Plaxico Burress and The Inverse of Prisons

Jose Vilson Jose

Plaxico Burress with Son, Elijah

Plaxico Burress with Son, Elijah

Today, Plaxico Burress, former wide receiver of the New York Giants, was sentenced to 2 years in jail (with good behavior, it’ll be brought down to 20 months or less). My stance on the matter hasn’t changed much since the last time I’ve ruminated on the topic. I agree that bringing a gun to the club without a holster and without a licensed bodyguard spells danger for anyone, especially a young, rich, Super-Bowl winning Black man. I also agree that he could have hurt anyone there, and if not for his celebrity status, he may have been treated like “any other Black man” who’s faced similar charges.

Then, I looked at the case and didn’t look at the things that might have happened, but did happen. The night before, according to reports, he and his partners were robbed. He’s got a family to feed, and a life to live. He probably didn’t grow up trusting the police. Plus, he shot himself and not anyone else. He had erratic behavior with his team; though his teammates love him, his management had a hard time pinning him down psychologically. With that, I don’t see any real reason to keep him in jail longer than a year, if that. I believe in a combination of counseling, community service, and alternative interventions with prison time for the gun charge based on what actually happened and the evidence laid on the table.

Some of my readers / friends believe I’m too soft on crime, which can’t be further from the truth. People often mistake a zero-tolerance policy for good judgment, and I can’t agree with that. I charge those who have this view haven’t looked at the actual statistics. One of my friends from Facebook showed me a wonderful Wired mini-article entitled: “Nils Christie: Empty the Prisons“, one of the 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World, especially as it pertains to American culture. It’s rather obvious that we as Americans are complicit in the denigration of human beings as a whole. Race notwithstanding, the US has more prisoners than any other country in the world, has more prisoner per capita, and spends more taxpayer money in prisoners than any other country. The number of prisoners since the 1980s has risen over 400%, and while it’s not necessarily true that 3rd graders’ literacy scores determine the number of prisons built, the link between the education complex and prison is almost undeniable.

Plus, as the Wired article mentions, most of these prisoners go to jail for non-violent crimes, and many of the criminals who’ve gone in jail once go right back in (many of them would rather stay IN jail because it’s easier to live in there). Also of note is that, in general, crime rates have gone down as a whole. As a result, have we become a better society for having all these (mostly Black and Latino) men and women isolated? Have marriage rates risen? Have wars ended or corruption stopped within corporations? Have drug lords stopped proliferating (or has their supplier stopped pushing)? Have our politicians become more honest and have our ethics / morals become more solid as a result of dumping grounds for these law trespassers? Does jail help criminals become better citizens in our society (as some movies may lead you to believe) or make them stronger and better equipped, and even more able to carry out their crimes?

For that matter, have we thought about how many of those prisoners are actually innocent? How many of them may not have been good citizens or been great examples in other venues, but were decent human beings? We neglect to think about the difference between what’s illegal and what’s immoral, what’s unlawful and what’s wrong. I also understand that the prison industrial complex provides jobs. I get all of this and I wish I didn’t because the rationale is far too capitalist for my blood.

More importantly, I wish the best for Elijah Burress, Plaxico’s son, who’s a prisoner for the sin of his father. His father is a prisoner of this system. And we are prisoners to the thought that prison is the ultimate solution.

Jose, who’s in a Tupacian mood …

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