I keep seeing the tweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about Chelsea Manning being circulated – as if its contents are radical or noteworthy. Lets use this as an opportunity to really break down and decipher the meaning of this tweet:
Liberals and conservatives alike often fall into the trap of describing violence in terms of its most visible and visceral elements (i.e. bruises, pain, etc). This line of thinking is a byproduct of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, which declares that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” on those who are charged with a crime.
Following a simple interpretation of the Amendment, we can see that bail – in and of itself – is perfectly legal, but excessive bail is illegal. Similarly, fines are perfectly legal, but excessive fines are illegal. Many people are only capable of understanding violence in terms of its excesses. We hear this all the time when liberals condemn “police brutality”. The term “police brutality” is deliberately misleading – because it implies that “police” and “brutality” are antonyms, when they are actually synonyms. So when we hear someone condemn “police brutality”, what they are actually saying is that policing – in and of itself – is an ethical practice, but the excesses of policing (i.e. killing unarmed black people, etc) is unacceptable.
Bearing all of this in mind, lets go back and re-read AOC’s tweet. While it may appear radical at first pass, we find that AOC is giving a tip of the hat to the prison system.
A close reading of the tweet shows that AOC is not against throwing human beings into prison – she is simply against throwing human beings into a prison within the prison: solitary confinement. AOC is incapable of recognizing the practice of incarceration as torture. Even when she acknowledges the wrongs of solitary confinement, there is a meritocracy involved: Chelsea deserves to be released on bail because she is a whistle-blower, not simply because she is human.
An even closer reading shows that AOC is not against banning solitary confinement; she is simply against using “extended” periods of solitary confinement.
Even then, a closer reading shows that AOC is only against extended solitary confinement in the United States – which implies that she believes using extended solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and other ‘black sites’ is still acceptable.
This tweet can be effectively translated to say something like: Incarcerating people is fine, and solitary confinement – overall – is fine … but Chelsea Manning doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment, because refusing to answer to a Grand Jury isn’t that serious. Besides, she is white and did a good thing for the American people by whistle-blowing. Lets reserve the extended torture of solitary confinement for all the brown “terrorists” that we lock up in other countries.