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Noam Chomsky on Crime

Political Activist


Slavery didn't end in 1860s; we criminalized Black life

Slavery did not end with the Civil War, despite the Constitutional Amendments that prohibited it in principle. The war was followed by a decade of partial freedom for African Americans, but by 1877, with the end of Reconstruction, slavery was reconstituted in a new and even more sadistic form, as Black life was effectively criminalized and sentencing was rendered permanent by various means, while brutalizing prison labor provided a large part of the basis not only for agricultural production, as under chattel slavery, but also for the American industrial revolution.

In the past 30 years, a new form of criminalization has been instituted, much of it in the context of the "drug wars," leading to a huge increase in incarceration, mostly targeting minorities. This provided a new supply of prison labor, much of it in violation of international labor conventions. Ever since the first slaves were brought to the colonies, life for African Americans has scarcely escaped the bonds of slavery.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 79 , Jun 1, 2010

US uses imprisonment for population control

CHOMSKY: Crime has been rather steady for about 20 years. It is the perception of crime, which is fanned by propaganda, that has increased enormously, and the number of and the number of people in prison is just zooming. It's about triple what it was during the Reagan years. The US is way ahead of the rest of the industrial world, maybe all the world, in imprisoning its own population. That's for population control. None of that has anything to do with crime.

BROWN: You've got states like Texas building surplus capacity and then using brokers to bring in prisoners from other states. Some people might say that this increase in prison population is a conspiracy, because it seems to be working almost perfectly for those with extra capacity f

Source: Dialogues, by Gov. Jerry Brown, p.225 , Feb 12, 1996

Capital punishment is a crime

Q: What are your views on capital punishment?

A: Itís a crime. I agree with Amnesty International on that one, and indeed with most of the world. The state should have no right to take peopleís lives.

Source: Secrets, Lies, and Democracy, by Noam Chomsky, p. 34 , May 2, 1994

Harsher penalties only serve to control the poor more

A constructive approach to the problem [of increasing crime] would require dealing with its fundamental causes, but thatís off the agenda, because we must continue with a social policy thatís aimed at strengthening the welfare state for the rich. The only kind of responses the government can resort to under those conditions is pandering to the fear of crime with increasing harshness, attacking civil liberties and attempting to control the poor, essentially by force. [Clintonís crime bill] greatly increased, by a factor of 5 or 6, federal spending for repression. Thereís nothing constructive in it. There are more prisons, more police, heavier sentences, more death sentences, new crimes, three strikes and youíre out. Itís unclear how much pressure and social decline and deterioration people will accept. One tactic is just drive them into urban slums-concentration camps, in effect-and let them prey on one another.
Source: Secrets, Lies, and Democracy, by Noam Chomsky, p. 32-34 , May 2, 1994

Societal inequality causes crime

Until you ask why thereís an increase in social disintegration, and why more and more resources are being directed toward the wealthy and privileged sectors and away from the general population, you canít have a concept of why thereís rising crime or how you should deal with it. Over the past 20 or 30 years, thereís been a considerable increase in inequality. This trend accelerated during the Reagan years. The society has been moving visibly toward a kind of Third World model.

The result is an increasing crime rate, as well as other signs of social disintegration. Most of the crime is poor people attacking each other, but it spills over to more privileged sectors. People are very worried-and quite properly, because the society is becoming very dangerous. A constructive approach to the problem would require dealing with its fundamental causes, but thatís off the agenda, because we must continue with a social policy thatís aimed at strengthening the welfare state for the rich.

Source: Secrets, Lies, and Democracy, by Noam Chomsky, p. 32 , May 2, 1994

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Page last updated: Jan 11, 2015