“Z” — “If They Ain’t Dead”
“It starts with the police force, the racial profiling, stereotyping, of a lot of Black males,” says “Z,” who’s been incarcerated in Ventress on nonviolent charges for around two years.
In late June, Z interviews about the current state of the country, its future, President Trump, and, most pressingly, the need for movements against racism and police brutality to articulate and protest the larger system of mass incarceration.
“It could just be a certain kind of car you’re drivin’ — if you’ve got a car with rims on it or something, they automatically assume you sell drugs, or [that] there’s hard drugs in the car.”
He continues, “Or, if you’re ridin with somebody White, [police] automatically feel like y’all don’t have no business together. Just seeing a White female or White male with a Black male, they’re going to try to pull you over, figuring y’all ain’t got no business being together, must be drugs involved … As opposed to if it’s two Whites, they figure a White female don’t have no business being in a car with a Black male.”
Next, Z says, “You go from there to them pulling you over, and the police, now they want to treat you any type of way. Then, once they arrest you, you’re facing the judicial system, which is the DAs and the judges. Now, they’re going to be biased against you nine times out of 10, because the … majority of them is White.”
Z has been incarcerated twice, once in his late teens and early 20s, and once now, closer to middle age, both times on nonviolent charges. He maintains his innocence regarding his most recent conviction.
In Z’s experience, he continues, “When you do get incarcerated, you pretty much see nothing but Black males. Maybe 85 percent are Black and Hispanic, and maybe 15 percent” are not.
“Now, I feel like, [is] the time for them to start really making a change,” Z continues, “and it seems like they’re really trying to make a change now. So, that’s a good thing, as far as the protests. It’s a little change.”
Some other little changes, he notes, “with the Nascar, the NFL — I’ve seen — they’re talking about letting Colin Kaepernik come back, the Aunt Jemima thing… Serena Williams’ husband stepped down … There’s a lot more examples, which I just can’t think of right now.”
There are still “a few Cuacasion people who are against” Black Lives Matter and other protestors, Z says, “especially with the confederate stuff, talkin’ bout’ how it’s part of their history. But if you know your history was with slavery, and killing Blacks, and hanging Blacks, then you actually shouldn’t even want to be a part of it. For real, that’s how I look at it.”
He elaborates: “So, on their side, they’re protesting about the statues and stuff like that, and the things that they change in colleges, stuff like that, talkin’ bout’ how It’s part of their history, or, It’s part of the city, with the statues and stuff. But, if you know they were negative people, and the stuff they were doing wasn’t right — right is right, wrong is wrong — that’s how I look at it.”
Z pauses, then explains that “if it was my people, back in the day, doing something wrong, I’d be like, ‘Ay, well, if they were killing White people, and hanging them, and having White slavery, I wouldn’t want to be a part of that now. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, ok, that [protest] is good. Get rid of that.’” White confederates “be like, ‘Oh, nah, keep it. My great great great great great granddaddy was born back in the day.’”
Whites using their “history” to identify with the confederacy, Z suspects must “know it is wrong. You’re saying you ain’t racist, but you’re saying the only reason you stand up for it’s because of your heritage? That don’t make no sense.”
Unlike the examples of “some changes” and public figures speaking out against police brutality and racism generally, Z “ain’t really seen” the same type of actions, change, and attention toward the issue of mass incarceration.
The movement “ain’t really started in that area yet,” he observes. “It just started with the police harassing, but it ain’t gotten to the prisons and judicial system yet. Now, if you don’t know, they’re killing young Black males and stuff like that, and arresting them left and right, for no reason. So, where’d they end up at? If they ain’t dead, in prison.”
Z notes: “A lot of people’ve been in here for a long time.”
Z “just read that Just Mercy book, man, and he’s talkin’ bout’ … He’s really doing the numbers, for real. I just can’t memorize them, but he’s talking about a lot of statistics with Blacks and Whites, far as that go.”
Interrupting himself, “But everybody knows that,” Z continues. “They know! It’s in the [World] Almanac, the numbers, yeah, about how many Blacks populate a prison over Whites — Blacks and Hispanics.”
Z’s advice about mass incarceration to the protest movement for Black lives, as well as to people becoming educated about and involved in struggles against institutional racism for the first time, is, “Basically, just speak the facts, don’t lie, and keep it nonviolent, as far as the protests go.”
Z encourages “media, legislators, lawmakers,” and others to “actually put more emphasis on the people that’s being locked up, a lot of times, with excess punishments on their time, [which] they don’t see, a lot of petty crimes, compared to … if they did investigations with Blacks and Whites with the same case, they would see, if they just did the numbers.”
Among other prisoners, Z observes, “You can just see, [Blacks and Whites] be down here [in Ventress] talking to each other, like, ‘Damn, how’d you get that much time and I got this?’”
Z says that in county jail, before he was transferred to Ventress, a White cellmate had similar charges, but worse, and they were both confused about the differences in their sentences.
Z comments on the current state of the country, its President, and its future.
“Trump ain’t really handlin’ either one of those situations,” Z begins, referring to the pandemic and the widespread rebellion.
“He’s already behind on the coronavirus by like three or four months,” Z continues, “and — I seen — he was telling this guy in Brazil, that guy who want to be just like Trump [Jair Bolsonaro] — I seen how [Bolsonaro] was talkin’ last night, that he ain’t really care about his people, and I guess he look up to Trump so much, the way Trump’s doin’ us over here, that he’s doin’ his people over there like that.”
In Brazil, Z notes, “they’re saying [Bolsonaro] don’t even care about his people — period — because, if he did [care], he would do more to try to make sure they are safe at a time like this.”
