#FitTheDescription: The Dehumanizing Brutality of Mass Incarceration

Marlon Peterson discusses the racism and violence he witnessed behind bars and how society turns the lock and throws away the key.

Marlon Peterson
Marlon Peterson Marlon Peterson

Mass incarceration is a crisis. It is a capitalist and racist endeavor that has purposely targeted black and Latinx communities through discriminatory policing, bigotry framed as legislation, and a deep-seated fear of blackness and “otherness.” This system is, in large part, fueled by mainstream media for the sole purpose of pathologizing black and Latinx people until trapping them in cages is normalized in the nation’s consciousness.

See just a few of the stats below:

  • One in every 106 white males age 18 or older are incarcerated; 1 in every 36 Hispanic males age 18 or older are incarcerated; 1 in every 15 black males age 18 or older are incarcerated.
  • African-American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  • Marijuana use is roughly equal among blacks and whites, yet blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
  • Despite using and selling drugs at rates similar to those of their white counterparts, African Americans and Latinos (pdf) make up 62 percent of those in state prisons for drug offenses and 72 percent of those sentenced for federal drug-trafficking offenses.
  • Despite making up only 15 percent of the juvenile population, black juveniles are arrested two times more often than their white counterparts.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison (pdf) for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).

In the video below, Marlon Peterson, author and TED resident, discusses how one wrong move cost him his freedom, and how—despite pretending to be a country where “pay your debt to society” is a constant refrain—the United States remains in the business of enslaving black people—and business is good.

The system is not broken and it never has been. It is killing, incarcerating and criminalizing all people who #FitTheDescription in a white supremacist society. It’s time to dismantle mass incarceration—and the purposeful mass criminalization that fuels it.

Editor’s note: Check in with The Root Friday to see Shilo Murphy’s story: “#FitTheDescription: The White Privilege Behind Drug Crimes.”

Also on The Root:

Bigger Than Incarceration: Angela Davis Talks Mass Criminalization, Mental Health and the War on Drugs

NBA Veteran and Drug-Policy Advocate Al Harrington: ‘Marijuana Healed My Grandmother’

Gold Rush: Jay Z Takes an Unflinching Look at Racist, Violent War on Drugs in New Short Film

For the Record: ‘Superpredators’ Is Absolutely a Racist Term

Ava DuVernay on Mass Incarceration, White Fear and Black Joy

Kirsten West Savali is a cultural critic and an associate editor at The Root. She was awarded the 2016 Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence which honors exemplary reporting on black life in America. She was also named to Ebony magazine’s 2015 “Power 100” list and awarded a 2015 Harry Frank Guggenheim fellowship. Her provocative commentary explores the intersections of race, social justice, religion, feminism, politics and pop culture. Follow her on Twitter.