A quick look back at how the country has fared after 6 years of the Obama Administration.
The “war on drugs” continues
In 2011, Barack Obama wrote an homage in USA Today to former President Ronald Reagan. In the homage Obama wrote that Ronald Reagan was, “a believer” with a, “unique ability to inspire others to greatness.”
When the future looked darkest and the way ahead seemed uncertain, President Reagan understood both the hardships we faced and the hopes we held for the future. He understood that it is always ‘Morning in America.’ That was his gift, and we remain forever grateful.1
It is interesting that Obama, the nation’s first black president, went out of his way to praise the man who first officially declared the “war on drugs” in 1982. With the “war on drugs” largely responsible for the current imprisonment of 1 million african-americans, one might wonder whether Obama is out of touch, or simply insensitive to the concerns of the country's african-americans2 .
In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.
All this despite the fact that, “studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.”3 .
It is towards the end of the two terms that Obama will serve as president, and under his administration the total U.S. prison population has declined by just 2.4% since 20094 . This meager decline is most likely attributable to the simple fact that, since the economic crisis of 2007-2008, states can simply no longer afford to imprison people at the same rates that they used to 5 6 .
Obviously Barack Obama himself as a single person is not responsible for the “war on drugs”, but it is also true that his election has had little or no effect on this war on people of color. Additionally, police killings have continued fervently during his presidency with a staggering 585 people murdered by the police so far in 2015. This is set to surpass 2014's tally of 1100 people murdered by the police.7 Yes, a black man was elected president, but the violence continues unabated.
Government violence against immigrants escalates
During the Obama administration there has been a sharp escalation in the violence being perpetrated against people whose only crime has been to seek a better life in the United States. During his first term as president, Obama set record highs for deportation. Nearly as many immigrants were deported during Obama's first term in office than were deported during George W. Bush’s two terms combined8 . The Obama administration has actively supported several programs which have seriously harmed the lives of immigrants. Aviva Chomsky writes in her book Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal about how the situation has deteriorated for immigrants since Obama took office in 2009.
[A] program that helped ICE increase its numbers in the Obama years was Secure Communities. Introduced by the Bush administration and piloted in a number of cities around the country in late 2008, Secure Communities requires law enforcement agencies in participating jurisdictions to automatically share with ICE the fingerprints of anybody arrested. If ICE flags the individual as potentially deportable, the agency issues a detainer. When the person is released, he or she is turned over to ICE. The Obama administration initially stated that participation was voluntary, but later announced that the program would be required nationwide by 2013. Eighty-three percent of those who come into ICE custody through Secure Communities are sent to ICE detention centers. Ninety-three percent are Latino. Promoters touted the program as a way to ‘remove dangerous criminals from your community.’ However, only about half of those deported through Secure Communities fit the profile of a criminal—that is, had been convicted of a crime other than a traffic or immigration violation. The only violation for 45 percent of those deported was being ‘present without admission’—that is, undocumented. Only half of those deported received a hearing before an immigration judge to determine their deportability. The other half were simply deported under ICE administrative procedures or pressured into taking voluntary departure. By late 2011, 226,694 immigrants had come into ICE custody through Secure Communities.9
Along with the expansion of the Secure Communities program came the expansion of the E-Verify program and Operation Streamline. ICE’s expansion of Operation Streamline during these years has meant that immigrants detained at the border are now, instead of being simply returned to Mexico, imprisoned in appalling conditions. The E-Verify program allows employers to check every potential employee’s name against a database of citizens to see if they are eligible to work in the United States. This program was already mandatory for government employees when Obama took office, but since taking office the program has been expanded to include contractors and sub-contractors and Obama even supported a bill to make the program mandatory for every employer in every state.10 . And it should be kept in mind that, unlike the “drug war” which Obama has simply done little to nothing about, these are policies which the Obama administration has actively moved forward.
The situation of the disabled worsens
In 2010, Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel left his position to be (essentially) appointed Mayor of Chicago. Emanuel is a powerful member of the Democratic Party elite who played a major role in running Obama’s campaign and first year in office. After becoming Chicago’s mayor, one of Emanuel’s first measures was to close half of the city’s mental health facilities. Despite the city’s claims the contrary, more than a thousand mentally disabled people in the city permanently lost care and now fill the city’s already crowded public health and penitentiary systems. The cuts not only denied access to services for over a thousand people, but they are also to end up financially costing the city far more in the long run. 11 12 .
The situation in Chicago, led by Obama’s former Chief of Staff, is indicative of the situation around the country for the disabled. Poverty for disabled adults has increased more than 50% since 2000, with this trend continuing steadily through the Obama years13 .
Hope and change?
For all of Obama’s talk of hope and change, the situation seems bleaker now than ever. african-americans, immigrants, and the disabled are not the only people who have suffered during his administration. Pretty much everyone has suffered. Employment and hours are at levels lower than they were in 2007 14 . Obama's much hoped for change of course on climate change never materialized. The best he could seemingly muster was temporary vetoes of the Keystone XL Pipeline. And despite the best hopes of environmentalists no major government funded switch to renewable energy ever came about. Foreign policy has been a disaster, with a murderously incompetent foray into Libya and an equally incompetent role in Syria leading to increasing power for even more vicious Jihadi groups across the Middle East and North Africa.
In short, voting cannot save us. As Emma Goldman once said, “if voting changed anything they’d make it illegal.” Let us honor the courage of the people of Baltimore who stood up for their rights, and let us hope than many more people of all races, genders, and social classes take up their own struggles, in the workplace, in the prison, in their homes, and on the streets.
- 1 “Obama: Reagan Saw That ‘we Are All Patriots’ – USATODAY.com. 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 7 July 2015.
- 2“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. Web. 8 July 2015.
- 3 Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Revised ed. Print
- 4 “U.S. Prison Population Trends: Broad Variation Among States in Recent Years.” The Sentencing Project Publications -. 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 8 July 2015.
- 5Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Revised ed. Print
- 6 Greene, Judith, and Marc Mauer. “Downscaling Prisons.” Research and Advocacy for Reform (2010). The Sentencing Project..
- 7 “Killed By Police – 2015.” http://www.killedbypolice.net.
- 8 "Has Barack Obama Deported More People than Any Other President in U.S. History?" @politifact. 12 Aug. 2012. Web. 8 July 2015.
- 9 Chomsky, Aviva. Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. Print.
- 10Chomsky, Aviva
- 11 "Closure Of Chicago Mental Health Clinics Looms." NPR. NPR, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 8 July 2015.
- 12 Ormsby, David. "Bipartisan Budget Cut Fantasies: Illinois Mental Health Care Decline Is No Fairy Tale." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 July 2015.
- 13 "Poverty for Disabled Adults Up 50%." Demos. 6 July 2015. Web. 8 July 2015.
- 14 Schmitt, John. "Failing on Two Fronts: The U.S. Labor Market Since 2000." Center for Economic Policy Research (2015).