In addition, in Z’s view, “with the China thing, Trump won’t swallow his pride with them, and … everybody should come together at a time like this, and get all the science and stuff like that together, and come up with a cure, but still, he’s saying he’s not wanting to talk with China, ‘ain’t got nothin’ to say to China,’ this and that.”
Meanwhile, everyday Chinese and American people are “saying, ‘We got different problems than y’all,’” says Z.
In America and China, Z points out, “Man, we have people dying, and you still up here talkin’ bout’ how you don’t wanna deal with China? There’s people dying. Oh, but you ain’t got to worry about dying, because you’re the President, and you got all the safety.”
Z adds: “Then, with the police shooting Blacks, [Trump] knows that’s wrong. But he’s afraid to lose all his votes, for one. And, even when the people was up there in [Charlottesville], Virginia, when that guy done ran over all those people, [Trump] didn’t say [the murderer] was wrong, he said, Oh, well, the other side was protesting too. So, that wasn’t the right thing to say in a situation like that.”
An example of Trump’s racism and insincerity simultaneously at play is “when Colin Kaepernick took a knee when a few Black guys got killed, [Trump] was talkin’ bout’, Well, anybody take a knee, they need to fire their ass,” says Z.
“That’s how he was talking then. So, now, you’re seeing everybody is on the right side of the board, and he don’t want to feel left out, so now he’s trying to change up to, Oh, I want the NFL to sell Kaepernick back in. I’m 100 percent behind him. Man, [Trump] is just the fakest person ever, for real.”
Z adds: “Actually, they should’ve left him where he was at” before he became President.
“That’s how I feel about Trump,” Z concludes, “because ain’t nothing going to go the right way. Like I said, he should’ve never been President. He might be equipped to run a billion dollar business, but he ain’t equipped to run no nation of the United States.”
Commenting on the next one to two years of America’s future, “Psshh,” Z begins, “if he be President again, I don’t know. I’m afraid to even say, tell you the truth. I don’t even know.”
Already, says Z, “You’ve got people’s businesses getting blown up, people runnin’ out of their homes, hungry, not knowing where their next meal is gonna come from, already got all these unemployed people right now. You know. And, like I said, the coronavirus is steadily getting worse, and he’s started talkin’ bout’ I’m taking everybody off lockdown.”
The week of this interview, Alabama reported record numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases several days in a row.
In China, Z notes, “Beijing, they done went back on lockdown over there. Again, Dr. Fauci, at the time, was talkin’ bout’ how everything’s gonna be if you open everything. Americans ain’t getting no healthcare, and Americans ain’t getting no money. But [Trump’s] talkin’ bout’, People need to be making money. Well, how are people going to be making money when everyone’s still unemployed? You’re making money! How’s that? Ain’t nobody else making money. He’s the one making some money. He’s talkin’ bout’ himself. Yeah.”
If Trump “is not re-elected,” says Z, presumably meaning a Biden Administration takes the White House, the country “might get better,” but “I got no control over that.”
He adds: “It’s just whoever’s in there. I could talk about what should happen, and what shouldn’t happen. But, at the end of the day, I ain’t got no control over it, so…”
He pauses, then reiterates he “ain’t got not control,” adding, “ I actually don’t worry about all that, for real. I just pray about it.”
Like most prisoners, he worries most about his loved ones, and freedom.
In a hypothetical message to the President, “the first thing” Z would say, “if I said anything, is just, ‘Come in and just treat everybody equal. That’ll be the main thing. Don’t be bias against no race.’”
Z wonders, “If this is America, ‘home of the free’ — you know — like all the racists told us, then why is it that every time you turn around in a high position, there’s always Cuacaisions, Whites over everything?”
Z notes that “Whites will pick their friends and buddies over others, just because. And over any other nationalities, not just Blacks, but Chinese, Puerto Rican, Mexican, just like [Trump] is doing the Mexicans, and stuff like that.”
Commenting on America’s Southern Border and immigration policies, Z continues, “I don’t feel like that’s right, the way they’re doing them [immigrants]. Again, I ain’t got no say so over it. But, hey, that’s how I feel, just my opinion.”
In Z’s opinion, “This land — nobody made this land, man. This is God’s land. So, first of all, you should be free to go anywhere you want to go in this whole world. I don’t feel like you should be able to tell nobody they can’t come over here. You know? This ain’t your land. Period.”
Z points out, “Actually, you came over here! You wasn’t here first either! And you came over here, and just took the land. So, why are you gonna tell somebody else that they can’t come over here, and just to live on this land? You came over here and took the land yourself. You ain’t even supposed to be here!”
He adds: “Actually, if they were acting like that back then, you wouldn’t even be over here now, if they had the same strategy. Yeah, so, it’s just crazy.”
Asked about the role of big money in American politics, “That plays a major role,” says Z.
“With the Trump thing,” for example, Trump “got the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, and he’s got a lot of people behind him with sponsor money who are with them on that also. So, that’s why, a lot of times, he don’t even speak up on the racism that be going on, with the police and stuff, because he knows he’s going to get backlash from them organizations, because they invest so much money in him that they feel like he’s on their side.”
Z feels most of Trump’s racist ties and worldviews were made clear before Trump was President, “especially when he came out with that saying — what is it? ‘Let’s make America great again,’ taking the country back and all that, talkin’ like that. It’s just racist. It wouldn’t be racist if he wouldn’t make it racist. If he was saying it for a good way, a good reason, people would know, like, ‘Ah, nah, he don’t mean it that way,’ but everybody know how he mean it.”