught us that to know thy enemy is part of the complete education of a man. In order to keep a people subjugated to you, you must keep that people ignorant of their culture. They imposed a state of ignorance on non-white people in order to create this slave-master relationship that we’re dealing with today. We have to really deal with the youth on a level of truth, get the truth and information out there because once they learn who they are, they’re going to know who their enemy is.

Next issue: Umi from P.O.W.