Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2011
Source: Macon Telegraph (GA)
Copyright: 2011 The Macon Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., Columnist


"The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness" 
by Michelle Alexander, professor of law at the Ohio State University 
Moritz College of Law, "is written for people who care deeply about 
racial justice but who, for any number of reasons, do not yet 
appreciate the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color 
as a result of mass incarceration.... as well as people who have been 
struggling to persuade their friends, neighbors, relatives, teachers, 
co-workers, or political representatives that something is eerily 
familiar about the way our criminal justice system operates. Also for 
all those trapped within America's latest caste system. You may be 
locked up or locked out of mainstream society, but you are not forgotten."

This is a part of the preface to this very thought provoking book
which argues that the criminal justice system represents a new form of
Jim Crow, because it serves the purpose of controlling African
Americans and other people of color in the same manner as the earlier
system of Jim Crow.

In the introduction Alexander begins with the story of Jarvious
Cotton. "Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather,
great-great-grandfather, he is denied the right to participate in our
electoral democracy. Cotton's family tree tells the story of several
generations of black men who were born in the United States but who
were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises -- the
freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws to govern
your life. Cotton's great-great grandfather could not vote because he
was a slave, his great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux
Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prohibited from
voting by Klan intimidation, his father was barred from voting by
literacy tests and poll taxes. Today Jarvious Cotton cannot vote
because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled
a felon and is on parole."

Of course we know that being labeled as a felon impacts employment,
housing, education, public benefits and jury service, which was the
plight of the earlier generations who came before this incarcerated
generation. Alexander convincingly argues that it was the Reagan
administration's "War on Drugs" that presented an organized public
relations campaign that created the story of drug criminals and users
as African Americans and other people of color.

It is very interesting to think about the fact that illegal drug use
was actually on the decline when the "War on Drugs" was introduced,
and that some criminologists thought that the trend in the country was
moving away from having so many prisons. But the War on Drugs
completely changed that picture. In recent years the CIA has admitted
that it blocked the investigation into illegal drug networks that were
helping to fund its covert war in Nicaragua.

Though many theories have been voiced in recent years about the CIA
introduction of crack cocaine into African American communities, the
CIA has not spoken about this issue. But one has to note that crack
cocaine appeared in those communities after the War on Drugs had begun.

The War on Drugs helped to swell the prison rolls from 300,000 to more
than 2 million. We now have the highest rate of incarceration in the
world and we imprison a larger percentage of our black population than
South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

This book helps to provide a better foundation for understanding the
work of the prison industrial complex in our country which often bases
its projected prison construction upon the failure rate of third
graders, and why we have a school to prison pipeline. Though each
person has to take responsibility for their behavior, we need to think
of getting our collective heads out of the sand regarding the systemic
forces that support our problem of mass incarceration.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.